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  Wikipedia: Socialism

Wikipedia: Socialism
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The term Socialism or Socialist can refer to many different things:

  1. An ideology or a group of ideologies.
  2. An economic system.
  3. A state that exists or has existed.
  4. In Marxist theory, the society that would succeed capitalism, and would be a precursor to Communism

The word dates back at least to the early Nineteenth Century. It has been used differently in different times and places, both by various individuals and groups that consider themselves socialist and by their opponents. While there is wide variation between socialist groups, there are some groups that have called themselves socialist while holding views that most socialists consider antithetical to socialism. The term has also been used by some politicians on the political right as an epithet for individuals who did not consider themselves to be socialists and policies that were not considered socialist by their proponents.

An ideology or a group of ideologies

According to Elie Halevy, the term was coined independently by two groups advocating different ways of organizing society and economics: the Saint-Simonianss, and most likely Pierre Leroux, in the years 1831-33, and the followers of Robert Owen, around 1835. [Elie Halevy, Histoire du Socialisme Européen (Paris, Gallimard, 1948, pp. 17-18, note); originally published 1937] By the time of the Revolution of 1848 there were a variety of competing "socialisms", ranging from the utopian socialism of Charles Fourier to the self-described "scientific" socialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Depending on the context, the term socialism may refer either to these ideologies or any of their many lineal descendants. While these cover a very broad range of views, they have in common a belief that society ought to be run for the broad common good rather than for the benefit of a small economic elite. All "socialist" ideologies emphasize economic cooperation over economic competition; virtually all envision some sort of economic planning (many, but by no means all, favor central planning); all advocate placing at least some of the means of production -- and at least some of the distribution of goods and services -- into collective or cooperative ownership.

Historically, the ideology of socialism grew up hand in hand with the rise of organized labor. In many parts of the world, the two are still strongly associated with one another; in other parts, they have become two very distinct movements.

Traditional Socialism

Since the 19th century, socialist ideas have developed and separated into many different streams. Notable ideologies that have been referred to using the label "socialism" are:

The socio-political or intellectual movements basing themselves in the Marxist-Socialist tradition can generally be further divided into:

Other ideologies including the word "Socialism"

The German National Socialists (Nazis) claimed to be "socialist". However, these are generally considered conflicting ideologies (see Socialism and Nazism). Similarly, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in Syria and Iraq claims to be in a tradition of secular, non-Marxian socialists.

Various Catholic clerical parties have at times referred to themselves as "Christian Socialists". Two examples are the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger in Austria before and after World War I and the contemporary Christian Social Union in Bavaria. Most other socialists would consider these two parties to be "socialist" in name only. However, there are other individuals and groups, past and present, that are clearly both Christian and Socialist, such as the Frederick Denison Maurice, author of The Kingdom of Christ (1838), or the contemporary Christian Socialist Movement (CSM), affiliated with the British Labour Party. (See main article Christian socialism; see also Christian left.)

What distinguishes the various types of socialism

There are a few questions that point up some of the big differences among socialisms:

  • Do advocates of this ideology say that socialism should come about through revolution (e.g. Maoism, Leninism, Trotskyism, revolutionary Marxism), or through reform (e.g. Fabianism, reformist Marxism), or do they view both as possible (e.g. syndicalism, various Marxisms) or are do they fail to address the question of how a socialist society would be achieved (e.g. utopian socialisms, some anarchisms)?
  • Do they advocate centralized state control of the socialized sectors of the economy (e.g. Leninism), or control of that sector by worker councils (e.g. syndicalism, left and council communism, anarcho-communism)? This is usually cast by socialists in terms of "ownership of the means of production." None of the social democratic parties of Europe advocate total state ownership of the means of production in their contemporary demands and popular press, but most contain language and ideas in their platform which state that in the event the capitalists fail to meet up to their end of the social contract, that the workers have the legitimate historical basis to assume or seize total control of the means of production, should those conditions ever arise in the future. Almost all Social-Democratic parties hold that state control of certain sectors of the economy is vital for the general public interest.
  • Do they advocate that the power of the worker's councils should itself constitute a state form as socialism in the form of a direct democracy and the use of the referendum and the proposition, or do they state that socialism entails that there should be a legislative body adminstered by people who would be elected as a representative or republican form of government? In other words, through what legal and political apparatus will the worker's maintain and further develop this socialization of the means of production?
  • Do they advocate total or near-total socialization of the economy (e.g. revolutionary Marxism, Stalinism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Left and Council Communism, anarcho-syndicalism and syndicalism), or a mixed market economy (e.g Bernsteinism, reformism, reformist Marxism)? Mixed economies, in turn, can range anywhere from those developed by the social democratic governments that have periodically governed Northern and Western European countries to the inclusion of small cooperatives in the economy of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. In a related, but not identical, question, do they advocate a fairer society within the bounds of capitalism (e.g. most social democrats) or the total overthrow of the capitalist system (most Marxists).
  • Did the ideology arise largely as a philosophical construct (e.g. libertarian socialism), or in the heat of a revolution (e.g. early Marxism, Leninism), or as the product of a ruling party (e.g. Castroism, Stalinism), or as the product of a party or other group contending for political power in a democratic society (e.g. social democracy).
  • Does the ideology systematically say that the "bourgeois liberties" (such as those guaranteed by the U.S. First Amendment or the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights) are to be preserved (or even enhanced) in a socialist society (e.g. social democracy), or are undesirable (e.g. Maoism), or have they said different things at different times (e.g. Marx and Engels), or is this a dividing point within the ideology (e.g. different strains of Trotskyism)?
  • Does their critique of the existing system center on the ownership of the means of production (e.g. Marxism), on the nature of mass and equitable distribution (e.g. most forms of utopian socialism), or on opposition to industrialism as well as capitalism (common where socialism intersects green politics)? Utopian Socialists, like Robert Owen and Saint-Simon argued, though not from exactly the same perspective, that the injustices and poverty of the societies they lived in was a problem of distribution of the goods created. Marxian Socialists, on the other hand, determined that the root of the injustices is based not in the function of distribution of goods already created, but rather that the ownership of the means of production was in private hands. Also, Marxian Socialists maintain, in contrast to the Utopian Socialists, that the root of injustice is not in how goods (commodities) are distributed, but for whose economic benefit are they produced and sold.

