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The word "socialism" refers to a broad range of theoretical and historical socio-economic systems, and has also been used by many political movements throughout history to describe themselves and their goals, generating numerous types of socialism. Different self-described socialists have used the term socialism to refer to different things, such as an economic system, a type of society, a philosophical outlook, a collection of moral values and ideals, or even a certain kind of human character. Some definitions of socialism are so vague that they may include anything and everyone on Earth,[1] while others are so specific that they only include a small minority of the things that have been described as "socialism" in the past. There have been numerous political movements which called themselves socialist under some definition of the term; this article attempts to list them all. Some of these interpretations are mutually exclusive, and all of them have generated debates over the "true" meaning of socialism.

This article will divide the content into two categories: types of socialist systems (as an economic system), and types of socialist ideologies (as a political movement or political philosophy).


Early interpretations

The word "socialism" was coined in the 1830s, and it was first used to refer to philosophical or moral beliefs rather than any specific political views. For example, Alexandre Vinet, who claimed to have been the first person to use the term, defined socialism simply as "the opposite of individualism".[2] Robert Owen, the person who introduced the word "socialism" to the English language, also viewed socialism as a matter of ethics, though he used it with a slightly more specific meaning, to refer to the view that human society can and should be improved for the benefit of all. In a similar vein, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon claimed that socialism is "every aspiration towards the amelioration of society".[3]

In the first half of the 19th century, many writers who described themselves as socialists - and who would be later called "utopian socialists" - wrote down descriptions of what they believed to be the ideal human society. Some of them also created small communities that put their ideals into practice. A constant feature of these ideal societies was social and economic equality. Because the people who proposed the creation of such societies called themselves socialists, the word "socialism" came to refer not only to a certain moral doctrine, but also to a type of egalitarian society based on such a doctrine.

Other early advocates of socialism took a more scientific approach by favouring social leveling to create a meritocratic society based upon freedom for individual talent to prosper[4], such as Count Henri de Saint-Simon, who was fascinated by the enormous potential of science and technology and believed a socialist society would eliminate the disorderly aspects of capitalism.[5] He advocated the creation of a society in which each person was ranked according to his or her capacities and rewarded according to his or her work.[4] The key focus of this early socialism was on administrative efficiency and industrialism, and a belief that science was the key to progress[6]. Simon's ideas provided a foundation for scientific economic planning and technocratic administration of society.

Other early socialist thinkers, such as Thomas Hodgkin and Charles Hall, based their ideas on David Ricardo's economic theories. They reasoned that the equilibrium value of commodities approximated to prices charged by the producer when those commodities were in elastic supply, and that these producer prices corresponded to the embodied labor — the cost of the labor (essentially the wages paid) that was required to produce the commodities. The Ricardian socialists viewed profit, interest and rent as deductions from this exchange-value.[7] These ideas embodied early conceptions of free-market socialism.

After the advent of Karl Marx's theory of capitalism and Scientific socialism, socialism came to refer to ownership and administration of the means of production by the working class, either through the state apparatus or through independent cooperatives. In Marxist theory, socialism refers to a specific stage of social and economic development that will displace capitalism, characterized by coordinated production, public or cooperative ownership of capital, diminishing class conflict and inequalities that spawn from such, and the end of wage-labor with a method of compensation based on the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution".[8]

Socialist Planned Economy

This form of socialism combines public ownership and management of the means of production with centralized state planning, and can refer to a broad range of economic systems from the centralized Soviet-style command economy to participatory planning via workplace democracy.

In a centrally-planned economy, decisions regarding the quantity of goods and services to be produced as well as the allocation of output (distribution of goods and services) are planned in advanced by a planning agency. This type of economic system was often combined with a single-party political system, and is thus associated with the Communist states of the 20th century.

State-Directed Economy

A state-directed economy is a system where either the state or worker cooperatives own the means of production, but economic activity is directed to some degree by a government agency or planning ministry through mechanisms such as Indicative planning or Dirigisme. This differs from a centralized planned economy (or a command economy) in that micro-economic decision making, such as quantity to be produced and output requirements, is left to managers and workers in state enterprises or cooperative enterprises rather than being mandated by a comprehensive economic plan from a centralized planning board. However, the state will plan long-term strategic investment and some aspect of production. It is possible for a state-directed economy to have elements of both a market and planned economy. For example, production and investment decisions may be semi-planned by the state, but distribution of output may be determined by the market mechanism.

