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1. Socialism: Origins and core themes
Transcript of 1. Socialism: Origins and core themes
'Socialism' came into use in the UK, France, Belgium and the German states in 1830-40s.
Cooperation means working together to achieve mutual benefit. Socialists say competition (capitalism) encourages individuals to work in their self-interest against one another, denying their
natural social nature
. The perception is that capitalism rewards
for hard work and skills. However, socialists claim that cooperation makes moral and economic sense. When people work together they develop sympathy and affection. This creates a desire and moral incentive to work for the common good. Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin claimed this capacity for 'mutual aid' was the reason the human species had survived. Even modern social democrats see a necessary balance between material and moral incentives e.g. an important incentive for generating economic growth is to provide welfare support for the vulnerable in society. Cooperative organisations since Robert Owen's utopian communities of the early nineteenth century have attempted to harness the energies of groups of people working for mutual benefit.
Humans are social creatures and overcome problems by working as a community rather than as individuals. This is a collectivist vision in which humans are seen as willing and able to achieve goals by working together rather than striving for self interest as you would in a capitalist system.
John Donne and Dennis Brown
Social class is a social division based on economic or social factors; a group of people who share a similar socio-economic position. Socialists consider class to be the most politically significant of social divisions for two reasons
Overview of topic
There are some core themes which all socialists share:
The differences of opinion within socialism center around the
to achieve socialism and the
(what a socialist state should look like).
1. Socialism: Origins and core themes
Opposition to capitalism
Robert Owen and other early socialists criticised the brutal competition created by capitalism and felt that a more humane system built on the ability of humans to cooperate
with one another was the way to
achieve freedom for all.
No man is an Island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; ... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Revolutionary vs reformist
In the late C19th working class conditions improved due to the growth of trade unions, working class political parties and sports and social clubs which increased economic security and aided integration into urban society. Therefore the Western European working classes were seen less and less as the revolutionary force Marx had claimed them to be. As the vote was extended to more and more people socialist political parties were able to secure legal and constitutional protection for the working class.
The world's socialists became divided into 'social democrats' calling for
through the ballot box (by voting for socialist political parties) and those calling for
such as Lenin's Bolsheviks introducing 'communism'.
Africa, Asia and Latin America
Socialism in Africa, Asia and Latin America during C20th had roots in anti-colonial struggle rather than the class struggle in industrialised Europe. Instead of suppressed working classes, these continents had countries with native people suppressed by colonial powers and empires such as Britain.
The Bolshevik model of communism was imposed in Eastern Europe after 1945, China after the 1949 revolution then spread to North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere in Asia. More moderate socialism found a home in India. African and Arab socialism was influenced by tribal traditions. In Latin America socialism took on an anti-imperialist stance in reaction to the USA. The Castro regime which emerged after the Cuban revolution of 1959 was closely aligned with the Soviet Union unlike the Sandinista guerrillas of Nicaragua in 1979. In 1970 Salvador Allende in Chile became the world's first democratically elected Marxist head of state.
Collapse of communism
Is socialism dead?
The collapse of communism in the Eastern European revolutions of 1989-91 led many parliamentary socialist parties around the world to embrace policies usually associated with liberalism and conservatism. This seems at odds with socialism's opposition to capitalism and has caused critiques to argue that what remains is fundamentally not socialist in nature.
Early industrialisation and Enlightenment
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Marx and Engels developed a 'scientific' theory which claimed to reveal the 'laws of history'.
They claimed the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist systems everywhere was inevitable.
A little history
At this time huge numbers of working class industrial workers suffered poverty due to low wages, inhuman conditions (12 hour days and constant threat of unemployment) and degradation. Most workers were new to their urban homes and lives and so did not have the social institutions for support. Early socialists blamed industrial capitalism for their plight. Fourier (in France) and Robert Owen (in England) attempted to solve this problem by founding utopian communities.
brotherhood; bonds of comradeship between humans
Unlike liberals and conservatives, socialists believe humans are shaped by social life rather than born with a certain fixed personality, skills or qualities e.g. language.
Liberals separate the individual and society. Socialists say they are inseparable i.e. the individual is made by society and reliant on society.
Socialists are not interested in what people are like but in their potential. Utopianism allows humans to achieve emancipation and fulfillment.
In Tanzania Julius Nyerere claimed the social aspect has been ever present in Africa unlike in Europe where it was lost during the upheaval of industrialisation. Fourier tried to reintroduce the community in his 'phalansteries' as did Owen in his experimental communities. The Kibbutzes of Israel have been the most enduring example of the collectivist project.
