Meaning of Socialism

What is Socialism:

Socialism is a sociopolitical and economic doctrine based on the distribution of wealth and social justice. To this end, he proposes that the State participate in the economy by regulating the means of production.

This ideology is expressed in very diverse currents, ranging from the moderate and democratic, such as social democracy, to the most radical and authoritarian expressions, such as communism.

Socialist ideas are born from the observation that poverty is not natural, but is caused by modes of socioeconomic organization created by human beings. Therefore, poverty can and must be combated.

These approaches first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century as a response to industrial capitalism and the social inequalities caused by it.

The most influential current of socialism is represented by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and is known as Marxism.

Characteristics of socialism

The following are the most representative characteristics of socialist theory in general:

  • It aspires to social equality and believes that the State is responsible for guaranteeing it.
  • It politicizes and mobilizes society, especially around the concept of the working class.
  • It has ideological links with other traditions such as liberalism, democracy and republicanism.
  • It encompasses various tendencies of the political left, some democratic (centre-left) and others authoritarian (ultra-left or extreme left).
  • It tends to be collectivist and communal.
  • It has a universalist vocation, which is why it is opposed to nationalism.
  • Generates and concentrates administrative bureaucracy.
  • It tends to the centralization of powers.
  • It tends to revolutionary, radical and elitist approaches.

history of socialism

Socialism emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe, as an attempt to respond to the problems caused by capitalism and industrialization.

Background of socialism

The antecedents of socialism go back to the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. His values ​​of freedom, equality and fraternity influenced the Western world and aroused the desire for a fairer society.

From the context of the French Revolution, the concept of citizenship and the claim of collective movements that questioned tradition were essential. One of these was the Conspiracy of Equals, led by the radical François Noël Gracchus Babeuf in 1796. Although unsuccessful, Babeuf encouraged the egalitarian ideology that, much later, inspired communism.

awakening of socialism

In the early 19th century, capitalism and industrialization went hand in hand. Although there was an increase in production and wealth, the greatest profits were concentrated in a few. The economic difference between social classes was sharpening, and the working class was the most affected.

Faced with the problem, a series of theories emerged that reflected on the role of the means of production and the distribution of wealth. Many currents followed one another, and some were contemporary with others. Despite the differences between them, they all aspired to greater social equality.

The history of socialist theory can be studied in two main currents:

  • Utopian, pre-Marxist or protosocialism socialism;
  • scientific or Marxist socialism.

These two tendencies coexisted in parallel with anarchism which, although it has its own historical-political tradition, is closely related to socialism.

Utopian or pre-Marxist socialism

It corresponds to the first stage of formulation of socialism. Within this current, the romantic socialists stood out, such as Claude-Henri de Rouvoy, Count of Saint-Simon (1760-1825), François-Marie-Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen (1771-1858).

The Count of Saint-Simon raised the need to articulate industrialists with society, under a collective planning scheme. For his part, Fourier believed in promoting cooperativism under a voluntary scheme (he pointed to work as a pleasure), and Owen promoted the idea of ​​cooperative socialism.

The name utopian socialism was coined by Friedrich Engels as a disqualification. It refers to the work of Thomas More, Utopia, where an ideal society is described.

The criticisms against romantic socialism pointed out that the current was idealistic and did not provide solutions. Indeed, his theory of change was based on abstract notions such as goodness, and he ignored the working class as a social actor.

Scientific or Marxist Socialism

Scientific or Marxist socialism came after utopian socialism and sought to provide an objective and pragmatic response to the problem of social justice. It is based on historical materialism and on the critical and scientific analysis of capitalism.

Its main ideologues were the Germans Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, who described the class struggle as the engine of social, political and economic change. The mechanism of change would be the revolution of the workers, which meant recognizing them as concrete actors in society and not as passive subjects.

Karl Marx also raised the labor theory of value, taken from the English thinker David Ricardo. That is: if for capitalism the value of products depends on the law of supply and demand, for socialism it comes from the number of man-hours (hours of work) invested in their production. That is, for Marx, the value of the products was created by the worker, without whom there would be no product or market.

The influence of Marxism grew thanks to two significant events:

  • The publication of the Communist Party Manifesto on February 21, 1848.
  • The outbreak of the Revolutions of 1848, a process also known as the Year of the Revolutions or the Spring of the Peoples.
  • The different socialisms and the socialist Internationals

    The Revolutions of 1848 represented the entry of the working class as a political actor in contemporary society. Although they failed in their political purposes, they promoted the first attempts to create a labor movement in the West. This was called the International Workers’ Association or the First International. Left-wing groups of the most varied tendencies coincided there. But it only worked between 1864 and 1876.

    In 1871 the Paris Commune fell, which was the first attempt to create a government of the working class and lasted only three months. This event divided the First International into two blocks: one anarchist and the other Marxist. Marxism brought together the various European socialist tendencies and, in 1889, formed the Socialist International or Second International, which spread to America, Africa and Asia.

    With the First World War in 1914, internal tensions grew. Sections aligned with the Russian Revolution broke away and formed the Communist International or the Third International in 1919, and the Second International fell apart. Since then, communism has come to represent the most radical expression of the socialist or far-left spectrum.

    The Third International was under the control of the Bolsheviks, who persecuted dissidents. This gave rise to a new split and the formation of the Fourth International under the leadership of Trotsky, which occurred in 1938.

    Another communist current would emerge later in China, opposed to Russian communism: Maoism, in 1950. Meanwhile, the social democratic sectors of Western Europe, characterized by their moderation, restored the Socialist International in 1951. In it they brought together the democratic forces of the left as an alternative to the radicalism of communism.

    In this way the main socialist currents that exist today were formed. As can be seen, scientific socialism was not a unitary movement, but gave rise to multiple currents and parties that marked the development of history.

    See also:

    Difference Between Socialism and Communism

    Socialism and communism have the same origin, but have gone their separate ways since 1919. Both are based on the principle of class struggle. However, their goals and methods differ.

    For socialism, the State has the function of maintaining the balance between public powers (through democracy) and social classes. It admits the private ownership of the means of production although, in some cases, the administration of certain strategic companies of the nation can be reserved.

    Communism is a radical current of socialist inspiration, which proposes to achieve absolute equality of social classes. This means eliminating private ownership of the means of production. The State would be in charge of arbitrating the powers through a strong single-party bureaucracy, as well as directing and executing the productive activity.

    You can delve into:

    socialism and capitalism

    The main difference is that capitalism is a strictly economic model, which has been theorized based on previous experience. Socialism, for its part, emerges as a socioeconomic theory that little by little has influenced the models of government in the world.

    In more specific aspects, capitalism is based on the use of capital as a source of wealth, on the defense of private ownership of the means of production and on the law of supply and demand as a market regulator. Therefore, it tends to the accumulation of capital.

    For its part, socialism proposes public regulation of the economy to guarantee the distribution of wealth and greater equality. This is promoted through public policies that channel private initiative with social justice objectives.

    See also Capitalism.


    Camero, Ysrrael: The working world: socialisms. Online. Generated on November 14, 2021. 2020.

    Gaido, Daniel; Luparello, Velia and Manuel Quiroga (editors): Preface. History of international socialism. Marxist essays. Santiago: Ariadna Ediciones, 2020. ISBN: 9791036562976.

    Marxism. Ferrater Mora Dictionary. Post updated by Josep-Maria Terricabras Noguera. Online. Generated on November 12, 2021.

    Socialism. Marxist Philosophical Dictionary (1946). Online. Generated on November 12, 2021.

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