State-directed socialism can also refer to technocratic socialism; economic systems that rely on technocratic management and technocratic planning mechanisms, along with public ownership of the means of production. A forerunner of this concept was Henri de Saint-Simon, who understood the state would undergo a transformation in a socialist system and change its role from one of "political administration of men, to the administration of things".

De-centralized Planned Economy

A de-centralized planned economy is one where ownership of enterprises is accomplished through various forms of worker cooperatives, autogestion and planning of production and distribution is done from the bottom-up by local worker councils in a democratic manner. This form of socialist economy is related to the political philosophies of Libertarian Socialism, Syndicalism and various forms of communal Utopian socialism.

Market Socialism

Market socialism refers to various economic systems that involve either public ownership and management or worker cooperative ownership over the means of production, or a combination of both, and the market mechanism for allocating economic output, deciding what to produce and in what quantity. In state-oriented forms of market socialism where state enterprises attempt to maximize profit, the profits can fund government programs and services eliminating or greatly diminishing the need for various forms of taxation that exist in capitalist systems.

Some forms of market socialism are based on neoclassical economic theory, with the aim of attaining pareto efficiency by setting price to equal marginal cost in public enterprises. This form of socialism was promoted by Oskar Lange, Abba Lerner and Fredrick Taylor. Other forms of market socialism are based on classical economics, such as those advocated by Thomas Hodgskin, who viewed interest accumulation, rent and profit as deductions from exchange-value, so that eliminating the capitalist element from the economy would lead to a free-market and socialism. The term market socialism has also been applied to planned economic systems that try to organize themselves partially along market-lines while retaining centralized state ownership of capital.

Other types of market socialist systems, such as Mutualism, are related to the political philosophy of Libertarian socialism.

Socialist Market Economy

A socialist market economy refers to the economic systems adopted by the People's Republic of China and Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Although there is dispute as to whether or not these models actually constitute state capitalism, the decisive means of production remain under state-ownership. State enterprises are organized into corporations (corporatization) and operate like private capitalist enterprises. A substantial private sector exists alongside the state sector of the economy, but plays a secondary role usually relegated to the service sector and production of consumer goods.


A communist economy, in the classic Marxist definition (Pure communism), refers to a system that has achieved a superabundance of goods and services due to an increase in technological capability and advances in the productive forces and therefore has transcended socialism. This is a hypothetical stage of social and economic development with few speculative details known about it.

Socialist Political Ideologies

Marxism and Communism

Karl Marx (1818–1883)

Communism refers to classless, stateless social organization based upon common ownership of the means of production and to a variety of movements acting in the name of this goal. In general, the classless forms of social organisation are not capitalised, while movements associated with official Communist parties and Communist states usually are.

The actual goal of the concept of communism has never been attained in practice. The real idea behind it is to abolish all leadership, and govern with a commune. That is, the people themselves make all decisions, and everyone contributing to the wellbeing of the state. In practice, most governments that claim communism are totalitarian dictatorships.

The modern political movement of Communism was created when the social democratic parties of Europe split between their rightist and leftist tendencies during World War I. The leftists, led internationally by Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, in order to distinguish their brand of socialism from the "reformist" social democrats, were called "Communists". However, after Luxemburg's and Liebknecht's murders, the term Communist became generally associated solely with the parties and organisations following Lenin, along with their various derivations, such as Stalinism or Maoism.

There is a considerable variety of views among self-identified Communists. However, Marxism and Leninism, schools of communism associated with Karl Marx and of Vladimir Lenin respectively, have the distinction of having been a major force in world politics since the early 20th century. Class struggle plays a central role in Marxism. This theory views the formation of communism as the culmination of the class struggle between the capitalist class, the owners of most of the capital, and the working class. Marx held that society could not be transformed from the capitalist mode of production to the communist mode of production all at once, but required a transitional state which Marx described as the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

Some forms of the communist society that Marx envisioned, as emerging from capitalism, have been claimed to be achieved for limited periods, during certain historical moments, and under certain circumstances. For example, the Paris Commune in fact let Marx reinforce and implement his theories, by adapting them to a real experience he could draw from. Another similar case, though disputed by anarcho-syndicalism or even anarchism, was the Spanish Revolution of 1936 (often missed or unmentioned by official historiography), during which much of Spain's economy, in most of Republican areas, some of which enjoyed a practical absence of state, was put under workers' direct collective control.

