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Forums - Politics Discussion - What is "socialism"? - An attempt to clear up myths/misconceptions

I've seen so many arguments over its definition on this site, that I wanted to make a dedicated thread on the topic. Now, this should be a fairly simple answer, and indeed I do have answers, yet unfortunately the topic of what socialism is is often dragged on to prevent further discussion of the economic policies of a government.

Now, if one reads the Communist Manifesto, you will get a few basic ideas of what socialism is. Now, Marx and Engels were not the first, nor last socialist writers, but they are certainly some of the most well known.

In essence, it is an economic system that would replace capitalism and its privately owned business with a system that is socially owned by the workers themselves, where private property is abolished. There are some misconceptions about socialism that need to be cleared up:

  • Capitalism and socialism can co-exist. FALSE: socialism is the economic system that replaces capitalism, not a system that can be simultaneously active within a capitalist society. Social democracy is the term you are looking for when referring to an economic policy that maintains wage labour, private ownership of production and a market economy along with a welfare system to provide certain services like health insurance, unemployment insurance, etc.
  • Socialism is NOT "anything the government does". In fact, the state is seen as the maintainer of the rule of the dominant class, in order to ensure their control in a system of class conflict. Taxes are also seen as a way of funding these services that enforce property rights and a violent force to keep the proletariat subordinate. However, in a socialist society a state wouldn't be necessary as once classes are abolished, the state loses its purpose as a tool of the dominant class as class conflict would no longer exist
  • Socialism is not necessarily a utopia. Yes there are utopian socialists, but that is only but a sect of socialism. There also exists scientific socialism which bases itself on historical examples in order to make a prediction of the events of the future
So, hopefully this cleared some of the misconceptions. I am unfortunately not the most eloquent person, but some readings here should help explain things:

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Good thread, I personally hate socialism but people are building up a cartoon. Decades of propaganda leave a mark after all

Venezuela failed you, you communist.

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VGPolyglot said: 

In essence, it is an economic system that would replace capitalism and its privately owned business with a system that is socially owned by the workers themselves, where private property is abolished. 


Great post. I would just like to emphasize what "private property" is to a socialist. I think Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's description is the best. 

There are three rights entangled when one talks about "private property": usus, fructus, and abusus. 

Usus is the right to use a thing. 

Fructus is the right to profit from a thing. 

Abusus is the right to discard, destroy, exchange, or do anything else to a thing that isn't use or profit. 

It is this third right, the right to abusus which all socialists wish to eliminate, and only necessarily for natural resources. Anything that you've produced, were gifted, or received in exchange is fundamentally yours unless there was some agreement that it be shared. Natural resources were produced by nobody though, and are therefore nobody's to monopolize. 

There are many other ways to look at property, but basically it is best to think of property as a combination of state-granted (or socially recognized) rights, and while some will be preserved in a socialist society, others will be abolished. 

I personally like the justification for a socially-limited  form of property that the mutualist Shawn Wilbur describes in 

The Gift Economy of Property: From the Self to Property

I'd also like to add that while communists/collectivists are anti-market, there is such a thing as market-tolerant/pro-market socialists of which mutualists are a variety. 

Last edited by sc94597 - on 29 January 2018

When I was  kid,.my mother explained socialism as.follows: what is yours is mine,.but what is mine IS MINE and has nothing to do with you. 

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RolStoppable said:
Venezuela failed you, you communist.

More like historic communism failed once again.

Social-Democracy all the way baby !!

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konkari said:

When I was  kid,.my mother explained socialism as.follows: what is yours is mine,.but what is mine IS MINE and has nothing to do with you. 

Oddly this is an okay description of Max Stirner's philosophy on property. 

1. Basically I as an individual have no reason to recognize your property as your property if it conflicts with my interests. If taking "your" property benefits me more than not taking it then I shall take it. 

2. What is yours is mine. 

3. I will grant you some of what is mine if it is in my interests to do so (say fighting over said thing would be extremely costly.) 

All concepts of "mine" and "yours" are dependent on how people view the justification for "mine" and "yours", the only real thing about the property is violence. In Stirner's words, "Might makes right." One only has a right to something by using at least the threat of their might to secure it. Although, since everybody is a self-interested egoist, there would still be boundaries of the extended self by everyone asserting what is theirs, especially in the absence of rulers whom can consolidate political (violent) power. Thus, it is not necessarily true that the outcome is a Hobbessian "war of all against all" because there are costs to conflict, and mutual interests in peace. 

From there, certain libertarian-socialists/individualist anarchists influenced by Max Stirner, like Benjamin Tucker, derived possession rights based on a system of mutual contracts with one's neighboring individuals and communities. A flexible, yet stable order hence comes about via liberty. 

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Mar1217 said: 

Social-Democracy all the way baby !!

Yuck. I am not big on Marx, but I think he gets a lot right in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Social democracy is more right-wing than the liberalism it purports to replace. Its intention is to maintain capitalist norms by bribing the poor with their own labor-product and using the capitalist state as the mediator, rather than giving them control over the natural wealth they are due. 

It is not even all that clear that social democracy is stable. It seems especially sensitive to rapid demographic changes (aging population, too low immigration, too high immigration, etc.) 

Rather than put band-aids on the fundamental inequalities in society, we should focus on the root of these inequalities in the first place. The class monopolies that states produce through the granting of privilege via its monopoly on the legitimization of violence are where we should look first. Why exactly does the capitalist class have such disproportionate bargaining power which allows it to exploit the working classes? Because the state used violence to give it these monopolies on resources, intellectual property, the movement of labor, and social institutions relating to finance. What happens when the state no longer gives them these monopolies? What happens when the capitalists must join the workers because their position and privileges have been degraded? That's a more interesting question! 

Last edited by sc94597 - on 29 January 2018

That is the classic system of Socialism, but it is old and outdated. The influences of Socialism are still present in today's modern societies as currents inspired by the old socialism. There are countless socialists parties in europe inspired in the theory but adapted to modern times.
What stayed from Socialism is the idea of the people contributing to the state and the state giving back.