What Is Socialism?

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what is socialism

In a time when much of society feels betrayed by banking, big businesses and the one percenters (one percent being the wealthiest in society) many are turning their backs on the capitalist system and looking for answers in socialism. The question is what is it, how does it work and is it the answer to our problems or does it  create more chaos?

In its simplest form, socialism is a system in which the population collectively owns the means of production whilst distributing the end result proportionally. This distribution usually takes the form of social welfare in which a person’s basic needs are met. These include healthcare, housing and education. This means that a handful of people, or even one person, cannot own or make the decisions on production, resources or assets to suit their own needs or agenda. Instead everyone would have free access to the goods and services that directly meets their needs.

In theory this creates a society where everyone has the same opportunities. With the highest level of education and healthcare being accessible to everyone, not just to those who have a financial or class advantage. By removing class distinctions socialism brings true societal equality.

For this to work, control needs to be placed into the hands of the state government.

Socialism and Politics

As with any ideology, due to the complexities involved, there are multiple variations of socialism, some of which are drastically different to others. Currently no country uses pure socialism, instead they tend to use political systems with socialist elements. The two most commonly encountered socialist based systems are social democracy and Marxism-Leninism.

Social Democracy is a system which aims to improve the quality of life through equal rights and opportunities. This is possible by a state-run welfare system that removes class inequality and provides a level playing field where everyone has access to high quality education, healthcare and housing, all of which run in harmony with and are supported by a capitalist economy. Not by coincidence, the countries that use social democracy such as Finland, Denmark and Switzerland tend to be some of the happiest in the world.

Marxism-Leninism is a system which aims to benefit the state by prioritising the protection of its dictatorship government. This is rationalised by the view that if the state benefits, its people benefit. The use of this system however has not gone without its flaws as history shows that prioritising the protection of the state tends to lead to censorship, depreciation of the population's standard of living and even modern slavery. Countries that lean towards the Marxism-Leninism form of socialism include China, Cuba and the Soviet Union.

The Nazi party and socialism

National Socialism (Nazism) is an ideology that aimed to overcome social divisions by building a nation in which the people put the state above all else convincing them to prioritise the “common good” over their own personal interests. Although this sounds similar to other variations of socialism, Nazism also subscribed to the theories of racial hierarchy (a belief that some races are superior to others), eugenics (the science of improving society through controlled, selective breeding)  and social Darwinism (the belief that life is a competition and those that are best able to adapt and succeed are superior). These beliefs led to a variant of socialism where race defined who deserved the benefits and opportunities provided by the state, whilst other communities, races, “undesirable” people and political views were marginalised and/or killed.

Therefore, National Socialism cannot truly be compared with the purest form of socialism as it, like many other political variants of socialism, carry only some and not all of the concepts of “utopian” socialism. (The original version of socialism).

What are the pros and cons of Socialism?

Although Socialism sounds ideal on paper, it doesn’t come without its criticism. Some of these criticisms have more impact on one political variation than another. Here is a list of the common benefits and criticisms of socialism.

Benefits

  • Everyone has equal opportunity regardless of generational wealth, owned assets, class or status
  • No one person or group other than the state have control over important services or goods
  • Access to high quality education regardless of wealth can allow individuals and communities to thrive who, under other systems, wouldn’t have the same opportunities
  • Important services and goods like medication are produced and available for the society even if they are not commercially viable
  • The needs of the people are met as healthcare, housing and education is available to all resulting in reduced poverty
  • Greed is eliminated as no person has more than the other
  • Countries that implement socialism tend to be happier
  • Welfare of the state and its people are placed before profit

Criticism

  • National economy develops relatively slower
  • Motivation to study and work can be lost as the rewards for contributing or working harder are removed
  • It can be expensive for the state to fund education, health and housing
  • Resentment can grow from those that work hard as they receive no more than those that choose to work little
  • Drive and ambition to succeed and improve your circumstances are significantly lowered
  • For socialism to work properly it relies heavily on the willingness of the majority to contribute equally
  • Business growth and innovation can suffer as the drive to become bigger, more profitable and more powerful is removed
  • Some elements of a socialist state can be taken advantage of and manipulated by state control, corruption or freeloaders

  • Government has much, if not all, of the control

  • History shows that socialism has a tendency to fail

  • It can cause higher taxes

  • Services can be overrun and less efficient due to bureaucracy

  • Certain freedoms can be restricted or totally removed from the individual

So what are your thoughts on socialism? Do you think the original “utopian” form of socialism is the answer to all of our problems or do you think it is naive to think everybody will contribute equally? Are you a fan of capitalism or social democracy? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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