In addition to this, the term "Communism" (as well as "Socialism"), usually capitalized, is often used to refer to those political and economical systems and states dominated by a political, bureaucratic class, typically attached to one single Communist party, that follow marxism-leninism doctrines and often claim to represent the dictatorship of the proletariat in a non-democratic fashion, described by critics as in a totalitarian and bureaucratic. These systems are also often named as Stalinism, State capitalism, State communism or state socialism.

With the Soviet Union's creation, after the end of Russian Civil War, that followed to initial success of Red October Revolution in Russia, other socialist parties in other countries, and the Bolshevik party itself became Communist parties, owing allegiance of varying degrees to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (see Communist International). After World War II, regimes calling themselves Communist took power in Eastern Europe. In 1949, the Communists in China, supported by USSR and led by Mao Zedong, came to power and established the People's Republic of China. Among the other countries in the Third World that adopted a bureaucratic communist state as form of government at some point were Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Angola, and Mozambique. By the early 1980s, almost one-third of the world's population lived under Communist states.

Communism carries a strong social stigma in the United States, due to a history of anti-communism in the United States. Since the early 1970s, the term "Eurocommunism" was used to refer to the policies of Communist parties in western Europe, which sought to break with the tradition of uncritical and unconditional support of the Soviet Union. Such parties were politically active and electorally significant in France and Italy. With the collapse of the statalized single-party systems, and Marxist-Leninist governments, in eastern Europe, from the late 1980s, and the breakup of the Soviet Union on December 8, 1991, Marxist-Leninist State communism's influence has decreased dramatically in Europe, but around a quarter of the world's population still lives under such a kind of 'Communist states'.

Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism

Lenin himself never used the term "Leninism," nor did he refer to his views as "Marxism-Leninism." However, his ideas diverged from classical Marxist theory on several important points (see the articles on Marxism and Leninism for more information). Bolshevik communists saw these differences as advancements of Marxism made by Lenin. After Lenin's death, his ideology and contributions to Marxist theory were termed "Marxism-Leninism," or sometimes only "Leninism." Marxism-Leninism soon became the official name for the ideology of the Comintern and of Communist parties around the world.

Whether Stalin's practices actually followed the principles of Marx and Lenin is still a subject of debate amongst historians and political scientists. Stalin, in contrast to many contemporary revolutionaries, did not write a significant body of theoretical work. "Stalinism," strictly speaking, refers to a style of government or political structure, rather than an ideology per se; during the period of Stalin's rule in the Soviet Union, Marxism-Leninism was proclaimed the official ideology of the state. Trotskyists in particular believe that Stalinism contradicted authentic Marxism and Leninism, and they intitially used the term "Bolshevik-Leninism" to define their beliefs.

The term "Stalinism" is sometimes used to denote the brand of Communist theory that dominated the Soviet Union and the countries within the Soviet sphere of influence during and after the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The term used in the Soviet Union and by most who uphold its legacy, however, is "Marxism-Leninism", reflecting that Stalin himself was not a theoretician, but a communicator who wrote several books in language easily understood, and, in contrast to Marx and Lenin, made few new theoretical contributions. However, many people professing Marxism or Leninism view Stalinism as a perversion of their ideas; Trotskyists, in particular, are virulently anti-Stalinist, considering Stalinism a counter-revolutionary policy using Marxism to achieve power.

Rather, Stalinism is more in the order of an interpretation of their ideas, and a certain political system claiming to apply those ideas in ways fitting the changing needs of society, as with the transition from "socialism at a snail's pace" in the mid-twenties to the forced industrialization of the Five-Year Plans.

The main contributions of Stalin to Communist theory were Socialism in One Country and the theory of Aggravation of class struggle under socialism, a theoretical base supporting the repression of political opponents as necessary.

Stalinism has been described as being synonymous with totalitarianism, or a tyrannical regime. The term has been used to describe regimes that fight political dissent through violence, imprisonment, and killings.


A key concept that distinguishes Maoism from other left-wing ideologies is the belief that the class struggle continues throughout the entire socialist period, as a result of the fundamental antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and communism. Even when the proletariat has seized state power through a socialist revolution, the potential remains for a bourgeoisie to restore capitalism. Indeed, Mao famously stated that "the bourgeoisie [in a socialist country] is right inside the Communist Party itself", implying that corrupt Party officials would subvert socialism if not prevented.

