Definition: Socialism (from Latin – social):

  1. a complex of certain socio-philosophical and ideological-political concepts, doctrines, attitudes;
  2. a set of socio-political movements;
  3. the social and political system envisaged in the future, or in the countries of Eastern Europe, China and some Asian countries that existed in the USSR.

In the social and philosophical sense, socialism is something more than a concrete ideological and political current, namely, a special type of understanding of the socio-political world, a system of views, attitudes, orientations, theories, and doctrines. Together they are called upon to justify and defend the idea of a social system based on the priority of public ownership of the means of production, the absence of exploitation, the fair distribution of material wealth, and so on.

Socialism, with all its multivariance, has a common source and a particular set of concepts, ideas, principles and ideals inherent in any this type of socio-political thought. The socialist worldview absorbed the utopian ideas of antiquity and the Middle Ages (see, for example, Plato’s State, Utopia by T. Mora, etc.), specific attitudes and values of chiliastic or millenarian sects and movements, European enlightenment, etc.

In modern terms, socialism is a historical phenomenon that arose in recent times as a reaction to the social and economic relations of the emerging capitalist society, especially the reality caused by the industrial revolution. Therefore, it is natural that as a more or less distinctly formulated flow of social, philosophical and ideological and political thought, socialism began to form with the end 18 century. It is significant that the very concept of “socialism” first appeared around 1830. In 1827 it was used to designate supporters of the cooperative movement of R. Owen in England, and in 1832 – to characterize the teachings of the utopian socialists A.K. de Saint-Simon, F.M.S. Fourier in France. In the scientific revolution P. Leroux introduced this concept in his work “On individualism and socialism” (1834), as the opposite in meaning of the term “individualism”.

All these authors were characterized by a critical attitude to the socio-political system that existed at the time, which, in their opinion, was based on the principles of unjust distribution of material wealth, social inequality, spiritual and physical enslavement of people. Contrary to the self-centered individualism of his time, the ideal of a new community of people linked by a sense of collectivism, social equality and fraternal solidarity, the adherents of socialism claimed to replace capitalism and individualism with social and communal forms of production and distribution, egoism with altruism, and competition with cooperation.

Proceeding from the fact that modern society suffers from unhealthy and unbridled individualism, born of the destruction of order and hierarchy. Saint-Simon, for example, argued that the key to his salvation is the development of science and technology, as well as the emergence of a class of industrialists and technical workers who have already begun to build a new industrial order. The combination of scientific and technological knowledge with industrialism will lead to a society run by experts. This modern society, Saint-Simon thought, can’t be egalitarian because people are not equal, however, it will provide everyone with equal opportunities so that everyone can take a position in society that corresponds to his abilities. If the sources of public disorder are eliminated, it will be possible to liquidate the state as a compulsory institution. The future society will be managed like a giant enterprise, where the management of things will replace people’s governance. The followers of Saint-Simon modified his doctrine in a slightly different direction. They proclaimed the incompatibility of private property with the new industrial system. In their opinion, the transfer of power and property by inheritance is hostile to the spirit of a rationally organized society.

Being a determined opponent of the capitalist system, Fourier argued that the new society will be characterized by changes not only in the social sphere but also in the natural environment of its existence, in the animal and plant world. He created projects of exemplary communities. It was assumed that in these communities people would perform only those jobs that are consistent with their character and inclinations. If Saint-Simon called for an expert management system, Fourier was convinced that love and sympathy would unite people into a harmonic union, characterized by the absence of conflict and coercion.

R. Owen, who had a significant influence on the socialist movement in Britain, held more moderate positions. Realizing the shortcomings of capitalism, he came to the conclusion that the new productive forces generated by industrialism can be used for the benefit of all humanity, if competition is destroyed, and rational enlightenment will balance the results of bad education. He defended cooperative control over industry and the creation of villages by unity and cooperation, in which, along with field work, people will improve their physical and mental abilities. However, Owen’s experiments to create communities in the colony of New Harmony in Indiana and other places in the United States have failed, as having his attempts to join the cooperative and trade union movements in the “great trade union”.

