Socialism is a political, social and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprises. This includes the political theories and movements associated with such systems. Social ownership can be public, collective, cooperative or of equity. While no single definition encapsulates many types of socialism, social ownership is the one common element.
Socialist systems are divided into non-market and market forms. Non-market socialism involves replacing factor markets and money with engineering and technical criteria based on calculation performed in-kind, thereby producing an economic mechanism that functions according to different economic laws from those of capitalism. It aims to circumvent the inefficiencies and crises traditionally associated with capital accumulation and the profit system. The socialist calculation debate, originated by the economic calculation problem, concerns the feasibility and methods of resource allocation for a planned socialist system. By contrast, market socialism retains the use of monetary prices, factor markets and in some cases the profit motive, with respect to the operation of socially owned enterprises and the allocation of capital goods between them. Profits generated by these firms would be controlled directly by the workforce of each firm, or accrue to society at large in the form of a social dividend.
Socialist politics has been both internationalist and nationalist in orientation; organised through political parties and opposed to party politics; at times overlapping with trade unions and at other times independent and critical of them; and present in both industrialised and developing nations. Social democracy originated within the socialist movement, supporting economic and social interventions to promote social justice. While having socialism as a long-term goal, it has come to embrace a Keynesian mixed economy within a predominantly, developed capitalist market economy and liberal democratic polity that includes substantial state intervention in the form of income redistribution, regulation and a welfare state. Economic democracy proposes a sort of market socialism, with more democratic control of companies, currencies, investments and natural resources.
The socialist political movement includes a set of political philosophies that originated in the revolutionary movements of the mid-to-late 18th century and out of concern for the social problems that were associated with capitalism. By the late 19th century, after the work of Karl Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels, socialism had come to signify opposition to capitalism and advocacy for a post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership of the means of production. By the 1920s, communism and social democracy had become the two dominant political tendencies within the international socialist movement, with socialism itself becoming “the most influential secular movement of the twentieth century”. While the emergence of the Soviet Union as the world’s first nominally socialist state led to socialism’s widespread association with the Soviet economic model, some economists and intellectuals argued that in practice the model functioned as a form of state capitalism, or a non-planned administrative or command economy. Socialist parties and ideas remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence on all continents, heading national governments in many countries around the world. Today, many socialists have also adopted the causes of other social movements such as environmentalism, feminism and progressivism.
For Andrew Vincent, “[t]he word ‘socialism’ finds its root in the Latin sociare, which means to combine or to share. The related, more technical term in Roman and then medieval law was societas. This latter word could mean companionship and fellowship as well as the more legalistic idea of a consensual contract between freemen”.
The term socialism was created by Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the founders of what would later be labelled utopian socialism. Simon coined the term as a contrast to the liberal doctrine of individualism which stressed that people act or should act as if they are in isolation from one another. The original utopian socialists condemned liberal individualism for failing to address social concerns during the industrial revolution, including poverty, social oppression and gross inequalities in wealth, viewing liberal individualism as degenerating society into supporting selfish egoism that harmed community life through promoting a society based on competition. They presented socialism as an alternative to liberal individualism based on the shared ownership of resources, although their proposals for socialism differed significantly. Saint-Simon proposed economic planning, scientific administration and the application of modern scientific advancements to the organisation of society. By contrast, Robert Owen proposed the organisation of production and ownership in cooperatives. The term socialism is also attributed in France to Pierre Leroux and Marie Roch Louis Reybaud; and in Britain to Owen, who became one of the fathers of the cooperative movement.
The modern definition and usage of socialism settled by the 1860s, becoming the predominant term among the group of words associationist, co-operative and mutualist which had previously been used as synonyms. The term communism also fell out of use during this period despite earlier distinctions between socialism and communism from the 1840s. An early distinction between socialism and communism was that the former aimed to only socialise production while the latter aimed to socialise both production and consumption (in the form of free access to final goods). By 1888, Marxists employed the term socialism in place of communism which had come to be considered an old-fashion synonym for socialism. It was not until 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution that socialism came to refer to a distinct stage between capitalism and communism, introduced by Vladimir Lenin as a means to defend the Bolshevik seizure of power against traditional Marxist criticism that Russia’s productive forces were not sufficiently developed for socialist revolution. A distinction between communist and socialist as descriptors of political ideologies arose in 1918 after the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party renamed itself to the All-Russian Communist Party, where communist came to specifically mean socialists who supported the politics and theories of Bolshevism, Leninism and later Marxism–Leninism, although communist parties continued to describe themselves as socialists dedicated to socialism.
Both communism and socialism eventually accorded with the adherents’ and opponents’ cultural attitude towards religion. In Christian Europe, communism was believed to be the atheist way of life. In Protestant England, the word communism was too culturally and aurally close to the Roman Catholic communion rite, hence English atheists denoted themselves socialists. Friedrich Engels argued that in 1848, at the time when The Communist Manifesto was published, that “socialism was respectable on the continent, while communism was not”. The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France were considered respectable socialists while working-class movements that “proclaimed the necessity of total social change” denoted themselves communists. This latter branch of socialism produced the communist work of Étienne Cabet in France and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany. The British moral philosopher John Stuart Mill also came to advocate a form of economic socialism within a liberal context. In later editions of his Principles of Political Economy (1848), Mill would argue that “as far as economic theory was concerned, there is nothing in principle in economic theory that precludes an economic order based on socialist policies”. While democrats looked to the Revolutions of 1848 as a democratic revolution which in the long run ensured liberty, equality and fraternity, Marxists denounced 1848 as a betrayal of working-class ideals by a bourgeoisie indifferent to the legitimate demands of the proletariat.
Socialist models and ideas espousing common or public ownership have existed since antiquity. The economy of the 3rd century BCE Mauryan Empire of India has been described as “a socialized monarchy” and “a sort of state socialism”. Although controversially, it has been claimed that there were elements of socialist thought in the politics of classical Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Mazdak the Younger (died c. 524 or 528 CE), a Persian communal proto-socialist, instituted communal possessions and advocated the public good. Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, a Companion of Prophet Muhammad, is credited by many as a principal antecedent of Islamic socialism. The teachings of Jesus the messiah of the Christian religion are frequently highlighted as socialist in nature, especially by Christian socialists. Acts 4:35 records that in the early church in Jerusalem “[n]o one claimed that any of their possessions was their own”, although the pattern soon disappears from church history except within monasticism. Christian socialism was one of the founding threads of the British Labour Party and is said to be a tradition going back 600 years to the uprising of Wat Tyler and John Ball. In the period right after the French Revolution, activists and theorists like François-Noël Babeuf, Étienne-Gabriel Morelly, Philippe Buonarroti and Auguste Blanqui influenced the early French labour and socialist movements. In Britain, Thomas Paine proposed a detailed plan to tax property owners to pay for the needs of the poor in Agrarian Justice while Charles Hall wrote The Effects of Civilization on the People in European States, denouncing capitalism’s effects on the poor of his time which influenced the utopian schemes of Thomas Spence.
The first self-conscious socialist movements developed in the 1820s and 1830s. The Owenites, Saint-Simonians and Fourierists provided a series of coherent analyses and interpretations of society. They also, especially in the case of the Owenites, overlapped with a number of other working-class movements like the Chartists in the United Kingdom. The Chartists gathered significant numbers around the People’s Charter of 1838, which sought a number of democratic reforms focused on the extension of suffrage to all male adults. Leaders in the movement also called for a more equitable distribution of income and better living conditions for the working classes. The very first trade unions and consumers’ cooperative societies also emerged in the hinterland of the Chartist movement as a way of bolstering the fight for these demands. A later important socialist thinker in France was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who proposed his philosophy of mutualism in which “everyone had an equal claim, either alone or as part of a small cooperative, to possess and use land and other resources as needed to make a living”. There were also currents inspired by dissident Christianity of Christian socialism “often in Britain and then usually coming out of left liberal politics and a romantic anti-industrialism” which produced theorists such as Edward Bellamy, Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley.
The first advocates of socialism favoured social levelling in order to create a meritocratic or technocratic society based on individual talent. Count Henri de Saint-Simon is regarded as the first individual to coin the term “socialism”. Saint-Simon was fascinated by the enormous potential of science and technology and advocated a socialist society that would eliminate the disorderly aspects of capitalism and would be based on equal opportunities.[unreliable source?] 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. The key focus of Saint-Simon’s socialism was on administrative efficiency and industrialism and a belief that science was the key to progress. This was accompanied by a desire to implement a rationally organised economy based on planning and geared towards large-scale scientific and material progress, thus embodied a desire for a more directed or planned economy. 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 prices charged by the producer when those commodities were in elastic supply and that these producer prices corresponded to the embodied labour—the cost of the labour (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.
West European social critics, including Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Louis Blanc, Charles Hall, and Saint-Simon were the first modern socialists who criticised the excessive poverty and inequality of the Industrial Revolution. They advocated reform, with some such as Robert Owen advocating the transformation of society to small communities without private property. Robert Owen’s contribution to modern socialism was his understanding that actions and characteristics of individuals were largely determined by the social environment they were raised in and exposed to. On the other hand, Charles Fourier advocated phalansteres which were communities that respected individual desires (including sexual preferences), affinities and creativity and saw that work has to be made enjoyable for people. The ideas of Owen and Fourier were tried in practice in numerous intentional communities around Europe and the American continent in the mid-19th century.
The Paris Commune was a government that briefly ruled Paris from 18 March (more formally, from 28 March) to 28 May 1871. The Commune was the result of an uprising in Paris after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. The Commune elections held on 26 March elected a Commune council of 92 members, one member for each 20,000 residents. Despite internal differences, the council began to organise the public services essential for a city of two million residents. It also reached a consensus on certain policies that tended towards a progressive, secular and highly democratic social democracy.
Because the Commune was only able to meet on fewer than 60 days in all, only a few decrees were actually implemented. These included the separation of church and state; the remission of rents owed for the entire period of the siege (during which payment had been suspended); the abolition of night work in the hundreds of Paris bakeries; the granting of pensions to the unmarried companions and children of National Guards killed on active service; and the free return, by the city pawnshops, of all workmen’s tools and household items valued up to 20 francs, pledged during the siege. The Commune was concerned that skilled workers had been forced to pawn their tools during the war; the postponement of commercial debt obligations and the abolition of interest on the debts; and the right of employees to take over and run an enterprise if it were deserted by its owner. The Commune nonetheless recognised the previous owner’s right to compensation.
The First International was founded in London in 1864. It united diverse revolutionary currents, including French followers of Proudhon, Blanquists, Philadelphes, English trade unionists, socialists and social democrats. It held a preliminary conference in 1865 and had its first congress at Geneva in 1866. Due to the wide variety of philosophies present in the First International, there was conflict from the start. The first objections to Marx came from the mutualists who opposed communism and statism. However, shortly after Mikhail Bakunin and his followers (called collectivists while in the International) joined in 1868, the First International became polarised into two camps headed by Marx and Bakunin respectively. The clearest differences between the groups emerged over their proposed strategies for achieving their visions of socialism. The First International became the first major international forum for the promulgation of socialist ideas.