Unlike the earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Mao focused on the peasantry as a revolutionary force which, he said, could be mobilized by a Communist Party with their knowledge and leadership.

Unlike most other political ideologies, including other socialist and Marxist ones, Maoism contains an integral military doctrine and explicitly connects its political ideology with military strategy. In Maoist thought, "political power comes from the barrel of the gun" (one of Mao's quotes), and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war" of armed struggle involving guerrilla warfare.

Since the death of Mao and the reforms of Deng, most of the parties explicitly defining themselves as "Maoist" have disappeared, but various communist groups around the world, particularly armed ones like the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the New People's Army of the Philippines, continue to advance Maoist ideas and get press attention for them. These groups generally have the idea that Mao's ideas were betrayed before they could be fully or properly implemented.

Other types of Communism

Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself a Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed greatly from those of Stalin or Mao, most importantly in declaring the need for an international "permanent revolution" and arguing that democracy is essential to both socialism and communism. Numerous groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have diverse interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this.
Shachtmanism is a critical term applied to the form of Marxism associated with Max Shachtman. It has two major components: a bureaucratic collectivist analysis of the Soviet Union and a third camp approach to world politics. Shachtmanites believe that the Stalinist rulers of Communist countries are a new (ruling) class, distinct from the workers and rejects Trotsky's description of Stalinist Russia as being a "degenerated workers' state". Max Shachtman described the USSR as a "bureaucratic collectivist" society. Although Shachtmanism is usually described as a form of Trotskyism, both Trotsky and Shachtman were careful to not describe Shachtman's view as Trotskyist.

Libertarian socialism and Social anarchism

Mikhail Bakunin 1814-1876, one of the major thinkers of Libertarian socialism

Libertarian socialism is any one of a group of political philosophies dedicated to opposing coercive forms of authority and social hierarchy, in particular the institutions of capitalism and the state. Some of the best known libertarian socialist ideologies are anarchism - particularly anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism, as well as mutualism,[10] market anarchism,[11] council communism, autonomist Marxism, Neo-Marxism and social ecology. However, the terms anarcho-communism and libertarian communism should not be considered synonyms for libertarian socialism - anarcho-communism is a particular branch of libertarian socialism. Key figures of libertarian socialism include William Morris, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Rocker, Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky.

Libertarian socialists believe in the abolition of the state and of private control over the means of production,[citation needed] considering both to be unnecessary and harmful institutions. Most libertarian socialists support personal property or use rights over certain goods destined for individual use, but some, such as anarcho-communists, favoured collective ownership in the products of labor as well, with a distribution system which allocates based on one's needs.

Some individualist anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon referred to their philosophy as socialism. However, the meaning of the term "socialism" has long been fluid, and some anarcho-capitalist writers such as Wendy McElroy argue that Tucker's philosophy cannot be considered collectivist[12][13]

Libertarian socialism and anarchism initially co-existed with other forms of socialism in the First International. However, personal tensions between the figureheads of each movement, Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx, as well as disagreements over key issues (see Anarchism and Marxism) led to a split. Anarchists joined the Second International when it was formed. However, at its fourth congress in London in 1896 (attended by Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Gustav Landauer, Louise Michel, Elisee Reclus, Jean Grave and other libertarians), they were excluded at the initiative of the German SPD, despite an intervention in support of them by Independent Labour Party leader Keir Hardie.[14] From this moment, anarchists and libertarian socialists have not been seen as part of the socialist mainstream. However, the libertarian socialist tradition has remained strong in the many trade union movements (notably the French Confédération Générale du Travail and Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and in Britain, where Nye Bevan, George Orwell and more recently Peter Hain have been identified with libertarian socialism.[15] Libertarian socialism also experienced a resurgence with the New Left in the 1960s. In the context of the European socialist movement, libertarian has conventionally been used to describe those like Mikhail Bakunin who opposed state socialism and preferred a form of stateless socialism.[citation needed]

Social Democracy

Social democracy can be divided into classic and modern strands. Classic social democracy was a political philosophy that attempted to achieve socialism through gradual, parliamentary means and by reforming capitalism from within.