A significant contribution to the development of socialist ideas in the 19th century LO Blanky, who believed that capitalism, as an internally unstable system, will soon be replaced by cooperative associations. An adherent of voluntarism and the idea of direct revolutionary action, Blanqui became known more for his attempts to organize revolutions, rather than theoretical developments. It should also be noted E. Kabe, who wrote the work “Journey to Icaria” (1840), L. Blanc, who in the book “Labor Organization” (1839) defended the idea of creating national workshops with the capital provided by the government and a system of management elected by the workers themselves. Blanc is also known for its work to protect the rights of citizens to work. Description of socialist doctrines of the 19th century. It is impossible without the name of P.Zh. Proudhon – one of the creators of anarcho-socialism. His attacks on private property and the institutions created on its basis, as well as his ideas about a just society that professes the principles of mutual assistance and justice, stimulated the development and spread of socialist thought.

The greatest contribution to the development of the socialist worldview was made by the founders of Marxism K. Marx and F. Engels, as well as their followers. Moreover, on the 2nd part og 19 and in the 20th century Marxism became the worldview basis of modern socialism, and these concepts were often used as synonyms. In the Marxist five-termed formation scheme, socialism was viewed as the first phase of the highest-the communist-social formation (see Formations of the Public). Elements of socialism included collectivism, public ownership of the means of production, solidarity, social equality, justice, the elimination of the class division of society, the lack of exploitation of man by man, and so on. Achievement of this state of affairs is possible only in the course of the class struggle, the apogee of which should be a socialist revolution (violent or peaceful) and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Socialist doctrine was formed and developed in various socio-historical and national-cultural conditions. With close examination, it reveals a very bizarre variety of shades, transitional stages, contradictions, etc. Considering this fact, they speak about the existence of many theories of socialism. Even Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) singled out several socialist trends: “utopian,” “Christian,” “petty bourgeois” with its German variety “true socialism” and, finally, “scientific socialism,” identified with Marxist socialism. However, in the very Marxist socialism, soon after its formation, a tendency to a different interpretation and revision of some key principles was gradually revealed. Differences were determined on such issues as the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolutionary or evolutionary path of transition to the socialist system, nationalization, the correlation of public and private property, freedom and equality, and so on. Accordingly, the two main trends of socialism began to crystallize, in which, in the course of time, their varieties also began to stand out.

Initially, the real embodiment of Marxist socialism in social and political life was the Social Democracy, which arose in the last third of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As an expression of the interests of the working class. At present, Social Democracy, as a rule, implies the theory and practice of all parties within the Socialist International. Social democracy can be designated as a socio-political movement, and as an ideological and political trend. And within it, there are some national and regional options, socio-philosophical, ideological and political trends. For example, concerning the socialist parties of France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, the concepts “socialism”, “Latin socialism” or “Mediterranean socialism” are used. There is a “Scandinavian” or “Swedish” model of socialism, an “integral socialism” based on Austro-Marxism. Allocate “Fabian socialism”, “guild socialism”, etc. Nevertheless, all the aforementioned varieties of Social-Democracy, with some or other reservations, are usually united by the general concept of “democratic socialism”.

This current arose as an alternative to capitalism and, in this capacity, initially shared the most important principles of Marxism about the socialization of the means of production, universal equality, social justice, and so on. Some members of the Social Democracy also believed that a revolutionary way of eliminating capitalism and the transition to socialism was possible. But in real life, it turned out that the Social Democracy, in general, rejected these principles, recognized the existing social and political institutions and accepted the rules of the political game, generally accepted in the Western countries of that time. From this point of view, the entire subsequent history of Social-Democracy can be regarded as a history of a gradual departure from Marxism.