Note also that while many would say that socialism is defined by state ownership of the means of production, a certain degree of such state ownership is reasonably common in economies that would almost universally be considered capitalist. In Canada, Crown Corporations are responsible for various sectors of the economy deemed to be of strategic importance to the people (for example power generation). Even in the U.S., the federal government continues to run the post office, many local governments own power companies and other utilities, and various governments frequently intervene to subsidize or otherwise influence (though not to own) various sectors of the economy.

An economic system

As in the realm of ideology, there is no single consensus what it means for a particular economic system to be called "socialist." Nearly all self-described socialists would agree that a socialist economy must be run for the benefit of the vast majority of the people (Marxists and many other socialists would say "the proletariat" or "the workers"; in countries where agriculture figures prominently, nearly all would also add peasant farmers to that) rather than for a small aristocratic, plutocratic, or capitalist class. Many, perhaps most, self-described socialists would say that socialism also entails democratic controlled of that economy, although they would differ vastly over the appropriate institutions of that democracy and over whether control should be centralized or highly dispersed. Similarly, they would differ over the extent to which that economy would involve markets, and if so whether markets would apply only to consumer goods or, in some cases, to the means of production (factory and farm equipment, for example). For consumer goods, this is simply a question of efficient distribution; for the means of production, this is a question of ownership of the economy, and therefore of control over it.

Many non-socialists use the expression "socialist economy" (or "socialization" of a sector of the economy) almost exclusively to refer to centralized control under government aegis: for example, consider the use of the term "socialized medicine" in the US by opponents of single-payer health care.

Both socialists and non-socialists are in general agreement that a socialist economy would not include private or estate ownership of large enterprises; there is less agreement on whether any such enterprises would be owned by society at large or (at least in some cases) owned cooperatively by their own workers.

It has been claimed, both by socialists and non-socialists, that the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc had socialist economies, as the means of production were owned almost entirely by the state and the bulk of the economy was centrally controlled by the Communist Party acting through the state. Other socialists object to that label, because the people in those countries had little or no control over the government, and instead posit that these societies were state-capitalist, or as some Trotskyists would say, a "Deformed Worker's State". Trotskyists contend that the Stalinist economies fulfilled one criterion of a socialist economy, in that it was controlled by the state, but not the other criterion, that the state must be in turn democratically controlled by the workers. Many non-Marxist socialists would agree with the general outline of this, while perhaps dissenting from the statement that state control of the economy is one of the criteria of socialism. Further, many socialists would argue that the Soviet Union and its satellite states merely replaced a capitalist ruling class with a new ruling class, the coordinator class or nomenklatura, who played an extremely analogous role, managing the economy for their own benefit, or at least attempting to do so.

During the Soviet era, a common term used by communists to refer to their own economies was "actually existing socialism" (presumably as against any number of theoretically possible socialisms, but carrying an implicit statement that their economy was, indeed, socialist). Another similarly used term was (and is) "real socialist". Typically, when these terms were or are used by anyone outside of the particular parties that ruled these countries, they are placed in scare quotes and are used with at least mild irony.

A state that exists, or has existed

See main article Communist state

Most past and present states ruled by parties of Communist orientation called (or call) themselves "Socialist", with the exception Mao-era China, which called itself "Communist". However, in the western world they were usually all referred to as "Communist states". Once again, whether these states were socialist or not was (and is) disputed, with the large majority of today’s socialists contending that they were not socialist, for reasons directly analogous to those just discussed for a "socialist" economy.

