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What is Socialism?

Socialism is a political ideology which emerged in the contemporary modern world as critics of liberal ideas. It is broad of economic and social systems which are characterized by common ownership of wealth and property, democratic control of means of production as well as political theories, ways and movements. Under Socialism, the means of production are owned by the state, community or the workers as opposed to privately owned as under Capitalism. It is commonly held that socialism evolved as a reaction against the social and economic conditions in Europe as a result of the growth of industrial capitalism. Socialist ideas emerged due to the development of a new, growing className of industrial workers, who were suffering from abject poverty and deprivation of the industrialization period.

The central theme of socialism lies in the fact that all human beings are equal (social beings) and are united by their common humanity. Thus, individual identity is shaped and moulded by social interaction among the membership of social groups and collective bodies. In its fundamental sense, socialism favors the collective ownership of means of production.

The term ‘socialism’ is primarily attributed to Pierre Leroux (1798 - 1871) or to Marie Roch Louis Reybaud (1799 - 1879) or to Robert Owen (1771 - 1858) in the mid-19th Century. In contemporary social term, socialism emerged in its elementary state as a result of the common enthusiasm for working men's association and their common mission to ensure equality among all employees and all the people in a society. Socialists choose cooperation to competition and favor collectivism over individualism.

What are the main objectives of socialism?

The main Objectives of socialist ideology are:

  • Elimination of property, disease and ignorance.
  • Property and privilege in any form should occupy a strictly limited place.
  • Equal opportunities for everyone.
  • Ethical and spiritual values shall be a significant contributor to the enrichment of the individual and communal life.

History of Socialism

Elements and significance of socialism have existed long before the socialist ideology of Nineteenth-century industrial period. Plato’s The Republic and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia have been a great source of early socialist ideas and communal theories.

Modern socialism emerged as a result of a reaction or protest against the excesses of 18th and 19th Century Capitalism. Social critics of the late eighteenth Century and early nineteenth Century such as Robert Owen (1771 - 1858), Charles Fourier (1772 - 1837), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 - 1865), Louis Blanc (1811 - 1882) and Henri de Saint-Simon (1760 - 1825) articulated the excesses of poverty and inequality of the Industrial Revolution. They fervently advocated reforms in the form of egalitarian distribution of wealth and the abolition of private property by transforming society into small utopian communities.

But it was Karl Marx who applied systemic scientific knowledge in an attempt to expose the evils of capitalism. He called it ‘scientific socialism’ which he employed in his attempt to criticise capitalistic ideas and its system of alienation of workers. It was Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who systematized the theory of socialism as the direct outcome of a revolutionary className struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. They borrowed the dialectic method of scientific knowledge from Hegel and applied to their theory of socialism. In 1864, under the leadership of Marx and Johann Georg Eccarius, the International Workingmen's Association (IWA) or First International, established in London which became the first major international forum for the proclamation of Socialist thoughts. Addition to that, Marx and Engels together founded the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany in 1869. They were also responsible for setting up the Second International (or Socialist International) in 1889. It is illustrated that the groundwork of modern socialism was laid in the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engel in The Communist Manifesto 1848. The critical view was that capitalism had its own inherent degradation and would be abolished by the working className in a revolution. The working className will ultimately rise up against the ruling className to control the means of production.

Features of Socialism

  1. Public Ownership: A socialist structure is categorized by common ownership of the means of production and distribution by the people. The society is conditioned by ownership of mines, farms, factories, financial institutions, distributing agencies (internal and external trade, shops, etc.), means of transport and communications, whereby they are owned, controlled, and regulated by government departments and state enterprises.
  2. Central Planning: A socialist society is centrally planned under the supervision of a central planning authority. The central authority lays down the objectives and targets to be accomplished during the plan period. The central planning authority utilizes the economic resources by directing and controlling the economy to attain definite objectives and targets.
  3. Consumption: In socialism, consumer's independence infers that production in the state-owned market is generally governed by the desires of consumers, and the products are distributed to the consumers at fixed prices through the state-run stores.
  4. Equal Income Distribution: In a socialism, there is equality of income distribution as compared with a free market economy. The incomes in the form of rent, interest and profit go to the state which utilizes them in public welfare services including providing free education, public health facilities, and social security to the people.
  5. Planning and the Price Mechanism: The pricing process is not operated freely but it works under the control and regulation of the central planning authority. There are prices administered and fixed by the central authority.