For the majority of Social-Democratic parties, it was characteristic to combine revolutionary slogans in theory with opportunism, pragmatism, and reformism in practice. This process mainly accelerated after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917. It was precisely the fundamental principles of Marxism concerning revolution, irreconcilable class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the first two decades of the 20th century. There was a great split in the labor movement and social democracy. Reformist Social Democracy and revolutionary socialism, which grew out of practically the same social base, the same ideological sources, found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades on the most critical issues of the world order.

The leaders of the reformist wing of the Social Democracy proclaimed their goal to build democratic socialism. The very notion of “democratic socialism” entered the scientific and political lexicon at the end 19th century and included the idea of political, economic and cultural integration of the labor movement in the existing system. For representatives of this trend, from the very beginning, the recognition of the rule of law as a positive factor in the gradual reform and transformation of capitalist society was characteristic.

An essential contribution to the development of the ideas of democratic socialism was made by representatives of English Fabian and Guild socialism, possibilism and other reformist trends in French socialism, Austro-Marxism, especially its ideological leaders O. Bauer, M. Adler, K. Renner and others. Bernstein, whose principal merit was the rejection of those principles of Marxism, the implementation of which led to the establishment of authoritarian regimes known as real socialism. First and foremost, we are talking about the ways to destroy the old world, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the irreconcilable class struggle, the social revolution, and so on. The question constantly arose before the Social-Democrats: how to ensure that the socialist society became the society of the highest economic efficiency and the greatest freedom, while not abandoning the equality of all members of the community. In solving this problem, Bernstein saw the primary task of social democracy. The whole subsequent history of Social-Democracy was, in essence, a search for ways to resolve this antinomy: how, by rejecting the revolutionary approach of substituting capitalism for socialism, building a just society, eliminating the exploitation of man by man, leaving the primary liberal democratic institutions and freedoms intact.

After the Second World War, a new stage in the destinies of democratic socialism came. Proceeding from the experience of fascism in Germany and Bolshevism in the USSR, the European Social Democracy in real politics has gone to a final break with Marxism and to recognize the enduring value of the rule of law, democratic pluralism, and the most democratic socialism. This choice was fixed in the Vienna Program of the Socialist Party of Austria (1958) and the Godesberg Program of the SPD (1959), in which the fundamental postulates of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle, the destruction of private property, the socialization of the means of production, etc. were firmly rejected. Later, along with the same path, the remaining national detachments of Social Democracy went. An important role in this process was played by such outstanding figures of the Social Democracy of the 20th century as V. Brandt, U. Palme, B. Kraiski, F. Mitterand, and others.

On the whole, democratic socialism adheres to the gradualness, concreteness of the measures carried out in the process of carrying out daily routine work, the so-called small businesses, etc., which together constitute a movement towards socialism. In this sense, the movement is given priority over a remote abstract goal. Such an approach, in essence, became a strategic setting for the political programs of the majority of parties of democratic socialism.

Marxist socialism also underwent a significant revision to the left in the direction of concretization and tightening of the revolutionary principles contained in it. On this path, some of its provisions were used for development in the end 19 – beginning 20 centuries political doctrine of the left version of socialism, which served as the ideological and political basis of the so-called “real socialism, established in the USSR and most other countries of the socialist community. The initiative in this matter belonged to the Left Social Democracy, headed by VI Lenin, laid the foundation of a new trend – Marxism-Leninism (or Bolshevism), which in turn became the ideological basis of real socialism.

Key ideas and principles of this trend were formulated in the works of Lenin himself, as well as his adherents – IV Stalin, NI Bukharin, etc., in the program documents of the CPSU. Central to it was the attitudes toward universal nationalization and the socialization of the means of production, the nationalization of the economy, the centralized state distribution of material wealth, the monopoly of a single party on state power, the prohibition of opposition, the domination of one ideology, and so on. At the same time, one can not fail to note the fact that the countries that claimed to build the socialist system achieved notable successes in some spheres of public life, such as industrialization, education, healthcare, culture, etc. Nevertheless, Marxist-Leninist or real socialism, in the final analysis, could not stand the test of history and was defeated in a dispute with democratic socialism.

Rate your experience with this philosophy study!

Discuss this Study