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