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Evolutionary Socialism

Last updated 2 Jun 2020

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Each strand of socialist thought seeks a transformation in the economic structure of society. However, there is considerable disagreement amongst socialists over the means towards building a better alternative to capitalism.

According to revolutionary socialists, the transformation of society lies in the hands of the proletariat. As a result of class consciousness, the gravediggers of capitalism will finally realise their shared common interest in the overhaul of an economic system built upon exploitation. After the short-lived creation of a dictatorship of the proletariat and the collapse of capitalism, class conflict will come to an end. As the state is an instrument of class control, it too will also collapse as predicted by Friedrich Engels (“when freedom exists there will be no state”).

Democratic socialists however endorse the parliamentary route towards a socialist system. By gaining an electoral mandate from the people, a socialist government could utilise a system based upon parliamentary sovereignty to implement a programme of nationalisation, centralisation, protectionism and co-operatives run by the workers. Such measures can be achieved on an evolutionary basis. In doing so, there is no need for the bloody revolution prescribed by Marxists. The democratic process therefore offers the most preferable route towards a socialist economic system.

In contrast to their more left-wing brethren, social democrats endorse a far less radical approach. Those on the centre-left of the political spectrum advocate gradual and piecemeal tactics towards lasting social change. On a related point, it is perhaps worth noting that the division between reformists and radicals/revolutionaries is a feature of all those ideologies committed to substantial change. Such measures help to humanise the existing economic system rather than scrapping it altogether in hope of some ‘New Jerusalem.’

Social democracy is at heart a moderate form of socialism that seeks to persuade people as to the merits of incremental steps. For instance, social democrats argue that paying workers a decent wage helps to raise productivity and reduce the number of hours lost due to staff absences. Indeed, there are many organisations who actively promote opportunities for their workforce. Even with the recent trend towards globalisation, the concept of corporate social responsibility and conscious capitalism has become an increasingly important business strategy.

The Labour Party has long been associated with a gradual approach to change, particularly when in government. Successive Labour governments have attempted to advance their cause on an incremental basis. The gradualist position is also reflected in organisations such as the Fabian Society, which gains its name from the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus whose motto was “for the right moment you must wait.” Fabians such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb believe there is an “inevitability of gradualness.” Fabianism therefore places prominence upon strategies such as comprehensive education and municipal socialism within local government.

The gradualist stance has been subject to considerable criticism from those further to the left of the political spectrum. Incremental change inevitably entails compromise with capitalists and a watered-down version of the socialist vision. During the Labour governments of the 60s and 70s, left-wingers within the Labour Party and the trade unions often put forward this argument. They claimed that the Labour leadership had betrayed their principles in the pursuit of power. However, such criticism reached their zenith during the era of New Labour. Many within the labour movement felt that the leadership abandoned socialism altogether in the pursuit of a Thatcherite agenda of foundation hospitals, academy schools, de-regulation and the marketisation of the welfare state.

From the opposing angle, the Blair/Brown era actually achieved a number of left-wing objectives such as the introduction of a minimum wage, a significant reduction in the level of child poverty, an increase in the level of universal benefits, an expansion in the rights of workers and an extensive welfare-to-work system. New Labour also doubled the level of expenditure on state education and trebled the level of resources allocated to the NHS. Those who defend the New Labour project claim that none of this could have ever been achieved without a realistic commitment to the necessity of gradual rather than radical change.

  • Evolutionary socialism
  • Revolutionary Socialism

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Differing Views and Tensions Within Socialism

Revolutionary socialism.

Many early socialists were worried that they were far away from power and that they would be prevented achieving their aims by a capitalist conservative establishment.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels discussed a ‘proletarian revolution’ whereby the class-conscious working class would rise up against capitalism and overthrow it.

The first actual example of this was in Russia in 1917 , although this was more of a coup (overthrow of the government) by an armed group- Lenin and the Bolsheviks- rather than a mass class revolt. It was, however, an example to other revolutionary socialists of what could be achieved.

Revolutionary tactics were attractive to socialists for two reasons. Firstly, industrialism and capitalism in the 19th century were producing mass poverty and social inequality, so the working classes wanted a chance to change their circumstances. Secondly, the working classes had very few alternatives to revolution- there was no real representation or way of engaging in political life. In monarchies, the country was dominated by royalty and privilege. In constitutional democracies, the vote was restricted. A revolution was the only viable way of achieving socialist goals.

Revolutionary socialists also believe that the state is a device of class oppression, acting for ‘capital’ against ‘labour’.This means that the political state will always reflect and preach the interests of the property-owning classes. Therefore, in order to build socialism, the ‘bourgeois’ state must be overthrown, resulting in a total transformation of society. This would be the only way of ensuring the revolution would succeed.

Revolutionary socialism has been seen through the establishment of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In each case, the existing order was overthrown and replaced with a one-party state which controlled the economy. Opposition was removed and totalitarian methods were used to remove dissent. The credibility of revolutionary socialism was damaged by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s/early 1990s .

Social democracy

Social democracy developed during the early twentieth century and really began to become accepted in the years after 1945 .It uses socialist principles but has different aims and methods to that of revolutionary socialism. After Britain and other Western nations recovered from the traumas of World War Two the poorer parts of society, supported by many who were better off, demanded more from their state. Many people felt that not only should they be better supported by the nation for the work and services they provided but also that society as a whole would benefit from a raise in living standards created by the state.

The foundations for social democracy are based upon moral thinking- the idea that socialism is the ethically right thing to do in a civilised world. Social democracy theorists claim that as humans want to be good then a socialist way of acting is the only moral solution in how society should be developed. People such as William Morris used humanist ideas to support social democracy (humanism is an idea that says that the satisfaction of all peoples needs should be a priority of society).

Christians have also supported social democracy because they claim that all people are created by God equal and should therefore be supported by each other and society. People such as Tawney supported social democracy because he claimed that it supported people against the problems of unregulated capitalism.

Social democrats supported their ideas with the principle of social justice ; the idea that people should have a greater equality of wealth and therefore opportunity as this is the only fair way to run a society.

The goals of revolutionary socialism were seen by social democrats as too extreme because they wanted to completely reorder society and remove capitalism, which was viewed as irredeemable (cannot be made good).However, by the twentieth century some socialists had come to believe that these views were inaccurate. People such as Eduard Bernstein advocated evolutionary socialism which argued that Marxism needed revising or adapting ( revisionism ).

Revisionists argued several main ideas. They claimed that capitalism had not been shown to be collapsing and was not necessarily doomed (as predicted by Marx), but it needed to be used for the whole of society.

They also argued that the divisions between class outlined by Marx (bourgeoisie and proletariat) were too simplistic, as business ownership was widening as a result of the ability to buy and sell stocks and shares and a growing class of technical and professionally skilled workers. Therefore, the divide and the need for revolution was not so straightforward.

Bernstein argued that capitalism could be reformed and made to work for the good of society through state intervention such as the nationalisation of industry and the creation of legal protections for people, welfare and pensions.This process would create wealth and create a happy and more equal society. The theories of Keynesian economics developed as a result (regulating the economy and attempting to achieve full employment). A more equal society could they believed be created though using the state to redistribute wealth so that the creation of profit benefitted all involved.

As a result, socialists such as Crosland in The Future of Socialism argued that socialism should focus on several values. It should be achieved through a democratic process because it did not need to overthrow capitalism. He claimed that the state should follow ‘managerial socialism’. This meant that private property was permissible, but the state would manage the economy to ensure fairness for all using powers of economic intervention such as progressive taxation and nationalisation.

After __1945 __social democracy seemed to have triumphed because it combined the economic drive of capitalism with fairness and equality without extremism. However, this success did not last. Many thought that the compromise between socialism and capitalism was always unstable and unworkable and therefore would quickly fall apart.

When capitalist economies were doing well it was possible to use redistribution to create a more equal society. However, when economies started to do badly in the 1970s __there was a direct link between the principle of wealth redistribution was criticised. If the state struggled for money the argument over who should get what caused a problem for social democrats. Another problem was that as economies began to deindustrialise many people did not see themselves as working class. This causes socialist political parties such as the UK Labour Party to have to move away from socialism to get elected in the __mid-1990s .

In addition, in the early __1990s __the main communist nations of Europe collapsed and despite the social democrats having moved away from Marxism this meant that the ideas of socialism were discredited (seem as unrealistic).

In response to the crisis faced by social democracy in the 1980s __and __90s , socialist parties began to move towards ‘neo-revisionism’, also known as the ‘third way’.

The third way attempted to navigate a path between traditional social democracy and free-market neoliberalism.

Key ideas of the third way include:

  • Primacy of the market : neo-revisionists reject top-down state intervention and support a dynamic market economy as the best way of generating wealth. A globalised, capitalist economy is therefore accepted
  • Value of community and moral responsibility: emphasising that people have moral links and responsibilities to their community, attempting to balance rights with responsibilities
  • Society bases on consensus and harmony: to move away from traditional class divisions. Values such as fairness and self-reliance should be promoted
  • Social inclusion: emphasis on equality of opportunity to create a meritocracy. Tony Blair, a key figure associated with the third way, suggested that welfare should be a ‘hand up, not a handout’. Welfare should therefore be more specifically targeted at getting people into work, for instance
  • Competition/market state: the state should focus on social investment, for instance in education, employment and training, in order to boost economic growth and improve a nation’s standing in the world economy

The third way was electorally successful during the New Labour years and has influences many left-of-centre parties. In the UK however it has been criticised as not containing many socialist ideas, and just being an attempt to win more votes from ‘centre-ground’ voters. The UK Labour Party has since moved away from the third way and back towards more social democratic thinking.

MIA   >  Bernstein   >  Evolutionary Socialism

Eduard Bernstein

Evolutionary socialism, chapter iii the tasks and possibilities of social democracy, (d) the most pressing problems of social democracy.

“And what she is, that dares she to appear.” – SCHILLER, Maria Stuart .

The tasks of a party are determined by a multiplicity of factors by the position of the general, economic, political, intellectual and moral development in the sphere of its activity, by the nature of the parties that are working beside it or against it, by the character of the means standing at its command, and by a series of subjective, ideologic factors, at the head of them, the principal aim of the party and its conception of the best way to attain that aim. It is well known what great differences exist in the first respect in different lands. Even in countries of an approximately equal standard of industrial development, we find very important political differences and great differences in the conceptions and aspirations of the mass of the people. Peculiarities of geographical situation, rooted customs of national life, inherited institutions, and traditions of all kinds create a difference of mind which only slowly submits to the influence of that development. Even where socialist parties have originally taken the same hypotheses for the starting point of their work, they have found themselves obliged in the course of time to adapt their activity to the special conditions of their country. At a given moment, therefore, one can probably set up general political principles of social democracy with a claim that they apply to all countries, but no programme of action applicable for all countries is possible.

As shown above, democracy is a condition of socialism to a much greater degree than is usually assumed, i.e., it is not only the means but also the substance. Without a certain amount of democratic institutions or traditions, the socialist doctrine of the present time would not indeed be possible. There would, indeed, be a workers’ movement, but no social democracy. The modern socialist movement – and also its theoretic explanation – is actually the product of the influence of the great French Revolution and of the conceptions of right which through it gained general acceptance in the wages and labour movement. The movement itself would exist without them as, without and before them, a communism of the people was linked to primitive Christianity. [29]

But this communism of the people was very indefinite and half mythical, and the workers’ movement would lack inner cohesion without the foundation of those organisations and conceptions of law which, at least to a great part, necessarily accompany capitalist evolution. A working class politically without rights, grown up in superstition and with deficient education, will certainly revolt sometimes and join in small conspiracies, but never develop a socialist movement. It requires a certain breadth of vision and a fairly well developed consciousness of rights to make a socialist out of a workman who is accidentally a revolter. Political rights and education stand indeed everywhere in a prominent position in the socialist programme of action.

So much for a general view. For it does not lie in the plan of this work to undertake an estimation of individual points of the socialist programme of action. As far as concerns the immediate demands of the Erfurt programme of the German social democracy, I do not feel in any way tempted to propose changes with respect to them. Probably, like every social democrat, I do not hold all points equally important or equally expedient. For example, it is my opinion that the administration of justice and legal assistance free of charge, under present conditions, is only to be recommended to a limited degree, that certainly arrangements should be made to make it possible for those without means to seek to have a chance of getting their rights; but that no pressing need exists to take over the mass of the property law suits to-day and put the lawyers completely under the control of the State. Meanwhile, although legislators of to-day will hear nothing of such a step, as a socialist legislature cannot be achieved without a full reform of the legal system, or only according to such newly created legal institutions, as, for example, exist already in arbitration courts for trade disputes, the said demand may keep its place in the programme as an indication of the development striven after.

I gave a very definite expression to my doubt as to the expediency of the demand in its present form as early as in 1891, in an essay on the draft scheme of the programme then under discussion, and I declared that the paragraph in question gave “too much and too little”. [30] The article belongs to a series which Kautsky and I then drew up jointly on the programme question, and of which the first three essays were almost exclusively the mental work of Kautsky, whilst the fourth was composed by me. Let me here quote two sentences from it which indicate the point of view which I upheld at that time with regard to the action of social democracy, and which will show how much or how little my opinions have changed since then:

“To demand simply the maintenance of all those without employment out of the state money means to commit to the trough of the state not only everyone who cannot find work but everyone that will not find work ... One need really be no anarchist in order to find the eternal heaping of duties on the state too much of a good thing. We will hold fast to the principle that the modern proletarian is indeed poor but that he is no pauper. In this distinction lies a whole world, the nature of our fight, the hope of our victory.

“We propose the formula: ‘Conversion of the standing armies to citizen armies’ because it maintains the aim and yet leaves the party a free hand to-day (when the disbanding of standing armies is utterly impossible) to demand a series of measures which narrow as much as possible the antagonism between army and people as, for example, the abolition of special military courts of justice, lessening of time of service, etc.” [31]

But has social democracy, as the party of the working classes and of peace, an interest in the maintenance of the fighting power? From many points of view it is very tempting to answer the question in the negative, especially if one starts from the sentence in the Communist Manifesto : “The proletarian has no fatherland.” This sentence might, in a degree, perhaps, apply to the worker of the ’forties without political rights, shut out of public life. To-day in spite of the enormous increase in the intercourse between nations it has already forfeited a great part of its truth and will always forfeit more, the more the worker, by the influence of socialism, moves from being a proletarian to a citizen. The workman who has equal rights as a voter for state and local councils, and who thereby is a fellow owner of the common property of the nation, whose children the community educates, whose health it protects, whom it secures against injury, has a fatherland without ceasing on that account to be a citizen of the world, just as the nations draw nearer one another, without, therefore, ceasing to lead a life of their own.