The followers of Bakunin were called collectivist anarchists and sought to collectivise ownership of the means of production while retaining payment proportional to the amount and kind of labour of each individual. Like Proudhonists, they asserted the right of each individual to the product of his labour and to be remunerated for their particular contribution to production. By contrast, anarcho-communists sought collective ownership of both the means and the products of labour. Errico Malatesta put it: “[I]nstead of running the risk of making a confusion in trying to distinguish what you and I each do, let us all work and put everything in common. In this way each will give to society all that his strength permits until enough is produced for every one; and each will take all that he needs, limiting his needs only in those things of which there is not yet plenty for every one”. Anarcho-communism as a coherent, modern economic-political philosophy was first formulated in the Italian section of the First International by Carlo Cafiero, Emilio Covelli, Errico Malatesta, Andrea Costa and other ex Mazzinian republicans. Out of respect for Mikhail Bakunin, they did not make their differences with collectivist anarchism explicit until after Bakunin’s death.
Syndicalism emerged in France inspired in part by the ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and later by Fernand Pelloutier and Georges Sorel. It developed at the end of the 19th century out of the French trade-union movement (syndicat is the French word for trade union). It was a significant force in Italy and Spain in the early 20th century until it was crushed by the fascist regimes in those countries. In the United States, syndicalism appeared in the guise of the Industrial Workers of the World, or “Wobblies”, founded in 1905. Syndicalism is an economic system where industries are organised into confederations (syndicates) and the economy is managed by negotiation between specialists and worker representatives of each field, comprising multiple non-competitive categorised units. Syndicalism is thus a form of communism and economic corporatism, but also refers to the political movement and tactics used to bring about this type of system. An influential anarchist movement based on syndicalist ideas is anarcho-syndicalism. The International Workers Association is an international anarcho-syndicalist federation of various labour unions from different countries.
The Fabian Society is a British socialist organisation which was established with the purpose of advancing the principles of socialism via gradualist and reformist means. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonisation of the British Empire, most notably India and Singapore. Originally, the Fabian Society was committed to the establishment of a socialist economy, alongside a commitment to British imperialism as a progressive and modernising force. Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of fifteen socialist societies affiliated with the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), in Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and the now disbanded League for Social Reconstruction) and in New Zealand.
Guild socialism is a political movement advocating workers’ control of industry through the medium of trade-related guilds “in an implied contractual relationship with the public”. It originated in the United Kingdom and was at its most influential in the first quarter of the 20th century. Inspired by medieval guilds, theorists such as Samuel G. Hobson and G. D. H. Cole advocated the public ownership of industries and their organisation into guilds, each of which would be under the democratic control of its trade union. Guild socialists were less inclined than Fabians to invest power in a state. At some point, like the American Knights of Labor, guild socialism wanted to abolish the wage system.
As the ideas of Marx and Engels took on flesh, particularly in central Europe, socialists sought to unite in an international organisation. In 1889 (the centennial of the French Revolution of 1789), the Second International was founded, with 384 delegates from twenty countries representing about 300 labour and socialist organisations. It was termed the Socialist International and Engels was elected honorary president at the third congress in 1893. Anarchists were ejected and not allowed in, mainly due to pressure from Marxists. It has been argued that at some point the Second International turned “into a battleground over the issue of libertarian versus authoritarian socialism. Not only did they effectively present themselves as champions of minority rights; they also provoked the German Marxists into demonstrating a dictatorial intolerance which was a factor in preventing the British labour movement from following the Marxist direction indicated by such leaders as H. M. Hyndman”.
Reformism arose as an alternative to revolution. Eduard Bernstein was a leading social democrat in Germany who proposed the concept of evolutionary socialism. Revolutionary socialists quickly targeted reformism: Rosa Luxemburg condemned Bernstein’s Evolutionary Socialism in her 1900 essay Social Reform or Revolution? Revolutionary socialism encompasses multiple social and political movements that may define “revolution” differently from one another. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany became the largest and most powerful socialist party in Europe, despite working illegally until the anti-socialist laws were dropped in 1890. In the 1893 elections, it gained 1,787,000 votes, a quarter of the total votes cast, according to Engels. In 1895, the year of his death, Engels emphasised the Communist Manifesto’s emphasis on winning, as a first step, the “battle of democracy”.
Early 20th century
In Argentina the Socialist Party of Argentina was established in the 1890s led by, among others, Juan B. Justo and Nicolás Repetto, thus becoming the first mass party in the country and in Latin America. The party affiliated itself with the Second International. Between 1924 and 1940 it was a member of the Labour and Socialist International. In 1904, Australians elected Chris Watson as the first Australian Labor Party Prime Minister, becoming the first democratically elected social democrat. In 1909, the first Kibbutz was established in Palestine by Russian Jewish Immigrants. The Kibbutz Movement would then expand through the 20th century following a doctrine of Zionist socialism. The British Labour Party first won seats in the House of Commons in 1902. The International Socialist Commission (ISC, also known as Berne International) was formed in February 1919 at a meeting in Bern by parties that wanted to resurrect the Second International.
By 1917, the patriotism of World War I changed into political radicalism in most of Europe, the United States and Australia. Other socialist parties from around the world who were beginning to gain importance in their national politics in the early 20th century included the Italian Socialist Party, the French Section of the Workers’ International, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the Socialist Party of America in the United States, the Argentinian Socialist Party and the Chilean Partido Obrero Socialista.
In February 1917, revolution exploded in Russia. Workers, soldiers and peasants established soviets (councils), the monarchy fell and a provisional government convoked pending the election of a constituent assembly. In April of that year, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik faction of socialists in Russia and known for his profound and controversial expansions of Marxism, was allowed to cross Germany to return to his country from exile in Switzerland.
Lenin had published essays on his analysis of imperialism, the monopoly and globalisation phase of capitalism as predicted by Marx, as well as analyses on the social conditions of his contemporary time. He observed that as capitalism had further developed in Europe and America, the workers remained unable to gain class consciousness so long as they were too busy working and concerned with how to make ends meet. He therefore proposed that the social revolution would require the leadership of a vanguard party of class-conscious revolutionaries from the educated and politically active part of the population.
Upon arriving in Petrograd, Lenin declared that the revolution in Russia was not over but had only begun, and that the next step was for the workers’ soviets to take full state authority. He issued a thesis outlining the Bolshevik’s party programme, including rejection of any legitimacy in the provisional government and advocacy for state power to be given to the peasant and working class through the soviets. The Bolsheviks became the most influential force in the soviets and on 7 November the capitol of the provisional government was stormed by Bolshevik Red Guards in what afterwards known as the “Great October Socialist Revolution”. The rule of the provisional government was ended and the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic—the world’s first constitutionally socialist state—was established. On 25 January 1918 at the Petrograd Soviet, Lenin declared “Long live the world socialist revolution!” and proposed an immediate armistice on all fronts and transferred the land of the landed proprietors, the crown and the monasteries to the peasant committees without compensation.
The day after assuming executive power on 25 January, Lenin wrote Draft Regulations on Workers’ Control, which granted workers control of businesses with more than five workers and office employees and access to all books, documents and stocks and whose decisions were to be “binding upon the owners of the enterprises”. Governing through the elected soviets and in alliance with the peasant-based Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Bolshevik government began nationalising banks and industry; and disavowed the national debts of the deposed Romanov royal régime. It sued for peace, withdrawing from World War I and convoked a Constituent Assembly in which the peasant Socialist-Revolutionary Party (SR) won a majority.
The Constituent Assembly elected Socialist-Revolutionary leader Victor Chernov President of a Russian republic, but rejected the Bolshevik proposal that it endorse the Soviet decrees on land, peace and workers’ control and acknowledge the power of the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The next day, the Bolsheviks declared that the assembly was elected on outdated party lists and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets dissolved it. In March 1919, world communist parties formed Comintern (also known as the Third International) at a meeting in Moscow.
International Working Union of Socialist Parties
Parties which did not want to be a part of the resurrected Second International (ISC) or Comintern formed the International Working Union of Socialist Parties (IWUSP, also known as Vienna International/Vienna Union/Two-and-a-Half International) on 27 February 1921 at a conference in Vienna. The ISC and the IWUSP joined to form the Labour and Socialist International (LSI) in May 1923 at a meeting in Hamburg Left-wing groups which did not agree to the centralisation and abandonment of the soviets by the Bolshevik Party led left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks—such groups included Socialist Revolutionaries, Left Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and anarchists.
Within this left-wing discontent, the most large-scale events were the worker’s Kronstadt rebellion and the anarchist led Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine uprising which controlled an area known as the Free Territory.
The Bolshevik Russian Revolution of January 1918 engendered communist parties worldwide and their concomitant revolutions of 1917–1923. Few communists doubted that the Russian success of socialism depended on successful, working-class socialist revolutions in developed capitalist countries. In 1919, Lenin and Trotsky organised the world’s communist parties into a new international association of workers—the Communist International (Comintern), also called the Third International.
The Russian Revolution also influenced uprisings in other countries around this time. The German Revolution of 1918–1919 resulted in the replacing Germany’s imperial government with a republic. The revolutionary period lasted from November 1918 until the formal establishment of the Weimar Republic in August 1919 and included an episode known as the Bavarian Soviet Republic and the Spartacist uprising. In Italy, the events known as the Biennio Rosso were characterised by mass strikes, worker manifestations and self-management experiments through land and factory occupations. In Turin and Milan, workers’ councils were formed and many factory occupations took place led by anarcho-syndicalists organised around the Unione Sindacale Italiana.
By 1920, the Red Army under its commander Trotsky had largely defeated the royalist White Armies. In 1921, War Communism was ended and under the New Economic Policy (NEP) private ownership was allowed for small and medium peasant enterprises. While industry remained largely state-controlled, Lenin acknowledged that the NEP was a necessary capitalist measure for a country unripe for socialism. Profiteering returned in the form of “NEP men” and rich peasants (kulaks) gained power in the countryside. Nevertheless, the role of Trotsky in this episode has been questioned by other socialists, including ex Trotskyists. In the United States, Dwight Macdonald broke with Trotsky and left the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party by raising the question of the Kronstadt rebellion, which Trotsky as leader of the Soviet Red Army and the other Bolsheviks had brutally repressed. He then moved towards democratic socialism. and anarchism.
A similar critique of Trotsky’s role on the events around the Kronstadt rebellion was raised by the American anarchist Emma Goldman. In her essay “Trotsky Protests Too Much”, she says: “I admit, the dictatorship under Stalin’s rule has become monstrous. That does not, however, lessen the guilt of Leon Trotsky as one of the actors in the revolutionary drama of which Kronstadt was one of the bloodiest scenes”.
4th World Congress of the Communist International
In 1922, the fourth congress of the Communist International took up the policy of the United Front, urging communists to work with rank and file Social Democrats while remaining critical of their leaders, whom they criticised for betraying the working class by supporting the war efforts of their respective capitalist classes. For their part, the social democrats pointed to the dislocation caused by revolution and later the growing authoritarianism of the communist parties. When the Communist Party of Great Britain applied to affiliate to the Labour Party in 1920, it was turned down.
