Socialism-what it is and what it isn’t

Since my brother asked (in a comment) for an explanation of socialism, here goes:

As the global economy was coming apart at the seams and countries all over the world (not the least of which was the United States) began pumping billions and billions of dollars into their economies, cries of “Socialism!” could be heard the world over.  But what exactly is socialism?

The common definition of socialism has to do with control over the economy by the state.  If a particular state controls all the means of production or all the economic enterprises, then it is called a socialist or communist state (socialist and communist are often used interchangeably).  And if there is some combination of privately-owned companies and state-controlled entities, then it is often called a mixed economy.  And those with the most private enterprises are called free-market economies.

Of course, this sounds very cut and dry.  And the real world is anything but cut and dry.  So economies like the United States and Britain are really mixed economies and so are those of China and Cuba.  There are no states that are entirely state-controlled or entirely free-market.

But what do honest-to-goodness socialists think about all this?

The interventions that the US and other countries implemented are common (even if the amounts were not) in capitalist economies.  The state often intervenes in the economy.  The real question that should be asked when trying to determine if a country or economy is socialist or not is not whether the state is intervening or how much they are intervening but on who’s behalf they are intervening.

For instance, the US government gave billions of dollars to shore up the world’s largest banks.  And now some of them are back to making record profits.  But thousands of people are losing their homes or their jobs, and the government is doing very little to help them.  If the country were really socialist or if we were even moving in a truly socialist direction, then the state would be intervening not for the profits of the banks but for the lives of the people.

When thinking about socialism, remember this simple phrase: Socialism is people before profits.

And when the government intervenes in the economy, they are often only thinking about profits.  When the intervention doesn’t help those on the bottom of the income scale it is not socialist.  And when the help is going to those at the very top, it is definitely not socialist.

State capitalism is not socialism.  And socialism is not interested in profits.  If it benefits people over profits, it is socialist.  If not, then no matter what label you put on it, it is not socialism.

There is also a great article from the International Socialism Review entitled, What is Socialism?


One Response to “Socialism-what it is and what it isn’t”

  1. zacharymarko Says:

    Nice brief post!

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