The complete breaking up of nations is no beautiful dream, and in any case is not to be expected in the near future. But just as little as it is to be wished that any other of the great civilised nations should lose its independence, just as little can it be a matter of indifference to German social democracy whether the German nation, which has indeed carried out, and is carrying out, its honourable share in the civilising work of the world, should be repressed in the council of the nations.

In the foregoing is shown in principle the point of view from which the social democracy has to take its position under present conditions with regard to questions of foreign politics. If the worker is still no full citizen, he is not without rights in the sense that national interests can be indifferent to him. And if also social democracy is not yet in power, it already takes a position of influence which lays certain obligations upon it. Its words fall with great weight in the scale. With the present composition of the army and the complete uncertainty as to the changes in methods of war, etc.) brought about by the use of guns of small bore, the Imperial Government will think ten times before venturing on a war which has social democracy as its determined opponent. Even without the celebrated general strike social democracy can speak a very important, if not decisive, word for peace, and will do this according to the device of the International as often and as energetically as it is necessary and possible. It will also, according to its programme, in the cases when conflicts arise with other nations and direct agreement is not possible, stand up for settling the difference by means of arbitration. But it is not called upon to speak in favour of renunciation of the preservation of German interests, present or future, if or because English, French, or Russian Chauvinists take umbrage at the measures adopted. Where, on the German side, it is not a question merely of fancies or of the particular interests of separate groups which are indifferent or even detrimental to the welfare of the nation, where really important national interests are at stake, internationalism can be no reason for a weak yielding to the pretensions of foreign interested parties.

This is no new idea, but simply the putting together of the lines of thought which lie at the bottom of all the declarations of Marx, Engels, and Lassalle on the questions of foreign politics. It is also no attitude endangering peace which is here recommended. Nations to-day no longer lightly go to war, and a firm stand can under some circumstances be more serviceable to peace than continuous yielding.

The doctrine of the European balance of power seems to many to be out of date to-day, and so it is in its old form. But in a changed form the balance of power still plays a great part in the decision of vexed international questions. It still comes occasionally to the question of how strong a combination of powers supports any given measure in order that it may be carried through or hindered. I consider it a legitimate task of German Imperial politics to secure a right to have a voice in the discussion of such cases, and to oppose, on principle, proper steps to that end, I consider, falls outside the domain of the tasks of social democracy.

To choose a definite example. The leasing of the Kiauchow Bay at the time was criticised very unfavourably by the socialist press of Germany. As far as the criticism referred to the circumstances under which the leasing came about, the social democratic press had a right, nay, even a duty, to make it. Not less right was it to oppose in the most decided way the introduction of or demand for a policy of partition of China because this partition did not lie at all in the interest of Germany. But if some papers went still further and declared that the party must under all circumstances and as a matter of principle condemn the acquisition of the Bay, I cannot by any means agree with it.

It is a matter of no interest to the German people that China should be divided up and Germany be granted a piece of the Celestial Empire. But the German people has a great interest in this – that China should not be the prey of other nations; it has a great interest in this – that China’s commercial policy should not be subordinated to the interest of a single foreign power or a coalition of foreign powers – in short, that in all questions concerning China, Germany should have a word to say. Its commerce with China demands such a right to protest. In so far as the acquisition of the Kiauchow Bay is a means of securing this right to protest, and it will be difficult to gainsay that it does contribute to it, there is no reason in my opinion for the social democracy to cry out against it on principle. Apart from the manner in which it was acquired and the pious words with which it was accompanied, it was not the worst stroke of Germany’s foreign policy.

It was a matter of securing free trade with and in China. For there can be no doubt that without that acquisition China would have been drawn to a greater degree into the ring of the capitalist economy, and also that without it Russia would have continued its policy of encircling, and would have occupied the Manchurian harbours. It was thus only a question as to whether Germany should look on quietly whilst, by the accomplishment of one deed after, another, China fell ever more and more into dependence on Russia, or whether Germany should secure herself a position on the ground that she also, under normal conditions, can make her influence felt at any time on the situation of things in China, instead of being obliged to content herself with belated protests. So far ran and runs the leasing of the Kiauchow Bay, a pledge for the safeguarding of the future interests of Germany in China, be its official explanation what it may, and thus far could social democracy approve it without in the least giving away its principles.

Meanwhile, owing to the want of responsibility in the management of the foreign policy of Germany, there can be no question of positive support from the social democracy, but only of the right foundation of its negative attitude. Without a guarantee that such undertakings should not be turned to account over the heads of the people’s representative House for other aims than those announced, say as a means to achieve some temporary success which might surrender the greater interests of the future, without some such pledge social democracy can take upon itself no share in the measures of foreign policy.

As can be seen the rule here unfolded for the position regarding questions of foreign policy turns on the attitude observed hitherto in practice by social democracy. How far it agrees in its fundamental assumptions with the ruling mode of viewing things in the party, does not lie with me to explain. On the whole, tradition plays a greater part in these things than we think. It lies in the nature of all advanced parties to lay only scanty weight on changes already accomplished. The chief object they have in view is always that which does not change – quite a justifiable and useful tendency towards definite aims – the setting of goals. Penetrated by this, such parties fall easily into the habit of maintaining longer than is necessary or useful opinions handed down from the past, in assumptions of which very much has been altered. They overlook or undervalue these changes; they seek for facts which may still make those opinions seem valid, more than they examine the question whether in the face of the totality of the facts appertaining to it, the old opinion has not meanwhile become prejudice.

Such political a priori reasoning often appears to me to play a part in dealing with the question of colonies.

In principle it is quite a matter of indifference to-day to socialism, or the workmen’s movement, whether new colonies should prove successful or not. The assumption that the extension of colonies will restrict the realisation of socialism, rests at bottom on the altogether outworn idea that the realisation of socialism depends on an increasing narrowing of the circle of the well-to-do and an increasing misery of the poor. That the first is a fable was shown in earlier chapters, and the misery theory has now been given up nearly everywhere, if not with all its logical conclusions and outright, yet at least by explaining it away as much as possible. [32]

But even if the theory were right, the colonies about which there is now an interest in Germany are far from being in the position to re-act so quickly on social conditions at home, that they could only keep off a possible catastrophe for a year. In this respect the German social democracy would have nothing to fear from the colonial policy of the German Empire. And because it is so, because the development of the colonies which Germany has acquired (and of those which it could perhaps win, the same holds good) will take so much time that there can be no question for many a long year of any reaction worth mentioning on the social conditions of Germany. Just from this reason the German social democracy can treat the question of these colonies without prejudice. There can even be no question of a serious reaction of colonial possessions on the political conditions of Germany. Naval Chauvinism, for example, stands undoubtedly in close connection with colonial Chauvinism, and draws from it a certain nourishment. But the first would also exist without the second, just as Germany had her navy before she thought of the conquest of colonies. It must nevertheless be granted that this connection is the most rational ground for justifying a thorough resistance to a colonial policy.

Otherwise, there is some justification during the acquisition of colonies to examine carefully their value and prospects, and to control the settlement and treatment of the natives as well as the other matters of administration; but that does not amount to a reason for considering such acquisition beforehand as something reprehensible.

Its political position, owing to the present system of government, forbids social democracy from taking more than a critical attitude to these things, and the question whether Germany to-day needs colonies can, particularly in regard to those colonies that are still to be obtained, be answered in the negative with good authority. But the future has also its rights for us to consider. If we take into account the fact that Germany now imports yearly a considerable amount of colonial produce, we must also say to ourselves that the time may come when it will be desirable to draw at least a part of these products from our own colonies. However speedy socialists may imagine the course of development in Germany towards themselves to be, yet we cannot be blind to the fact that it will need a considerable time before a whole series of other countries are converted to socialism. But if it is not reprehensible to enjoy the produce of tropical plantations, it cannot be so to cultivate such plantations ourselves. Not the whether but the how is here the decisive point. It is neither necessary that the occupation of tropical lands by Europeans should injure the natives in their enjoyment of life, nor has it hitherto usually been the case. Moreover, only a conditional right of savages to the land occupied by them can be recognised. The higher civilisation ultimately can claim a higher right. Not the conquest, but the cultivation, of the land gives the historical legal title to its use. [33]

According to my judgment these are the essential points of view which should decide the position of social democracy as regards the question of colonial policy. They also, in practice, would bring about no change worth mentioning in the vote of the party; but we are not only concerned, I repeat, with what would be voted in a given case, but also with the reasons given for the vote.

There are socialists to whom every admission of national interests appears as Chauvinism or as an injury to the internationalism and class policy of the proletariat. As in his time Domela Nieuwenhuis declared Bebel’s well-known assertion – that in case of an attack on the part of Russia the social democracy would set up their men for the defence of Germany – to be Chauvinism, so lately, Mr. Belfort Bax also found reprehensible jingoism in a similar assertion by Mr. Hyndman. [34]

It must be admitted that it is not always easy to fix the boundary where the advocacy of the interests of one’s nation ceases to be just and to pass into pseudo-patriotism; but the remedy for exaggeration on this side certainly does not lie in greater exaggeration on the other. It is much more to be sought in a movement for the exchange of thought between the democracies of the civilised countries and in the support of all factors and institutes working for peace.

Of greater importance to-day than the question of raising the demands already standing on the programme, is the question of supplementing the party’s programme. Here practical development has placed a whole series of questions on the orders of the day which at the drawing up of the programme were partly considered to be lying away too far in the future for social democracy to concern itself specially with them, but which were also partly, not sufficiently considered in all their bearings. To these belong the agrarian question, the policy of local administration, co-operation and different matters of industrial law. The great growth of social democracy in the eight years since the drawing up of the Erfurt Programme, its reaction on the home politics of Germany as well as its experiences in other lands, have made the more intimate consideration of all these questions imperative, and many views which were formerly held about them have been materially corrected.

Concerning the agrarian question, even those who thought peasant cultivation doomed to decay have considerably changed their views as to the length of time for the completion of this decay. In the later debates on the agrarian policy to be laid down by the social democracy, certainly many differences of opinion have been shown on this point, but in principle they revolved round this – whether, and in a given case to what limit, social democracy should offer assistance to the peasant as an independent farmer against capitalism.

The question is more easily asked than answered. The fact that the great mass of peasants, even if they are not wage earners, yet belong to the working classes, i.e., do not maintain existence merely on a title to possessions or on a privilege of birth, places them near the wage-earning class. On the other side they form in Germany such an important fraction of the population that at an election in very many constituencies their votes decide between the capitalist and socialist parties. But if social democracy would not or will not limit itself to being the party of the workers in the sense that it is only the political completion of trade unionism, it must be careful to interest at least a great part of the peasants in the victory of its candidates. In the long run that will only happen if social democracy commits itself to measures which offer an improvement for the small peasants in the immediate future. But with many measures having this object the legislature cannot distinguish between the small and the middle class peasants, and on the other hand they cannot help the peasant as a citizen of the state or as a worker without supporting him at least indirectly as an “undertaker.”

This is shown with other things in the programme of socialist agrarian policy which Kautsky sketched at the end of his work on the agrarian question under the heading The Neutralisation of the Peasantry . Kautsky shows most convincingly that even after a victory for social democracy no reason will exist for the abolition of peasants’ holdings. But he is at the same time a strong opponent of such measures, or the setting up of such demands, as aim at forming a “protection for peasants” in the sense that they would retain the peasant artificially as an undertaker. He proposes quite a series of reforms, or declares it admissible to support them, which result in relieving the country parishes and in increasing their sources of income. But to what class would these measures be a benefit in the first instance? According to Kautsky’s own representation, to the peasants. For, as he shows in another passage of his work, in the country, even under the rule of universal suffrage, there could be no question of an influence of the proletariat on the affairs of the parish worth mentioning. For that influence is, according to him, too isolated, too backward, too dependent on the few employers of labour who control it. “A communal policy other than one in the interest of the landowner is not to be thought of.” Just as little can we think to-day “of a modern management of the land by the parish in a large co-operative farming enterprise controlled by the village community.” [35] But, so far, and so long, as that is so, measures like “Amalgamation of the hunting divisions of the great landowners in the community,” “Nationalisation of the taxes for schools, roads, and the poor”, would obviously contribute to the improvement of the economic position of the peasants and therewith also to the strengthening of their possessions. Practically, then, they would just work as protection for the peasants.

Under two hypotheses the support of such protection for the peasants appears to me innocuous. First a strong protection of agricultural labourers must go hand in hand with it, and secondly democracy must rule in the commune and the district. Both are assumed by Kautsky. But Kautsky undervalues the influence of agricultural labourers in the democratised country parish. The agricultural labourers are as helpless as he describes them in the passage quoted, only in such districts as lie quite outside commercial intercourse; and their number is always becoming smaller. Usually the agricultural labourer is to-day tolerably conscious of his interests and with universal suffrage would even become more so. Besides that, there exist in most parishes all kinds of antagonisms among the peasants themselves, and the village community contains, in craftsmen and small traders, elements which in many respects have more in common with the agricultural labourers than with the peasant aristocracy. All that means that the agricultural labourers, except in a very few cases, would not have to make a stand alone against an unbroken “reactionary mass.” Democracy has, in the country districts, if it is to exist, to work in the spirit of socialism. I consider democracy in conjunction with the results of the great changes in the system of communication, of transport, a more powerful lever in the emancipation of agricultural labourers than the technical changes in peasant farming.

I refrain from going through all the details of Kautsky’s programme with which, as I have already remarked, I agree thoroughly in principle; but I believe that a few observations on it ought not to be suppressed. For me, as already observed, the chief task which social democracy now has to fulfil for the agricultural population can be classified under three heads, namely: (1) The struggle against all the present remnants and supports of feudal landowners, and the fight for democracy in the commune and district. This involves a fight for the removal of entail, of privileged estate parishes, hunting privileges, etc., as laid down by Kautsky. In Kautsky’s formulation “the fullest self-government in the parish and the province”, the word “fullest” does not seem to me well chosen, and I would substitute for it the word “democratic”. Superlatives are nearly always misleading. “Fullest self-government” can apply to the circle of those entitled to have a say, what it means can be better expressed by “democratic self-government”; but it can also denote the administrative functions, and then it would mean an absolutism of the parish, which neither is necessary nor can be reconciled with the demands of a healthy democracy. The general legislature of the nation stands above the parish, apportioning its definite functions and representing the general interests against its particular interests.