Modern social democracy has abandoned socialism as its goal by rejecting state ownership or direct worker ownership of the means of production and a reorganization of the economy, and instead advocates a welfare state, regulated capitalism and some public ownership of supporting industries. While it is still considered a socialist political movement, modern social democracy advocates capitalist economic systems such as the social market economy, Third-way mixed economies and relies on Keynesian economics.

Democratic socialism

Modern democratic socialism is a broad political movement that seeks to propagate the ideals of socialism within the context of a democratic system. Many democratic socialists support social democracy as a road to reform of the current system. Other groups within democratic socialism support more revolutionary change in society to establish socialist goals. Conversely, modern social democracy emphasises a program of gradual legislative reform of the capitalist system in order to make it more equitable and humane, while the theoretical end goal of building a socialist society is either completely forgotten or redefined in a pro-capitalist way. The two movements are widely similar both in terminology and in ideology, though there are a few key differences.

Many who describe themselves as "socialists" disagree with the terminology of "democratic socialism" because they believe that socialism necessarily implies democracy. For many years, though, the terms "democratic socialism" and "social democracy" were used interchangeably to describe the same overall political movement, but in modern times, social democracy is considered to be more centrist and broadly supportive of current capitalist systems (for example, the mixed economy) and the welfare state, while many democratic socialists support a more fully socialist system, either through evolutionary or revolutionary means.

The term social democracy can refer to the particular kind of society that social democrats advocate. The Socialist International (SI) - the worldwide organization of social democratic and democratic socialist parties - defines social democracy as an ideal form of representative democracy, that may solve the problems found in a liberal democracy. The SI emphasizes the following principles[1]: Firstly, freedom – not only individual liberties, but also freedom from discrimination and freedom from dependence on either the owners of the means of production or the holders of abusive political power. Secondly, equality and social justice – not only before the law but also economic and socio-cultural equality as well, and equal opportunities for all including those with physical, mental, or social disabilities. Finally, solidarity – unity and a sense of compassion for the victims of injustice and inequality.

Democratic socialists and social democrats both advocate the concept of the welfare state, but whereas most social democrats view the welfare state as the end itself, many democratic socialists view it as a means to an end. Democratic socialists are also committed to the ideas of the redistribution of wealth and power, as well as social ownership of major industries, concepts widely abandoned by social democrats. As of current, there are no countries in the world that could qualify as a "democratic socialist" state, though many European nations are considered to be socially democratic or nearly so.

The prime example of social democracy is Sweden, which prospered considerably in the 1990s and 2000s. Sweden has produced a robust economy from sole proprietorships up through to multinationals, while maintaining one of the highest life expectancies in the world, low unemployment and low inflation, all while registering sizable economic growth. Many see this as validation of the superiority of social democracy.

However, others point out that - when compared to other developed countries - Sweden's economic growth fell behind in that period[citation needed]. Also, Sweden experiences welfare dependency of around 20% of the working age population according to the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. Likewise, crime has been steadily rising since the 1960s [2].

In any case, despite these issues, Sweden continues to be viewed as a model for social-democratic governance due to its strong economy and general social stability.

Religious socialism

Religious communism

Religious communism is a form of communism centered on religious principles. The term usually refers to a number of utopian religious societies practicing the voluntary dissolution of private property, so that society's benefits are distributed according to a person's needs, and every person performs labor according to their abilities. "Religious communism" has also been used to describe the ideas of religious individuals and groups who advocate the application of communist policies on a wider scale, often joining secular communists in their struggle to abolish capitalism.

Christian socialism

There are individuals and groups, past and present, that are clearly both Christian and Socialist, such as Frederick Denison Maurice, author of The Kingdom of Christ (1838), or the contemporary Christian Socialist Movement (UK) (CSM), [3] affiliated with the British Labour Party.

Distributism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of social justice articulated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Various Catholic clerical parties have at times referred to themselves as "Christian Social." Two examples are the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger in Austria before and after World War I, and the contemporary Christian Social Union in Bavaria. Yet these parties have never espoused socialist policies and have always stood at the conservative side of Christian Democracy[16].

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is an advocate of a form of Christian socialism as he claims that Jesus Christ was a socialist.

