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Socialism is a political ideology that began to develop in the nineteenth century, with roots in philosophers from the 18th century.
There are several tenets that generally qualify as socialist. One does not necessarily have to believe in all of them to be a socialist and some are disputed among socialists as to the actual prominence of them (eg. class analysis)
1. A belief in society and some form of collectivism. This can range from a Nordic- style welfare state to anarcho-collectivism to full-fledged Communism. This belief is generally opposed to liberal individualism as it believes that people cannot be separated from the context in which they live their lives. That said, individual civil liberties are an important part of Socialist theory, and for some strains, individual freedom is the reason for supporting Anarchism in that particular strain.
2. The benefits of Co-Operation: Again the belief that human beings are interdependent. It also believes that social groups can be better than the sum of their parts.
3. Class Analysis of society: This is the belief that society is divided into different classes, the traditional model being the Marxist division between the proletariat (working class) and the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production). It also includes the belief that the lower class is exploited by the upper class. Socialists believe in the equality between classes and Marx believed in the complete eradication of class. Opinions on where the middle class fits into that two-tiered model varies wildly.
4. Internationalism: The belief that all of humanity is one race and that there should be greater equality between rich and poor nations. A belief in international socialism is a response to international capitalism.
5. Anti-Capitalism, to greater or lesser degrees: The moderate critique of capitalism believes in curbing excesses of the free market through policies such as welfare state (see Social Democracy). The Radical critique argues that capitalism should be overthrown (see every other strain).
6. Liberty as Fulfillment: This means that liberty is found through the development of the individual rather than freedom through purchasing power. Life, liberty, but not property.
7. People are sovereign: Has been used to critique “bourgeois democracy” by Lenin, a term referring to the representative models used in most countries, or systems where who can vote is limited. A more modern critique would ask for increased direct democracy.
8. Common, collective, and/or state ownership of the means of production, or at the very least more influence for workers.
9. Wage slavery: Among the more extreme ideas, usually pushed by Utopians, Communists, and Anarchists, that any form of monetary pay for work is inherently slave-like. See Wikipedia for more about this idea is probably a better idea than looking here.
Here are the laconic versions of various types of Socialism. It's important to remember that while there is broad agreement among socialists that capitalism is bad and should be either abolished or at least moderated, there is little else universally agreed upon by them. The flame wars that erupt over the existence of money, the usefulness of reformism vs. revolution and the proper role of the state in guiding the development of a socialist society are not worth getting into here. It's enough to know that there are deep conflicts between different schools of thought and that at times it seems they can't cooperate on anything.
Types of Socialism
- Utopian socialism: A 19th-century socialism developed by thinkers such as Saint-Simon. Belief in idyllic, small communities usually.
- State Socialism: A strain that emphasizes government ownership of industry and central planning. The difference between this and Leninism being that State Socialism is often practiced in democratic countries. A good if debatable example would be post-war Britain, especially under Clement Atlee. There is a fine line between this and Social Democracy.
- Social Democracy: Social democracy is a more moderate kind of socialism that seeks to use democratic rather than revolutionary means to achieve its goals. It advocates policies such as full employment and the right to work, the welfare state, and ensuring some equality of outcome through redistribution of wealth. Examples of this form include Postwar Consensus politics in Britain and the Nordic model in Scandinavia. The main difference with State Socialism is that, while the values of Socialism are there, modern Social Democracy actually has no interest in reforming Capitalism into Socialism but rather updating and modifying the Capitalist model to create a more equitable society, making its status as a Socialist ideology hotly debated. Worth noting that in Europe, where it is most popular, Social Democracy parties independent of the major Socialists groups still caucus with those socialists in domestic legislatures, and are usually members of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which is itself under the blanket of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament.
- As an aside, the term "social democracy" in the early twentieth century used to refer to Marxists; it should not be confused with the modern usage of the term.
- Libertarian Socialism: Imagine Anarcho-Syndicalism but less extreme, with the barest minimum of a State as supported by the Libertarian ideal. Government maintains trade relations and protects its people, but it does not interfere with their lives, which are meant to assume a cooperative instead of competitive way of living.