(2) Protection and relief of the working classes in agriculture. Under this heading falls the protection of labourers in the narrower sense: Abolition of regulations for servants, limitation of hours of labour in the various categories of wage earners, sanitary police regulations, a system of education, as well as measures which free the small peasant as a taxpayer.

(3) Measures against the absolutism of property and furthering co-operation. Hereunder would fall demands like “Limitation of the rights of private property in the soil with a view to promoting (1) the suppression of adding field to field, (2) the cultivation of land, (3) prevention of disease” (Kautsky); “reduction of exorbitant rents by courts of justice set up for the purpose” (Kautsky); the building of healthy and comfortable workmen’s dwellings by the parish; “facilities for co-operative unions by means of legislation” (Kautsky); the right of the parish to acquire land by purchase or expropriation and to lease it at a cheap rent to workmen and workmen’s associations.

This latter demand leads to the question of co-operation. After what has been said in the chapter on the economic possibilities of cooperative associations I need say little here. The question to-day is no longer whether co-operative associations ought to exist or not. They exist and will exist whether the social democracy desires it or not. By the weight of its influence on the working classes, social democracy certainly can retard the spread of workmen’s co-operative societies, but it will not thereby do any service for itself or the working class. The hard-and-dry Manchesterism which is often manifested by sections of the party in regard to co-operation and is grounded on the declaration that there can be no socialist co-operative society within a capitalist society is not justified. It is, on the contrary, important to take a decided position and to be clear which kind of associations social democracy can recommend, and can morally support.

We have seen what an extraordinary advance associations for credit, purchasing, dairy farming, working and selling, make in all modern countries. But these associations in Germany are generally associations of peasants, representatives of the “middle class movement” in the country. I consider it incontrovertible that they, in conjunction with the cheapening of the rate of interest which the increased accumulation of capital brings with it, could indeed help much towards keeping peasant enterprises capable of competing with large enterprises. Consequently, these peasant associations are in most cases the scene of the action of anti-socialist elements, of petits bourgeois liberals, clericals, and anti-semites. So far as social democracy is concerned, they can to-day be put out of reckoning nearly everywhere – even if in their ranks there are here and there small peasants who are nearer to the socialist than to other parties. The middle-class peasant takes the lead with them. If social democracy ever had a prospect of winning a stronger influence on the class of the country population referred to by means of co-operation, it has let the opportunity slip.

But if the social democratic party has not the vocation of founding co-operative stores, that does not mean it should take no interest in them. The dearly-loved declaration that co-operative stores are not socialist enterprises, rests on the same formalism which long acted against trade unions, and which now begins to make room for the opposite extreme. Whether a trade union or a workmen’s co-operative store is or is not socialistic, does not depend on its form but on its character – on the spirit that permeates it. They are not socialism, but as organisations of workmen they bear in themselves enough of the element of socialism to develop into worthy and indispensable levers for the socialist emancipation. They will certainly best discharge their economic tasks if they are left completely to themselves in their organization and government. But as the aversion and even enmity which many socialists formerly felt against the trade union movement has gradually changed into friendly neutrality and then into the feeling of belonging together, so will it happen with the stores – so has it already happened in some measure.

Those elements, which are enemies not only of the revolutionary, but of every emancipation movement of the workers, by their campaign against the workmen’s co-operative stores have obliged the social democracy to step in to support them. Experience has also shown that such fears, as that the co-operative movement would take away intellectual and other forces from the political movement of the workers, were utterly unfounded. In certain places that may be the case temporarily, but in the long run exactly the opposite takes place. Social democracy can look on confidently at the founding of working men’s co-operative stores where the economic and legal preliminary conditions are found, and it will do well to give it its full good-will and to help it as much as possible.

Only from one point of view could the workmen’s co-operative store appear something doubtful in principle – namely, as the good which is in the way of the better, the better being the organisation of the purchase and the distribution of commodities through the municipality, as is designed in nearly all socialist systems. But first of all the democratic store, in order to embrace all members of the place in which it is located, needs no alteration in principle, but only a broadening of its constitution, which throughout is in unison with its natural tendencies (in some smaller places co-operative stores are already not far from counting all the inhabitants of the place as their members). Secondly, the realisation of this thought still lies such a long way off, and assumes so many political and economic changes and intermediate steps in evolution, that it would be mad to reject with regard to it all the advantages which the workers can draw to-day from the co-operative store. As far as the district council or parish is concerned we can only through it to-day provide clearly defined, general needs.

With that we come now to the borough or municipal policy of social democracy. This also for a long time was the step-child of the socialist movement. It is, for example, not very long ago that in a foreign socialist paper (which has since disappeared), edited by very intellectual folk, the following idea was rejected with scorn as belonging to the petit bourgeois , namely, the using of municipalities as the lever of the socialist work of reform without, on that account, neglecting parliamentary action, and the beginning through the municipality of the realisation of socialist demands. The irony of fate has willed it that the chief editor of that paper was only able to get into the Parliament of his country on a wave of municipal socialism. Similarly in England, social democracy found in the municipalities a rich field of fruitful activity before it succeeded in sending its own representatives to Parliament.

In Germany the development was different. Here social democracy had long obtained Parliamentary civil rights before it gained a footing to any extent worth mentioning in the representative bodies of the communes. With its growing extension its success also increased in the elections for local bodies, so that the need for working out a socialist municipal programme has been shown more and more, and such has already been drawn up in individual states or provinces. What does social democracy want for the municipality, and what does it expect from the municipality?

With regard to this the Erfurt programme says only “Self-government of the people in empire, state, province, and municipality; election of officials by the people,” and demands for all elections the direct right to vote for all adults. It makes no declaration as to the legal relation of the enumerated governing bodies to one another. As shown farther back, I maintain that the law or the decree of the nation has to come from the highest legal authority of the community – the state. But that does not mean that the division line between the rights and powers of the state and the municipality should always be the same as to-day.

To-day, for example, the municipal right of expropriation is very limited, so that a whole series of measures of an economic-political character would find in the opposition, or exaggerated demands, of town landlords a positively insurmountable barrier. An extension of the law of expropriation should accordingly be one of the next demands of municipal socialism. It is not, however, necessary to demand an absolutely unlimited law of expropriation. The municipality would always be bound to keep to the regulations of the common law which protect the individual against the arbitrary action of accidental majorities. Rights of property which the common law allows must be inviolable in every community so long as, and in the measure in which, the common law allows them. To take away lawful property otherwise than by compensation, is confiscation, which can only be justified in cases of extreme pressure of circumstances – war, epidemics. [36]

Social democracy will thus be obliged to demand for the municipality, when the franchise becomes democratic, an extension of the right of expropriation (which is still very limited in various German states) if a socialist policy of local government is to be possible. Further, demands respecting the creation of municipal enterprises and of public services, and a labour policy for the municipality, are rightly put into the forefront of the programme. With respect to the first, the following demand should be set up as essential, that all enterprises having a monopolist character and being directed towards the general needs of the members of the municipality must be carried out under its own management, and that, for the rest, the municipality must strive constantly to increase the area of the service it gives to its members. As regards labour policy, we must demand from the municipalities that they, as employers of labour, whether under their own management or under contract, insert as a minimum condition the clauses for wages and hours of labour recognised by the organisations of such workmen, and that they guarantee the right of combination for these workmen. It should, however, be observed here that if it is only right to endeavour to make municipalities as employers of labour surpass private firms with regard to conditions of labour and arrangements for the welfare of the workers, it would be a shortsighted policy for municipal workmen to demand such conditions as would place them, when compared with their fellow-workers in the same trades, in the position of an unusually privileged class, and that the municipality should work at a considerably higher cost than the private employer. That would, in the end, lead to corruption and a weakening of public spirit.

Modern evolution has assigned to municipalities further duties: the establishment and superintendence of local sick funds, to which perhaps at a not very distant epoch the taking over of insurance against invalidity will be added. There has further been added the establishment of labour bureaux and industrial arbitration courts. With regard to the labour bureaux the social democracy claims as its minimum demand that their character should be guaranteed by their being composed of an equal representation of workmen and employers; that arbitration courts should be established by compulsion and their powers extended. Social democracy is sceptical of, even if it does not protest against, municipal insurance against unemployment, as the idea prevails that this insurance is one of the legitimate duties of trade unions and can best be cared for by them. But that can only hold good for well-organised trades which unfortunately still contain a small minority of the working population. The great mass of workers is still unorganised, and the question is whether municipal insurance against unemployment can, in conjunction with trade unions; be so organised that, so far from being an encroachment on the legitimate functions of the latter, it may even be a means of helping them. In any case it would be the duty of the social democratic representatives of the municipality, where such insurance is undertaken, to press with all their energy for the recognition of the unions. [37]

From its whole nature, municipal socialism is an indispensable lever for forming or completely realising what I, in the last chapter, called “the democratic right of labour”. But it is and must be patch-work where the franchise of the municipality is class franchise. That is the case in more than three-fourths of Germany. And so we stand here, as we do with reference to the diets of the federal states, on which the municipalities depend to a great extent, and to the other organs of self-government (districts, provinces, etc.), face to face with the question: how will social democracy succeed in removing the existing class franchise and in obtaining the democratisation of the electoral systems?

Social democracy has to-day in Germany, besides the means of propaganda by speech and writing, the franchise for the Reichstag as the most effective means of asserting its demands. Its influence is so strong that it has extended even to those bodies which have been made inaccessible to the working class owing to a property qualification, or a system of class franchise; for parties must, even in these assemblies, pay attention to the electors for the Reichstag. If the right to vote for the Reichstag were protected from every attack, the question of treating the franchise for other bodies as a subordinate one could be justified to a certain extent, although it would be a mistake to make light of it. But the franchise for the Reichstag is not secure at all. Governments and government parties will certainly not resolve lightly on amending it, for they will say to themselves that such a step would raise amongst the masses of the German workers a hate and bitterness, which they would show in a very uncomfortable way on suitable occasions. The socialist movement is too strong, the political self-consciousness of the German workers is too much developed, to be dealt with in a cavalier fashion. One may venture, also, to assume that a great number even of the opponents of universal suffrage have a certain moral unwillingness to take such a right from the people. But if under normal conditions the curtailing of the franchise would create a revolutionary tension, with all its dangers for the governing classes, there can, on the other hand, be no doubt as to the existence of serious technical difficulties in the way of altering the franchise so as to allow, only as an exception, the success of independent socialist candidatures. It is simply political considerations which, on this question, determine the issue.

On this and other grounds it does not seem advisable to make the policy of social democracy solely dependent on the conditions and possibilities of the imperial franchise. We have, moreover, seen that progress is not so quickened by it as might have been inferred from the electoral successes of 1890 and 1893. Whilst the socialist vote in the triennial period from 1887 to 1890 rose 87 per cent, and from 1890 to 1893 25 per cent, in the five years from 1893 to 1898 it only rose 18 per cent – an important increase in itself, but not an increase to justify extraordinary expectations in the near future.

Now social democracy depends not exclusively on the franchise and Parliamentary activity. A great and rich field exists for it outside Parliaments. The socialist working class movement would exist even if Parliaments were closed to it. Nothing shows this better than the gratifying movements among the Russian working classes. But with its exclusion from representative bodies the German working class movement would, to a great extent, lose the cohesion which to-day links its various sections; it would assume a chaotic character, and instead of the steady, uninterrupted forward march with firm steps, jerky forward motions would appear with inevitable back-slidings and exhaustions.

Such a development is neither in the interest of the working classes nor can it appear desirable to those opponents of social democracy who have become convinced that the present social order has not been created for all eternity but is subject to the law of change, and that a catastrophic development with all its horrors and devastation can only be avoided if in legislation consideration is paid to changes in the conditions of production and commerce and to the evolution of the classes. And the number of those who recognise this is steadily increasing. Their influence would be much greater than it is to-day if the social democracy could find the courage to emancipate itself from a phraseology which is actually outworn and if it would make up its mind to appear what it is in reality to-day: a democratic, socialistic party of reform.

It is not a question of renouncing the so-called right of revolution, this purely speculative right which can be put in no paragraph of a constitution and which no statute book can prohibit, this right which will last as long as the law of nature forces us to die if we abandon the right to breathe. This imprescriptible and inalienable right is as little touched if we place ourselves on the path of reform as the right of self-defence is done away with when we make laws to regulate our personal and property disputes.

But is social democracy to-day anything beyond a party that strives after the socialist transformation of society by the means of democratic and economic reform? According to some declarations which were maintained against me at the congress in Stuttgart this might perhaps appear to be the case. But in Stuttgart my letter was taken as an accusation against the party for sailing in the direction of Blanquism, whilst it was really directed against some persons who had attacked me with arguments and figures of speech of a Blanquist nature and who wanted to obtain from the congress a pronouncement against me.

Even a positive verdict from the Stuttgart Congress against my declaration would not have diverted me from my conviction that the great mass of the German social democracy is far removed from fits of Blanquism. After the speech at Oeynhausen I knew that no other attitude of the congress was to be expected than the one which it in fact adopted. [38]

The Oeynhausen speech has since then shared the fate of so many other speeches of extraordinary men, it has been semi-officially corrected. And in what sense has the party expressed itself since Stuttgart? Bebel, in his speeches on the attempts at assassination, has entered the most vigorous protests against the idea that social democracy upholds a policy of force, and all the party organs have reported these speeches with applause; no protest against them has been raised anywhere. Kautsky develops in his Agrarian Question the principles of the agrarian policy of social democracy. They form a system of thoroughly democratic reform just as the Communal Programme adopted in Brandenburg is a democratic programme of reform. In the Reichstag the party supports the extension of the powers and the compulsory establishment of courts of arbitration for trades disputes. These are organs for the furtherance of industrial peace. All the speeches of their representatives breathe reform. In the same Stuttgart where, according to Clara Zetkin, the “Bernstein-iade” received the finishing stroke, shortly after the Congress, the social democrats formed an alliance with the middle-class democracy for the municipal elections, and their example was followed in other Wurtemberg towns. In the trade union movement one union after another proceeds to establish funds for out-of-work members, which practically means a giving up of the characteristics of a purely fighting coalition, and declares for municipal labour bureaux embracing equally employers and employees; whilst in various large towns – Hamburg, Elberfeld-co-operative stores have been started by socialists and trade unionists. Everywhere there is action for reform, action for social progress, action for the victory of democracy. “People study the details of the problems of the day and seek for levers and starting points to carry on the development of society in the direction of socialism.” Thus I wrote a year ago [39] , and I see no reason to induce me to delete a word of it.

