Presented as a sort of middle-ground or transition between capitalism and communism, socialism exists as a reaction to the perceived economic and moral shortcomings of capitalist government. Although it has not been historically successful in its execution, socialism’s ideals are still worth investigating today, even if simply for the sake of comparison with other political theories. Like many political systems, socialism revolves around more than one single central idea.
Birth of a Movement
In seeking to understand the central ideas of socialism, it helps to understand the origins of the theory and its original intentions. Although Karl Marx is often credited with the birth of socialism, Russian politician Vladimir Lenin is actually its chief architect. In socialism, Lenin sought to create system of government that did not rely on monetary profit or the concept of economic competition as incentives.
The online Concise Encyclopedia of Economics defines socialism as “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.” This fundamental idea forms the basis of socialism. At its core, socialism advocates the collective and governmental ownership and operation of both the means of production and the distribution of goods across major industries, including but not limited to manufacturing, banking, energy services, healthcare institutions, media and transportation. This contrasts with the capitalist theory of government, in which private enterprise controls the distribution of goods and services. Under socialist rule, the government regulates any remaining private production.
In addition to its economic theories, socialism operates on central philosophical ideals. This system of government operates on the idea of government influence over market influence. Ideally, a socialist government, in turn, seeks to reflect the true will of the population and serve its interests, rather than serving the interests of the market. In principle, socialism allows the people to determine how to use the wealth generated by their labor. By eliminating the distinction between those who produce goods and services and those who do not, it seeks to unite people and reduce inequalities based on class, gender and race.
More to Consider
Like many other systems of government, socialism is not absolute. Different schools of thought -- ranging from Marxists to social democrats to socialists -- have different theories on the concept of private property, and they differ on how much private production is acceptable within a society. Likewise, socialist systems vary in certain aspects, including political participation and competition, civil liberties and bureaucratic operations.
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