When it comes to socialism, there’s a lot of confusion. More than ever, people are identifying as socialist and calling for greater equality and wealth redistribution – but the details often fall at the first hurdle. Socialism isn’t a catch-all label that can be applied to any left-wing policy or politician. It’s an ideological stance on the means of production: in other words, how goods are created and distributed. There are different kinds of socialism based on this principle, which we’ll explore here.
Is England Socialist?
It depends on how you define socialism. England has a mixed economy, which means that some elements of socialism are in place, while other elements of capitalism are in place. For example, the National Health Service (NHS) is a socialized healthcare system, and the government provides free education to citizens. However, many industries are privately owned, and there is a heavy reliance on taxation to fund government services. So it’s difficult to give a definitive answer as to whether or not England is socialist. It depends on your definition of socialism.
What Is Marxist Socialism?
- Marxism is a Marxist doctrine that was developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from 1845 to 1848 and later expanded upon by Marx, who became its greatest exponent.
- Marxism is based on a materialist interpretation of history and a dialectical view of social change; that is, it sees all historical developments as the result of material interactions between classes in conflict.
- According to this view, the most important conflict in human history has been between classes that are characterized by opposing interests and powers: these will eventually come into conflict with each other, leading to the overthrow of capitalism through socialist revolution, and eventually to the creation of a classless society called pure communism—a society without class or social distinctions generally—that will be governed by a free association of producers.
- Marxism has been adopted by a number of academics and theorists working in various disciplines. They have developed diverse theories and applied them to an array of different issues, such as feminist theory, ethics, aesthetics, critical theory, philosophy, economics, anthropology, and sociology.
- Marxist analyses and methodologies have been applied to other social sciences such as cultural studies, education, geography, and history. Marxist approaches to understanding literature and culture are sometimes called “cultural studies”, a term with which Marx himself was often (though not exclusively) associated. The American literary critic Fredric Jameson has argued that every symbolic form in every society is inherently based on some dialectical opposition: thus all cultures are dominated by opposing ideological contradictions which form their real basis; the relations between these contradictions determine the forms of art will take in any particular society at any particular time. (Marxist literary criticism)
- Democratic socialism is the kind of socialism that most people are referring to when they use the word. Democratic socialists believe that a socialist society can be created through a democratic process. In other words, it’s possible to vote in a socialist government and have it democratically elected by the people. Democratic socialists believe in a large role of public ownership in the economy. The NHS, for example, is publicly owned and run by democratic decision-makers – patients and doctors alike.
- Democratic socialism is also commonly referred to as ‘social democracy’ – an ideology with roots going back to 19th century Europe. The first social democratic parties were founded there in the late 19th century but gained prominence after World War II under leaders like Willy Brandt (Germany), Olof Palme (Sweden), Tage Erlander (Sweden), and Jeremy Thorpe (UK). These leaders brought social democracy into mainstream politics, promoting welfare states and universal healthcare as part of their agenda.
- The most famous social democratic party in the world today is probably the Swedish Social Democratic Party, which has dominated Swedish politics since 1917. It’s currently led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and has been in government for most of the last century. In Britain, the Labour Party used to be a social democratic party but moved away from it under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – they now support elements of capitalism and free markets that would have been anathema to previous generations of Labour politicians.
- In practice, social democracy has often carried on aspects of capitalism since its inception: welfare states often rely on taxes on profits gained through capitalist activity (for example), and many social democratic parties have supported privatization or deregulation in various sectors (such as transport). But despite this liberalization, social democratic parties have almost always maintained a strong base in the working class – workers are still more likely to vote for a socialist candidate than a liberal one of both socialism and capitalism.
- Social democracy has come to be defined by its support for a mixed economy – that is, the government playing a large role in the economy, but leaving space for private enterprise to exist. The idea is to have a strong welfare state and universal healthcare, but also relatively low levels of taxation – that way, people can afford to pay for them. Social democrats believe in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome: they think everyone should have the same opportunities to succeed, and that it’s up to individuals to do so. They support collective bargaining between workers and employers over wages and conditions.
- The most famous social democrat today is probably Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont who ran for President in 2016 as a Democrat. He was inspired by Willy Brandt and Olof Palme when he was growing up in Brooklyn during the Cold War, and still identifies as a democratic socialist today – he supported the Democratic presidential candidate of a social market economy. In the US, the Democratic Party is also rooted in social democracy.
- Social democracy is often confused with socialism, but it’s not quite the same thing. Social democrats support some forms of public ownership, but they don’t want to get rid of capitalism entirely – and they certainly don’t support a centrally planned economy as communism does. They believe that democratic governments can control the economy and redistribute wealth through taxes and welfare spending – without relying on central economic planning. Some socialists see social democracy as a ‘gateway drug’ to socialism; others see it as an end in itself.
- Libertarian socialism is a political philosophy that advocates for social equality and democratic control of the economy. It’s based on the principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This means that people should be able to live their lives as they want, but also give back to society on an individual level.
- Libertarian socialism is often associated with anarchism, although there are some differences between the two philosophies. Anarchists believe in abolishing all hierarchical systems of oppression (such as government), while libertarian socialists believe that these systems can be reformed so they serve people better.
- In practice, libertarian socialism has been implemented in a number of different ways throughout history – from anarchist communities in Spain and France during the 1930s and 1940s to the Zapatistas in Mexico in 1994, who combined indigenous traditions with socialist principles.
- In recent years, many have drawn parallels between Bernie Sanders and Libertarian Socialism – Sanders has been a lifelong advocate of democratic socialism, but he has also been critical of the authoritarian, top-down approach that many governments take to socialist policies.
- The Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Norway, and Finland have a strong welfare state. This means that the government provides a large number of services that are funded through taxation. In Finland, for example, citizens pay around 50% of income tax. However, this is used to fund free healthcare and education as well as public transport and pensions. The result is a high standard of living for the majority of citizens.
- Despite this high taxation, the Scandinavian nations are ranked among the most competitive economies in the world by the World Economic Forum. This is because they have managed to combine an extensive welfare state with growth in productivity and competitiveness on an international level. The lesson from these countries is that socialism can be successful if it’s combined with economic growth and innovation: not just redistribution of wealth from rich to poor through tax increases alone.
- Scandinavia’s success hasn’t come about by accident: it has been achieved through decades of pragmatic reforms driven by political parties on the center-left, like the Swedish Social Democrats, which have been in power for much of the last century.
There are many different types of socialism, but they all have one thing in common: they want to abolish private ownership of the means of production. Under any kind of socialism, the state would own all the land, factories, and businesses. In a socialist society, everyone would be able to live comfortably without having to worry about money. The state would provide everyone with healthcare, education, and housing. You wouldn’t have to work long hours in a job you hate just to get by. You’d be free to pursue the work you’re passionate about – and the state would look after you while you do it. If you think you’re a socialist, you might wonder if your brand of socialism matches up to the definitions above. If not, you might want to check your ideas against the principles of socialism.