Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them. They differ in the type of social ownership they advocate, the degree to which they rely on markets or planning, how management is to be organised within productive institutions, and the role of the state in constructing socialism.
A socialist economic system is based on the organisational precept of production for use, meaning the production of goods and services to directly satisfy economic demand and human needs where objects are valued based on their use-value or utility, as opposed to being structured upon the accumulation of capital and production for profit. In the traditional conception of a socialist economy, coordination, accounting and valuation would be performed in kind (using physical quantities), by a common physical magnitude, or by a direct measure of labour-time in place of financial calculation. On distribution of output there have been two proposals, one which is based on the principle of to each according to his contribution and another on the principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The advisability, feasibility and exact methods of resource allocation and valuation are the subject of the socialist calculation debate.
The socialist political movement includes a diverse array of political philosophies. Core dichotomies within the socialist movement include the distinction between reformism and revolutionary socialism and between state socialism and libertarian socialism. State socialism calls for the nationalisation of the means of production as a strategy for implementing socialism, while libertarian socialists generally place their hopes in decentralized means of direct democracy such as libertarian municipalism, citizens' assemblies, trade unions, and workers' councils coming from a general anti-authoritarian stance. Democratic socialism highlights the central role of democratic processes and political systems and is usually contrasted with non-democratic political movements that advocate socialism. Some socialists have adopted the causes of other social movements, such as environmentalism, feminism and liberalism.
Modern socialism originated from an 18th-century intellectual and working class political movement that criticised the effects of industrialisation and private property on society. The revival of republicanism in the American Revolution of 1776 and the egalitarian values introduced by the French Revolution of 1789 gave rise to socialism as a distinct political movement. In the early 19th century, "socialism" referred to any concern for the social problems of capitalism irrespective of the solutions to those problems. However, by the late 19th century, "socialism" had come to signify opposition to capitalism and advocacy for an alternative post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership. During this time, German philosopher Karl Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels published works criticizing the utopian aspects of contemporary socialist trends and applied a materialist understanding of socialism as a phase of development which will come about through social revolution instigated by escalating and conflicting class relationships within capitalism. Alongside this there appeared other tendencies such as anarchism, revolutionary syndicalism, social-democracy, Marxism–Leninism and democratic socialism as well as the confluence of socialism with anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggles around the world. The socialist movement came to be the most influential worldwide movement and political-economic worldview of the 20th century. Today, socialist parties and ideas remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence in all continents leading national governments in many countries.
What is Socialism?
Central to the meaning of socialism is common ownership. This means the resources of the world being owned in common by the entire global population.
But does it really make sense for everybody to own everything in common? Of course, some goods tend to be for personal consumption, rather than to share—clothes, for example. People 'owning' certain personal possessions does not contradict the principle of a society based upon common ownership.
In practice, common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.
Democratic control is therefore also essential to the meaning of socialism. Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them. These decisions could be on a wide range of issues—one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production of goods and services.
Production under socialism would be directly and solely for use. With the natural and technical resources of the world held in common and controlled democratically, the sole object of production would be to meet human needs. This would entail an end to buying, selling and money. Instead, we would take freely what we had communally produced. The old slogan of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs" would apply.
So how would we decide what human needs are? This question takes us back to the concept of democracy, for the choices of society will reflect their needs. These needs will, of course, vary among different cultures and with individual preferences—but the democratic system could easily be designed to provide for this variety.
We cannot, of course, predict the exact form that would be taken by this future global democracy. The democratic system will itself be the outcome of future democratic decisions. We can however say that it is likely that decisions will need to be taken at a number of different levels—from local to global. This would help to streamline the democratic participation of every individual towards the issues that concern them.
In socialism, everybody would have free access to the goods and services designed to directly meet their needs and there need be no system of payment for the work that each individual contributes to producing them. All work would be on a voluntary basis. Producing for needs means that people would engage in work that has a direct usefulness. The satisfaction that this would provide, along with the increased opportunity to shape working patterns and conditions, would bring about new attitudes to work.