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29. It has repeatedly happened to me (and certainly also to others) in former years that at the conclusion of a propagandist meeting labourers and workmen who had heard a socialist speech for the first time would come to me and declare what I had said was already to be found in the Bible; they could show me the passages, sentence for sentence.

30. Neue Zeit IX. 2, p.221.

31. pp.819, 824, 825.

32. H. Cunow makes such an attempt in his article The Catastrophe . He says that if Marx at the end of his first volume of Capital speaks of the “increasing mass of misery” which will appear with the progress of capitalist production we must understand by that “not a simple retrogression of the social state of existence of the worker” but only a “retrogression of his social total position in relation to progressive, civilised development – that is, in relation to the increase of productivity and the increase of the general wants of civilisation.” The idea of misery is no fixed one. “What appears to one workman in a certain category, whom a great difference in education separates from his ‘master of work’, as a lot worthy to be striven after, may appear to a well-qualified worker of another category, who mentally, perhaps, is intellectually superior to his ‘master of work’, as such a ‘mixture of misery and oppression’ that he rises in revolt against it” ( Neue Zeit XVII., pp.402-403).

Unfortunately Marx speaks in the sentence referred to not only of the increasing mass of misery, of oppression, but also of “slavery, of deterioration, of exploitation”. Are we to understand these also in the implied – “Pickwickian” – sense? Are we to admit, perhaps, a deterioration of the worker which is only a relative deterioration in proportion to the increase of the general civilisation? I am not inclined to do it, nor Cunow probably. No, Marx speaks in the passage referred to quite positively of “a constantly decreasing number of millionaires” who “usurp all the advantages” of the capitalist transformation and the growth “of the man of misery, of oppression” etc. ( Capital , I, chap. xxiv. 7). One can ground the catastrophe theory on this contrast, but not on the moral misery caused by the intellectually inferior managers who are to be found in every counting house – in every hierarchical organisation.

Incidentally it is a little satisfaction to me to see how Cunow here can only reconcile with reality the sentences on which the catastrophe theory rests by suddenly allowing workers of different categories to appear with fundamentally opposed social ideas? Are those, then, also “English workers”?

33. “Even a whole society, a nation, nay, all contemporaneous societies taken together are not proprietors of the earth. They are only its tenants, its usufructuaries, and have to leave it improved as boni patres familias to the following generation” (Marx, Capital , III. 2, p.309).

34. Hyndman insists with great decision on the idea that England, for the protection of the importation of its foodstuffs, needs a navy large enough for every possible combination of adversaries. “Our existence as a nation of free men depends on our supremacy at sea. This can be said of no other people of the present day. However much we socialists are naturally opposed to armaments, we must however, recognise facts” ( Justice, December 31st, 1898).

35. The Agrarian Question , pp.337 and 338.

36. I gave expression to this idea very energetically some years ago in my summary of Lassalle’s System of Acquired Rights , which work is itself, as Lassalle writes, dedicated to the object of reconciling revolutionary law with positive law. Braving the danger of being charged with thinking as a philistine, I have no hesitation in declaring that to me the thought or proposal of an expropriation, which would only be robbery dressed up in a legal form, appears wholly objectionable – not to speak of an expropriation according to the prescription of Barères – and, quite apart from the fact that such an expropriation would be objectionable on purely economic or utilitarian grounds. “Whatever far-reaching encroachments on the domain of the privileges of property prevailing hitherto one may assume in this respect, in the period of transition to a socialist state of society, they cannot be those of a senseless operating brutal force, but they must be the expression of an idea of law, even if it be new and asserts itself with elementary force “ (Complete Edition of Lassalle’s Works , vol. III., p.791). The form of the expropriation of the expropriators corresponding most nearly to the socialistic conception of law and rights is that of a replacement by the activities of organisations and institutions.

37. Since the above was written the question has in several German towns been solved by a municipal contribution to the unemployed funds of the unions.

38. “Some days before the Stuttgart Congress on the 6th September, 1898, William II at Oeynhausen, Westphalia, announced a law threatening with penal servitude those who dared to prevent a man from working or incited him to strike. That such a speech should create a revolutionary mood amongst German social democrats was the most natural thing in the world. But the threat came to nought. The Reichstag rejected a Bill on the subject by a large majority, although it was only a diluted edition of that announced by the Kaiser. The fate of the speech confirmed my assertions.”

39. The Struggle of Social Democracy and the Revolution of Society , Neue Zeit XVI., 1, p.451.

Last updated on 16.3.2003

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Socialism is a rich tradition of political thought and practice, the history of which contains a vast number of views and theories, often differing in many of their conceptual, empirical, and normative commitments. In his 1924 Dictionary of Socialism , Angelo Rappoport canvassed no fewer than forty definitions of socialism, telling his readers in the book’s preface that “there are many mansions in the House of Socialism” (Rappoport 1924: v, 34–41). To take even a relatively restricted subset of socialist thought, Leszek Kołakowski could fill over 1,300 pages in his magisterial survey of Main Currents of Marxism (Kołakowski 1978 [2008]). Our aim is of necessity more modest. In what follows, we are concerned to present the main features of socialism, both as a critique of capitalism, and as a proposal for its replacement. Our focus is predominantly on literature written within a philosophical idiom, focusing in particular on philosophical writing on socialism produced during the past forty-or-so years. Furthermore, our discussion concentrates on the normative contrast between socialism and capitalism as economic systems. Both socialism and capitalism grant workers legal control of their labor power, but socialism, unlike capitalism, requires that the bulk of the means of production workers use to yield goods and services be under the effective control of workers themselves, rather than in the hands of the members of a different, capitalist class under whose direction they must toil. As we will explain below, this contrast has been articulated further in different ways, and socialists have not only made distinctive claims regarding economic organization but also regarding the processes of transformation fulfilling them and the principles and ideals orienting their justification (including, as we will see, certain understandings of freedom, equality, solidarity, and democracy). [ 1 ]

1. Socialism and Capitalism

2. three dimensions of socialist views, 3.1 socialist principles, 3.2.1 exploitation, 3.2.2 interference and domination, 3.2.3 alienation, 3.2.4 inefficiency, 3.2.5 liberal egalitarianism and inequality in capitalism, 4.1 central and participatory planning, 4.2 market socialism, 4.3 less comprehensive, piecemeal reforms, 5. socialist transformation (dimension diii), other internet resources, related entries.

Socialism is best defined in contrast with capitalism, as socialism has arisen both as a critical challenge to capitalism, and as a proposal for overcoming and replacing it. In the classical, Marxist definition (G.A. Cohen 2000a: ch.3; Fraser 2014: 57–9), capitalism involves certain relations of production . These comprise certain forms of control over the productive forces —the labor power that workers deploy in production and the means of production such as natural resources, tools, and spaces they employ to yield goods and services—and certain social patterns of economic interaction that typically correlate with that control. Capitalism displays the following constitutive features:

(i) The bulk of the means of production is privately owned and controlled . (ii) People legally own their labor power. (Here capitalism differs from slavery and feudalism, under which systems some individuals are entitled to control, whether completely or partially, the labor power of others). (iii) Markets are the main mechanism allocating inputs and outputs of production and determining how societies’ productive surplus is used, including whether and how it is consumed or invested.

An additional feature that is typically present wherever (i)–(iii) hold, is that:

(iv) There is a class division between capitalists and workers, involving specific relations (e.g., whether of bargaining, conflict, or subordination) between those classes, and shaping the labor market, the firm, and the broader political process.

The existence of wage labor is often seen by socialists as a necessary condition for a society to be counted as capitalist (Schweickart 2002 [2011: 23]). Typically, workers (unlike capitalists) must sell their labor power to make a living. They sell it to capitalists, who (unlike the workers) control the means of production. Capitalists typically subordinate workers in the production process, as capitalists have asymmetric decision-making power over what gets produced and how it gets produced. Capitalists also own the output of production and sell it in the market, and they control the predominant bulk of the flow of investment within the economy. The relation between capitalists and workers can involve cooperation, but also relations of conflict (e.g., regarding wages and working conditions). This more-or-less antagonistic power relationship between capitalists and workers plays out in a number of areas, within production itself, and in the broader political process, as in both the economic and political domains decisions are made about who does what, and who gets what.

There are possible economic systems that would present exceptions, in which (iv) does not hold even if (i), (ii) and (iii) all obtain. Examples here are a society of independent commodity producers or a property-owning democracy (in which individuals or groups of workers own firms). There is debate, however, as to how feasible—accessible and stable—these are in a modern economic environment (O’Neill 2012).

Another feature that is also typically seen as arising where (i)–(iii) hold is this:

(v) Production is primarily oriented to capital accumulation (i.e., economic production is primarily oriented to profit rather than to the satisfaction of human needs). (G.A. Cohen 2000a; Roemer 2017).

In contrast to capitalism, socialism can be defined as a type of society in which, at a minimum, (i) is turned into (i*):

(i*) The bulk of the means of production is under social, democratic control.

Changes with regard to features (ii), (iii), and (v) are hotly debated amongst socialists. Regarding (ii), socialists retain the view that workers should control their labor power, but many do not affirm the kind of absolute, libertarian property rights in labor power that would, e.g., prevent taxation or other forms of mandatory contribution to cater for the basic needs of others (G.A. Cohen 1995). Regarding (iii), there is a recent burgeoning literature on “market socialism”, which we discuss below, where proposals are advanced to create an economy that is socialist but nevertheless features extensive markets. Finally, regarding (v), although most socialists agree that, due to competitive pressures, capitalists are bound to seek profit maximization, some puzzle over whether when they do this, it is “greed and fear” and not the generation of resources to make others besides themselves better-off that is the dominant, more basic drive and hence the degree to which profit-maximization should be seen as a normatively troubling phenomenon. (See Steiner 2014, in contrast with G.A. Cohen 2009, discussing the case of capitalists amassing capital to give it away through charity.) Furthermore, some socialists argue that the search for profits in a market socialist economy is not inherently suspicious (Schweickart 2002 [2011]). Most socialists, however, tend to find the profit motive problematic.

An important point about this definition of socialism is that socialism is not equivalent to, and is arguably in conflict with, statism. (i*) involves expansion of social power—power based on the capacity to mobilize voluntary cooperation and collective action—as distinct from state power—power based on the control of rule-making and rule enforcing over a territory—as well of economic power—power based on the control of material resources (Wright 2010). If a state controls the economy but is not in turn democratically controlled by the individuals engaged in economic life, what we have is some form of statism, not socialism (see also Arnold n.d. in Other Internet Resources (OIR) ; Dardot & Laval 2014).

When characterizing socialist views, it is useful to distinguish between three dimensions of a conception of a social justice (Gilabert 2017a). We identify these three dimensions as:

(DI) the core ideals and principles animating that conception of justice; (DII) the social institutions and practices implementing the ideals specified at DI; (DIII) the processes of transformation leading agents and their society from where they are currently, to the social outcome specified in DII.

The characterization of capitalism and socialism in the previous section focuses on the social institutions and practices constituting each form of society (i.e., on DII). We step back from this institutional dimension in section 3, below, to consider the central normative commitments of socialism (DI) and to survey their deployment in the socialist critique of capitalism. We then, in section 4 , engage in a more detailed discussion of accounts of the institutional shape of socialism (DII), exploring the various proposed implementations of socialist ideals and principles outlined under DI. We turn to accounts of the transition to socialism (DIII) in section 5 .

3. Socialist Critiques of Capitalism and their Grounds (Dimension DI)

Socialists have condemned capitalism by alleging that it typically features exploitation, domination, alienation, and inefficiency. Before surveying these criticisms, it is important to note that they rely on various ideals and principles at DI. We first mention these grounds briefly, and then elaborate on them as we discuss their engagement in socialists’ critical arguments. We set aside the debate, conducted mostly during the 1980s and largely centered on the interpretation of Marx’s writings, as to whether the condemnation of capitalism and the advocacy for socialism relies (or should rely), on moral grounds (Geras 1985; Lukes 1985; Peffer 1990). Whereas some Marxist socialists take the view that criticism of capitalism can be conducted without making use—either explicitly or implicitly—of arguments with a moral foundation, our focus is on arguments that do rely on such grounds.

Socialists have deployed ideals and principles of equality, democracy, individual freedom, self-realization, and community or solidarity. Regarding equality , they have proposed strong versions of the principle of equality of opportunity according to which everyone should have “broadly equal access to the necessary material and social means to live flourishing lives” (Wright 2010: 12; Roemer 1994a: 11–4; Nielsen 1985). Some, but by no means all, socialists construe equality of opportunity in a luck-egalitarian way, as requiring the neutralization of inequalities of access to advantage that result from people’s circumstances rather than their choices (G.A. Cohen 2009: 17–9). Socialists also embrace the ideal of democracy , requiring that people have “broadly equal access to the necessary means to participate meaningfully in decisions” affecting their lives (Wright 2010: 12; Arnold n.d. [OIR] : sect. 4). Many socialists say that democratic participation should be available not only at the level of governmental institutions, but also in various economic arenas (such as within the firm). Third, socialists are committed to the importance of individual freedom . This commitment includes versions of the standard ideas of negative liberty and non-domination (requiring security from inappropriate interference by others). But it also typically includes a more demanding, positive form of self-determination, as the “real freedom” of being able to develop one’s own projects and bring them to fruition (Elster 1985: 205; Gould 1988: ch. 1; Van Parijs 1995: ch. 1; Castoriadis 1979). An ideal of self-realization through autonomously chosen activities featuring people’s development and exercise of their creative and productive capacities in cooperation with others sometimes informs socialists’ positive views of freedom and equality—as in the view that there should be a requirement of access to the conditions of self-realization at work (Elster 1986: ch. 3). Finally, and relatedly, socialists often affirm an idea of community or solidarity , according to which people should organize their economic life so that they treat the freedom and well-being of others as intrinsically significant. People should recognize positive duties to support other people, or, as Einstein (1949) put it, a “sense of responsibility for [their] fellow men”. Or, as Cohen put it, people should “care about, and, where necessary and possible, care for, one another, and, too, care that they care about one another” (G.A. Cohen 2009: 34–5). Community is sometimes presented as a moral ideal which is not itself a demand of justice but can be used to temper problematic results permitted by some demands of justice (such as the inequalities of outcome permitted by a luck-egalitarian principle of equality of opportunity (G.A. Cohen 2009)). However, community is sometimes presented within socialist views as a demand of justice itself (Gilabert 2012). Some socialists also take solidarity as partly shaping a desirable form of “social freedom” in which people are able not only to advance their own good but also to act with and for others (Honneth 2015 [2017: ch. I]).