On seeing the Soviet State’s growing coercive power in 1923, a dying Lenin said Russia had reverted to “a bourgeois tsarist machine… barely varnished with socialism”. After Lenin’s death in January 1924, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—then increasingly under the control of Joseph Stalin—rejected the theory that socialism could not be built solely in the Soviet Union in favour of the concept of “Socialism in One Country”. Despite the marginalised Left Opposition’s demand for the restoration of Soviet democracy, Stalin developed a bureaucratic, authoritarian government that was condemned by democratic socialists, anarchists and Trotskyists for undermining the initial socialist ideals of the Bolshevik Russian Revolution.[self-published source?][unreliable source?]
In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic was established and was ruled by the Mongolian People’s Party. The Russian Revolution and the appearance of the Soviet State motivated a worldwide current of national communist parties which ended having varying levels of political and social influence. Among these there appeared the Communist Party of France, the Communist Party USA, the Italian Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party, the Mexican Communist Party, the Brazilian Communist Party, the Chilean Communist Party and the Communist Party of Indonesia.
Spanish Civil War
In Spain in 1936, the national anarcho-syndicalist trade union Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) initially refused to join a popular front electoral alliance and abstention by CNT supporters led to a right-wing election victory. In 1936, the CNT changed its policy and anarchist votes helped bring the popular front back to power. Months later, the former ruling class responded with an attempted coup, sparking the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).
In response to the army rebellion, an anarchist-inspired movement of peasants and workers, supported by armed militias, took control of Barcelona and of large areas of rural Spain where they collectivised the land. The events known as the Spanish Revolution was a workers’ social revolution that began during the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and resulted in the widespread implementation of anarchist and more broadly libertarian socialist organisational principles throughout various portions of the country for two to three years, primarily Catalonia, Aragon, Andalusia and parts of Levante.
Much of Spain’s economy was put under worker control and in anarchist strongholds like Catalonia the figure was as high as 75%, but lower in areas with heavy Communist Party of Spain influence, as the Soviet-allied party actively resisted attempts at collectivisation enactment. Factories were run through worker committees, agrarian areas became collectivised and run as libertarian communes. Anarchist historian Sam Dolgoff estimated that about eight million people participated directly or indirectly in the Spanish Revolution.
Post-World War II
Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International was established in France in 1938 when Trotskyists argued that the Comintern or Third International had become irretrievably “lost to Stalinism” and thus incapable of leading the international working class to political power. The rise of Nazism and the start of World War II led to the dissolution of the LSI in 1940. After the War, the Socialist International was formed in Frankfurt in July 1951 as a successor to the LSI.
After World War II, social democratic governments introduced social reform and wealth redistribution via state welfare and taxation. Social democratic parties dominated post-war politics in countries such as France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and Norway. At one point, France claimed to be the world’s most state-controlled capitalist country. The nationalised public utilities included Charbonnages de France (CDF), Electricité de France (EDF), Gaz de France (GDF), Air France, Banque de France and Régie Nationale des Usines Renault.
In 1945, the British Labour Party led by Clement Attlee was elected to office based on a radical socialist programme. The Labour government nationalised major public utilities such as mines, gas, coal, electricity, rail, iron, steel and the Bank of England. British Petroleum was officially nationalised in 1951. Anthony Crosland said that in 1956 25% of British industry was nationalised and that public employees, including those in nationalised industries, constituted a similar proportion of the country’s total employed population. The Labour Governments of 1964–1970 and 1974–1979 intervened further. It re-nationalised steel (1967, British Steel) after the Conservatives had denationalised it and nationalised car production (1976, British Leyland). The National Health Service provided taxpayer-funded health care to everyone, free at the point of service. Working-class housing was provided in council housing estates and university education became available via a school grant system.
During most of the post-war era, Sweden was governed by the Swedish Social Democratic Party largely in cooperation with trade unions and industry. In Sweden, the Swedish Social Democratic Party held power from 1936 to 1976, 1982 to 1991, 1994 to 2006 and 2014 to present. Tage Erlander was the leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party and led the government from 1946 to 1969, an uninterrupted tenure of twenty-three years, the longest parliamentary democracy. During Erlander’s tenure, the welfare state was substantially expanded. Prominent Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme identified as a democratic socialist and has been described as a “revolutionary reformist”.
The Norwegian Labour Party was established in 1887 and was originally largely a federation of trade unions. The party did not proclaim a socialist agenda, but it had universal suffrage and dissolution of the union with Sweden as top priorities. In 1899, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions was separated from the Labour party. Around the time of the Russian Revolution, the Labour Party moved markedly to the left and joined the Communist International in 1919. Although leaving the Communist International in 1923, the party still regarded itself as revolutionary. The party’s left-wing broke out and established the Communist Party of Norway while the Labour Party gradually changed to a reformist line around 1930. In 1935, Johan Nygaardsvold established a coalition that lasted until 1945.
From 1946 to 1962, the Norwegian Labour Party held an absolute majority in the parliament led by Einar Gerhardsen, who was Prime Minister with seventeen years in office. Although the party abandoned large parts of its pre-war socialist ideas, under Gerhardsen the welfare states was expanded to ensure the universal provision of basic human rights and stabilising the economy. In the first post-war election, the Communist Party of Norway obtained a strong position with 12% of the votes, but it largely vanished during the Cold War. In the 1950s, popular socialism emerged as a vital current of the left in Nordic countries could be characterised as a democratic socialism in the same vein as it placed itself between communism and social democracy. In the early 1960s, the Socialist Left Party challenged the Labour Party from the left. In the 1970s, a more radical socialist party, the Worker’s Communist Party (AKP), broke off from the Socialist Left Party and had notable influence in student associations and some trade unions. The AKP identified with Communist China and Albania, rather than Soviet Union.
In countries like Sweden, the Rehn–Meidner model allowed capitalists owning very productive and efficient firms to retain excess profits at the expense of the firms’ workers, exacerbating inequality and causing workers in these firms to agitate for a share of the profits in the 1970s just as women working in the state sector began to assert pressure for better wages as well. Rudolf Meidner established a study committee that came up with a 1976 proposal that entailed transferring the excess profits into investment funds controlled by the workers in the efficient firms, with the intention that firms would create further employment and pay more workers higher wages rather than increasing the wealth of company owners and managers. Capitalists immediately distinguished this proposal as socialism and launched an unprecedented opposition—including calling off the class compromise established in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement.
Social democracy is a moderate, reformist and democratic socialist ideology. Nordic social democratic parties are one of the oldest social democratic parties and include the Swedish Social Demcoratic Party in Sweden, the Norwegian Labour Party in Norway, the Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Alliance in Iceland and the Social Democrats in Denmark. Countries or political systems that for a long time have been dominated by social democratic parties are sometimes labelled social democratic.
The Nordic model is a form of economic-political system common to the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). The Nordic model has three main ingredients, namely peaceful, institutionalised negotiation between employers and trade unions notably about nationwide collective wage agreements; active, predictable and measured macro economic policy; and universal welfare and free education. In Norway and Sweden, the welfare system is governmental whereas in Denmark, Finland and Iceland trade unions play a greater role in provision of welfare. The Nordic model is often labelled social democratic in contrast with the conservative continental model and the liberal Anglo-American model, even if major reforms in the Nordic countries are the results of consensus and compromises across the political spectrum. In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, key reforms were implemented under social democratic cabinets while in Finland and Iceland centre-right parties dominated during the buildup of the model. Since World War II, the Nordic countries have largely maintained a mixed-market economy. These countries have been characterised by labour force participation, gender equality, egalitarian and universal benefits, redistribution of wealth and expansionary fiscal policy.
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe
The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II. After the war, the Soviet Union became a recognised superpower. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world’s first spacecraft and the first astronaut. The Soviet economy was the modern world’s first centrally planned economy. It was based on a system of state ownership of industry managed through Gosplan (the State Planning Commission), Gosbank (the State Bank) and the Gossnab (State Commission for Materials and Equipment Supply).
Economic planning was conducted through a series of Five-Year Plans. The emphasis was on fast development of heavy industry and the nation became one of the world’s top manufacturers of a large number of basic and heavy industrial products, but it lagged in light industrial production and consumer durables. Modernisation brought about a general increase in the standard of living.
The Eastern Bloc was the group of former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact which included the People’s Republic of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, the People’s Republic of Hungary, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the Socialist Republic of Romania, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of the excesses of Stalin’s regime during the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 1956 as well as the revolt in Hungary, produced ideological fractures and disagreements within the communist and socialist parties of Western Europe.
In the post-war years, socialism became increasingly influential throughout the so-called Third World. Embracing a new Third World socialism, countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America often nationalised industries held by foreign owners. The Chinese Kuomintang Party, the previous ruling party in Taiwan, was referred to as having a socialist ideology since Kuomintang’s revolutionary ideology in the 1920s incorporated unique Chinese socialism as part of its ideology. The Soviet Union trained Kuomintang revolutionaries in the Moscow Sun Yat-sen University. Movie theatres in the Soviet Union showed newsreels and clips of Chiang at Moscow Sun Yat-sen University portraits of Chiang were hung on the walls and in the Soviet May Day parades that year Chiang’s portrait was to be carried along with the portraits of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and other socialist leaders.
The Chinese Revolution was the second stage in the Chinese Civil War which ended in the establishment of the People’s Republic of China led by the Chinese Communist Party. The term “Third World” was coined by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952 on the model of the Third Estate, which according to the Abbé Sieyès represented everything, but was nothing “because at the end this ignored, exploited, scorned Third World like the Third Estate, wants to become something too”.
The emergence of this new political entity in the frame of the Cold War was complex and painful. Several tentatives were made to organise newly independent states in order to oppose a common front towards both the United States’ and the Soviet Union’s influence on them, with the consequences of the Sino-Soviet split already at works. The Non-Aligned Movement constituted itself around the main figures of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, President Sukarno of Indonesia, leader Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt who successfully opposed the French and British imperial powers during the 1956 Suez crisis. After the 1954 Geneva Conference which ended the French war against Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, the 1955 Bandung Conference gathered Nasser, Nehru, Tito, Sukarno and Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People’s Republic of China.
As many African countries gained independence during the 1960s, some of them rejected capitalism in favour of a more afrocentric economic model. The main architects of African socialism were Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Léopold Senghor of Senegal, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sékou Touré of Guinea.
The Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and its allies against the government of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953 and finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his government with Castro’s revolutionary state. Castro’s government later reformed along communist lines, becoming the Communist Party of Cuba in October 1965.
In Indonesia, a right-wing military regime led by Suharto killed between 500,000 and one million people in 1965 and 1966, mainly to crush the growing influence of the Communist Party of Indonesia and other leftist sectors, with support from the United States government, which provided kill lists containing thousands of names of suspected high-ranking Communists.
The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gender roles and drugs in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on labour unionisation and questions of social class. The New Left rejected involvement with the labour movement and Marxism’s historical theory of class struggle.