Islamic socialism

Islamic socialism is the political ideology of Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi, former Iraqi president Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and of the Pakistani leader of Pakistan Peoples Party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The Green Book (written by Muammar al-Gaddafi) consists of three parts - "The Solution of the Problem of Democracy: 'The Authority of the People'", "The Solution of the Economic Problem: 'Socialism'", and "The Social Basis of the Third Universal Theory". The book is controversial because it completely rejects modern conceptions of liberal democracy and encourages the institution of a form of direct democracy based on popular committees. Critics charge that Qaddafi uses these committees as tools of autocratic political repression in practice.

Scholars have highlighted the similarities between the Islamic economic system and socialist theory. For example, both are against unearned income. Islam does allow private ownership of natural resources and large industries, which are owned collectively, or at least encouraged to be so.

Regional or ethnic socialism

African socialism

Arab socialism

The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party rules Syria (and ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein), based on a tradition of secular, non-Marxist socialism. Ba'thist beliefs combine Arab Socialism, nationalism, and Pan-Arabism. The mostly secular ideology often contrasts with that of other Arab governments in the Middle East, which sometimes lean towards Islamism and theocracy. The Ba'athists have persecuted socialists in their own countries. In Iraq, the American Central Intelligence Agency assisted Iraq with a list of communists to eliminate, effectively wiping them out. Socialist Lynn Walsh argues that the Iraqi Ba'athists promoted capitalists from within the party and outside the country.[17]

Labor Zionism

Irish Republican socialism

Socialism has traditionally been part of the Irish Republican movement since the early 20th century, when James Connolly, an Irish Marxist theorist, took part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Today, most Irish nationalist and Republican organizations located in Northern Ireland advocate some form of socialism, both Marxist and non-Marxist. The Social Democratic and Labour Party, which until recently was the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland, promotes social democracy, while militant Republican parties such as Sinn Féin, Republican Sinn Féin, and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement all promote their own varieties of democratic socialism intended to re-distribute wealth on an all-island basis once a united Ireland has been achieved (by force). The Irish Republican Socialist Movement, encompassing the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army, has an ideology which combines Marxist-Leninism with traditional militant Republicanism and is said to be the most direct fulfillment of Connolly's legacy.


Merging aspects of Marxism, socialism, environmentalism and ecology, Eco-socialists generally believe that the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, inequality and environmental degradation. Eco-socialists criticise many within the Green movement for not going far enough in their critique of the current world system and for not being overtly anti-capitalist. At the same time, Eco-socialists would blame the traditional Left for overlooking or not properly addressing ecological problems[18].

Eco-socialists are anti-globalisation. Joel Kovel sees globalisation as a force driven by capitalism - in turn, the rapid economic growth encouraged by globalisation causes acute ecological crises[19].

Eco-socialism goes beyond a criticism of the actions of large corporations and targets the inherent properties of capitalism. Such an analysis follows Marx's theories about the contradiction between use values and exchange values. As Joel Kovel explains, within a market economy, goods are not produced to meet needs but are produced to be exchanged for money that we then use to acquire other goods. As we have to keep selling in order to keep buying, we must persuade others to buy our goods just to ensure our survival, which leads to the production of goods with no previous use that can be sold to sustain our ability to buy other goods. Eco-socialists like Kovel stress that this contradiction has reached a destructive extent, where certain essential activities - such as caring for relatives full-time and basic subsistence - are unrewarded, while unnecessary economic activities earn certain individuals huge fortunes[19].

Agrarian socialism is another variant of eco-socialism.

Differences between various schools

Although they share a common root (as elaborated upon in the above sections), schools of socialism are divided on many issues, and sometimes there is a split within a school. The following is a brief overview of the major issues which have generated or are generating significant controversy amongst socialists in general.


Some branches of socialism arose largely as a philosophical construct (e.g. utopian socialism); others in the heat of a revolution (e.g. early Marxism, Leninism). A few arose merely as the product of a ruling party (e.g. Stalinism), or a party or other group contending for political power in a democratic society (e.g. social democracy).

Some are in favour of a socialist revolution (e.g. Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, revolutionary Marxism), whilst others tend to support reform instead (e.g. Fabianism, reformist Marxism). Others believe both are possible (e.g. Syndicalism, various Marxisms). The first utopian socialists even failed to address the question of how a socialist society would be achieved.

Socialists are also divided on which rights and liberties are desirable, such as the "bourgeois liberties" (such as those guaranteed by the U.S. First Amendment or the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). Some hold that they are to be preserved (or even enhanced) in a socialist society (e.g. social democracy), whilst others believe them to be undesirable (e.g. Maoism). Marx and Engels even held different opinions at different times, and some schools are divided on this issue (e.g. different strains of Trotskyism).

