Socialism has gone through many stages and iterations, rising to prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries before waning and then regaining popularity in recent years as a result of the rise of economic inequality. Learn about the origins and tenets of socialism, as well as where it is practiced today.
Socialism: What Is It?
Public ownership of the means of production and distribution characterizes socialism as an economic theory and political system. In a socialist system, the government fulfills fundamental human needs (like universal healthcare) in accordance with the will of the people. The term "socialism" refers to a wide range of ideologies, from socialist tendencies in a primarily capitalist economy to totalitarian rule in a strict socialist society.
A Brief History of Socialism
A pre-political version of socialism dates back to the dawn of civilization, when obtaining resources and cooperating to hunt animals and grow food were essential for survival. The development of socialism over time can be seen in the following ways:
Ancient Greece: In his Socratic dialogue Republic, written in 375 BC, Plato described a particular kind of socialist society.
Europe during the Renaissance: Sir Thomas More developed the notion of a contented and productive collective in his book Utopia, published in 1516 AD.
Industrial Revolution: The Industrial Revolution brought to light all the inequities of capitalist economies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, making a small number of private individuals wealthy while the working class toiled and struggled in a system that was biased against them. Robert Owen, a Welsh businessman, promoted utopian socialism in the middle of the nineteenth century, but it was the 1847 publication of The Communist Manifesto by the theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that sparked a political movement for democratic socialism in Europe.
Bolshevik Revolution: Vladimir Lenin, who led the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and oversaw the creation of the Soviet Union, rejected capitalist society and was motivated by the Marxist theory that social ills result from struggles between the wealthy and the proletariat.
World Wars: Marxism and socialism were replaced by communism and fascism during the twentieth century, and after World War II, communist governments arose throughout Eastern Europe, while democratic socialist parties continued to be widely supported in Western bloc nations like France, Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
Market socialism: Following the collapse of Soviet central planning and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many socialist societies modified their methods to incorporate some elements of a capitalist economic system, giving rise to what economists refer to as market socialism.
7 Main Principles of Socialism
Although there are many different types of socialism, the fundamental ideas behind socialist systems include:
1. Centralized economic activities: Unlike a capitalist economy, which allows for the freedom of private individuals to engage in and profit from economic activity as they see fit, a socialist economy's central authority coordinates all economic planning and equally distributes income among the populace.
2. Classless society: Socialism aims to create a wholly egalitarian society in which everyone has the same level of wealth and access to natural resources.
3. Employment protection: In socialist countries, the government upholds workers' human rights and provides them with equal opportunities by recognizing their labor unions and setting minimum wages.
4. Limited consumer choice: Because there are no market forces and the government of a socialist state meets all of the public's basic needs, you won't find a wide range of goods on store shelves in a socialist nation.
5. Limited property rights: Socialist economies only permit personal private property in the form of consumer goods, unlike capitalist economies, which permit and encourage individual property ownership.
6. Public ownership: In a socialist society, the public owns all manufacturing and distribution, and no one person is allowed to profit more than any other. This enforces collective ownership of the means of production (or decision-making power through state ownership on behalf of the public).
7. Provision of basic needs: Unlike free market economies, where people can suffer if they don't earn enough to survive, socialist economies' central planners guarantee that the general populace has access to basic necessities like work, food, shelter, public transportation, clothing, education, and healthcare.
5 Examples of Socialism
Even though Marxist-Leninist communism and many different forms of socialism are both present today, some historical and comparative modern examples include:
1. Cuba: Under Fidel Castro, the island nation established a Marxist-Leninist socialist economy following its revolution in 1959. Cubans recently decided to maintain socialism politically while implementing new economic laws, such as private property rights and some free market activity.
2. North Korea: North Korea's populace is governed by a strict dictatorship in a wholly closed Marxist-Leninist communist party economy.
3. The People's Republic of China: Although the Marxist-Leninist communist government of China controls many of the nation's production facilities, it permits private businesses to make money in certain economic hubs like Shanghai.
4. The Soviet Union: Using Marxist-Leninist terminology, the former Soviet Union, also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR, referred to itself as a socialist nation.
5. The United States: The US offers social welfare programs that are viewed as socialist, such as welfare, Social Security, food stamps, and housing assistance, despite claiming to be a democratic nation with a capitalist economy. Even though they are members of major political parties like the Democrats or Republicans, some politicians openly support social democratic ideals and claim membership in socialist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America.