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What is Utopian Socialism?

Although the modern socialist movement can objectively be known as utopian, this term is most often applied today, to the earliest socialists who lived during the early nineteenth century, where the term {"utopian"} negatively described their unrealistic ideas. But the root of modern utopian socialism can be found in Ancient Greece and the works of the famous philosophers Plato and Aristotle who both described in their works perfect societies. Plato's Republic advocates the sharing of wives and children.

The works of the utopian socialism authors reflect their aspirations and wishes for a just egalitarian world, where inhumanities would be eliminated, and the foundation of modern society will be built upon a significant balance between men, work, education, progress, and nature, with open rejection to the indifference of the rulers, rigid laws, selfishness and acquisitive individualism.

The first utopian socialist was Thomas More, the English philosopher and author. His novel Utopia described the fundamental need for the creation of a state that practiced toleration, freedom of marriage, simpler communal life, free education and health care.

Another profound utopian socialist was the French aristocrat Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon. Simon did not advocate public ownership of property, but he summoned for public control of property through central planning, in which scientists, industrialists, and engineers would articulate social needs and direct the energies of society to meet them. Such a system would be more efficient than capitalism. He believed that history taught that society moves through a series of stages, each of which is marked by a particular arrangement of social classes and a set of dominant beliefs.

Some of the other notable utopian socialist philosophers and authors were: Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler, Candide by Voltaire, Charles Fourier, Etienne Cabet (who created Icarian movement of utopian communities), Edward Bellamy, William Morris, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), Augustin Souchy (1892-1984), B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) and Ursula K. Le Guin.

What is Marxism or Marxist Socialism?

Marxism as a political ideology can be understood as a basic structural strand of socialism which talks about the economic side of history and society. Marxism is profoundly associated with the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Karl Marx was the first thinker to bring together the various strands of socialist thought into a coherent worldview. Marxist ideology emerged not only as a critique of capitalism but also provided an alternative economic system. Marx brought about a great change in the entire social science study.

Marx inherited three legacies, German philosophy, French political thought and English economics in his socialistic foundation. From the German philosophy, he borrowed the Hegelian method of dialectics and applied it to the material world and propounded the concept of dialectic materialism. From the French revolutionary tradition, he accepted the idea that change motivated by an ideal condition was not only desirable but also feasible. He applied his method with a view to bringing about large-scale change within the industrialized capitalist economy of which England was the classical model in the 19th century.

The core elements of Marxism can be understood as follows:

  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Historical Materialism
  • Theory of Alienation
  • Theory of surplus value
  • className struggle
  • Dictatorship of the proletariat
  • Establishment of a communist society

Historical Materialism

The doctrine of dialectical materialism and its application is one of the most important contributions of Karl Marx to the world. He is indebted to both Hegel and Hobbes for this theory. Dialectical materialism perceives that the world is material by its nature and it develops according to the laws of movement of matter. But Marx differed from the Hegelian idea that the evolution of the world is one of Idea or Universal Spirit, but it is the evolution of matter or material forces. Marx borrowed his dialectic method from Hegel but modified it in a very fundamental way. Marx applied the concept to the material movement.

Historical materialism, therefore, is the application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the historical concept of development of society. According to Engels, historical materialism is a theory which holds that the cause which decides the whole Assignment of human history is the economic development of society. It is explained in terms of changes occurring in the modes of production and exchange. Marx has explained that every society in the history has undergone stages of changes. The first stage was the primitive socialism which gradually passed through slavery, feudalism and capitalism. In each stage, there has been a consequent division of society into three distinct classes (Slave- master, serf - baron and proletariat- capitalist). The nature of such society has been dominant with a struggle within each relationship which he called as ‘className struggle’.

className Struggle

The understanding of the concept of “className” is an integral part of the understanding of Marxian philosophy. The sole criterion on the basis of which the className of a person is determined is his ownership (or control) of means of production. According to Marx, those who own or control the means of production are the bourgeois (exploiters), and those who are owned constitute the proletariat (exploited).

