Core ideas and principles
Socialism emerged as an attempt to find an alternative to capitalism, seeking to find a more humane economic system. As such, it is often seen as the ideology of the working classes, as it seeks to reduce or remove class divisions in society.
At the heart of socialism is the idea that people are unified by the concept of community. They can use this to overcome any difficulties, both economic and social. Socialists believe this because they agree with the idea that the group as a whole is more powerful than that of individual efforts.
They, therefore, believe in collectivism- following group goals and not trying to follow individual self-interest. Many socialists have quoted the ideas of English poet John Donne who said, ‘no man is an island’. People share commonality and have common goals and therefore share fraternity (humans are bound together by common interests and inclinations).
No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.
Socialists believe that human nature is not formed at birth and claim that it is entirely flexible or ‘plastic’ and is shaped by the environment and experiences of every moment of life. They think that people are therefore inseparable from society and it creates all aspects of a person’s identity. People are not self-sufficient individuals and they can only be understood in relation to society. Their behaviour can only be understood in this way and not because they were born with a ‘natural character’.
Socialists have linked the ideas of competition, individualism and selfishness to the idea of private property, property not being personal possessions such as clothes, but personal ownership of what is produced or made.
Socialists criticise private property for many reasons:
- Private property is unjust as there is always more than one person involved in its creation and so they all should share it.
- Private property makes people greedy to acquire possessions and therefore creates a lack of morality and causes competition when pursuing wealth.
- Property is divisive as it causes conflict between those with different priorities related to that property – for example – owners of factories against their workers.
Some socialists such as Marxists believe that collectivism is best achieved through the abolition of private property. They believe that all property should be ‘collectivised’ through being owned by the group (the state). This could be done through ‘nationalisation’; the state would own all property and business. This results in communism, a system where there is no private property or class division, as the means of production is owned collectively. Others, such as social democrats, believe collectivist goals should be promoted through ideas such as progressive taxation, welfare and public services. This would mean using a ‘mixed economy’ such as the one Keynes suggested in the UK in the post-war era. This was designed to achieve ‘social justice’ (or fairness) rather than complete equality. In these systems, capitalism (where wealth is privately owned and goods and services are produced for profit) is retained, but the inequalities resulting from it are addressed.