- An alternative concept of "libertarian socialism" includes the existence of the welfare state in that barest minimum to provide an equal playing field for all, therefore making force and fraud (at least directed against another individual) less attractive or pointless (this concept would be a Berserk Button for the more right-wing libertarians, who do not want a welfare state to exist). In this concept, personal freedom and privacy are paramount - the apparatus of the state that seeks to control individual behavior would be dismantled. For example, all drug laws would be repealed and replaced with truth-in-labeling on drugs laws - because it is not the business of the state to protect people from themselves but only from others who might seek to deceive or harm them.
Marxism and Communism
- Marxism: A more scientific socialism that took the analysis of capitalism and the development of history as key points. Karl Marx analysed the nature of capitalism, how it began, how it divides the world into the two classes of proletariat and bourgeoisie, and how it spreads across nations. Capitalism was seen as one stage of the progression of history, which would eventually collapse due to the contradictions inherent in it and would be replaced by socialism and then communism.
- Communism: This is the general term for what is basically the Anarcho-Syndicalist period after the full revolution, dictatorship included (or skipped). Funnily enough, the importance of this part of it has really died away as many "Communists" now focus on the State Socialist period (Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyist, etc.) and the Anarcho-Communists have frankly even less influence than the other strains.
- Leninism: The socialist transitional period between capitalism and communism is a period of State Socialism (see below) referred to as the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Leninism is the specific study of this left-wing totalitarian period, and people claiming to be Leninist often have no interest in the final transition to Communism, which is inherently Anarchistic in nature.
- Stalinism: To be extremely basic, Leninism is internationalist in outlook while Stalinism is isolationist ("Socialism in One Country" being a popular slogan). Stalinism also heavily emphasizes the "dictatorship" aspect of the term "dictatorship of the proletariat." Previously Leninist states often become Stalinist over time, and never reached anything close to the ideal of stateless communism.
- Trotskyism: Imagine Leninism as Democratic and you basically have this, so it's easy to see it as a particularly hardline version of State Socialism. As Trotskyites were internationalists, they became bitter opponents of Stalinism.
- Anarcho-Communism: These are Communists that believe that the transitionary State Socialist period is completely unnecessary, that society can jump straight from capitalism with a state to the inherently anarchic communism.
Anarchism originally emerged as an anti-Capitalist theory. Anarchists and Socialists are often known to cooperate at rallies, even if they disagree greatly on many issues.
- Anarcho-Syndicalism: The idea that if people are left to their own devices, they will essentially co-operate. Anarcho-Syndicalists often emphasize individual liberties being incompatible with the state as the reason for anarchism, as well as the idea that for there to be Socialism the state must not exist because the state naturally allies itself with big business.
- Green Anarchism: Overlays with green politics, which are generally regarded as left-wing. The basic idea here is that the state is central in destroying the environment.
- Kemalism: Based around the ideas supported by Turkish Republic father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is basically somewhere between State Socialist and Social Democracy, with a healthy emphasis on state ownership. It doesn't have any real popularity outside of Turkey (though Arab Spring revolutionaries are saying they look towards Turkey's model of government), but over there it is the dominant force in left-wing politics.
"Nazism was founded out of elements of the far-right racist völkisch German nationalist movement and the violent anti-communist Freikorps paramilitary culture that fought against the uprisings of communist revolutionaries in post-World War I Germany. The ideology was developed first by Anton Drexler and then Adolf Hitler as a means to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric, though such aspects were later downplayed in the 1930s to gain the support from industrial owners for the Nazis; focus was shifted to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes."
- Fascism in general, despite its support for government control of big business and the finance industry, is extremely hostile to socialism and egalitarianism. Socialists generally consider it to be an extremely statist form of capitalism, whereas historians consider it to be either an ideology that combines influences from both, or something different entirely.
- Liberalism, including the Democratic Party, and especially the administration of Barack Obama. Modern liberals are frequently Keynesians (ie. they support some degree of government intervention in the economy, especially during times of recession) but liberalism is still a fundamentally individualist ideology, and American liberals are broadly supportive of capitalism and favour its continuation; it cannot possibly be emphasized enough that the Keyesian economic thinking is not by its nature necessarily socialist. At most there may be some overlap with Social Democracy, but whether that deserves to be considered socialist itself (or something in between) is not widely agreed on either.
For more information on Socialism, please consult Wikipedia. They can say it much better than here. Please note that this article barely scratches the surface.