Socialism Social democracy Left socialist

Known in the United States as Liberalism.

There is no fixed definition.

1) In the former Soviet Union the prevailing system (Marxism- Leninism) was known as Scientific Socialism: this included the prohibition of private property and the ownership by the state of all land, means of production and other property. But it also included dictatorship (said to be "of the proletariat" but in fact of the Communist Party, which called itself the "vanguard of the working class" ).

Perhaps the real error of the Communists was to state that the interests of "Society" are higher than those of the individual. In this sense there is no entity which can be given the name society. (Mrs. Thatcher said: "There is no such thing as Society" - perhaps that is what she meant.)

2) Socialist and Social Democratic Parties in western Europe deny that the Soviet system was socialism. Few of them will define the term. However, judged by their policies Socialism means the recognition that there are collective (social) interests as well as those of individuals. Most of them pursue Laborist policies, that of ensuring that those living on wages receive a portion of the profits of business on the ethical grounds that all have contributed to the creation of wealth through labor.

Socialism is seen as a corrective to unrestricted capitalism and feudalism which socialists say lead to great inequalities in society. The most vociferous opponents of socialism usually turn out to be those with most to lose if restrictions are put on the rich (such as income and capital gains taxes).

The characteristics of socialism in Britain were:

  • cooperatives
  • trade unions
  • friendly societies (building societies and insurance societies)
  • working men's education

Policies include: some measure of planning for those functions which socialists claim the market does not provide efficiently or equitably:

  • health services;
  • public transport;
  • environmental protection;
  • social welfare;
  • industrial training and
  • general education.

All these policies derive from the activities of the Methodist Church, whose educated members founded the first trade unions and cooperatives. These are things which socialists would claim are better done by a collective organization, such as cooperatives, the state or local governments, than by ad hoc autonomous or private organizations (Investor owned corporations). Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan disagreed and tended to sell off the previously socially owned businesses in both the US and Britain - a fashion that spread to the rest of the world.

Social Democracy is sometimes seen as a moderate form of socialism. In practice there is little to choose between them. Some parties in the Socialist International (a worldwide grouping of such parties) are known as Labor Parties, others as Socialist; still others as Social Democratic.

Ruling parties recently were in: Spain, some provinces of Canada, Australia. There are Coalition members in several others, including Ireland.

Some have pursued policies not easily distinguishable from those of rightwing parties: Socialist governments in Australia, New Zealand, Spain have all pursued privatization policies originally associated with Margaret Thatcher, who was hostile to Socialism.

The party named Social Democratic in Portugal, is in fact Conservative.

Conservatives accuse socialists of wanting to raise income taxes. Socialists say that taxes are a way of paying for services valued by the whole community and also of ensuring that the gap between the rich and poor does not spread as widely as it has done in societies where income and wealth taxes are low. Socialists regard this wide gap as a disease of human society. Who should gain the results of work?

The British Labour Party historically grew out of Methodist and other non-conformist Christianity, and from the Trade Unions which also grew out of the churches in the 19th century, rather than from Marxism, which does not form part of its theory.

The Labour government in Britain, headed by Anthony Blair, elected in 1997, pursued a policy so similar to that of the previous Tory government that it could hardly be called Socialist. It lost power in 2010

The official policy of the Catholic Church as expressed in Rerum novarum (1891) of Leo XIII also emphasizes the rights of people as workers and human beings in face of the power of money and ownership.

Socialism can be justified as the ethical expression of the Judeo-Christian tradition's assertion that all humans are responsible for looking after each other.

At the lowest level, it can be justified to the rich by stating that the extreme individualist societies (the opposite of socialism) experience high rates of crime and insecurity and it would be wise to buy off the poor with health and welfare services.

Post-Communist Parties
In the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe some Communist parties have renamed themselves Socialist or Democratic Socialist. It is not clear whether they have given up Marxism or Dictatorship. If they have not they will not be admitted to the Socialist International.

Did Marx, Engels and Lenin understand how British socialism worked? Marx lived off the money of Engels, an employer and industrialist. They don't seem to have noticed the importance of democracy and the procedure of meetings which the trade unionists and cooperators learned from the practices of the Methodist Church. In particular they did not notice how all these organisations were voluntary and tried to make them compulsory in a country, Russia, which had no tradition of free discussion.

To a socialist, capital should be hired by the working people, rather than workers hired by the owners of capital. This does not imply ownership by the state.

See also Capitalism .

I have suggested two books about the origin of our present dominant economic system.

What is the dominant economic system derived from? The books show that the "conventional" system of Joint Stock Companies is actually derived from the Feudal arrangements of hierarchy. In the 17th century the East India Company was formed by the big landowners who devised the system of share ownership. Their aim was to share out the profits and pay them to the "owners" (not to the people who did the work).

By the 19th century it was not just the Methodist derived movement in Britain that regarded this as unfair but also Pope Leo XIII whose encyclical has given rise in Mondragon to an important alternative to the Joint Stock Company.

John Keay - History of the Honourable East India Company
essential reading for the details of how the Company came to rule India and make the rulers of Britain rich

The Honourable Company: History of the English East India Company

Nick Robins - The Corporation that changed the world

The Corporation That Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational

Last revised 5/06/12


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