In the Communist Manifesto 1848, Marx and Engels foreshadowed that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of className struggle”. Thus, they argue that className conflict is the real driving force of human history.

Stages in Development of Socialism

Marx identified the following stage:

  • Primitive communism
  • Slave society
  • Feudalism
  • Capitalism
  • Socialism
  • Communism

Unlike an earlier liberal democratic theory, who talked about pre-political society in the social contract theory, Marx argued that humans had always lived in some kind of society. The first of society was the society of primitive communism. It was a classless tribal society, therefore, it was a communist. What made it primitive was the very low standard of living and the great dangers facing tribal members.

Eventually, the next stage was the slave society. In slave societies, the relation was defined in terms of land ownership and slave ownership. Societies of this kind were bombarded by internal conflicts such as conflicts for control over the means of production. Eventually, these conflicts led to the demise of slave society and the emergence of feudalism. Feudalism is also characterized primarily by agricultural production which is controlled by large estates of nobles. There were other classes, particularly the merchants, or the early bourgeoisie. The early bourgeoisie, unlike the landholding nobility, directed their livelihood from the economic control of trade and finance. With the expansion of trade routes, the European bourgeois grew in economic status and entrusted political power in such condition.

Marx’s Theory of Surplus Value

The theory of surplus value, according to Marx commands that labor comes with a price. It accrues to the number of hours he has dedicated to the work. The central idea is that labor spent by the laborer in the production of the commodity is the sole criterion for determining its value. The labor receives his wage according to the labor hour he has contributed. This totals his labor wage. The master, or the owner can appropriate any amount of labor to him in order to increase more production. Thus, the value is created over and over than what the labor is actually paid for.

Marxian Theory of Alienation

His chief work on ‘the theory of alienation’ can be found in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (also known as the Paris Manuscripts) 1844. The basic idea is to explain the dehumanization of labor in relation to means of production. It clearly explains the right condition of the capitalist system. Marx explains that in a capitalist society, work or labor itself becomes a commodity, something which can be bought or sold on the open market. It results in the creation of the two principal classes - the bourgeoisie liberal className who control the means of production and distribution in the society and have the power to buy labour and the proletariat which is composed of persons who have no share in the control of the means of production and who are forced to sell their labour on the open market in order to sustain themselves. In such condition, the worker finds disinterested in his produce, they are alienated from the fruit of their labor, which is expropriated by the capitalist as profit and in turn is eventually alienated from his innate human characters.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the central basis for understanding Marx’s theory of communism. The condition of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a transition phase in the direction from capitalism to socialism and communism. This path will be defined by a revolution and It is the first step in the revolution of the working className which will raise the proletariat to the position of a ruling className. According to Marx, such a transitional phase is necessary because the destruction of whole capitalist social and political order cannot be completely achieved without capturing power and without using it as an instrument to create a condition for the ushering in of a communist social order.

The revolution will not be of peace as the elite bourgeois className will not easily give up their power. There will be great resistance and there will be bloodshed but the ultimate result will be glorious. The proletariat will hold power just enough to create a society which is devoid of discrimination and exploitation of any kind.

Establishment of Communist Society

Communism is explained as the final stage in the historical concept of society, which will be brought about by the proletariat through its revolutionary struggle. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels were of the opinion that the communists have no interests as separate and apart from the interests of the proletariat. In his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx defined the condition of communism as the ‘positive abolition of private property, the abolition of classes and abolition of the division of labor’. In economic terms, the communist society will be a society of associated producers only.

Marx talked of two stages of communist society. The first stage will be marked by bringing about the socialization of means of production in which it will not be in the hands of any one className alone but in the hands of society as a whole. Labour will continue to exist at this stage and the organizing principle of the economy will be “from each according to his capacity to each according to his work”. This entails that everyone will work according to one’s ability and get according to the amount of work. The second stage is marked by the abolition of any form of domination and exploitation. The final stage will be a classless and stateless society in which government of men will be replaced by the administration of things. Communism is viewed as the true final solution of the conflict between existence and essence, freedom and necessity, individual and the species.

