Socialism: History, Theory, and Analysis

About Socialism:

Socialism is a populist economic and political system based on collective, common, or public ownership of the means of production. Those means of production include the machinery, tools, and factories used to produce goods that aim to directly satisfy human needs.

In contrast to capitalism, whereby business owners control the means of production and pay wages to workers to use those means, socialism envisions shared ownership and control among the laboring class.

Essential Features:

In a purely socialist system, all production and distribution decisions are made by the collective, directed by a central planner or government body. Worker cooperatives, however, are also a form of socialized production.

Socialist systems tend to have robust welfare systems and social safety nets so that individuals rely on the state for everything from food to healthcare. The government determines the output and pricing levels of these goods and services.

Socialists contend that shared ownership of resources and central planning provide a more equal distribution of goods and services and a more equitable society.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • Socialism is an economic and political system based on collective ownership of the means of production.
  • All legal production and distribution decisions are made by the government in a socialist system. The government also determines all output and pricing levels and supplies its citizens with everything from food to healthcare.
  • Proponents of socialism believe that it leads to a more equal distribution of goods and services and a more equitable society.
  • Socialist ideals include production for use, rather than for profit; an equitable distribution of wealth and material resources among all people; no more competitive buying and selling in the market; and free access to goods and services.
  • Capitalism, with its belief in private ownership and the maximizing of profits, stands in contrast to socialism, but most capitalist economies today have some socialist aspects.

    Ideals:

    Socialist ideals include:

    • Production for use, rather than for profit
    • An equitable distribution of wealth and material resources among all people
    • No more competitive buying and selling in the market
    • Free access to goods and services.

    As an old socialist slogan describes it, “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”

    Socialism’s Deep Roots:

    Socialism’s intellectual roots date back to Plato’s Republic, in which he described a collective society. Centuries later, Thomas More’s Utopia echoed Platonic ideals in its depiction of an imaginary island where people live and work communally.

    Socialism was a direct response to the Industrial Revolution, which brought enormous economic and social change to Great Britain and the rest of the world. As industrialists grew wealthy on the labor of workers who increasingly lived in poverty, socialism emerged as an alternative to capitalism, one that could improve life for the working class.

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