In the United States, the New Left was associated with the Hippie movement and anti-war college campus protest movements as well as the black liberation movements such as the Black Panther Party. While initially formed in opposition to the “Old Left” Democratic Party, groups composing the New Left gradually became central players in the Democratic coalition.
Protests of 1968
The protests of 1968 represented a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, predominantly characterised by popular rebellions against military, capitalist and bureaucratic elites who responded with an escalation of political repression. These protests marked a turning point for the civil rights movement in the United States, which produced revolutionary movements like the Black Panther Party; the prominent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. organised the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice, while personally showing sympathy with democratic socialism. In reaction to the Tet Offensive, protests also sparked a broad movement in opposition to the Vietnam War all over the United States and even into London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. In 1968 in Carrara, Italy, the International of Anarchist Federations was founded during an international anarchist conference held there by the three existing European federations of France, the Italian and the Iberian Anarchist Federation as well as the Bulgarian federation in French exile.
Mass socialist or communist movements grew not only in the United States, but also in most European countries. The most spectacular manifestation of this were the May 1968 protests in France in which students linked up with strikes of up to ten million workers and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government.
In many other capitalist countries, struggles against dictatorships, state repression and colonisation were also marked by protests in 1968, such as the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City and the escalation of guerrilla warfare against the military dictatorship in Brazil. Countries governed by communist parties had protests against bureaucratic and military elites. In Eastern Europe there were widespread protests that escalated particularly in the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. In response, Soviet Union occupied Czechoslovakia, but the occupation was denounced by the Italian and French communist parties and the Communist Party of Finland. Few western European political leaders defended the occupation, among them the Portuguese communist secretary-general Álvaro Cunhal. along with the Luxembourg party and conservative factions of the Communist Party of Greece.
In the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a social-political youth movement mobilised against “bourgeois” elements which were seen to be infiltrating the government and society at large, aiming to restore capitalism. This movement motivated Maoism-inspired movements around the world in the context of the Sino-Soviet split.
Late 20th century
In Latin America in the 1960s, a socialist tendency within the catholic church appeared which was called liberation theology which motivated even the Colombian priest Camilo Torres to enter the ELN guerrilla. In Chile, Salvador Allende, a physician and candidate for the Socialist Party of Chile, was elected president through democratic elections in 1970. In 1973, his government was ousted by the United States-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which lasted until the late 1980s. Pinochet’s regime was a leader of Operation Condor, a U.S.-backed campaign of repression and state terrorism carried out by the intelligence services of the Southern Cone countries of Latin America to eliminate suspected Communist subversion. In Jamaica, the democratic socialist Michael Manley served as the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972 to 1980 and from 1989 to 1992. According to opinion polls, he remains one of Jamaica’s most popular Prime Ministers since independence. The Nicaraguan Revolution encompassed the rising opposition to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, the campaign led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) to violently oust the dictatorship in 1978–1979, the subsequent efforts of the FSLN to govern Nicaragua from 1979 until 1990 and the socialist measures which included wide-scale agrarian reform and educational programs. The People’s Revolutionary Government was proclaimed on 13 March 1979 in Grenada which was overthrown by armed forces of the United States in 1983. The Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992) was a conflict between the military-led government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition or umbrella organisation of five socialist guerrilla groups. A coup on 15 October 1979 led to the killings of anti-coup protesters by the government as well as anti-disorder protesters by the guerrillas, and is widely seen as the tipping point towards the civil war.
In Italy, Autonomia Operaia was a leftist movement particularly active from 1976 to 1978. It took an important role in the autonomist movement in the 1970s, aside earlier organisations such as Potere Operaio (created after May 1968) and Lotta Continua. This experience prompted the contemporary socialist radical movement autonomism. In 1982, the newly elected French socialist government of François Mitterrand made nationalisations in a few key industries, including banks and insurance companies. Eurocommunism was a trend in the 1970s and 1980s in various Western European communist parties to develop a theory and practice of social transformation that was more relevant for a Western European country and less aligned to the influence or control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Outside Western Europe, it is sometimes called neocommunism. Some communist parties with strong popular support, notably the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) adopted Eurocommunism most enthusiastically and the Communist Party of Finland was dominated by Eurocommunists. The French Communist Party (PCF) and many smaller parties strongly opposed Eurocommunism and stayed aligned with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until the end of the Soviet Union.
In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, the Socialist International (SI) had extensive contacts and discussion with the two powers of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union, about East-West relations and arms control. Since then, the SI has admitted as member parties the Nicaraguan FSLN, the left-wing Puerto Rican Independence Party, as well as former communist parties such as the Democratic Party of the Left of Italy and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO). The SI aided social democratic parties in re-establishing themselves when dictatorship gave way to democracy in Portugal (1974) and Spain (1975). Until its 1976 Geneva Congress, the SI had few members outside Europe and no formal involvement with Latin America.
After Mao’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the faction known as the Gang of Four, who were blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping took power and led the People’s Republic of China to significant economic reforms. The Communist Party of China loosened governmental control over citizens’ personal lives and the communes were disbanded in favour of private land leases, thus China’s transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy named as “socialism with Chinese characteristics” which maintained state ownership rights over land, state or cooperative ownership of much of the heavy industrial and manufacturing sectors and state influence in the banking and financial sectors. China adopted its current constitution on 4 December 1982. President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji led the nation in the 1990s. Under their administration, China’s economic performance pulled an estimated 150 million peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 11.2%. At the Sixth National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in December 1986, reformist politicians replaced the “old guard” government with new leadership. The reformers were led by 71-year-old Nguyen Van Linh, who became the party’s new general secretary. Linh and the reformers implemented a series of free market reforms—known as Đổi Mới (“Renovation”)—which carefully managed the transition from a planned economy to a “socialist-oriented market economy”. Mikhail Gorbachev wished to move the Soviet Union towards of Nordic-style social democracy, calling it “a socialist beacon for all mankind”. Prior to its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union had the second largest economy in the world after the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic integration of the Soviet republics was dissolved and overall industrial activity declined substantially. A lasting legacy remains in the physical infrastructure created during decades of combined industrial production practices, and widespread environmental destruction. The transition to capitalism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc, which was accompanied by Washington Consensus-inspired “shock therapy”, resulted in a steep fall in the standard of living. The region experienced rising economic inequality and poverty a surge in excess mortality and a decline in life expectancy, which was accompanied by the entrenchment of a newly established business oligarchy in the former. The average post-communist country had returned to 1989 levels of per-capita GDP by 2005, although some are still far behind that. These developments led to increased nationalist sentiment and nostalgia for the Communist era.
Many social democratic parties, particularly after the Cold War, adopted neoliberal market policies including privatisation, deregulation and financialisation. They abandoned their pursuit of moderate socialism in favour of market liberalism. By the 1980s, with the rise of conservative neoliberal politicians such as Ronald Reagan in the United States, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Brian Mulroney in Canada and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the Western welfare state was attacked from within, but state support for the corporate sector was maintained. Monetarists and neoliberals attacked social welfare systems as impediments to private entrepreneurship. In the United Kingdom, Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made a public attack against the entryist group Militant at the 1985 Labour Party conference. The Labour Party ruled that Militant was ineligible for affiliation with the Labour Party, and the party gradually expelled Militant supporters. The Kinnock leadership had refused to support the 1984–1985 miner’s strike over pit closures, a decision that the party’s left wing and the National Union of Mineworkers blamed for the strike’s eventual defeat. In 1989 at Stockholm, the 18th Congress of the Socialist International adopted a new Declaration of Principles, saying:
Democratic socialism is an international movement for freedom, social justice, and solidarity. Its goal is to achieve a peaceful world where these basic values can be enhanced and where each individual can live a meaningful life with the full development of his or her personality and talents, and with the guarantee of human and civil rights in a democratic framework of society.
In the 1990s, the British Labour Party under Tony Blair enacted policies based on the free market economy to deliver public services via the private finance initiative. Influential in these policies was the idea of a “Third Way” which called for a re-evaluation of welfare state policies. In 1995, the Labour Party re-defined its stance on socialism by re-wording Clause IV of its constitution, effectively rejecting socialism by removing all references to public, direct worker or municipal ownership of the means of production. The Labour Party stated: “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that, by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create, for each of us, the means to realise our true potential, and, for all of us, a community in which power, wealth, and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few”.
Contemporary socialist politics
African socialism has been and continues to be a major ideology around the continent. Julius Nyerere was inspired by Fabian socialist ideals. He was a firm believer in rural Africans and their traditions and ujamaa, a system of collectivisation that according to Nyerere was present before European imperialism. Essentially he believed Africans were already socialists. Other African socialists include Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah. Fela Kuti was inspired by socialism and called for a democratic African republic. In South Africa the African National Congress (ANC) abandoned its partial socialist allegiances after taking power and followed a standard neoliberal route. From 2005 through to 2007, the country was wracked by many thousands of protests from poor communities. One of these gave rise to a mass movement of shack dwellers, Abahlali baseMjondolo that despite major police suppression continues to work for popular people’s planning and against the creation of a market economy in land and housing.
In Asia, states with socialist economies—such as the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam—have largely moved away from centralised economic planning in the 21st century, placing a greater emphasis on markets. Forms include the Chinese socialist market economy and the Vietnamese socialist-oriented market economy. They use state-owned corporate management models as opposed to modelling socialist enterprise on traditional management styles employed by government agencies. In China living standards continued to improve rapidly despite the late-2000s recession, but centralised political control remained tight. Brian Reynolds Myers in his book The Cleanest Race, later supported by other academics, dismisses the idea that Juche is North Korea’s leading ideology, regarding its public exaltation as designed to deceive foreigners and that it exists to be praised and not actually read, pointing out that North Korea’s constitution of 2009 omits all mention of communism.
Although the authority of the state remained unchallenged under Đổi Mới, the government of Vietnam encourages private ownership of farms and factories, economic deregulation and foreign investment, while maintaining control over strategic industries. The Vietnamese economy subsequently achieved strong growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction, exports and foreign investment. However, these reforms have also caused a rise in income inequality and gender disparities.
Elsewhere in Asia, some elected socialist parties and communist parties remain prominent, particularly in India and Nepal. The Communist Party of Nepal[which?] in particular calls for multi-party democracy, social equality and economic prosperity. In Singapore, a majority of the GDP is still generated from the state sector comprising government-linked companies. In Japan, there has been a resurgent interest in the Japanese Communist Party among workers and youth. In Malaysia, the Socialist Party of Malaysia got its first Member of Parliament, Dr. Jeyakumar Devaraj, after the 2008 general election. In 2010, there were 270 kibbutzim in Israel. Their factories and farms account for 9% of Israel’s industrial output, worth US$8 billion and 40% of its agricultural output, worth over $1.7 billion. Some Kibbutzim had also developed substantial high-tech and military industries. Also in 2010, Kibbutz Sasa, containing some 200 members, generated $850 million in annual revenue from its military-plastics industry.
The United Nations World Happiness Report 2013 shows that the happiest nations are concentrated in Northern Europe, where the Nordic model is employed, with Denmark topping the list. This is at times attributed to the success of the Nordic model in the region that has been labelled social democratic in contrast with the conservative continental model and the liberal Anglo-American model. The Nordic countries ranked highest on the metrics of real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption.