All socialists criticize the current system in some way. Some criticisms center on the ownership of the means of production (e.g. Marxism), whereas others tend to focus on the nature of mass and equitable distribution (e.g. most forms of utopian socialism). A few are opposed to industrialism as well as capitalism (common where socialism intersects green politics)? Utopian Socialists, like Robert Owen and Saint-Simon argued, though not from exactly the same perspective, that the injustice and widespread poverty of the societies they lived in were a problem of distribution of the goods created. Marxian Socialists, on the other hand, determined that the root of the injustice is based not in the function of distribution of goods already created, but rather in the fact that the ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the upper class. Also, Marxian Socialists maintain, in contrast to the Utopian Socialists, that the root of injustice is not in how goods (commodities) are distributed, but for whose economic benefit are they produced and sold.


Most forms and derivatives of Marxism, as well as variations of syndicalism, advocated total or near-total socialization of the economy. Less radical schools (e.g. Bernsteinism, reformism, reformist Marxism) proposed a mixed market economy instead. Mixed economies, in turn, can range anywhere from those developed by the social democratic governments that have periodically governed Northern and Western European countries, to the inclusion of small cooperatives in the planned economy of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. A related issue is whether it is better to reform capitalism to create a fairer society (e.g. most social democrats) or to totally overthrow the capitalist system (all Marxists).

Some schools advocate centralized state control of the socialized sectors of the economy (e.g. Leninism), whilst others argue for control of those sectors by workers' councils (e.g. syndicalism, Left and Council communism, Marxism, Anarcho-communism). This question is usually referred to by socialists in terms of "ownership of the means of production." None of the social democratic parties of Europe advocate total state ownership of the means of production in their contemporary demands and popular press.

Another issue socialists are divided on is what legal and political apparatus the workers would maintain and further develop the socialization of the means of production. Some advocate that the power of the workers' councils should itself constitute the basis of a socialist state (coupled with direct democracy and the widespread use of referendums), but others hold that socialism entails the existence of a legislative body administered by people who would be elected in a representative democracy.

Different ideologies support different governments. For example, in the era of the Soviet Union, western socialists were bitterly divided as to whether the Soviet Union was basically socialist, moving toward socialism, or inherently un-socialist and, in fact, inimical to true socialism. Similarly, today the government of the People's Republic of China claims to be socialist and refers to its own approach as "Socialism with Chinese characteristics," but most other socialists consider China to be essentially capitalist. The Chinese leadership concurs with most of the usual critiques against a command economy, and many of their actions to manage what they call a socialist economy have been determined by this opinion.

Controversial classifications

National Socialism (Nazism)

The term "Nazism" is an abbreviation for "National Socialism", and the Nazis described their views as "socialist",[20] though they strongly rejected Marxism and communism, calling them "Jewish ideologies". Whether the word "socialism" in "National Socialism" was a correct description or merely propaganda meant to attract the votes of workers is a matter of debate, and different authors have reached different conclusions. Conan Fischer argues that the Nazis were sincere in their use of the adjective "socialist", but they believed it to be inseparable from the adjective "national" and meant it as a socialism of the master race, rather than the socialism of the "underprivileged and oppressed seeking justice and equal rights".[21] On the other hand, Henry A. Turner argues that Adolf Hitler was a convinced anti-socialist and that the Nazis were merely nationalists using the adjective "socialist" out of convenience.[22]

Hitler made several statements related to the term "socialism" in "National Socialism". In 1922 he defined a socialist as "whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own... [such that] nothing in the world surpasses in his eyes this German people and land."[23] In 1927 Hitler described the Nazi philosophy as a type of socialism: "We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and prosperity instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions."[20] Two years later, in 1929, Hitler called socialism "an unfortunate word altogether" and said that "if people have something to eat and their pleasures, then they have their socialism". According to Henry A. Turner, Hitler was expressing regret for having integrated the word "socialism" into his party's name.[24]