Equality is a fundamental value of socialism (unlike conservatism and liberalism).
Socialism has at its heart
: a theory and desire to promote equality; and the belief that equality is the primary political value.
There are three socialist arguments for equality:
It is fair and just. Socialists do not believe that wealth is distributed unequally because of natural differences of ability. Capitalism has made individuals competitive and selfish which results in inequality. They do not believe that everyone has or should have the same skills or ability. But they do believe everyone should be treated equally by society and given equal rewards. Therefore
is not sufficient because it does not prevent the inequalities of the capitalist system.
Equality of opportunity
is not enough either because if individuals are still unable to achieve fair rewards and material circumstances then the myth of innate inequality (people born unequal) is perpetuated. R. H. Tawney called this the tadpole philosophy because few become frogs even if their are given the opportunity to do so.
Equality of outcome
Equality is important because if people are equal they will identify with one another and work as a community.
Equal outcome= social solidarity.
Social inequality= conflict and instability.
Equality is important because it allows people to satisfy needs like food and water.
Satisfaction of needs
is natural and provides freedom. Need satisfaction can be
in nature because we all need food and drink. It can be unegalitarian in the case of providing special needs.
Can it and should it be brought about?
can and should be achieved by abolishing private property and instead collectivising productive wealth like factories.
Social democrats believe in
relative social equality
by redistributing wealth using progressive taxation ie they want to control rather than abolish capitalism.
This means that unlike Marxists, social democrats accept that there
is a role for greed
spurring people on to work hard and compete. They therefore think that need satisfaction only applies to the poorest. Social democrats therefore believe more in social equality rather than equality of outcome.
Class politics is important because member of a social class will act in the same way to pursue common economic interests.
Social classes have therefore shaped history and political change
. Marxists believe that historical change is the product of class conflict.
Class politics is important because of the political struggle and emancipation of the working class.
Socialism can be achieved through the working class vehicle
. The socialist goal is to achieve a classless society or a society in which class inequalities have been substantially reduced. This is achieved through the working class struggle to be emancipated (freed from) capitalism and therefore emancipated from the working class identity to become fully developed human beings.
But different socialists perceive the importance of class politics differently.
Integral to Marxism- the bourgeoisie (upper class owners of productive wealth e.g. factories) have the economic power whereas the proletariat (working class who earn a living by selling their own labour) need to claim their share of economic power through conflict and struggle against the bourgeoisie leading inevitably to the overthrow of capitalism.
To social democrats social class is important so that the inequalities between white collar or non-manual workers (middle class) and blue collar or manual works (working class) can be reduced through economic and social intervention. Social democrats seek amelioration and class harmony rather than class war sought by Marxists.
Class politics has become less prominent because traditional labour intensive jobs like coal, steel and shipbuilding have declined.this has meant fewer people identify themselves as working class. As a consequence the policies socialist parties have been redesigned to appeal to middle class voters. They have also become less concerned with class emancipation and turned their attention to gender equality, ecological sustainability and peace and international development instead.
Common ownership refers to ownership of the means of productive wealth or making profit e.g factories not houses or belongings. This is a marked difference from liberals and conservatives who deem property ownership as natural and preferable. Socialists claim that private ownership leads to inequality and is bad for three main reasons:
Property is unjust
because wealth is generated through the collective effort of human labour and therefore should be owned by the community, not individuals.
Property is morally corrupting because it encourages people to be acquisitive and to want to acquire more material possessions in order to be happy. Those who have property want more, those who don't long for it.
Property is divisive and causes conflict in society between people who have property (bourgeoisie/rich) and those who don't (proletariat/poor)
Fundamentalist socialists like Marx and Engels though private property would and should be abolished resulting in a classless society: communism instead of capitalism. They did not say how this could happen though so in 1917 Lenin and the Bolsheviks attempted to create communism and common ownership through
and in the 1930s Stalin's
centrally planned economy
. Under this system 'common ownership' meant 'state ownership' or socialist state property'. The Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin had developed
a form of socialism in which the state controls and directs economic life and in theory acts in the interests of the people.
Social democrats used the state to plan the economy and promote common ownership through nationalisation but in a more restrained way than fundamentalist socialists through the construction of a mixed economy. An example is the Atlee Labour government's (1945-51) 'commanding heights'.
Since the 1950s, parliamentary socialist parties have concerned themselves less and less with common ownership, instead pursuing equality and social justice.