The objectives of the Party of European Socialists, the European Parliament’s socialist and social democratic bloc, are now “to pursue international aims in respect of the principles on which the European Union is based, namely principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy, respect of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and respect for the Rule of Law”. As a result, today the rallying cry of the French Revolution—Liberté, égalité, fraternité—is promoted as essential socialist values. To the left of the PES at the European level is the Party of the European Left (PEL), also commonly abbreviated “European Left”), which is a political party at the European level and an association of democratic socialist, socialist and communist political parties in the European Union and other European countries. It was formed in January 2004 for the purposes of running in the 2004 European Parliament elections. PEL was founded on 8–9 May 2004 in Rome. Elected MEPs from member parties of the European Left sit in the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group in the European parliament.
The socialist Left Party in Germany grew in popularity due to dissatisfaction with the increasingly neoliberal policies of the SPD, becoming the fourth biggest party in parliament in the general election on 27 September 2009. Communist candidate Dimitris Christofias won a crucial presidential runoff in Cyprus, defeating his conservative rival with a majority of 53%. In Ireland, in the 2009 European election Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party took one of three seats in the capital Dublin European constituency.
In Denmark, the Socialist People’s Party (SF) more than doubled its parliamentary representation to 23 seats from 11, making it the fourth largest party. In 2011, the Social Democrats, Socialist People’s Party and the Danish Social Liberal Party formed government, after a slight victory over the main rival political coalition. They were led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and had the Red-Green Alliance as a supporting party.
In Norway, the Red-Green Coalition consists of the Labour Party (Ap), the Socialist Left Party (SV) and the Centre Party (Sp) and governed the country as a majority government from the 2005 general election until 2013.
In the Greek legislative election of January 2015, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) led by Alexis Tsipras won a legislative election for the first time while the Communist Party of Greece won 15 seats in parliament. SYRIZA has been characterised as an anti-establishment party, whose success has sent “shock-waves across the EU”.
In the United Kingdom, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers put forward a slate of candidates in the 2009 European Parliament elections under the banner of No to EU – Yes to Democracy, a broad left-wing alter-globalisation coalition involving socialist groups such as the Socialist Party, aiming to offer an alternative to the “anti-foreigner” and pro-business policies of the UK Independence Party. In the following May 2010 United Kingdom general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, launched in January 2010 and backed by Bob Crow, the leader of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT), other union leaders and the Socialist Party among other socialist groups, stood against Labour in 40 constituencies. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition contested the 2011 local elections, having gained the endorsement of the RMT June 2010 conference, but gained no seats. Left Unity was also founded in 2013 after the film director Ken Loach appealed for a new party of the left to replace the Labour Party, which he claimed had failed to oppose austerity and had shifted towards neoliberalism. In 2015, following a defeat at the 2015 United Kingdom general election, self-described socialist Jeremy Corbyn took over from Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party.
In France, Olivier Besancenot, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) candidate in the 2007 presidential election, received 1,498,581 votes, 4.08%, double that of the communist candidate. The LCR abolished itself in 2009 to initiate a broad anti-capitalist party, the New Anticapitalist Party, whose stated aim is to “build a new socialist, democratic perspective for the twenty-first century”.
On 25 May 2014, the Spanish left-wing party Podemos entered candidates for the 2014 European parliamentary elections, some of which were unemployed. In a surprise result, it polled 7.98% of the vote and thus was awarded five seats out of 54 while the older United Left was the third largest overall force obtaining 10.03% and 5 seats, 4 more than the previous elections.
The government of Portugal established on 26 November 2015 was a Socialist Party (PS) minority government led by prime minister António Costa, who succeeded in securing support for a Socialist minority government by the Left Bloc (B.E.), the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and the Ecologist Party “The Greens” (PEV).
All around Europe and in some places of Latin America there exists a social centre and squatting movement mainly inspired by autonomist and anarchist ideas.
According to a 2013 article in The Guardian, “[c]ontrary to popular belief, Americans don’t have an innate allergy to socialism. Milwaukee has had several socialist mayors (Frank Zeidler, Emil Seidel and Daniel Hoan), and there is currently an independent socialist in the US Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont”. Sanders, once mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, has described himself as a democratic socialist and has praised Scandinavian-style social democracy. In 2016, Sanders made a bid for the Democratic Party presidential candidate, thereby gaining considerable popular support, particularly among the younger generation, but lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton. As of 2019, the Democratic Socialists of America have two members in Congress, and various members in state legislatures and city councils. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 37% of American adults have a positive view of socialism, including 57% of Democrat-leaning voters and 16% of Republican-leaning voters. A 2019 YouGov poll found that 7 out of 10 millennials would vote for a socialist presidential candidate, and 36% had a favorable view of communism. An earlier 2019 Harris Poll found that socialism is more popular with women than men, with 55% of women between the ages of 18 and 54 preferring to live in a socialist society while a majority of men surveyed in the poll chose capitalism over socialism.
Anti-capitalism, anarchism and the anti-globalisation movement rose to prominence through events such as protests against the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 in Seattle. Socialist-inspired groups played an important role in these movements, which nevertheless embraced much broader layers of the population and were championed by figures such as Noam Chomsky. In Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), had significant success in provincial politics. In 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first socialist government in North America. At the federal level, the NDP was the Official Opposition, from 2011 through 2015.
In their Johnson linguistics column, The Economist opines that in the 21st century United States, the term socialism, without clear definition, has become a pejorative used by conservatives to attack liberal and progressive policies, proposals, and public figures.
Latin America and the Caribbean
For the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the attempt by Salvador Allende to unite Marxists and other reformers in a socialist reconstruction of Chile is most representative of the direction that Latin American socialists have taken since the late 20th century. […] Several socialist (or socialist-leaning) leaders have followed Allende’s example in winning election to office in Latin American countries”. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa refer to their political programmes as socialist and Chávez adopted the term “socialism of the 21st century”. After winning re-election in December 2006, Chávez said: “Now more than ever, I am obliged to move Venezuela’s path towards socialism”. Chávez was also reelected in October 2012 for his third six-year term as President, but he died in March 2013 from cancer. After Chávez’s death on 5 March 2013, Vice President from Chavez’s party Nicolás Maduro assumed the powers and responsibilities of the President. A special election was held on 14 April of the same year to elect a new President, which Maduro won by a tight margin as the candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and he was formally inaugurated on 19 April. “Pink tide” is a term being used in contemporary 21st-century political analysis in the media and elsewhere to describe the perception that leftist ideology in general and left-wing politics in particular are increasingly influential in Latin America.
Foro de São Paulo is a conference of leftist political parties and other organisations from Latin America and the Caribbean. It was launched by the Workers’ Party (Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) of Brazil in 1990 in the city of São Paulo. The Forum of São Paulo was constituted in 1990 when the Brazilian Workers’ Party approached other parties and social movements of Latin America and the Caribbean with the objective of debating the new international scenario after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequences of the implementation of what were taken as neoliberal policies adopted at the time by contemporary right-leaning governments in the region, the stated main objective of the conference being to argue for alternatives to neoliberalism. Among its member include current socialist and social-democratic parties currently in government in the region such as Bolivia’s Movement for Socialism, Brazil’s Workers Party, the Communist Party of Cuba, Ecuador’s PAIS Alliance, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the Socialist Party of Chile, Uruguay’s Broad Front, Nicaragua’s Sandinista National Liberation Front and El Salvador’s Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.
Australia saw an increase in interest of socialism in the early 21st century, especially amongst youth. It is strongest in Victoria, where three socialist parties have merged into the Victorian Socialists, who aim to address problems in housing and public transportation.
In New Zealand, socialism emerged within the budding trade union movement during the late 19th century and early 20th century. In July 1916, several left-wing political organisations and trade unions merged to form the New Zealand Labour Party. While Labour traditionally had a socialist orientation, the party shifted towards a more social democratic orientation during the 1920s and 1930s. Following the 1935 general election, the First Labour Government pursued socialist policies such as nationalising industry, broadcasting, transportation, and implementing a Keynesian welfare state. However, the party did not seek to abolish capitalism, instead opting for a mixed economy. Labour’s welfare state and mixed economy were not challenged until the 1980s. During the 1980s, the Fourth Labour Government implemented a raft of neoliberal economic reforms known as Rogernomics which saw New Zealand society and the economy shift towards a more free market model. Labour’s abandonment of its traditional values fractured the party. Successive Labour governments have since pursued centre-left social and economic policies while maintaining a free market economy. The current Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern formerly served as President of the International Union of Socialist Youth. Ardern is a self-described social democrat who has criticized capitalism as a “blatant failure” due to high levels of homelessness and low wages. New Zealand still has a small socialist scene, mainly dominated by Trotskyist groups.
Melanesian socialism developed in the 1980s, inspired by African socialism. It aims to achieve full independence from Britain and France in Melanesian territories and creation of a Melanesian federal union. It is very popular with the New Caledonia independence movement.
The Progressive Alliance is a political international founded on 22 May 2013 by political parties, the majority of whom are current or former members of the Socialist International. The organisation states the aim of becoming the global network of “the progressive, democratic, social-democratic, socialist and labour movement”.
Social and political theory
Early socialist thought took influences from a diverse range of philosophies such as civic republicanism, Enlightenment rationalism, romanticism, forms of materialism, Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), natural law and natural rights theory, utilitarianism and liberal political economy. Another philosophical basis for a lot of early socialism was the emergence of positivism during the European Enlightenment. Positivism held that both the natural and social worlds could be understood through scientific knowledge and be analysed using scientific methods. This core outlook influenced early social scientists and different types of socialists ranging from anarchists like Peter Kropotkin to technocrats like Saint Simon.
The fundamental objective of socialism is to attain an advanced level of material production and therefore greater productivity, efficiency and rationality as compared to capitalism and all previous systems, under the view that an expansion of human productive capability is the basis for the extension of freedom and equality in society. Many forms of socialist theory hold that human behaviour is largely shaped by the social environment. In particular, socialism holds that social mores, values, cultural traits and economic practices are social creations and not the result of an immutable natural law. The object of their critique is thus not human avarice or human consciousness, but the material conditions and man-made social systems (i.e. the economic structure of society) that gives rise to observed social problems and inefficiencies. Bertrand Russell, often considered to be the father of analytic philosophy, identified as a socialist. Russell opposed the class struggle aspects of Marxism, viewing socialism solely as an adjustment of economic relations to accommodate modern machine production to benefit all of humanity through the progressive reduction of necessary work time.
Socialists view creativity as an essential aspect of human nature and define freedom as a state of being where individuals are able to express their creativity unhindered by constraints of both material scarcity and coercive social institutions. The socialist concept of individuality is thus intertwined with the concept of individual creative expression. Karl Marx believed that expansion of the productive forces and technology was the basis for the expansion of human freedom and that socialism, being a system that is consistent with modern developments in technology, would enable the flourishing of “free individualities” through the progressive reduction of necessary labour time. The reduction of necessary labour time to a minimum would grant individuals the opportunity to pursue the development of their true individuality and creativity.
