Socialism can refer to 1) various economic
and/or political theories, ideologies, and political movements, or 2) economic
systems characterized by state ownership of the means of production and
distribution. In popular
conceptions it refers to systems in which people work for the common
good and cooperate rather than compete.
A socialist perspective sees labor as the source of wealth, and
exploitation of workers and what they create as the chief cause of
injustice and poverty.
We have considered what some would call a decentralized form of
market socialism in our previous discussion for "The Co-operative,
Decentralized Society Advocate" (theme #48). China provides an
example of a centralized form of market socialism; the old Soviet Union
provided an example of centralized (non-market) socialism.
Some despise socialism. Americans invested in "Economic
Individualism" (theme #19) and proudly identifying (theme #37A)
with "the free enterprise system that has made America great,"
see it as the enemy. Libertarians (theme #50A) put it down by
associating it with welfare and those, not wanting to work and
productively contribute, seeking a free lunch.
Still, even the most ardently anti-socialist Americans generally accept
without thinking one
socialist element in their economy: the postal service.
Others go far beyond merely tolerating socialist fixes— they
long for real socialism. American
writer Jack London was one. In
his 1906 book The Iron Heel, he imagined a socialist brotherhood
of man. He did so after
indicting society, charging "the capitalist class has...criminally
and selfishly mismanaged." He
recognized the engines of capitalism held great potential and used this
in characterizing socialism: "Let us not destroy those wonderful
machines...Let us control them. Let
us profit by their efficiency and cheapness.
Let us run them for ourselves.
That, gentlemen, is socialism..."
the 1950s, Western economic thinkers were still reeling from 1) the
mother of business cycle busts (the Great Depression), 2) ongoing labor
vs. management battles that had seemingly been predicted by Marxist
analysis of flaws in capitalism (Figure #49a), and 3) Soviet
successes—in defeating the Nazis, technological feats (nuclear
weapons, missiles, in space), etc.
Wishing to overcome both perceived
economic structural problems, and address social inequality, to some extent postwar Western governments turned to
central planning, government
ownership, and leveling mechanisms. This was accomplished by
nationalization of key industries—
notably in France and Britain, where mines,
gas, coal, electricity, rail, steel, and banking were nationalized.
reform measures and wealth redistribution, through progressive taxation
policies, were also enacted. By
1956 in Britain, some 25% of industry had been nationalized, a public
housing boom was on, and the National Health Service had been
established, bringing free publicly funded healthcare.
While building the social welfare state didn't progress as far or
fast in the United States, its 1960s Great Society programs brought
welfare assistance, food stamps, Medicare & Medicaid, increased
federal aid to education, national broadcasting and rail systems, and
regulations for consumer protection, environmental conserva- tion, etc. Generally speaking, one can gauge the extent to which
socialism advances and laissez faire capitalism recedes in Western
societies by examining certain indicators
of government involvement in a market economy.
#49B: To Marx, socialism meant "From each according
to his ability, to each according to his need."
Many in the West were scared by the Stalinist takeover that
turned the Soviet experiment with centralized socialism into a
totalitarian nightmare, and the Soviet/Cuba liaison (Figure #49b).
Still, one recognizes socialism can come in much smaller doses.
The collapse of centralized socialism in the Soviet Union in 1990
was seen by many as validation of the belief that free markets can
efficiently create and distribute wealth, and central planning can't.
Others note the seemingly miraculous transformation of the
Chinese economy in the last two decades suggests that a central planning
and market combined system can also do this (Figure #49c).
Critics charge both American and Chinese economies create
inequality and dangerous gaps between rich and poor.
In the USA, by mid 2009, market corrections had made housing more
affordable. Soaring health care costs could bring socialist fixes.
Continued Chinese growth, and profit-driven globalization may have
unacceptable environmental consequences, many fear. Looking
far ahead, some see the desired economy of the future as a blend of
market socialism, environmental economics (theme #40), and ethical globalization (theme #51).
International is a worldwide organization of social democratic,
socialist and labor parties. It
brings together 159 political parties / organizations from all
continents. While its
origins go back nearly to the beginning of the labor movement, it has
existed in its present form since 1951, when it was re-established at
the Frankfurt Congress. From
that meeting's Frankfurt Declaration:
the nineteenth century onwards, capitalism has developed immense
productive forces. It has
done so at the cost of excluding the great majority of citizens from
influence over production. It
put the rights of ownership before the rights of man.
It created a new class of wage-earners without property or social
rights. It sharpened the struggle between the classes.
Although the world contains resources which could be made to
provide a decent life for everyone, capitalism has been incapable of
satisfying the elementary needs of the world’s population. It proved
unable to function without devastating crises and mass unemployment.
It produced social insecurity and glaring contrasts between rich
and poor. It resorted to
imperialist expansion and colonial exploitation, thus making conflicts
between nations and races more bitter."
By 1991, China's central planners knew their economy needed help. The “socialist market economy” was instigated: "even if State property remains the main base of the national economy, all forms of property – State, collective and private – will have to be used in developing the economy...it is necessary to keep to the principle of combined development of multiple economic sectors in which public property maintains the dominant role; it is necessary to further transform managerial techniques in the state owned enterprises and set up a modern entrepreneurial system" (from 1993 CCP document)
back to worldview theme(s) #49