Socialism refers to a set of economic systems in which the means of production and distribution are under social ownership, management within economic institutions is based on collective decision-making or worker self-management, and the economy is primarily geared toward production for use. It also refers to a broad array of ideologies and political movements which have the goal of achieving this type of socio-economic system. Control of production may be either direct—exercised through popular collectives such as workers' councils—or indirect—exercised on behalf of the people by the state. As an economic system, socialism is often characterized by state, worker, or community ownership of the means of production, goals which have been attributed to, and claimed by, a number of political parties throughout history. For Karl Marx, who helped establish and define the modern socialist movement, socialism would be the socioeconomic system that arises after a proletarian revolution, in which the means of production are owned co-operatively by the working class so that the surplus product generated would be used to benefit all of society, and the economy would no longer be structured upon the law of value.
By the late 19th century, after the work of Karl Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels, as technological development outstripped the economic dynamics of capitalism, "socialism" had come to signify opposition to capitalism, and advocacy for a post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership of the means of production. By the 1920s, social democracy and communism had become the two dominant political tendencies within the international socialist movement. By this time, Socialism emerged as "the most influential secular movement of the twentieth century, worldwide. It is a political ideology (or world view), a wide and divided political movement" and while the emergence of the Soviet Union as the world's first nominally socialist state led to socialism's widespread association with the Soviet economic model, many economists and intellectuals argued that in practice the model functioned as a form of state capitalism, or a non-planned administrative or command economy. Socialist parties and ideas remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence in all continents, heading national governments in many countries around the world. Today, some socialists have also adopted the causes of other social movements, such as environmentalism, feminism and liberalism.
Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon
, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon
(17 October 1760 – 19 May 1825) was a French early socialist
theorist whose thought influenced the foundations of various 19th century philosophies; perhaps most notably Marxism
and the discipline of sociology
. He was born an aristocrat
; the political ideologies he adopted in later life, however, do not fall into the aristocratic category.
In opposition to the feudal and military system he advocated a form of state-technocratic socialism, an arrangement where industrialists would lead society and found a national community based upon cooperation and technological progress, which would be capable of eliminating poverty of the lower classes. In place of the church, he felt the direction of society should fall to the men of science. Men who are fitted to organize society for productive labour are entitled to rule it.
If, therefore, considered from the angle of political effect the conquest of political power by the working class cannot materialise itself “too early” then from the angle of conservation of power, the premature revolution, the thought of which keeps Bernstein awake, menaces us like a sword of Damocles. Against that neither prayers nor supplication, neither scares nor any amount of anguish, are of any avail. And this for two very simple reasons.
In the first place, it is impossible to imagine that a transformation as formidable as the passage from capitalist society to socialist society can be realised in one happy act. To consider that as possible is, again, to lend colour to conceptions that are clearly Blanquist. The socialist transformation supposes a long and stubborn struggle, in the course of which, it is quite probable the proletariat will be repulsed more than once so that for the first time, from the viewpoint of the final outcome of the struggle, it will have necessarily come to power “too early.”
In the second place, it will be impossible to avoid the “premature” conquest of State power by the proletariat precisely because these “premature” attacks of the proletariat constitute a factor and indeed a very important factor, creating the political conditions of the final victory. In the course of the political crisis accompanying its seizure of power, in the course of the long and stubborn struggles, the proletariat will acquire the degree of political maturity permitting it to obtain in time a definitive victory of the revolution. Thus these “premature” attacks of the proletariat against the State power are in themselves important historic factors helping to provoke and determine the point of the definite victory. Considered from this viewpoint, the idea of a “premature” conquest of political power by the labouring class appears to be a polemic absurdity derived from a mechanical conception of the development of society, and positing for the victory of the class struggle a point fixed outside and independent of the class struggle.
Since the proletariat is not in the position to seize power in any other way than “prematurely,” since the proletariat is absolutely obliged to seize power once or several times “too early” before it can maintain itself in power for good, the objection to the “premature” conquest of power is at bottom nothing more than a general opposition to the aspiration of the proletariat to possess itself of State power. Just as all roads lead to Rome so too do we logically arrive at the conclusion that the revisionist proposal to slight the final aim of the socialist movement is really a recommendation to renounce the socialist movement itself.
|— Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution, 1900
Photo credit: Adam Carr
Karl Liebknecht proclaims the German Free Socialist Republic, 9 November 1918.
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