Criticism of capitalism
Socialists argue that the accumulation of capital generates waste through externalities that require costly corrective regulatory measures. They also point out that this process generates wasteful industries and practices that exist only to generate sufficient demand for products to be sold at a profit (such as high-pressure advertisement), thereby creating rather than satisfying economic demand.
Socialists argue that capitalism consists of irrational activity, such as the purchasing of commodities only to sell at a later time when their price appreciates, rather than for consumption, even if the commodity cannot be sold at a profit to individuals in need and therefore a crucial criticism often made by socialists is that “making money”, or accumulation of capital, does not correspond to the satisfaction of demand (the production of use-values). The fundamental criterion for economic activity in capitalism is the accumulation of capital for reinvestment in production, but this spurs the development of new, non-productive industries that do not produce use-value and only exist to keep the accumulation process afloat (otherwise the system goes into crisis), such as the spread of the financial industry, contributing to the formation of economic bubbles.
Socialists view private property relations as limiting the potential of productive forces in the economy. According to socialists, private property becomes obsolete when it concentrates into centralised, socialised institutions based on private appropriation of revenue—but based on cooperative work and internal planning in allocation of inputs—until the role of the capitalist becomes redundant. With no need for capital accumulation and a class of owners, private property in the means of production is perceived as being an outdated form of economic organisation that should be replaced by a free association of individuals based on public or common ownership of these socialised assets. Private ownership imposes constraints on planning, leading to uncoordinated economic decisions that result in business fluctuations, unemployment and a tremendous waste of material resources during crisis of overproduction.
Excessive disparities in income distribution lead to social instability and require costly corrective measures in the form of redistributive taxation, which incurs heavy administrative costs while weakening the incentive to work, inviting dishonesty and increasing the likelihood of tax evasion while (the corrective measures) reduce the overall efficiency of the market economy. These corrective policies limit the incentive system of the market by providing things such as minimum wages, unemployment insurance, taxing profits and reducing the reserve army of labour, resulting in reduced incentives for capitalists to invest in more production. In essence, social welfare policies cripple capitalism and its incentive system and are thus unsustainable in the long-run. Marxists argue that the establishment of a socialist mode of production is the only way to overcome these deficiencies. Socialists and specifically Marxian socialists argue that the inherent conflict of interests between the working class and capital prevent optimal use of available human resources and leads to contradictory interest groups (labour and business) striving to influence the state to intervene in the economy in their favour at the expense of overall economic efficiency.
Early socialists (utopian socialists and Ricardian socialists) criticised capitalism for concentrating power and wealth within a small segment of society. In addition, they complained that capitalism does not use available technology and resources to their maximum potential in the interests of the public.
At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms—with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argued that socialism would emerge from historical necessity as capitalism rendered itself obsolete and unsustainable from increasing internal contradictions emerging from the development of the productive forces and technology. It was these advances in the productive forces combined with the old social relations of production of capitalism that would generate contradictions, leading to working-class consciousness.
Marx and Engels held the view that the consciousness of those who earn a wage or salary (the working class in the broadest Marxist sense) would be moulded by their conditions of wage slavery, leading to a tendency to seek their freedom or emancipation by overthrowing ownership of the means of production by capitalists and consequently, overthrowing the state that upheld this economic order. For Marx and Engels, conditions determine consciousness and ending the role of the capitalist class leads eventually to a classless society in which the state would wither away. The Marxist conception of socialism is that of a specific historical phase that would displace capitalism and precede communism. The major characteristics of socialism (particularly as conceived by Marx and Engels after the Paris Commune of 1871) are that the proletariat would control the means of production through a workers’ state erected by the workers in their interests. Economic activity would still be organised through the use of incentive systems and social classes would still exist, but to a lesser and diminishing extent than under capitalism.
For orthodox Marxists, socialism is the lower stage of communism based on the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution” while upper stage communism is based on the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, the upper stage becoming possible only after the socialist stage further develops economic efficiency and the automation of production has led to a superabundance of goods and services. Marx argued that the material productive forces (in industry and commerce) brought into existence by capitalism predicated a cooperative society since production had become a mass social, collective activity of the working class to create commodities but with private ownership (the relations of production or property relations). This conflict between collective effort in large factories and private ownership would bring about a conscious desire in the working class to establish collective ownership commensurate with the collective efforts their daily experience.
Role of the state
Socialists have taken different perspectives on the state and the role it should play in revolutionary struggles, in constructing socialism and within an established socialist economy.
In the 19th century the philosophy of state socialism was first explicitly expounded by the German political philosopher Ferdinand Lassalle. In contrast to Karl Marx’s perspective of the state, Lassalle rejected the concept of the state as a class-based power structure whose main function was to preserve existing class structures. Thus Lassalle also rejected the Marxist view that the state was destined to “wither away”. Lassalle considered the state to be an entity independent of class allegiances and an instrument of justice that would therefore be essential for achieving socialism.
Preceding the Bolshevik-led revolution in Russia, many socialists including reformists, orthodox Marxist currents such as council communism, anarchists and libertarian socialists criticised the idea of using the state to conduct central planning and own the means of production as a way to establish socialism. Following the victory of Leninism in Russia, the idea of “state socialism” spread rapidly throughout the socialist movement and eventually state socialism came to be identified with the Soviet economic model.
Joseph Schumpeter rejected the association of socialism (and social ownership) with state ownership over the means of production because the state as it exists in its current form is a product of capitalist society and cannot be transplanted to a different institutional framework. Schumpeter argued that there would be different institutions within socialism than those that exist within modern capitalism, just as feudalism had its own distinct and unique institutional forms. The state, along with concepts like property and taxation, were concepts exclusive to commercial society (capitalism) and attempting to place them within the context of a future socialist society would amount to a distortion of these concepts by using them out of context.
Utopian versus scientific
Utopian socialism is a term used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, which inspired Karl Marx and other early socialists. However, visions of imaginary ideal societies, which competed with revolutionary social democratic movements, were viewed as not being grounded in the material conditions of society and as reactionary. Although it is technically possible for any set of ideas or any person living at any time in history to be a utopian socialist, the term is most often applied to those socialists who lived in the first quarter of the 19th century who were ascribed the label “utopian” by later socialists as a negative term in order to imply naivete and dismiss their ideas as fanciful or unrealistic.
Religious sects whose members live communally such as the Hutterites, for example, are not usually called “utopian socialists”, although their way of living is a prime example. They have been categorised as religious socialists by some. Likewise, modern intentional communities based on socialist ideas could also be categorised as “utopian socialist”.
For Marxists, the development of capitalism in Western Europe provided a material basis for the possibility of bringing about socialism because according to The Communist Manifesto “[w]hat the bourgeoisie produces above all is its own grave diggers”, namely the working class, which must become conscious of the historical objectives set it by society.
Reform versus revolution
Revolutionary socialists believe that a social revolution is necessary to effect structural changes to the socioeconomic structure of society. Among revolutionary socialists there are differences in strategy, theory and the definition of “revolution”. Orthodox Marxists and left communists take an impossibilist stance, believing that revolution should be spontaneous as a result of contradictions in society due to technological changes in the productive forces. Lenin theorised that under capitalism the workers cannot achieve class consciousness beyond organising into unions and making demands of the capitalists. Therefore, Leninists advocate that it is historically necessary for a vanguard of class conscious revolutionaries to take a central role in coordinating the social revolution to overthrow the capitalist state and eventually the institution of the state altogether. “Revolution” is not necessarily defined by revolutionary socialists as violent insurrection, but as a complete dismantling and rapid transformation of all areas of class society led by the majority of the masses: the working class.
Reformism is generally associated with social democracy and gradualist democratic socialism. Reformism is the belief that socialists should stand in parliamentary elections within capitalist society and if elected use the machinery of government to pass political and social reforms for the purposes of ameliorating the instabilities and inequities of capitalism.
Socialist economics starts from the premise that “individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members”.
The original conception of socialism was an economic system whereby production was organised in a way to directly produce goods and services for their utility (or use-value in classical and Marxian economics): the direct allocation of resources in terms of physical units as opposed to financial calculation and the economic laws of capitalism (see law of value), often entailing the end of capitalistic economic categories such as rent, interest, profit and money. In a fully developed socialist economy, production and balancing factor inputs with outputs becomes a technical process to be undertaken by engineers.
Market socialism refers to an array of different economic theories and systems that use the market mechanism to organise production and to allocate factor inputs among socially owned enterprises, with the economic surplus (profits) accruing to society in a social dividend as opposed to private capital owners. Variations of market socialism include libertarian proposals such as mutualism, based on classical economics, and neoclassical economic models such as the Lange Model. However, some economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Mancur Olson and others not specifically advancing anti-socialists positions have shown that prevailing economic models upon which such democratic or market socialism models might be based have logical flaws or unworkable presuppositions.
The ownership of the means of production can be based on direct ownership by the users of the productive property through worker cooperative; or commonly owned by all of society with management and control delegated to those who operate/use the means of production; or public ownership by a state apparatus. Public ownership may refer to the creation of state-owned enterprises, nationalisation, municipalisation or autonomous collective institutions. Some socialists feel that in a socialist economy, at least the “commanding heights” of the economy must be publicly owned. However, economic liberals and right libertarians view private ownership of the means of production and the market exchange as natural entities or moral rights which are central to their conceptions of freedom and liberty and view the economic dynamics of capitalism as immutable and absolute, therefore they perceive public ownership of the means of production, cooperatives and economic planning as infringements upon liberty.
Management and control over the activities of enterprises are based on self-management and self-governance, with equal power-relations in the workplace to maximise occupational autonomy. A socialist form of organisation would eliminate controlling hierarchies so that only a hierarchy based on technical knowledge in the workplace remains. Every member would have decision-making power in the firm and would be able to participate in establishing its overall policy objectives. The policies/goals would be carried out by the technical specialists that form the coordinating hierarchy of the firm, who would establish plans or directives for the work community to accomplish these goals.
The role and use of money in a hypothetical socialist economy is a contested issue. According to the Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises, an economic system that does not use money, financial calculation and market pricing would be unable to effectively value capital goods and coordinate production and therefore these types of socialism are impossible because they lack the necessary information to perform economic calculation in the first place. Socialists including Karl Marx, Robert Owen, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and John Stuart Mill advocated various forms of labour vouchers or labour credits, which like money would be used to acquire articles of consumption, but unlike money they are unable to become capital and would not be used to allocate resources within the production process. Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued that money could not be arbitrarily abolished following a socialist revolution. Money had to exhaust its “historic mission”, meaning it would have to be used until its function became redundant, eventually being transformed into bookkeeping receipts for statisticians and only in the more distant future would money not be required for even that role.
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil… I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilised in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
A planned economy is a type of economy consisting of a mixture of public ownership of the means of production and the coordination of production and distribution through economic planning. There are two major types of planning: decentralised-planning and centralised-planning. Enrico Barone provided a comprehensive theoretical framework for a planned socialist economy. In his model, assuming perfect computation techniques, simultaneous equations relating inputs and outputs to ratios of equivalence would provide appropriate valuations in order to balance supply and demand.