The Nazi Party formulated its program in 25 points, but different groups within the Party often had different and contradictory views regarding economic policy. Some claimed to be on the side of workers, others claimed to be on the side of business, and there were many who said different things at different times.[25] Hitler tolerated this confusion because he personally believed that the economy was unimportant.[26] In general, the Nazis supported private property and argued that economic inequality was both natural and beneficial,[27] but they also believed that the state had a right to intervene in the economy and regulate it for the national interest. They extended state controls over prices, labor, materials, dividends and foreign trade, limiting competition and private ownership in attempt to direct all segments of economy towards "general welfare".[28] From the 1930s state ownership increased in both war and non-war sectors of economy.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Boyle, James. "What is Socialism?", The Shakespeare Press, 1912. pp. 35. Boyle quotes Pierre Joseph Proudhon as stating that socialism is "every aspiration towards the amelioration of society", and then admitting that, under this definition, "we are all socialists."
  2. ^ Cort, John C. "Christian socialism". Orbis Books, New York, 1988. pp. 355.
  3. ^ Boyle, James. "What is Socialism?", The Shakespeare Press, 1912. pp. 35.
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ Newman, Michael. (2005) Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280431-6
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Murray Bookchin, Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism; Robert Graham, The General Idea of Proudhon's Revolution.
  10. ^ A Mutualist FAQ: A.4. Are Mutualists Socialists?
  11. ^ cited by Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 390
  12. ^ McElroy, Wendy. The Debates of Liberty. Lexington Books. 2003. pp. 147-149
  13. ^ Larry Gambone. (1996). Proudhon and Anarchism, Red Lion Press
  14. ^ Larry Gambone "For Community: The Communitarian Anarchism Of Gustav Landauer"
  15. ^ Bernard Crick on Orwell and Bevan; Peter Hain Ayes to the Left: A Future for Socialism Lawrence and Wishart ISBN 0 85315 832 0
  16. ^ Political Spectrum as seen by the Social Democratic Party of America
  17. ^ Walsh, Lynn. Imperialism and the gulf war, Chapter 5, 1990-91
  18. ^ Wall, D., Babylon and Beyond: The Economics of Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Globalist and Radical Green Movements, 2005
  19. ^ a b Kovel, J., The Enemy of Nature, 2002
  20. ^ a b Sutherland, Keith. The Party's Over: Blueprint for a Very English Revolution, 2004. Imprint Academic. p. 61
  21. ^ The Rise of the Nazis, Conan Fischer, Manchester University Press (2002), ISBN 0-7190-6067-2, p.53
  22. ^ Henry A. Turner, "German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler", Oxford University Press, 1985. p.60-61 & 76
  23. ^ Joseph A. Leighton, "Social Philosophies in Conflict", D. Appleton-Century Company, 1937. pg 32
  24. ^ Henry A. Turner, "German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler", Oxford University Press, 1985. pg 77
  25. ^ Henry A. Turner, "German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler", Oxford University Press, 1985. pg 60-69
  26. ^ Henry A. Turner, "German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler", Oxford University Press, 1985. pg 71
  27. ^ "In general I must estimate the worth of nations differently, on the basis of the different races from which they spring, and I must also differentiate in estimating the worth of the individual within his own race. The principle, that one people is not the same as another, applies also to the individual members of a national community. No one brain, for instance, is equal to another; because the constituent elements belonging to the same blood vary in a thousand subtle details, though they are fundamentally of the same quality." Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Volume II, Chapter IV
  28. ^ Walter J. Rinderle, Bernard Norling. The Nazi Impact on a German Village. 2004. University Press of Kentucky. p. 148
  29. ^ Panikos Panayi. Weimar and Nazi Germany. 2000. Pearson Education. ISBN 0582327806 p. 50

Further reading

  • G.D.H. Cole, History of Socialist Thought, in 7 volumes, Macmillan and St. Martin's Press (1965), Palgrave Macmillan (2003 reprint); 7 volumes, hardcover, 3160 pages, ISBN 1-4039-0264-X
  • Albert Fried, Ronald Sanders, eds., Socialist Thought: A Documentary History, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1964.
  • Michael Harrington, Socialism, New York: Bantam, 1972
  • James Weinstein, Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left, Westview Press, 2003, hardcover, 272 pages, ISBN 0-8133-4104-3
  • Hans-Hermann Hoppe (1989). A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 0-89838-279-3. 
  • Norman Birnbaum. After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press.  (see review here)
  • What remains of socialism ? [4], by Emile Perreau-Saussine

External links

Socialist perspective

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