There are also some who dispute whether it is appropriate to refer to any state, past, present, future, or hypothetical as "socialist", preferring to reserve that word for an economy or even a society, but not a state.

The Socialist society that will succeed Capitalism

Although Marxists generally use the word "socialism" in the senses described above, another specifically Marxist use of the term is worth noting. Karl Marx, in his exposition of historical materialism, his Hegelian model of a supposedly inevitable outline of history, saw socialism as a phase of human society that would follow capitalism and precede communism. Marx is by no means consistent about this throughout his writings and is by no means clear about the expected characteristics of such a society, but is reasonably consistent in his belief in the inevitable revolutionary triumph of socialism over capitalism, and its eventual (apparently less revoutionary) transformation into communism.

According to Marx, this socialist society will be controlled by the industrial workers (the proletariat), whose familiarity with large, collective undertakings will be reflected in the character of this society. It will be a dictatorship of the proletariat contrasted to the existing dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (the capitalists). It is worth noting in this context that Marx was not necessarily advocating or predicting "dictatorship" in the sense that word is commonly used: he was referring to what class would be dominant. While Leninist dictatorship is arguably consistent with this vision, so is worker democracy, analogous to bourgeios democracy. This would still conform to Marx's (relatively undeveloped) model of the "dictatorship" of a class.

Again according to Marx, eventually the state would "wither away" and this "socialist" society will be replaced by a classless "communist" society. In holding this classless non-state as the ultimate goal, Marx expressed an ideal closer to that of anarchisn than of Leninism. Certainly, "withering away" does not seem to have been the project of any of the states erected in the name of Marxism.

Socialism and the mixed economy

As remarked above, some self-described socialists, especially those who identify as social democrats, but also including (for example) the reform-oriented Euro-communists (Marxist, but by no means Stalinist), advocate a mixed economy rather than a complete re-working of existing capitalist economies along socialist lines. These views also extend to many who would not describe themselves as "socialists".

In the most moderate formulation, collective ownership is typically limited to control of natural resources and public utilities. The rationale for prioritizing these is that natural resources are a common patrimony and that (all or some) public utilities are natural monopolies.

Others would extend a socialist approach to what they deem to be essential industries (to prevent certain capitalists from having a stranglehold on society), or those that inherently require massive concentration of capital (to keep such massive concentrations of wealth, and hence of power, out of private hands). There is also often a rationale of national defense or national sovereignty. Thus, many otherwise capitalist countries have, at least at times, nationalized such industries as steel, automobiles, or airplanes.

In such states, there is a mixed economy with varying degrees of government ownership and private ownership, and with various degrees either of central planning by the government or other cooperative planning.

Most socialist thinkers argue that free market economics, a hallmark of capitalist systems, generally results in profits for a few at the expense of the many. Communists in particular, and especially in the dozen decades before the breakup of the Soviet Union, were adamantly opposed to any compromise with capitalism, claiming that any economic system that permitted the private accumulation of wealth was inherently unjust (see: labor theory of value).

While few self-described communists support any scheme upholding private ownership of the means of production (except, perhaps, as a temporary disposition on the way to something purer), other socialists are split over this, arguing over whether to only moderate the workings of market capitalism to produce a more equitable distribution of wealth, or whether to expropriate the entire owning class to guarantee this distribution. Many socialists acknowledge the extreme complexity of designing other appropriate non-market mechanisms to identify demand, especially for non-essential goods. Some have put forward models of market socialism where markets exist, but an owning class does not.

Many opponents of socialism, particularly in America, claim that people generally prosper as a result of free market economies; hence, that capitalism works for the benefit of all, rather than merely for a wealthy elite. The extreme of this capitalist, anti-socialist ideological position is that any meddling with markets can only be to the public detriment, and that regardless of what inequities exist under capitalism, the result of any other system could only be worse for the average person.

In practice, many aspects of the socialist worldview and socialist policy have been integrated with capitalism in many European countries and in other parts of the world to form mixed economies. Social democracy typically involves state ownership of some corporations (considered strategically important to the people) and participation in ownership of the means of production by workers. This can include profit sharing and worker representation on decision-making boards of corporations. Social services are important in social democracies. Such services include social welfare for the disadvantaged and unemployment insurance.

Likewise, market economies in the United States and other capitalist countries have integrated some aspects of socialist economic planning. Democratic countries typically place legal limits on the centralization of capital through anti-trust laws and limits on monopolies, though the extent to which these laws are actually enforced has to do with the balance of power between the actually existing or emerging monopoly firms. Ownership of stock has become common for middle class workers, both in companies they work for and in other companies (see mutual fund). Unionization has led to profit sharing. Social welfare and unemployment insurance are mandated by law in the US, UK, Canada and other market economies. There is a lively debate today as to whether the world is moving closer to or farther away from "socialism", as defined by different people. Another component of this debate is whether or not these developments are to be hailed.

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