Given the diversity of fundamental principles to which socialists commonly appeal, it is perhaps unsurprising that few attempts have been made to link these principles under a unified framework. A suggested strategy has been to articulate some aspects of them as requirements flowing from what we might call the Abilities / Needs Principle, following Marx’s famous dictum, in The Critique of the Gotha Program , that a communist society should be organized so as to realize the goals of producing and distributing “From each according to [their] abilities, to each according to [their] needs”. This principle, presented with brevity and in the absence of much elaboration by Marx (Marx 1875 [1978b: 531]) has been interpreted in different ways. One, descriptive interpretation simply takes it to be a prediction of how people will feel motivated to act in a socialist society. Another, straightforwardly normative interpretation construes the Marxian dictum as stating duties to contribute to, and claims to benefit from, the social product—addressing the allocation of both the burdens and benefits of social cooperation. Its fulfillment would, in an egalitarian and solidaristic fashion, empower people to live flourishing lives (Carens 2003, Gilabert 2015). The normative principle itself has also been interpreted as an articulation of the broader, and more basic, idea of human dignity. Aiming at solidaristic empowerment , this idea could be understood as requiring that we support people in the pursuit of a flourishing life by not blocking, and by enabling, the development and exercise of their valuable capacities, which are at the basis of their moral status as agents with dignity (Gilabert 2017b).

3.2 Socialist Charges against Capitalism

The first typical charge leveled by socialists is that capitalism features the exploitation of wage workers by their capitalist employers. Exploitation has been characterized in two ways. First, in the so-called “technical” Marxist characterization, workers are exploited by capitalists when the value embodied in the goods they can purchase with their wages is inferior to the value embodied in the goods they produce—with the capitalists appropriating the difference. To maximize the profit resulting from the sale of what the workers produce, capitalists have an incentive to keep wages low. This descriptive characterization, which focuses on the flow of surplus labor from workers to capitalists, differs from another common, normative characterization of exploitation, according to which exploitation involves taking unfair, wrongful, or unjust advantage of the productive efforts of others. An obvious question is when, if ever, incidents of exploitation in the technical sense involve exploitation in the normative sense. When is the transfer of surplus labor from workers to capitalists such that it involves wrongful advantage taking of the former by the latter? Socialists have provided at least four answers to this question. (For critical surveys see Arnsperger and Van Parijs 2003: ch. III; Vrousalis 2018; Wolff 1999).

The first answer is offered by the unequal exchange account , according to which A exploits B if and only if in their exchange A gets more than B does. This account effectively collapses the normative sense of exploitation into the technical one. But critics have argued that this account fails to provide sufficient conditions for exploitation in the normative sense. Not every unequal exchange is wrongful: it would not be wrong to transfer resources from workers to people who (perhaps through no choice or fault of their own) are unable to work.

A second proposal is to say that A exploits B if and only if A gets surplus labor from B in a way that is coerced or forced. This labor entitlement account (Holmstrom 1977; Reiman 1987) relies on the view that workers are entitled to the product of their labor, and that capitalists wrongly deprive them of it. In a capitalist economy, workers are compelled to transfer surplus labor to capitalists on pain of severe poverty. This is a result of the coercively enforced system of private property rights in the means of production. Since they do not control means of production to secure their own subsistence, workers have no reasonable alternative to selling their labor power to capitalists and to toil on the terms favored by the latter. Critics of this approach have argued that it, like the previous account, fails to provide sufficient conditions for wrongful exploitation because it would (counterintuitively) have to condemn transfers from workers to destitute people unable to work. Furthermore, it has been argued that the account fails to provide necessary conditions for the occurrence of exploitation. Problematic transfers of surplus labor can occur without coercion. For example, A may have sophisticated means of production, not obtained from others through coercion, and hire B to work on them at a perhaps unfairly low wage, which B voluntarily accepts despite having acceptable, although less advantageous, alternatives (Roemer 1994b: ch. 4).

The third, unfair distribution of productive endowments account suggests that the core problem with capitalist exploitation (and with other forms of exploitation in class-divided social systems) is that it proceeds against a background distribution of initial access to productive assets that is inegalitarian. A is an exploiter, and B is exploited, if and only if A gains from B ’s labor and A would be worse off, and B better off, in an alternative hypothetical economic environment in which the initial distribution of assets was equal (with everything else remaining constant) (Roemer 1994b: 110). This account relies on a luck-egalitarian principle of equality of opportunity. (According to luck-egalitarianism, no one should be made worse-off than others due to circumstances beyond their control.) Critics have argued that, because of that, it fails to provide necessary conditions for wrongful exploitation. If A finds B stuck in a pit, it would be wrong for A to offer B rescue only if B signs a sweatshop contract with A —even if B happened to have fallen into the pit after voluntarily taking the risk to go hiking in an area well known to be dotted with such perilous obstacles (Vrousalis 2013, 2018). Other critics worry that this account neglects the centrality of relations of power or dominance between exploiters and exploited (Veneziani 2013).

A fourth approach directly focuses on the fact that exploitation typically arises when there is a significant power asymmetry between the parties involved. The more powerful instrumentalize and take advantage of the vulnerability of the less powerful to benefit from this asymmetry in positions (Goodin 1987). A specific version of this view, the domination for self-enrichment account (Vrousalis 2013, 2018), says that A exploits B if A benefits from a transaction in which A dominates B . (On this account, domination involves a disrespectful use of A ’s power over B .) Capitalist property rights, with the resulting unequal access to the means of production, put propertyless workers at the mercy of capitalists, who use their superior power over them to extract surplus labor. A worry about this approach is that it does not explain when the more powerful party is taking too much from the less powerful party. For example, take a situation where A and B start with equal assets, but A chooses to work hard while B chooses to spend more time at leisure, so that at a later time A controls the means of production, while B has only their own labor power. We imagine that A offers B employment, and then ask, in light of their ex ante equal position, at what level of wage for B and profit for A would the transaction involve wrongful exploitation? To come to a settled view on this question, it might be necessary to combine reliance on a principle of freedom as non-domination with appeal to additional socialist principles addressing just distribution—such as some version of the principles of equality and solidarity mentioned above in section 4.1 .

Capitalism is often defended by saying that it maximally extends people’s freedom, understood as the absence of interference. Socialism would allegedly depress that freedom by prohibiting or limiting capitalist activities such as setting up a private firm, hiring wage workers, and keeping, investing, or spending profits. Socialists generally acknowledge that a socialist economy would severely constrain some such freedoms. But they point out that capitalist property rights also involve interference. They remind us that “private property by one person presupposes non-ownership on the part of other persons” (Marx 1991: 812) and warn that often, although

liberals and libertarians see the freedom which is intrinsic to capitalism, they overlook the unfreedom which necessarily accompanies capitalist freedom. (G.A. Cohen 2011: 150)

Workers could and would be coercively interfered with if they tried to use means of production possessed by capitalists, to walk away with the products of their labor in capitalist firms, or to access consumption goods they do not have enough money to buy. In fact, every economic system opens some zones of non-interference while closing others. Hence the appropriate question is not whether capitalism or socialism involve interference—they both do—but whether either of them involves more net interference, or more troubling forms of interference, than the other. And the answer to that question is far from obvious. It could very well be that most agents in a socialist society face less (troublesome) interference as they pursue their projects of production and consumption than agents in a capitalist society (G.A. Cohen 2011: chs. 7–8).

Capitalist economic relations are often defended by saying that they are the result of free choices by consenting adults. Wage workers are not slaves or serfs—they have the legal right to refuse to work for capitalists. But socialists reply that the relationship between capitalists and workers actually involves domination. Workers are inappropriately subject to the will of capitalists in the shaping of the terms on which they work (both in the spheres of exchange and production, and within the broader political process). Workers’ consent to their exploitation is given in circumstances of deep vulnerability and asymmetry of power. According to Marx, two conditions help explain workers’ apparently free choice to enter into a nevertheless exploitative contract: (1) in capitalism (unlike in feudalism or slave societies) workers own their labor power, but (2) they do not own means of production. Because of their deprivation (2), workers have no reasonable alternative to using their entitlement (1) to sell their labor power to the capitalists—who do own the means of production (Marx 1867 [1990: 272–3]). Through labor-saving technical innovations spurred by competition, capitalism also constantly produces unemployment, which weakens the bargaining power of individual workers further. Thus, Marx says that although workers voluntarily enter into exploitative contracts, they are “compelled [to do so] by social conditions”.

The silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker…. [The worker’s] dependence on capital … springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them. (Marx 1867 [1990: 382, 899])

Because of the deep background inequality of power resulting from their structural position within a capitalist economy, workers accept a pattern of economic transaction in which they submit to the direction of capitalists during the activities of production, and surrender to those same capitalists a disproportional share of the fruits of their labor. Although some individual workers might be able to escape their vulnerable condition by saving and starting a firm of their own, most would find this extremely difficult, and they could not all do it simultaneously within capitalism (Elster 1985: 208–16; G.A. Cohen 1988: ch. 13).

Socialists sometimes say that capitalism flouts an ideal of non-domination as freedom from being subject to rules one has systematically less power to shape than others (Gourevitch 2013; Arnold 2017; Gilabert 2017b: 566–7—on which this and the previous paragraph draw). Capitalist relations of production involve domination and the dependence of workers on the discretion of capitalists’ choices at three critical junctures. The first, mentioned above, concerns the labor contract. Due to their lack of control of the means of production, workers must largely submit, on pain of starvation or severe poverty, to the terms capitalists offer them. The second concerns interactions in the workplace. Capitalists and their managers rule the activities of workers by unilaterally deciding what and how the latter produce. Although in the sphere of circulation workers and capitalists might look (misleadingly, given the first point) like equally free contractors striking fair deals, once we enter the “hidden abode” of production it is clear to all sides that what exists is relationships of intense subjection of some to the will of others (Marx 1867 [1990: 279–80]). Workers effectively spend many of their waking hours doing what others dictate them to do. Third, and finally, capitalists have a disproportionate impact on the legal and political process shaping the institutional structure of the society in which they exploit workers, with capitalist interests dominating the political processes which in turn set the contours of property and labor law. Even if workers manage to obtain the legal right to vote and create their own trade unions and parties (which labor movements achieved in some countries after much struggle), capitalists exert disproportionate influence via greater access to mass media, the funding of political parties, the threat of disinvestment and capital flight if governments reduce their profit margin, and the past and prospective recruitment of state officials in lucrative jobs in their firms and lobbying agencies (Wright 2010: 81–4). At the spheres of exchange, production, and in the broader political process, workers and capitalist have asymmetric structural power. Consequently, the former are significantly subject to the will of the latter in the shaping of the terms on which they work (see further Wright 2000 [2015]). This inequality of structural power, some socialists claim, is an affront to workers’ dignity as self-determining, self-mastering agents.

The third point about domination mentioned above is also deployed by socialists to say that capitalism conflicts with democracy (Wright 2010: 81–4; Arnold n.d. [OIR] : sect. 4; Bowles and Gintis 1986; Meiksins Wood 1995). Democracy requires that people have roughly equal power to affect the political process that structures their social life—or at least that inequalities do not reflect morally irrelevant features such as race, gender, and class. Socialists have made three points regarding the conflict between capitalism and democracy. The first concerns political democracy of the kind that is familiar today. Even in the presence of multi-party electoral systems, members of the capitalist class—despite being a minority of the population—have significantly more influence than members of the working class. Governments have a tendency to adapt their agendas to the wishes of capitalists because they depend on their investment decisions to raise the taxes to fund public policies, as well as for the variety of other reasons outlined above. Even if socialist parties win elections, as long as they do not change the fundamentals of the economic system, they must be congenial to the wishes of capitalists. Thus, socialists have argued that deep changes in the economic structure of society are needed to make electoral democracy fulfill its promise. Political power cannot be insulated from economic power. They also, secondly, think that such changes may be directly significant. Indeed, as radical democrats, socialists have argued that reducing inequality of decision-making power within the economic sphere itself is not only instrumentally significant (to reduce inequality within the governmental sphere), but also intrinsically significant to increase people’s self-determination in their daily lives as economic agents. Therefore, most democratic socialists call for a solution to the problem of the conflict between democracy and capitalism by extending democratic principles into the economy (Fleurbaey 2006). Exploring the parallel between the political and economic systems, socialists have argued that democratic principles should apply in the economic arena as they do in the political domain, as economic decisions, like political decisions, have dramatic consequences for the freedom and well-being of people. Returning to the issue of the relations between the two arenas, socialists have also argued that fostering workers’ self-determination in the economy (notably in the workplace) enhances democratic participation at the political level (Coutrot 2018: ch. 9; Arnold 2012; see survey on workplace democracy in Frega et al. 2019). A third strand of argument, finally, has explored the importance of socialist reforms for fulfilling the ideal of a deliberative democracy in which people participate as free and equal reasoners seeking to make decisions that actually cater for the common good of all (J. Cohen 1989).