The most prominent example of a planned economy was the economic system of the Soviet Union and as such the centralised-planned economic model is usually associated with the communist states of the 20th century, where it was combined with a single-party political system. In a centrally planned economy, decisions regarding the quantity of goods and services to be produced are planned in advance by a planning agency (see also the analysis of Soviet-type economic planning). The economic systems of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc are further classified as “command economies”, which are defined as systems where economic coordination is undertaken by commands, directives and production targets. Studies by economists of various political persuasions on the actual functioning of the Soviet economy indicate that it was not actually a planned economy. Instead of conscious planning, the Soviet economy was based on a process whereby the plan was modified by localised agents and the original plans went largely unfulfilled. Planning agencies, ministries and enterprises all adapted and bargained with each other during the formulation of the plan as opposed to following a plan passed down from a higher authority, leading some economists to suggest that planning did not actually take place within the Soviet economy and that a better description would be an “administered” or “managed” economy.
Although central planning was largely supported by Marxist–Leninists, some factions within the Soviet Union before the rise of Stalinism held positions contrary to central planning. Leon Trotsky rejected central planning in favour of decentralised planning. He argued that central planners, regardless of their intellectual capacity, would be unable to coordinate effectively all economic activity within an economy because they operated without the input and tacit knowledge embodied by the participation of the millions of people in the economy. As a result, central planners would be unable to respond to local economic conditions. State socialism is unfeasible in this view because information cannot be aggregated by a central body and effectively used to formulate a plan for an entire economy, because doing so would result in distorted or absent price signals.
A self-managed, decentralised economy is based on autonomous self-regulating economic units and a decentralised mechanism of resource allocation and decision-making. This model has found support in notable classical and neoclassical economists including Alfred Marshall, John Stuart Mill and Jaroslav Vanek. There are numerous variations of self-management, including labour-managed firms and worker-managed firms. The goals of self-management are to eliminate exploitation and reduce alienation. Guild socialism is a political movement advocating workers’ control of industry through the medium of trade-related guilds “in an implied contractual relationship with the public”. It originated in the United Kingdom and was at its most influential in the first quarter of the 20th century. It was strongly associated with G. D. H. Cole and influenced by the ideas of William Morris.
One such system is the cooperative economy, a largely free market economy in which workers manage the firms and democratically determine remuneration levels and labour divisions. Productive resources would be legally owned by the cooperative and rented to the workers, who would enjoy usufruct rights. Another form of decentralised planning is the use of cybernetics, or the use of computers to manage the allocation of economic inputs. The socialist-run government of Salvador Allende in Chile experimented with Project Cybersyn, a real-time information bridge between the government, state enterprises and consumers. Another, more recent variant is participatory economics, wherein the economy is planned by decentralised councils of workers and consumers. Workers would be remunerated solely according to effort and sacrifice, so that those engaged in dangerous, uncomfortable and strenuous work would receive the highest incomes and could thereby work less. A contemporary model for a self-managed, non-market socialism is Pat Devine’s model of negotiated coordination. Negotiated coordination is based upon social ownership by those affected by the use of the assets involved, with decisions made by those at the most localised level of production.
Michel Bauwens identifies the emergence of the open software movement and peer-to-peer production as a new alternative mode of production to the capitalist economy and centrally planned economy that is based on collaborative self-management, common ownership of resources and the production of use-values through the free cooperation of producers who have access to distributed capital.
Anarcho-communism is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, private property and capitalism in favour of common ownership of the means of production. Anarcho-syndicalism was practised in Catalonia and other places in the Spanish Revolution during the Spanish Civil War. Sam Dolgoff estimated that about eight million people participated directly or at least indirectly in the Spanish Revolution.
The economy of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia established a system based on market-based allocation, social ownership of the means of production and self-management within firms. This system substituted Yugoslavia’s Soviet-type central planning with a decentralised, self-managed system after reforms in 1953.
The Marxian economist Richard D. Wolff argues that “re-organising production so that workers become collectively self-directed at their work-sites” not only moves society beyond both capitalism and state socialism of the last century, but would also mark another milestone in human history, similar to earlier transitions out of slavery and feudalism. As an example, Wolff claims that Mondragon is “a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organisation of production”.
State socialism can be used to classify any variety of socialist philosophies that advocates the ownership of the means of production by the state apparatus, either as a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism, or as an end-goal in itself. Typically it refers to a form of technocratic management, whereby technical specialists administer or manage economic enterprises on behalf of society (and the public interest) instead of workers’ councils or workplace democracy.
A state-directed economy may refer to a type of mixed economy consisting of public ownership over large industries, as promoted by various Social democratic political parties during the 20th century. This ideology influenced the policies of the British Labour Party during Clement Attlee’s administration. In the biography of the 1945 United Kingdom Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Francis Beckett states: “[T]he government… wanted what would become known as a mixed economy”.
Nationalisation in the United Kingdom was achieved through compulsory purchase of the industry (i.e. with compensation). British Aerospace was a combination of major aircraft companies British Aircraft Corporation, Hawker Siddeley and others. British Shipbuilders was a combination of the major shipbuilding companies including Cammell Laird, Govan Shipbuilders, Swan Hunter and Yarrow Shipbuilders, whereas the nationalisation of the coal mines in 1947 created a coal board charged with running the coal industry commercially so as to be able to meet the interest payable on the bonds which the former mine owners’ shares had been converted into.
Market socialism consists of publicly owned or cooperatively owned enterprises operating in a market economy. It is a system that uses the market and monetary prices for the allocation and accounting of the means of production, thereby retaining the process of capital accumulation. The profit generated would be used to directly remunerate employees, collectively sustain the enterprise or finance public institutions. In state-oriented forms of market socialism, in which state enterprises attempt to maximise profit, the profits can be used to fund government programs and services through a social dividend, eliminating or greatly diminishing the need for various forms of taxation that exist in capitalist systems. Neoclassical economist Léon Walras believed that a socialist economy based on state ownership of land and natural resources would provide a means of public finance to make income taxes unnecessary. Yugoslavia implemented a market socialist economy based on cooperatives and worker self-management.
Mutualism is an economic theory and anarchist school of thought that advocates a society where each person might possess a means of production, either individually or collectively, with trade representing equivalent amounts of labour in the free market. Integral to the scheme was the establishment of a mutual-credit bank that would lend to producers at a minimal interest rate, just high enough to cover administration. Mutualism is based on a labour theory of value that holds that when labour or its product is sold, in exchange it ought to receive goods or services embodying “the amount of labour necessary to produce an article of exactly similar and equal utility”.
The current economic system in China is formally referred to as a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics. It combines a large state sector that comprises the commanding heights of the economy, which are guaranteed their public ownership status by law, with a private sector mainly engaged in commodity production and light industry responsible from anywhere between 33% to over 70% of GDP generated in 2005. Although there has been a rapid expansion of private-sector activity since the 1980s, privatisation of state assets was virtually halted and were partially reversed in 2005. The current Chinese economy consists of 150 corporatised state-owned enterprises that report directly to China’s central government. By 2008, these state-owned corporations had become increasingly dynamic and generated large increases in revenue for the state, resulting in a state-sector led recovery during the 2009 financial crises while accounting for most of China’s economic growth. However, the Chinese economic model is widely cited as a contemporary form of state capitalism, the major difference between Western capitalism and the Chinese model being the degree of state-ownership of shares in publicly listed corporations.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has adopted a similar model after the Doi Moi economic renovation, but slightly differs from the Chinese model in that the Vietnamese government retains firm control over the state sector and strategic industries, but allows for private-sector activity in commodity production.
The major socialist political movements are described below. Independent socialist theorists, utopian socialist authors and academic supporters of socialism may not be represented in these movements. Some political groups have called themselves socialist while holding views that some consider antithetical to socialism. The term “socialist” has also been used by some politicians on the political right as an epithet against certain individuals who do not consider themselves to be socialists and against policies that are not considered socialist by their proponents.
There are many variations of socialism and as such there is no single definition encapsulating all of socialism. However, there have been common elements identified by scholars. In his Dictionary of Socialism (1924), Angelo S. Rappoport analysed forty definitions of socialism to conclude that common elements of socialism include: general criticisms of the social effects of private ownership and control of capital—as being the cause of poverty, low wages, unemployment, economic and social inequality and a lack of economic security; a general view that the solution to these problems is a form of collective control over the means of production, distribution and exchange (the degree and means of control vary amongst socialist movements); an agreement that the outcome of this collective control should be a society based upon social justice, including social equality, economic protection of people and should provide a more satisfying life for most people. In The Concepts of Socialism (1975), Bhikhu Parekh identifies four core principles of socialism and particularly socialist society: sociality, social responsibility, cooperation and planning. In his study Ideologies and Political Theory (1996), Michael Freeden states that all socialists share five themes: the first is that socialism posits that society is more than a mere collection of individuals; second, that it considers human welfare a desirable objective; third, that it considers humans by nature to be active and productive; fourth, it holds the belief of human equality; and fifth, that history is progressive and will create positive change on the condition that humans work to achieve such change.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies often defined as self-governed voluntary institutions, but that several authors have defined as more specific institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary or harmful. While anti-statism is central, some argue that anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of human relations including, but not limited to, the state system. Mutualists advocate market socialism, collectivist anarchists workers cooperatives and salaries based on the amount of time contributed to production, anarcho-communists advocate a direct transition from capitalism to libertarian communism and a gift economy and anarcho-syndicalists worker’s direct action and the general strike.
Modern democratic socialism is a broad political movement that seeks to promote the ideals of socialism within the context of a democratic system. Some democratic socialists support social democracy as a temporary measure to reform the current system while others reject reformism in favour of more revolutionary methods. Modern social democracy emphasises a program of gradual legislative modification of capitalism 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, although there are a few key differences.
The major difference between social democracy and democratic socialism is the object of their politics: contemporary social democrats support a welfare state and unemployment insurance as a means to “humanise” capitalism, whereas democratic socialists seek to replace capitalism with a socialist economic system, arguing that any attempt to “humanise” capitalism through regulations and welfare policies would distort the market and create economic contradictions.
Democratic socialism generally refers to any political movement that seeks to establish an economy based on economic democracy by and for the working class. Democratic socialism is difficult to define and groups of scholars have radically different definitions for the term. Some definitions simply refer to all forms of socialism that follow an electoral, reformist or evolutionary path to socialism rather than a revolutionary one.
You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
Leninism and precedents
Blanquism refers to a conception of revolution generally attributed to Louis Auguste Blanqui which holds that socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organised and secretive conspirators. Having seized power, the revolutionaries would then use the power of the state to introduce socialism. It is considered a particular sort of “putschism”—that is, the view that political revolution should take the form of a putsch or coup d’état. Rosa Luxemburg and Eduard Bernstein have criticised Vladimir Lenin that his conception of revolution was elitist and essentially Blanquist. Marxism–Leninism is a political ideology combining orthodox Marxism (the scientific socialist concepts theorised by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) and Leninism (Lenin’s theoretical expansions of Marxism which include anti-imperialism, democratic centralism and party-building principles). Marxism–Leninism was the official ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and of the Communist International (1919–1943) and later it became the main guiding ideology for Trotskyists, Maoists and Stalinists.