Marxism has not only inspired thinkers but also have managed to inspire a lot of discussions and debates on his theories. His concept of dialectic materialism, alienation theory, className struggle all entails a deep study of the capitalistic society. He is the first thinker to have exposed capitalism to its roots in a very systematic scientific way. No other person has instigated so much idea and scope of discussion as Marx has managed to do.

But Marxism is not immune from criticisms from different corners. Marxist argument of a new social order in which there will be neither alienation nor exploitation, no classes, no className antagonism, no authority, no state is highly imaginative and fascinating. Therefore, he is often criticized as possessing utopian ideas.

What is meant by Democratic Socialism?

In simple term, democratic socialism means the mixture of ideas of socialism and democratic values together in order to build up an acceptable and viable political and economic structure. To put it in other words, to arrive at socialist goals through democratic means. In other words, as an ideology socialism is preferable to any other form of ideology such as capitalism or communism.

By the middle of the 19th century, the birth of a new ideology in the form of Marxian socialism created new hopes and aspiration among the minds of people who were quite eager to save society from poverty and squalor of life. But the high hopes and aspirations were destroyed by the support of armed revolution, className struggle and emergence of totalitarianism.

Among them, a section of the population had no faith in practical armed revolution and this led them to search an alternative way to establish a socialist society which was thus, found in the structure of democratic methods. These people began to consider advocating a compromise between democracy and Marxian socialism. Therefore, they decided to set up a socialist society by applying democratic means and instruments. They were of the opinion that totalitarianism could never be the alternative ideology to capitalism. Democratic socialism, in effect, promised to follow dogmas but it also promised to be more pragmatic.

The social democratic movement emerged as a result of the efforts of August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht who co-founded the Social Democratic Workers’ Party in 1869 and then merged with the General German Workers’ Union in 1875 to form the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands). Social democracy in effect means the maintaining of the free market system along with regulations so as to take care of the welfare needs of the whole people. It can be seen in a mixed economy where the government takes responsibility of providing social services without eliminating the role of the market.

What are the main features of Democratic Socialism?

The ideological functioning of democratic socialism reveals that the whole doctrine (it is also called a political ideology) is based on a certain cluster of values or principles.

These basic values follow certain tenets, which are:

  • Cohesive system. The economic built up in a socialist society depends on the basis of planning, participation, and cohesion. It has been asserted that democratic socialism gives primacy to planning
  • Committed to more liberty. Democratic socialism says that the options of liberty shall be opened to all and not to just a few. By allowing the scope of liberty to everyone, it will finally open the way for overall participation in the processes of the state. It is asserted that a socialist and democratic structure of the political system can ensure maximization of liberty.
  • Equality is a very important value or principle. Everyone will have an opportunity to enjoy equality and liberty. It is the goal of democratic socialism to bring the means of production under the authority of state and to give due share to labor.
  • The fraternity is the final value of democratic socialism. Like other values of liberty and equality fraternity is also closely related to democratic socialism. The fraternity is described as means and love for one another. Rather, it is an important part of socialism based on democracy where the love of one another will be based on universal brotherhood. This also ensures that the kind of social system will not be marked by any sort of discrimination among people.

Therefore, for a socialist society to be perfect, it must be built upon the ashes of capitalism. It means that capitalism is to be destroyed first and then socialism will be set up. But in a democratic socialist state, capitalist forces and the market economy will be quite active which will also influence the functioning of the state system in a clandestine way.

The most important problem faced by socialism is the innate nature of its idea. The big question is ‘how much of socialism and how much of capitalism is to be included?’. It is found that a socialist state based on democratic values, principles, and structure is not devoid of the evils of className-divided society. Like in the USA there is className division even if the structure is based on the democratic pattern of socialism. In other words, it becomes the victim of the evils of className society. Some way or the other, different classes in the society are formed such as bureaucratic className, technicians’ className, white collar workers’ className. Therefore, the success of socialist democracy depends on the necessary step to include democratic means in order to achieve the final stage of equality and freedom of all.

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