As mentioned above, socialists have included, in their affirmation of individual freedom, a specific concern with real or effective freedom to lead flourishing lives. This freedom is often linked with a positive ideal of self-realization , which in turn motivates a critique of capitalism as generating alienation. This perspective informs Marx’s views on the strong contrast between productive activity under socialism and under capitalism. In socialism, the “realm of necessity” and the correspondingly necessary, but typically unsavory, labor required to secure basic subsistence would be reduced so that people also access a “realm of freedom” in which a desirable form of work involving creativity, cultivation of talents, and meaningful cooperation with others is available. This realm of freedom would unleash “the development of human energy which is an end in itself” (Marx 1991: 957–9). This work, allowing for and facilitating individuals’ self-realization, would enable the “all-round development of the individual”, and would in fact become a “prime want” (Marx 1875 [1978b: 531]). The socialist society would feature “the development of the rich individuality which is all-sided in its production as in its consumption” (Marx 1857–8 [1973: 325]); it would constitute a “higher form of society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle” (Marx 1867 [1990: 739]). By contrast, capitalism denies the majority of the population access to self-realization at work. Workers typically toil in tasks which are uninteresting and even stunting. They do not control how production unfolds or what is done with the outputs of production. And their relations with others is not one of fellowship, but rather of domination (under their bosses) and of competition (against their fellow workers). When alienated,

labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; … in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. … It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. (Marx 1844 [1978a: 74])

Recent scholarship has developed these ideas further. Elster has provided the most detailed discussion and development of the Marxian ideal of self-realization. The idea is defined as “the full and free actualization and externalization of the powers and the abilities of the individual” (Elster 1986: 43; 1989: 131). Self-actualization involves a two-step process in which individuals develop their powers (e.g., learn the principles and techniques of civil engineering) and then actualize those powers (e.g., design and participate in the construction of a bridge). Self-externalization, in turn, features a process in which individuals’ powers become visible to others with the potential beneficial outcome of social recognition and the accompanying boost in self-respect and self-esteem. However, Elster says that this Marxian ideal must be reformulated to make it more realistic. No one can develop all their powers fully, and no feasible economy would enable everyone always to get exactly their first-choice jobs and conduct them only in the ways they would most like. Furthermore, self-realization for and with others (and thus also the combination of self-realization with community) may not always work smoothly, as producers entangled in large and complex societies may not feel strongly moved by the needs of distant others, and significant forms of division of labor will likely persist. Still, Elster thinks the socialist ideal of self-realization remains worth pursuing, for example through the generation of opportunities to produce in worker cooperatives. Others have construed the demand for real options to produce in ways that involve self-realization and solidarity as significant for the implementation of the Abilities / Needs Principle (Gilabert 2015: 207–12), and defended a right to opportunities for meaningful work against the charge that it violates a liberal constraint of neutrality about conceptions of the good (Gilabert 2018b: sect. 3.3). (For more discussion on alienation and self-realization, see Jaeggi 2014: ch. 10.)

Further scholarship explores recent changes in the organization of production. Boltanski and Chiapello argue that since the 1980s capitalism has partly absorbed (what they dub) the “artistic critique” against de-skilled and heteronomous work by generating schemes of economic activity in which workers operate in teams and have significant decision-making powers. However, these new forms of work, although common especially in certain knowledge-intensive sectors, are not available to all workers, and they still operate under the ultimate control of capital owners and their profit maximizing strategies. They also operate in tandem with the elimination of the social security policies typical of the (increasingly eroded) welfare state. Thus, the “artistic” strand in the socialist critique of capitalism as hampering people’s authenticity, creativity, and autonomy has not been fully absorbed and should be renewed. It should also be combined with the other, “social critique” strand which challenges inequality, insecurity, and selfishness (Boltanski and Chiapello 2018: Introduction, sect. 2). Other authors find in these new forms of work the seeds of future forms of economic organization—arguing that they provide evidence that workers can plan and control sophisticated processes of production on their own and that capitalists and their managers are largely redundant (Negri 2008).

The critique of alienation has also been recently developed further by Forst (2017) by exploring the relation between alienation and domination. On this account, the central problem with alienation is that it involves the denial of people’s autonomy—their ability and right to shape their social life on terms they could justify to themselves and to each other as free and equal co-legislators. (See also the general analysis of the concept of alienation in Leopold 2018.)

A traditional criticism of capitalism (especially amongst Marxists) is that it is inefficient. Capitalism is prone to cyclic crises in which wealth and human potential is destroyed and squandered. For example, to cut costs and maximize profits, firms choose work-saving technologies and lay off workers. But at the aggregate level, this erodes the demand for their products, which forces firms to cut costs further (by laying off even more workers or halting production). Socialism would, it has been argued, not be so prone to crises, as the rationale for production would not be profit maximization but need satisfaction. Although important, this line of criticism is less widespread amongst contemporary socialists. Historically, capitalism has proved quite resilient, resurrecting itself after crises and expanding its productivity dramatically over time. In might very well be that capitalism is the best feasible regime if the only standard of assessment were productivity.

Still, socialists point out that capitalism involves some significant inefficiencies. Examples are the underproduction of public goods (such as public transportation and education), the underpricing and overconsumption of natural resources (such as fossil fuels and fishing stocks), negative externalities (such as pollution), the costs of monitoring and enforcing market contracts and private property (given that the exploited may not be so keen to work as hard as their profit-maximizing bosses require, and that the marginalized may be moved by desperation to steal), and certain defects of intellectual property rights (such as blocking the diffusion of innovation, and alienating those who engage in creative activities because of their intrinsic appeal and because of the will to serve the public rather than maximize monetary reward) (Wright 2010: 55–65). Really existing capitalist societies have introduced regulations to counter some of these problems, at least to some extent. Examples are taxes and constraints to limit economic activities with negative externalities, and public funding and subsidies to sustain activities with positive externalities which are not sufficiently supported by the market. But, socialists insist, such mechanisms are external to capitalism, as they limit property rights and the scope for profit maximization as the primary orientation in the organization of the economy. The regulations involve the hybridization of the economic system by introducing some non-capitalist, and even socialist elements.

There is also an important issue of whether efficiency should only be understood in terms of maximizing production of material consumption goods. If the metric, or the utility space, that is taken into account when engaging in maximization assessments includes more than these goods, then capitalism can also be criticized as inefficient on account of its tendency to depress the availability of leisure time (as well as to distribute it quite unequally). This carries limitation of people’s access to the various goods that leisure enables—such as the cultivation of friendships, family, and community or political participation. Technological innovations create the opportunity to choose between retaining the previous level of production while using fewer inputs (such as labor time) or maintaining the level of inputs while producing more. John Maynard Keynes famously held that it would be reasonable to tend towards the prior option, and expected societies to take this path as the technological frontier advanced (Keynes 1930/31 [2010]; Pecchi and Piga 2010). Nevertheless, in large part because of the profit maximization motive, capitalism displays an inherent bias in favor of the second, arguably inferior, option. Capitalism thereby narrows the realistic options of its constituent economic agents—both firms and individuals. Firms would lose their competitive edge and risk bankruptcy if they did not pursue profits ahead of the broader interests of their workers (as their products would likely be more expensive). And it is typically hard for workers to find jobs that pay reasonable salaries for fewer hours of work. Socialists concerned with expanding leisure time—and also with environmental risks—find this bias quite alarming (see, e.g., G.A. Cohen 2000a: ch. XI). If a conflict between further increase in the production of material objects for consumption and the expansion of leisure time (and environmental protection) is unavoidable, then it is not clear, all things considered, that the former should be prioritized, especially when an economy has already reached a high level of material productivity.

Capitalism has also been challenged on liberal egalitarian grounds, and in ways that lend themselves to support for socialism. (Rawls 2001; Barry 2005; Piketty 2014; O’Neill 2008a, 2012, 2017; Ronzoni 2018). While many of John Rawls’s readers long took him to be a proponent of an egalitarian form of a capitalist welfare state, or as one might put it “a slightly imaginary Sweden”, in fact Rawls rejected such institutional arrangements as inadequate to the task of realizing principles of political liberty or equality of opportunity, or of keeping material inequalities within sufficiently tight bounds. His own avowed view of the institutions that would be needed to realize liberal egalitarian principles of justice was officially neutral as between a form of “property-owning democracy”, which would combine private property in the means of production with its egalitarian distribution, and hence the abolition of the separate classes of capitalists and workers; and a form of liberal democratic socialism that would see public ownership of the preponderance of the means of production, with devolved control of particular firms (Rawls 2001: 135–40; O’Neill and Williamson 2012). While Rawls’s version of liberal democratic socialism was insufficiently developed in his own writings, he stands as an interesting case of a theorist whose defense of a form of democratic socialism is based on normative foundations that are not themselves distinctively socialist, but concerned with the core liberal democratic values of justice and equality (see also Edmundson 2017; Ypi 2018).

In a similar vein to Rawls, another instance of a theorist who defends at least partially socialist institutional arrangements on liberal egalitarian grounds was the Nobel Prize winning economist James Meade. Giving a central place to decidedly liberal values of freedom, security and independence, Meade argued that the likely levels of socioeconomic inequality under capitalism were such that a capitalist economy would need to be extensively tempered by socialist elements, such as the development of a citizens’ sovereign wealth fund, if the economic system were to be justifiable to those living under it (Meade 1964; O’Neill 2015 [OIR] , 2017; O’Neill and White 2019). Looking back before Meade, J. S. Mill can also be seen as a theorist who traveled along what we might describe as “the liberal road to socialism”, with Mill in his Autobiography describing his own view as the acceptance of a “qualified socialism” (Mill 1873 [2018]), and arguing for a range of measures to create a more egalitarian economy, including making the case for a steady-state rather than a growth-oriented economy, arguing for workers’ collective ownership and self-management of firms in preference to the hierarchical structures characteristic of most firms under capitalism, and endorsing steep taxation of inheritance and unearned income (Mill 2008; see also Ten 1998; O’Neill 2008b, Pateman 1970). More recently, the argument has been advanced that as capitalist economies tend towards higher levels of inequality, and in particular with the rapid velocity at which the incomes and wealth of the very rich in society is increasing, many of those who had seen their normative commitments as requiring only the mild reform of capitalist economies might need to come to see the need to endorse more radical socialist institutional proposals (Ronzoni 2018).

4. Socialist Institutional Designs (Dimension DII)

The foregoing discussion focused on socialist critiques of capitalism. These critiques make the case that capitalism fails to fulfill principles, or to realize values, to which socialists are committed. But what would an alternative economic system look like which would fulfill those principles, or realize those values—or at least honor them to a larger extent? This brings us to dimension DII of socialism. We will consider several proposed models. We will address here critical concerns about both the feasibility and the desirability of these models. Arguments comparing ideal socialist designs with actual capitalist societies are unsatisfactory; we must compare like with like (Nove 1991; Brennan 2014; Corneo 2017). Thus, we should compare ideal forms of socialism with ideal forms of capitalism, and actual versions of capitalism with actual versions of socialism. Most importantly, we should entertain comparisons between the best feasible incarnations of these systems. This requires formulating feasible forms of socialism. Feasibility assessments can play out in two ways: they may regard the (degree of) workability and stability of a proposed socialist system once introduced, or they may regard its (degree of) accessibility from current conditions when it is not yet in place. We address the former concerns in this section, leaving the latter for section 5 when we turn to dimension DIII of socialism and the questions of socialist transition or transformation.

Would socialism do better than capitalism regarding the ideals of equality, democracy, individual freedom, self-realization, and solidarity? This depends on the availability of workable versions of socialism that fulfill these ideals (or do so at least to a greater extent than workable forms of capitalism). A first set of proposals envision an economic system that does away with both private property in the means of production and with markets. The first version of this model is central planning . This can be understood within a top-down, hierarchical model. A central authority gathers information about the technical potential in the economy and about consumers’ needs and formulates a set of production objectives which seek an optimal match between the former and the latter. These objectives are articulated into a plan that is passed down to intermediate agencies and eventually to local firms, which must produce according to the plan handed down. If it works, this proposal would secure the highest feasible levels of equal access to consumption goods for everyone. However, critics have argued that the model faces serious feasibility hurdles (Corneo 2017: ch. 5: Roemer 1994a: ch. 5). It is very hard for a central authority to gather the relevant information from producers and consumers. Second, even if it could gather enough information, the computation of an optimal plan would require enormously complex calculations which may be beyond the capacity of planners (even with access to the most sophisticated technological assistance). Finally, there may be significant incentive deficits. For example, firms might tend to exaggerate the resources they need to produce and mislead about how much they can produce. Without facing strong sticks and carrots (such as the prospects for either bankruptcy and profit offered by a competitive market), firms might well display low levels of innovation. As a result, a planned economy would likely lag behind surrounding capitalist economies, and their members would tend to lose faith in it. High levels of cooperation (and willingness to innovate) could still exist if sufficiently many individuals in this society possessed a strong sense of duty. But critics find this unlikely to materialize, warning that “a system that only works with exceptional individuals only works in exceptional cases” (Corneo 2017: 127).

Actual experiments in centrally planned economies have only partially approximated the best version of it. Thus, in addition to the problems mentioned above (which affect even that best version), they have displayed additional defects. For example, the system introduced in the Soviet Union featured intense concentration of political and economic power in the hands of an elite controlling a single party which, in turn, controlled a non-democratic state apparatus. Despite its successes in industrializing the country (making it capable of mobilizing in a war effort to defeat Nazi Germany), the model failed to generate sufficient technical innovation and intensive growth to deliver differentiated consumer goods of the kind available within advanced capitalist economies. Furthermore, it trampled upon civil and political liberties that many socialists would themselves hold dear.

Responding to such widespread disempowerment, a second model for socialist planning has recommended that planning be done in a different, more democratic way. Thus, the participatory planning (or participatory economy, “Parecon”) model proposes the following institutional features (Albert 2003, 2016 [OIR] ). First, the means of production would be socially owned. Second, production would take place in firms controlled by workers (thus fostering democracy within the workplace). Third, balanced “job complexes” are put in place in which workers can both engage in intellectual and manual labor (thus fostering and generalizing self-realization). Fourth, in a solidaristic fashion, remuneration of workers would track their effort, sacrifice, and special needs (and not their relative power or output—which would likely reflect differences in native abilities for which they are not morally responsible). Finally, and crucially, economic coordination would be based on comprehensive participatory planning. This would involve a complex system of nested worker councils, consumer councils, and an Iteration Facilitation Board. Various rounds of deliberation within, and between, worker and consumer councils, facilitated by this board, would be undertaken until matches between supply and demands schedules are found—with recourse to voting procedures only when no full agreement exists but several promising arrangements arise. This would turn the economy into an arena of deliberative democracy.

This proposal seems to cater for the full palette of socialist values stated in section 4.1 . Importantly, it overcomes the deficits regarding freedom displayed by central planning. Critics have warned, however, that Parecon faces serious feasibility obstacles. In particular, the iterative planning constituting the fifth institutional dimension of the Parecon proposal would require immense information complexity (Wright 2010: 260–5). It is unlikely that participants in the operations of this board, even with the help of sophisticated computers, would manage it sufficiently well to generate a production plan that satisfactorily caters to the diversity of individuals’ needs. A defense of Parecon would retort that beyond initial stages, the process of economic decision-making would not be too cumbersome. Furthermore, it might turn out to involve no more paperwork and time devoted to planning and to assessment behind computer terminals than is found in existing capitalist societies (with their myriad individual and corporate budgeting exercises, and their various accounting and legal epicycles). And, in any case, even if it is more cumbersome and less efficient in terms of productivity, Parecon might still be preferable overall as an economic system, given its superior performance regarding the values of freedom, equality, self-realization, solidarity, and democracy (Arnold n.d. [OIR] : sect. 8.b).

