A word on Socialism

A simple question with a thousand answers, one classic example of the misunderstanding is this from ‘The library of economics and liberty‘:

Socialism—defined as a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production—was the tragic failure of the twentieth century

This is wrong. It would be more accurate to say this of Communism (it would still be wrong but I’ll go into that in another post).
It is incorrect for different reasons (depending on which variant of Socialism you are looking at) the most important of which is the word ‘all’.
Under Socialism only the essential services are under government control (such as water, energy, public transport, health and education). Also Socialism doesn’t operate a purely centrally planned economy, much more of a mixed economy.

Who does this?
Spain, Italy, Sweden and Finland.

Are they failures?
No. According to a list of the best countries on the world (as depicted on the human development index) they rank as follows:
Sweden – 3
Finland – 11
Spain – 17
Italy – 22

To put this into some perspective the USA comes 23rd.

Other than that we can characterise Socialism as being a highly democratic system with numerous parties representing the people. Countries with elements in government that are not elected by the people are not socialist.
So that rules out the UK with its unelected house of lords and monarchy!

So basically Socialism is a political and economic system where its essential services are run by the government (paid for through taxation) at cost for the benefit of the people.

Perspective
One final note on this issue is one of perspective. The British (and I believe Europeans in general) don’t think of Europe as being Socialist however it seems that in the US (both through its people and institutions) do think of Europe as being socialist.

When is a Socialist not a Socialist? When it’s in government!

Europe is perpetually ruled by Conservative and Socialist governments though in reality 99% of the time the Socialists are centre-left and the Conservatives are centre-right operating a reasonably similar form of government.
The US is of course less democratic and only really has two parties representing the entire country (if you consider the Tea Party to be a separate party then three) the central party, the right-wing party and the far-right party.

How will it happen?

A lot of Socialists and Communists (lets say leftists in general) believe that there will be a revolution (or series of revolutions) that will bring about Socialism like a volcano erupting, building up under the pressure of capitalism until finally the masses can’t be contained any more. While this could be true for a single country it is much more likely that Socialism will come about in a much more gradual process.

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5 responses to “A word on Socialism

  1. “This is wrong. It would be more accurate to say this of Communism (it would still be wrong but I’ll go into that in another post).”

    If anything it’s less true for communism when there wouldn’t be a state to claim control. Granted, since you’re considering socialism and communism to be two different things, I’m assuming that you’re using Lenin’s definition of socialism as a period of socialization in preparation for communism summed up by his quote that the goal of socialism is communism. Other Marxists tend to use the words interchangeably.

    “Other than that we can characterise Socialism as being a highly democratic system with numerous parties representing the people.”

    Not sure I agree with this considering that one of the key strengths of Bolshevism is that numerous people are represented in one party. That is to say, the the party is a mass party composed of many (sometimes even directly opposed) tendencies whose representatives will all vote on individual issues. This allows for disagreements, debates and discussion within the party therefore allowing it to be much stronger and more united than what we see today, which is a bunch of small sectarian splinter groups.

    “While this could be true for a single country it is much more likely that Socialism will come about in a much more gradual process.”

    Revolution is something that spreads as it progresses. The appearance of revolution is a worldwide phenomenon because the economic conditions that turn people into revolutionaries are worldwide. This also ties in to why socialism in one country is not only very inconvenient but impossible. Capitalism is worldwide and we can see in history that revolution hence cannot be contained within borders.

    • If anything it’s less true for communism when there wouldn’t be a state to claim control. Granted, since you’re considering socialism and communism to be two different things, I’m assuming that you’re using Lenin’s definition of socialism as a period of socialization in preparation for communism summed up by his quote that the goal of socialism is communism. Other Marxists tend to use the words interchangeably.

      Which variant of terms used does make a difference however much like the link in the original post I am referring to the lay term, that is to say the terms used commonly by institutions, the media and everyday people.
      With this in mind a stateless society would more likely be called Anarchism.
      True we could create multiple definitions of all the terms but I really want to focus on the lay use of the terms (though I personally do think that Socialism is a transitional phase from Capitalism to Communism but I am not keen on using two different words that have exactly the same meaning, it leads to confusion).

      Not sure I agree with this considering that one of the key strengths of Bolshevism is that numerous people are represented in one party. That is to say, the the party is a mass party composed of many (sometimes even directly opposed) tendencies whose representatives will all vote on individual issues. This allows for disagreements, debates and discussion within the party therefore allowing it to be much stronger and more united than what we see today, which is a bunch of small sectarian splinter groups.

      Recalling that the original link refers to Socialism has a tragic disaster of the 20th century and though we may disagree it isn’t said for no reason.
      Again going back to using lay terms the Bolsheviks would be referred to as Communists rather than Socialists.
      Even under Communism people will still have different views on things and as such this could be represented through different political parties, the will of the people must always be represented (even if their views are awful/racist/whatever). As we can see from China the one-party state (albeit that China is a Capitalist country) does not represent what the people want and to a lesser extent the two party state of the USA. The real trouble is (as was the case with the Soviet Union) the one party state can much more easily be turned into a dictatorship

      Revolution is something that spreads as it progresses. The appearance of revolution is a worldwide phenomenon because the economic conditions that turn people into revolutionaries are worldwide.

      While there is some evidence of revolution spreading like wildfire such as the Arab Spring for example it always seems to be very limited. The UK for example never seems to be in revolutionary mood whether that’s during the Russian revolution, the Arab Spring or anything else. There are a lot of economic hardships now and countries like Greece are protesting, rioting etc and voting for the fascist Golden Dawn party while the majority of other European countries, largely faced with the fame economic problems don’t behave the same way leaving any hope of revolution dead before it’s even started.

      This also ties in to why socialism in one country is not only very inconvenient but impossible. Capitalism is worldwide and we can see in history that revolution hence cannot be contained within borders.

      Again I think this is (real) Communism that cannot be in one country rather than Socialism especially when we take into count another variant of Socialism such as Nordic Socialism which exists today and has been for some time purely limited to the Nordic countries.

  2. Oh, finally something to MY tastebuds😍
    Finally some meaningful politics! I still need to read through the pros and cons following the post ( which is super) before engaging. One of my blogging goals is politics, from an angle born under the milder period of Ceausescu, straight into and through the Romanian manipulated “revolution”, into the post Kadar, Hungarian diverted democracy, living now the British immigrant’s “dream”, from a fairly Chomsky-st perspective ⚡, believing in a democracy in which no one considers themselves vox dei…
    Thank you Leon for liking my latest post, I’ll closely follow and gladly get involved!
    Take care!

  3. Thanks liberty!
    I don’t post so regularly on my personal blog as I post/work on:
    http://acatheunderground.wordpress.com/
    It’s a general left-wing political publication (contributors can be from any part of the left spectrum) it also covers other things that the left supports such as file sharing, open-source software etc

  4. Hi Leon,

    Thanks for suggesting your other site, but I guess I’ll be shopping around this one, which is much closer to my “package” values and to-date political approach:-)
    I started to read your former articles as well, and I’ve noticed you live in Turkey, which for me as a (former) Romanian is still close re mentality, attitude etc. I’ve had the chance of briefly meeting a few intellectuals some years ago and I know a lovely writer couple as well. So I’ll keep your visits stats on this blog a bit higher with mine, and comment as I have a bit of time!

    Take care mate!

    Rom

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