How Socialism Works

Principles of Socialism

Theorist Thomas More was an early advocate of socialism.
Theorist Thomas More was an early advocate of socialism.
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True socialists advocate a completely classless society, where the government controls all means of production and distribution of goods. Socialists believe this control is necessary to eliminate competition among the people and put everyone on a level playing field. Socialism is also characterized by the absence of private property. The idea is that if everyone works, everyone will reap the same benefits and prosper equally. Therefore, everyone receives equal earnings, medical care and other necessities.

As we've learned, socialism is difficult to define because it has so many incarnations. One of the things socialists agree on is that capitalism causes oppression of the lower class. Socialists believe that due to the competitive nature of capitalism, the wealthy minority maintains control of industry, effectively driving down wages and opportunity for the working class. The main goal of socialism is to dispel class distinctions by turning over control of industry to the state. This results in a harmonious society, free of oppression and financial instability. Some of the other forms of socialism include these goals:

  • Guild socialism: Based in early 19th-century England, workers' guilds (similar to unions) were responsible for control and management of goods.
  • Utopian socialism: Advocates social ownership of industry and a voluntary, nonviolent surrender of property to the state. Implemented in communities like Robert Owens' New Lanark.
  • State socialism: State socialism allows major industries to be publicly owned and operated.
  • Christian socialism: Developed in England in 1948, this branch was born from the conflict between competitive industry and Christian principles. Christian socialist societies are characteristically led by religious leaders, rather than socialist groups.
  • Anarchism: Opposes domination by the family, state, religious leaders and the wealthy. Anarchism is completely opposed to any form of repression and has been associated with some radical events, including assassinations in Italy, France and Greece. U.S. President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist.
  • Market Socialism: Often referred to as a compromise between socialism and capitalism. In this type of society, the government still owns many of the resources, but market forces determine production and demand. Government workers are also enticed with incentives to increase efficiency.
  • Agrarianism: Form of socialism that features the equitable redistribution of land among the peasants and self-government similar to that in communal living. Agrarian ideals were popular in the rural United States well into the 1900s, although increasing government control deterred their growth.
Linda, a former doctor, feeds sheep at Alpha Farm commune in Oregon. Linda, a former doctor, feeds sheep at Alpha Farm commune in Oregon.
Linda, a former doctor, feeds sheep at Alpha Farm commune in Oregon.
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So who came up with these ideas? We'll learn about the history of socialism next.