Some of the above-mentioned problems of central planning, regarding inefficiency and concentration of power, have motivated some socialists to explore alternative economic systems in which markets are given a central role. Markets generate problems of their own (especially when they involve monopolies, negative externalities, and asymmetric information). But if regulations are introduced to counter these “market failures”, markets can be the best feasible mechanism for generating matches between demand and supply in large, complex societies (as higher prices signal high demand, with supply rushing to cover it, while lower prices signal low demand, leading supply to concentrate on other products). Market socialism affirms the traditional socialist desideratum of preventing a division of society between a class of capitalists who do not need to work to make a living and a class of laborers having to work for them, but it retains from capitalism the utilization of markets to guide production. There has been a lively debate on this approach, with several specific systems being proposed.

One version is the economic democracy model (Schweickart 2002 [2011], 2015 [OIR] ). It has three basic features. First, production is undertaken in firms managed by workers. Worker self-managed enterprises would gain temporary control of some means of production (which would be leased out by the state). Workers determine what gets produced and how it is produced, and determine compensation schemes. Second, there is a market for goods and services. The profit motive persists and some inequalities within and between firms are possible, but likely much smaller than in capitalism (as there would be no separate capitalist class, and workers will not democratically select income schemes that involve significant inequality within their firms). Finally, investment flows are socially controlled through democratically accountable public investment banks, which determine funding for enterprises on the basis of socially relevant criteria. The revenues for these banks come from a capital assets tax. This system would (through its second feature) mobilize the efficiency of markets while also (through its other features) attending to socialist ideals of self-determination, self-realization, and equal opportunity. To address some potential difficulties, the model has been extended to include further features, such as a commitment of the government as an employer of last resort, the creation of socialist savings and loans associations, the accommodation of an entrepreneurial-capitalist sector for particularly innovative small firms, and some forms of protectionism regarding foreign trade.

Self-management market socialism has been defended as feasible by pointing at the experience of cooperatives (such as the Mondragón Corporation in the Basque Country in Spain, which has (as of 2015) over 70,000 worker-owners participating in a network of cooperative businesses). But it has also been criticized on five counts (Corneo 2017: ch. 6). First, it would generate unfair distributions, as workers doing the same work in different enterprises would end up with unequal income if the enterprises are not equally successful in the market. Second, workers would face high levels of financial risk, as their resources would be concentrated in their firm rather than spread more widely. Third, it could generate inefficient responses to market prices, as self-managed enterprises reduce hiring if prices for their products are high—so that members keep more of the profit—and hire more if the prices are low—to cover for fixed costs of production. Given the previous point, the system could also generate high unemployment. Having the government require firms to hire more would lead to lower productivity. However, the further features in the model discussed above might address this problem by allowing for small private enterprises to be formed, and by having in the background the government play a role as an employer of last resort (although this might also limit overall productivity). Finally, although some of the problems of efficiency could be handled through the banks controlling investment, it is not clear that the enormous power of such banks could be made sufficiently accountable to a democratic process so as to avoid the potential problem of cooptation by elites. (See, however, Malleson 2014 on democratic control of investment.)

Another market socialist model, proposed by Carens (1981, 2003), does not impose worker self-management. The Carensian model mirrors the current capitalist system in most respects while introducing two key innovative features. First, there would be direct governmental provision regarding certain individually differentiated needs (via a public health care system, for example). Second, to access other consumption goods, everyone working full time would get the same post tax income. Pre-tax salaries would vary, signaling levels of demand in the market. People would choose jobs not only on the basis of their self-regarding preferences, but also out of a sense of social duty to use their capacities to support others in society. Thus, honoring the Abilities / Needs Principle , they would apply for jobs (within their competencies) in which the pre-tax income is relatively high. If it worked, this model would recruit the efficiency of markets, but it would not involve the selfish motives and inegalitarian outcomes typically linked to them in capitalism.

One worry about the Carensian model is that it might be unrealistic to expect an economic system to work well when it relies so heavily on a sense of duty to motivate people to make cooperative contributions. This worry could be assuaged by presenting this model as the long-term target of a socialist transformation which would progressively develop a social ethos supporting it (Gilabert 2011, 2017a), by noting empirical findings about the significant traction of non-egoistic motives in economic behavior (Bowles and Gintis 2011) and the feasibility of “moral incentives” (Guevara 1977, Lizárraga 2011), and by exploring strategies to mobilize simultaneously various motivational mechanisms to sustain the proposed scheme. Two other worries are the following (Gilabert 2015). First, the model makes no explicit provision regarding real opportunities for work in self-managed firms. To cater more fully for ideals of self-determination and self-realization, a requirement could be added that the government promote such opportunities for those willing to take them. Second, the model is not sufficiently sensitive to different individual preferences regarding leisure and consumption (requiring simply that everyone work full time and wind up with the same consumption and leisure bundles). More flexible schedules could be introduced so that people who want to consume more could work longer hours and have higher salaries, while people who want to enjoy more free time could work fewer hours and have lower salaries. Considerations of reciprocity and equality could still be honored by equalizing the incomes of those working the same number of hours.

Many forms of market socialism allow for some hierarchy at the point of production. These managerial forms are usually defended on grounds of greater efficiency. But they face the question of how to incentivize managers to behave in ways that foster innovation and productivity. One way to do this is to set up a stock market that would help to measure the performance of the firms they manage and to push them to make optimal decisions. An example of this approach (there are others—Corneo 2017: ch. 8) is coupon market socialism . In Roemer’s (1994a) version, this economic system operates with two kinds of money: dollars (euros, pesos, etc.) and coupons. Dollars are used to purchase commodities for consumption and production, and coupons are used in a stock market to purchase shares in corporations. The two kinds of money are not convertible (with an exception to be outlined below). Each person, when reaching adulthood, is provided with an equal set of coupons. They can use them in a state-regulated stock market (directly or through mutual investment funds) to purchase shares in corporations at market price. They receive the dividends from their investments in dollars, but they cannot cash the coupons themselves. When they die, people’s coupons and shares go back to the state for distribution to new generations—no inherited wealth is allowed—and coupons cannot be transferred as gifts. Thus, there is no separate class of capital owners in this economy. But there will be income inequality resulting from people’s different fortunes with their investments (dividends) as well as from the income they gain in the jobs they take through the labor market (in managerial and non-managerial positions). Coupons can however be converted into dollars by corporations; they can cash their shares to pay for capital investments. The exchange is regulated by a public central bank. Further, public banks or public investment funds, operating with relative independence from the government, would steer enterprises receiving coupons so that they maximize profit in the competitive markets for the goods and services they produce (so that they maximize the returns on the coupons invested). Part of that profit is also taxed for direct welfare provisions by the state.

This model caters for ideals of equality of opportunity (given equal distribution of coupons) and democracy (given the elimination of capitalist dynasties that have the ability to transform massive economic power into political influence). It also gives people freedom to choose how to use their resources and includes solidaristic schemes of public provision to meet needs regarding education and health care. Via the competitive markets in consumption goods and shares, it also promises high levels of innovation and productivity. (In some versions of the model this is enhanced by allowing limited forms of private ownership of firms to facilitate the input of highly innovative entrepreneurial individuals—Corneo 2017: 192–7). The model departs from traditional forms of socialism by not exactly instituting social property in means of production (but rather the equal dispersal of coupons across individuals in each generation). But defenders of this model say that socialists should not fetishize any property scheme; they should instead see such schemes instrumentally in terms of how well they fare in the implementation of core normative principles (such as equality of opportunity) (Roemer 1994a: 23–4, 124–5). Critics have worries, however, that the model does not go far enough in honoring socialist principles. For example, they have argued that a managerial (by contrast to a self-management) form of market socialism is deficient in terms of self-determination and self-realization at the workplace (Satz 1996), and that the levels of inequalities in income, and the competitive attitudes in the market that it would generate, violate ideals of community (G.A. Cohen 2009). In response, a defender of coupon market socialism can emphasize that the model is meant to be applied in the short-term, and that further institutional and cultural arrangements more fully in line with socialist principles can be introduced later on, as they become more feasible (Roemer 1994a: 25–7, 118). A worry, however, is that the model may entrench institutional and cultural configurations which may diminish rather than enhance the prospects for deeper changes in the future (Brighouse 1996; Gilabert 2011).

The models discussed above envision comprehensive “system change” in which the class division between capitalists and wage laborers disappears. Socialists have also explored piecemeal reforms that stop short of that structural change. An important historical example is the combination of a market economy and the welfare state . In this model, although property in the means of production remains private, and markets allocate most inputs and outputs of production, a robust governmental framework is put in place to limit the power of capitalists over workers and to improve the life-prospects of the latter. Thus, social insurance addresses the risks associated with illness, unemployment, disability, and old age. Tax-funded, state provision of many of those goods that markets typically fail to deliver for all is introduced (such as high-quality education, public transportation, and health care). And collective bargaining gives unions and other instruments of workers’ power some sway on the determination of their working conditions, as well as providing an important foundation for the political agency of the working class (O’Neill and White 2018).

This welfare state model was developed with great success during the three decades after World War II, especially in Northern Europe, but also, in weaker but significant forms, in other countries (including some in the Global South). However, since the 1980s, this model has been in significant retreat, or even in crisis. Wealth and income inequality have been increasing dramatically during this time (Piketty 2014; O’Neill 2017). The financial sector has become extremely powerful and able largely to escape governmental regulation as globalization allows capital to flow across borders. A “race to the bottom” features states competing with each other to attract investment by lowering tax rates and other regulations, thus undermining states’ ability to implement welfare policies (see, e.g., Dietsch 2015, 2018). Some socialists have seen this crisis as a reason to abandon the welfare state and pursue more comprehensive changes of the kind discussed above. Others, however, have argued that the model should be defended given that it has been proven to work quite well while the alternatives have uncertain prospects.

One example of the approach of extending or retrenching the mixed economy and welfare state proposes a combination of two moves (Corneo 2017: ch. 10, Epilogue, Appendix). The first move is to revamp the welfare state by introducing mechanisms of greater accountability of politicians to citizens (such as regulation of the dealings of politicians with private companies, and more instances of direct democracy in order to empower citizens), an improvement of the quality of public services delivered by the welfare state (introducing exacting audits and evaluations and fostering the training and recruitment of excellent civil servants), and international coordination of tax policies to prevent tax competition and tax evasion. The second move in this proposal is to run controlled experiments of market socialism to present it as a credible threat to the powerful actors seeking to undermine the welfare state. This threat would help stabilize the welfare state as the menace of communist revolution did after 1945. Specifically, welfare states could create new institutions that would be relatively independent from governments and be run by highly competent and democratically accountable civil servants. “Sovereign Wealth Funds” would invest public money in well-functioning enterprises, to yield an equal “social dividend” for citizens (on Sovereign Wealth Funds, see also Cummine 2016, O’Neill and White 2019). The second institution, a “Federal Shareholder”, would go further by using some of these funds to buy 51% of the shares of selected enterprises and take the lead within their boards of directors or supervisory boards. The objective would be to show that these enterprises (which would include significant participation of workers in their management, and ethical guidelines regarding environmental impacts and other concerns) maximize profits and thus offer a desirable and feasible alternative to the standard capitalist enterprise. Effectively, this strategy would run controlled experiments of shareholder market socialism. The working population would learn about the feasibility of market socialism, and capitalist opponents of welfare entitlements would be disciplined by fear of the generalization of such experiments to settle again for the welfare state.

Another strategy is to introduce various experiments seeking to expand the impact of social power (as different from state and economic power) within society (as defined in sect. 1). (See survey in Wright 2010: chs. 6–7). A set of mechanisms would target the deepening of democracy. Forms of direct democracy could foster citizens’ deliberative engagement in decision-making, as exemplified by the introduction of municipal participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil (which features citizens’ assemblies identifying priorities for public policy). The quality of representative democracy can be enhanced (and its subservience to the power of capitalists decreased) by introducing egalitarian funding of electoral campaigns (e.g., by giving citizens a sum of money to allocate to the parties they favor, while forcing parties to choose between getting funding from that source and any other source—such as corporations), and by creating random citizen assemblies to generate policy options which can then be subject to society-wide referenda (as in the attempt to change the electoral system in British Columbia in Canada). Finally, forms of associational democracy can be introduced that feature deliberation or bargaining between government, labor, business, and civil society groups when devising national economic policies or when introducing regional or local (e.g., environmental) regulations. A second set of mechanisms would foster social empowerment more directly in the economy. Examples are the promotion of the social economy sector featuring economic activity involving self-management and production oriented to use value (as displayed, e.g., by Wikipedia and child care units in Quebec), an unconditional basic income strengthening people’s ability to engage in economic activities they find intrinsically valuable, and the expansion of the cooperative sector. None of these mechanisms on its own would make a society socialist rather than capitalist. But if we see societies as complex “ecologies” rather than as homogeneous “organisms”, we can notice that they are hybrids including diverse institutional logics. An increase in the incidence of social empowerment may significantly extend the socialist aspects of a society, and even eventually make them dominant (a point to which we return in the next section).

A final point worth mentioning as we close our discussion of dimension DII of socialism concerns the growing interest in addressing not only the economic arena, but also the political and personal-private ones. Some scholars argue that classical socialists neglected the increasing “functional differentiation” of modern society into these three “spheres”, concentrating in an unduly narrow way on the economic one (Honneth 2015 [2017]). Thus, recent socialist work has increasingly explored how to extend socialist principles to the organization of relatively autonomous governmental institutions and practices and to the shaping of intimate relationships among family members, friends, and lovers, as well as to the relations between these diverse social arenas (see also Fraser 2009, 2014; Albert 2017). There is, of course, also a long-standing tradition of feminist socialism that has pushed for a wide scope in the application of socialist ideals and a broader understanding of labor that covers productive and reproductive activities beyond the formal workplace (see, e.g., Arruzza 2013, 2016; Dalla Costa and James 1972; Federici 2012; Ehrenreich 1976 [2018]; Gould 1973–4; Rowbotham et al 1979; Rowbotham 1998).