Libertarian socialism, sometimes called left-libertarianism, social anarchism and socialist libertarianism, is a group of anti-authoritarian, anti-statist and libertarian philosophies within the socialist movement that rejects socialism as centralised state ownership and control of the economy including criticism of wage labour relationships within the workplace, as well as the state itself. It emphasises workers’ self-management of the workplace and decentralised structures of political organisation, asserting that a society based on freedom and equality can be achieved through abolishing authoritarian institutions that control certain means of production and subordinate the majority to an owning class or political and economic elite. Libertarian socialists generally place their hopes in decentralised means of direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens’ assemblies, trade unions, and workers’ councils.
Relatedly, anarcho-syndicalist Gaston Leval explained: “We therefore foresee a Society in which all activities will be coordinated, a structure that has, at the same time, sufficient flexibility to permit the greatest possible autonomy for social life, or for the life of each enterprise, and enough cohesiveness to prevent all disorder…In a well-organised society, all of these things must be systematically accomplished by means of parallel federations, vertically united at the highest levels, constituting one vast organism in which all economic functions will be performed in solidarity with all others and that will permanently preserve the necessary cohesion”. All of this is generally done within a general call for libertarian and voluntary human relationships through the identification, criticism and practical dismantling of illegitimate authority in all aspects of human life. As such, libertarian socialism within the larger socialist movement seeks to distinguish itself both from Bolshevism, Leninism and Marxism–Leninism and from social democracy.
Past and present political philosophies and movements commonly described as libertarian socialist include anarchism (especially anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism collectivist anarchism and mutualism) as well as autonomism, Communalism, participism, revolutionary syndicalism and libertarian Marxist philosophies such as council communism and Luxemburgism; as well as some versions of utopian socialism and individualist anarchism.
Christian socialism is a broad concept involving an intertwining of the Christian religion with the politics and economic theories of socialism.
Islamic socialism is a term coined by various Muslim leaders to describe a more spiritual form of socialism. Muslim socialists believe that the teachings of the Qur’an and Muhammad are compatible with principles of equality and public ownership drawing inspiration from the early Medina welfare state established by Muhammad. Muslim socialists are more conservative than their western contemporaries and find their roots in anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and Arab nationalism. Islamic socialist leaders believe in democracy and deriving legitimacy from public mandate as opposed to religious texts.
Social democracy and liberal socialism
Social democracy is a political ideology which “is derived from a socialist tradition of political thought. Many social democrats refer to themselves as socialists or democratic socialists” and some such Tony Blair “use or have used these terms interchangeably”. Others have opined that “there are clear differences between the three terms, and preferred to describe their own political beliefs by using the term ‘social democracy’ only”. There are two main directions, either to establish democratic socialism, or to build a welfare state within the framework of the capitalist system. The first variant has officially its goal by establishing democratic socialism through reformist and gradualist methods. In the second variant, social democracy becomes a policy regime involving a welfare state, collective bargaining schemes, support for publicly financed public services and a capitalist-based economy like a mixed economy. It is often used in this manner to refer to the social models and economic policies prominent in Western and Northern Europe during the later half of the 20th century. It has been described by Jerry Mander as “hybrid” economics, an active collaboration of capitalist and socialist visions and while such systems are not perfect they tend to provide high standards of living. Numerous studies and surveys indicate that people tend to live happier lives in social democratic societies rather than neoliberal ones.
Social democrats supporting the first variant advocate for a peaceful, evolutionary transition of the economy to socialism through progressive social reform of capitalism. It asserts that the only acceptable constitutional form of government is representative democracy under the rule of law. It promotes extending democratic decision-making beyond political democracy to include economic democracy to guarantee employees and other economic stakeholders sufficient rights of co-determination. It supports a mixed economy that opposes the excesses of capitalism such as inequality, poverty and oppression of various groups, while rejecting both a totally free market or a fully planned economy. Common social democratic policies include advocacy of universal social rights to attain universally accessible public services such as education, health care, workers’ compensation and other services, including child care and care for the elderly. Social democracy is connected with the trade union labour movement and supports collective bargaining rights for workers. Most social democratic parties are affiliated with the Socialist International.
Liberal socialism incorporates liberal principles to socialism. It has been compared to modern social democracy as it supports a mixed economy that includes both public and private property in capital goods. Liberal socialism identifies legalistic and artificial monopolies to be the fault of capitalism and opposes an entirely unregulated economy. It considers both liberty and equality to be compatible and mutually dependent on each other. Principles that can be described as liberal socialist have been based upon or developed by philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, Eduard Bernstein, John Dewey, Carlo Rosselli, Norberto Bobbio and Chantal Mouffe. Other important liberal socialist figures include Guido Calogero, Piero Gobetti, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse, John Maynard Keynes and R. H. Tawney. Liberal socialism has been particularly prominent in British and Italian politics.
Socialism and progressive social movements
Socialist feminism is the branch of feminism that focuses upon both the public and private spheres of a woman’s life and argues that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women’s oppression. Marxist feminism’s foundation is laid by Friedrich Engels in his analysis of gender oppression in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). August Bebel’s Woman under Socialism (1879), the “single work dealing with sexuality most widely read by rank-and-file members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)”. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Clara Zetkin and Eleanor Marx were against the demonisation of men and supported a proletariat revolution that would overcome as many male-female inequalities as possible. As their movement already had the most radical demands in women’s equality, most Marxist leaders, including Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai, counterposed Marxism against liberal feminism rather than trying to combine them. Anarcha-feminism began with late 19th and early 20th century authors and theorists such as anarchist feminists Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre In the Spanish Civil War, an anarcha-feminist group, Mujeres Libres (“Free Women”) linked to the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, organised to defend both anarchist and feminist ideas. In 1972, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union published “Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement”, which is believed to be the first to use the term “socialist feminism” in publication.
Many socialists were early advocates for LGBT rights. For early socialist Charles Fourier, true freedom could only occur without suppressing passions, as the suppression of passions is not only destructive to the individual, but to society as a whole. Writing before the advent of the term “homosexuality”, Fourier recognised that both men and women have a wide range of sexual needs and preferences which may change throughout their lives, including same-sex sexuality and androgénité. He argued that all sexual expressions should be enjoyed as long as people are not abused and that “affirming one’s difference” can actually enhance social integration. In Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, he passionately advocates for an egalitarian society where wealth is shared by all, while warning of the dangers of social systems that crush individuality. Wilde’s libertarian socialist politics were shared by other figures who actively campaigned for homosexual emancipation in the late 19th century such as Edward Carpenter. The Intermediate Sex: A Study of Some Transitional Types of Men and Women was a book from 1908 and an early work arguing for gay liberation written by Edward Carpenter who was also an influential personality in the foundation of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party. After the Russian Revolution under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, the Soviet Union abolished previous laws against homosexuality. Harry Hay was an early leader in the American LGBT rights movement as well as a member of the Communist Party USA. He is known for his roles in helping to found several gay organisations, including the Mattachine Society, the first sustained gay rights group in the United States which in its early days had a strong Marxist influence. The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality reports that “[a]s Marxists the founders of the group believed that the injustice and oppression which they suffered stemmed from relationships deeply embedded in the structure of American society”. Also emerging from a number of events, such as the May 1968 insurrection in France, the anti-Vietnam war movement in the United States and the Stonewall riots of 1969, militant gay liberation organisations began to spring up around the world. Many saw their roots in left radicalism more than in the established homophile groups of the time, though the Gay Liberation Front took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles.
Eco-socialism, green socialism or socialist ecology is a political position merging aspects of socialism, Marxism or libertarian socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalisation. Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalisation and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures. Contrary to the depiction of Karl Marx by some environmentalists, social ecologists and fellow socialists as a productivist who favoured the domination of nature, eco-socialists have revisited Marx’s writings and believe that he “was a main originator of the ecological world-view”. Eco-socialist authors, like John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, point to Marx’s discussion of a “metabolic rift” between man and nature, his statement that “private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite absurd as private ownership of one man by another” and his observation that a society must “hand it [the planet] down to succeeding generations in an improved condition”. The English socialist William Morris is largely credited with developing key principles of what was later called eco-socialism. During the 1880s and 1890s, Morris promoted his eco-socialist ideas within the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League. Green anarchism, or ecoanarchism, is a school of thought within anarchism which puts a particular emphasis on environmental issues. An important early influence was the thought of the American anarchist Henry David Thoreau and his book Walden and Élisée Reclus.
In the late 19th century, there emerged anarcho-naturism as the fusion of anarchism and naturist philosophies within individualist anarchist circles in France, Spain, Cuba and Portugal. Social ecology is closely related to the work and ideas of Murray Bookchin and influenced by anarchist Peter Kropotkin. Bookchin’s first book, Our Synthetic Environment, was published under the pseudonym Lewis Herber in 1962, a few months before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. His groundbreaking essay “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” introduced ecology as a concept in radical politics. In the 1970s, Barry Commoner, suggesting a left-wing response to the Limits to Growth model that predicted catastrophic resource depletion and spurred environmentalism, postulated that capitalist technologies were chiefly responsible for environmental degradation as opposed to population pressures. The 1990s saw the socialist feminists Mary Mellor and Ariel Salleh address environmental issues within an eco-socialist paradigm. With the rising profile of the anti-globalisation movement in the Global South, an “environmentalism of the poor” combining ecological awareness and social justice has also become prominent. In 1994, David Pepper also released his important work, Ecosocialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice, which critiques the current approach of many within green politics, particularly deep ecologists. Currently, many green parties around the world, such as the Dutch Green Left Party (GroenLinks), contain strong eco-socialist elements. Radical red-green alliances have been formed in many countries by eco-socialists, radical greens and other radical left groups. In Denmark, the Red-Green Alliance was formed as a coalition of numerous radical parties. Within the European Parliament, a number of leftist parties from Northern Europe have organised themselves into the Nordic Green Left Alliance.
Syndicalism is a social movement that operates through industrial trade unions and rejects state socialism and the use of establishment politics to establish or promote socialism. They reject using state power to construct a socialist society, favouring strategies such as the general strike. Syndicalists advocate a socialist economy based on federated unions or syndicates of workers who own and manage the means of production. Some Marxist currents advocate syndicalism, such as De-Leonism. Anarcho-syndicalism is a theory of anarchism which views syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and with that control influence broader society. The Spanish Revolution largely orchestrated by the anarcho-syndicalist trade union CNT during the Spanish Civil War offers an historical example. The International Workers’ Association is an international federation of anarcho-syndicalist labour unions and initiatives.
- Berlau, A Joseph (1949), The German Social Democratic Party, 1914–1921, New York: Columbia University Press.
- Lamb, Peter; Docherty, J. C. (2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism (2nd ed.). Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-5560-1.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder TBIL.co STATX Fund.