We turn now to the last dimension of socialism (DIII), which concerns the transformation of capitalist societies into socialist ones. The discussion on this dimension is difficult in at least two respects which call for philosophical exploration (Gilabert 2017a: 113–23, 2015: 216–20). The first issue concerns feasibility. The question is whether socialist systems are accessible from where we are now—whether there is a path from here to there. But what does feasibility mean here? It cannot just mean logical or physical possibility, as these would rule out very few social systems. The relevant feasibility parameters seem instead to involve matters of technical development, economic organization, political mobilization, and moral culture. (For some discussion on these parameters see Wright 2010: ch. 8; Chibber 2017.) But such parameters are comparatively “soft”, in that they indicate probability prospects rather than pose strict limits of possibility, and can be significantly changed over time. When something is not feasible to do right now, we could have dynamic duties to make it feasible to do later by developing our relevant capacities in the meantime. The feasibility judgments must then be scalar rather than binary and allow for diachronic variation. These features make them somewhat murky, and not straightforwardly amenable to the hard-edged use of impossibility claims to debunk normative requirements (via contraposition on the principle that ought implies can).

A second difficulty concerns the articulation of all things considered appropriate strategies that combine feasibility considerations with the normative desiderata provided by socialist principles. The question here is: what is the most reasonable path of transformation to pursue for socialists given their understanding of the principles animating their political project, viewed against the background of what seems more or less feasible to achieve at different moments, and within different historical contexts? Complex judgments have to be formed about the precise social systems at which it would be right to aim at different stages of the sequence of transformation, and about the specific modes of political action to deploy in such processes. These judgments would combine feasibility and desirability to assess short-term and long-term goals, their intrinsic costs and benefits, and the promise of the former to enhance the achievement of the latter. The difficulty of forming such judgments is compounded by the uncertainty about the prospects of large societal changes (but also about the long-term consequences of settling for the status quo).

Marx (1875 [1978b]) himself seemed to address some of these issues in his short text “The Critique of the Gotha Program” of 1875. Marx here envisioned the process of socialist transformation as including two phases. The final phase would fully implement the Abilities / Needs Principle . But he did not take that scenario to be immediately accessible. An intermediate step should be pursued, in which the economy would be ruled by a Contribution Principle requiring that (after some provisions are put aside to fulfill basic needs regarding health care, education, and support for those unable to work) people gain access to consumption goods in proportion to how much they contribute. This lower phase of socialist transformation would be reasonable because it would enhance the prospects of transitioning away from capitalism and of generating the conditions for the full realization of socialism. The implementation of the Contribution Principle would fulfill the promise systematically broken by capitalism that people would benefit according to their labor input (as in capitalism capitalists get much more, and workers much less, than they give). It would also incentivize people to increase production to the level necessary for the introduction of socialism proper. Once such level of development is in place, the social ethos could move away from the mantra of the “exchange of equivalents” and instead adopt a different outlook in which people produce according to their diverse abilities, and consume according to their diverse needs. This sequential picture of transformation features diachronic judgments about changes in feasibility parameters (such as the expansion of technical capacity and a change in patterns of motivation). Marx also envisioned political dimensions of this process, including a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (which would not, as some popular interpretations hold, involve violation of civil and political rights, but a change in the political constitution and majoritarian policies that secure the elimination of capitalist property rights (Elster 1985: 447–9)). In time, the state (understood as an apparatus of class rule rather than, more generally, as an administrative device) would “wither away”.

History has not moved smoothly in the direction many socialists predicted. It has not been obvious that the following steps in the expected pattern materialized or are likely to do so: capitalism generating a large, destitute, and homogeneous working class; this class responding to some of the cyclical crises capitalism is prone to by creating a coherent and powerful political movement; this movement gaining control of government and resolutely and successfully implementing a socialist economic system (G.A. Cohen 2000b: ch.6; Laclau and Mouffe 1985). Given the fact that this process did not materialize, and seems unlikely to do so, it turns out that it would be both self-defeating and irresponsible to fail to address difficult questions about the relative feasibility and moral desirability of different strategies of potential socialist transformation. For example, if the process of transformation involves two or more stages (be they the two mentioned above, or some sequence going, say, from the welfare state to shareholder or coupon market socialism and then to the Carensian model), it might be asked who is to evaluate and decide upon what is to be done at each stage of the process, on what grounds can it be expected that earlier stages will enhance the likelihood of the success of later stages rather than undermine them (e.g., by enshrining institutions or values that will make it hard to move further along the path), what transitional costs can be accepted in earlier stages, and whether the costs expected are outweighed by the desirability and the increased probability of attaining the later stages. Such questions do not want for difficulty.

Addressing questions such as these dilemmas of transitional strategy, socialists have envisaged different approaches to social and political transformation. Four significant examples (extensively discussed in Wright 2010: Part III, 2015b, 2016—which we follow here) are articulated by considering two dimensions of analysis regarding (a) the primary goal of the strategy (either (i) transcending the structures of capitalism, or (ii) neutralizing the worst harms of it) and (b) the primary target of the strategy (either (i) the state and other institutions at the macro-level of the system, or (ii) the economic activities of individuals, organizations, and communities).

The first strategy, smashing capitalism , picks out the combination of possibilities (a.i) and (b.i). A political organization (e.g., a revolutionary party) takes advantage of some of the crises generated by capitalism to seize state power, proceeding to use that power to counter opposition to the revolution and to build a socialist society. This is the strategy favored by revolutionary socialists and many Marxists, and pursued in the twentieth century in countries such as Russia and China. If we look at the historical evidence, we see that although this strategy succeeded in some cases in transitioning out of previously existing capitalist or proto-capitalist economic systems, it failed in terms of building socialism. It led instead to a form of authoritarian statism. There is debate about the causes of these failures. Some factors may have been the economically backward and politically hostile circumstances in which the strategy was implemented, the leaders’ deficits (in terms of their tactics or motives), and the hierarchical frameworks used to suppress opposition after the revolution which remained in place for the long-term to subvert revolutionaries’ aims. Large system changes normally have to face a “transitional trough” after their onset, in which the material interests of many people are temporarily set back (Przeworski 1985). A political dilemma arises, in that, if liberal democratic politics is retained (with a free press, liberty of association, and multiparty elections) the revolutionaries may be unseated due to citizens’ political response to the “valley of transition”, while if liberal democratic politics are supplanted, then authoritarian statism may be the consequence, eradicating the possibility of a socialist outcome to which it would be worthwhile to seek to transition.

A second strategy, picking out the combination of possibilities (a.ii) and (b.i), has been taming capitalism . It mobilizes the population (sometimes in sharp political struggles) to elect governments and implement policies that respond to the worst harms generated by capitalism, with the aim of neutralizing them. New policies include social insurance responding to risks faced by the population (e.g., illness and unemployment), tax funded, state provision of public goods which markets tend to fail to provide (e.g., education, public transportation, research and development, etc.), and regulation of negative externalities produced in markets (e.g., regarding pollution, product and workplace hazards, predatory market behavior, etc.). The strategy, implemented by social-democratic parties, worked quite well during the three decades of the “Golden Age” or Trente Glorieuses following World War II. However, progress was halted and partly rolled back since the retreat of social democracy and the introduction of neoliberalism in the 1980s. Possible explanatory factors are the financialization of capitalism, and the effects of globalization, as discussed above in section 4.3 . There is a debate as to whether capitalism is really tamable—it may be that the Golden Age was only a historical anomaly, borne out of a very particular set of political and economic circumstances.

The third strategy, escaping capitalism , picks out the combination of possibilities (a.ii) and (b.ii). Capitalism might be too strong to destroy. But people could avoid its worst harms by insulating themselves from its dynamics. They could focus on family and friendships, become self-subsistence farmers, create intentional communities, and explore modes of life involving “voluntary simplicity”. However, this strategy seems available mostly to relatively well-off people who can fund their escape with wealth they have amassed or received from capitalist activities. The working poor may not be so lucky.

The final strategy, eroding capitalism , picks out the combination of (a.i) and (b.ii). Economic systems are here seen as hybrids. People can introduce new, socialist forms of collective activity (such as worker cooperatives) and progressively expand them, eventually turning them from marginal to dominant. Recently this kind of strategy of the erosion of capitalism through institutional transformation rather than piecemeal changes within existing economic structures, has been referred to as “the institutional turn” in leftist political economy (see Guinan and O’Neill 2018). Wright (2015b, 2016) suggests the analogy of a lake ecosystem, with the introduction of a new species of fish that at first thrives in one location, and then spreads out, eventually becoming a dominant species. Historically, the transformation from feudalism to capitalism in some parts of Europe has come about in this way, with pockets of commercial, financial, and manufacturing activity taking place in cities and expanding over time. Some anarchists seem to hold a version of this strategy today. It offers hope for change even when the state seems uncongenial, and likely to remain so. But critics find it far-fetched, as it seems unlikely to go sufficiently far given the enormous economic and political power of large capitalist corporations and the tendency of the state to repress serious threats to its rules. To go further, the power of the state has to be at least partially recruited. The fourth strategy then, according to Wright, is only plausible when combined with the second.

As discussed by Wright, this combined strategy would have two elements (we could see Corneo’s proposal discussed in section 4.3 as another version of this approach). First, it would address some important, problematic junctures to expand state action in ways that even capitalists would have to accept. And second, the solutions to the crises introduced by state action would be selected in such a way that they would enhance long-term prospects for socialist change. One critical juncture is global warming, and the social and political problems of the Anthropocene era (Löwy 2005; Purdy 2015; Wark 2016). Responding to its effects would require massive generation of state-provided public goods, which could remove neoliberal compunctions about state activism. A second critical juncture concerns the large levels of long-term unemployment, precariousness, and marginalization generated by new trends in automation and information technology. This involves threats to social peace, and insufficient demand for the products corporations need to sell on the consumption market. Such threats could be averted by introducing an unconditional basic income policy (Van Parijs and Vanderborght 2017), or by the significant expansion of public services, or by some other mechanism that secures for everybody a minimally dignified economic condition independent of their position within the labor market. Now, these state policies could foster the growth of social power and the prospects for socialist change in the future. Workers would have more power in the labor market when they came to be less reliant upon it. They could also be more successful in forming cooperatives. The social economy sector could flourish under such conditions. People could also devote more time to political activism. Together, these trends from below, combined with state activism from above, could expand knowledge about the workability of egalitarian, democratic, and solidaristic forms of economic activity, and strengthen the motivation to extend their scope. Although some critics find this strategy naïve (Riley 2016), proponents think that something like it must be tried if the aim is democratic socialism rather than authoritarian statism. (For specific worries about the political feasibility of a robust universal basic income policy as a precursor to rather than as a result of socialism, see Gourevitch and Stanczyk 2018).

Other significant issues regarding dimension DIII of socialism are the identification of appropriate political agents of change and their prospects of success in the context of contemporary globalization. On the first point, socialists increasingly explore the significance not only of workers’ movements, but also their intersection with the efforts of activists focused on overcoming gender- and race-based oppression (Davis 1981; Albert 2017). Some argue that the primary addressee of socialist politics should not be any specific class or movement, but the more inclusive, and politically equal group of citizens of a democratic community. For example, Honneth (2015 [2017: ch. IV]), following in part John Dewey and Juergen Habermas, argues that the primary addressee and agent of change for socialism should be the citizens assembled in the democratic public sphere. Although normatively appealing, this proposal may face serious feasibility difficulties, as existing democratic arenas are intensely contaminated and disabled by the inequalities socialists criticize and seek to overcome. The second issue is also relevant here. There is a traditional question whether socialism is to be pursued in one country or internationally. The tendency to embrace an internationalist horizon of political change is characteristic among socialists as they typically see their ideals of freedom, equality, and solidarity as having global scope, while they also note that, as a matter of feasibility, the increasing porousness of borders for capitalist economic activity make it the case that socialist politics may not go very far in any country without reshaping the broader international context. A difficulty here is that despite the existence of international social movements (including workers’ movements, international NGOs, human rights institutions and associations, and other actors), institutional agency beyond borders that can seriously contest capitalist frameworks is not currently very strong. In addressing these difficulties, action and research on socialist justice must interact with ongoing work in the related areas of gender, race, democracy, human rights, and global justice. [ 2 ]

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  • Žižek, Slavoj, 2005, “Against Human Rights”, New Left Review , 34(July/Aug): 115–131. [ Žižek 2005 available online ]
How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • Albert, Michael, 2016, “What’s Next? Parecon, or Participatory Economics”. [ Albert 2016 available online ]
  • Arnold, Samuel, n.d., “Socialism”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Accessed 20 June 2019. [ Arnold n.d. available online ]
  • O’Neill, Martin, 2015, “James Meade and Predistribution: 50 Years Before his Time”, Policy Network: Classics of Social Democratic Thought , 28 May 2015. ( O’Neill 2015 available online )
  • Schweickart, David, 2015, “Economic Democracy: An Ethically Desirable Socialism That Is Economically Viable”, The Next System Project , October. URL = < >
  • Marxists Internet Archive , (primary texts from various Marxist thinkers)
  • Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (German), includes much of Marx’s and Engels’s correspondence
  • New Left Review
  • Marx bibliography , maintained by Andrew Chitty (University of Sussex)

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Revolutionary and Evolutionary Socialism

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Explore the differences and similarities between revolutionary and evolutionary varieties of socialism

Socialism is a prominent political ideology, ubiquitous in modern discourse.  Like all other ideologies, it is defined by a set of core ideals and approaches to various debates such the benefit of wealth redistribution and the importance of equality and co-operation.  However, within socialism, there are schisms between those that take different stances on how to execute their socialist agenda – with some taking a ‘revolutionary’ approach and some taking a more ‘evolutionary’ approach.  This essay will compare and contrast these two branches of socialism and show how they individually approach certain ideological issues.

Socialism can be defined by “its opposition to capitalism and the attempt to provide a more humane and socially worthwhile alternative” (Heywood, 2012, p97).  Capitalism is seen as a malevolent force in society, whereby the rich ‘bourgeoisie’ control the working class ‘proletariat’.  Socialism seeks to create an equal society, with a belief in human nature’s desire to co-operate towards common aims. This equality “is the determining moral force on which other elements of the ideology rest” (Goodwin, 2007, p107).  In order to bring this equality to society, socialists believe in some redistribution of wealth to help solve the poverty gap, with which socialists are extremely concerned according to Goodwin.  It is this extra step beyond “equality of opportunity” that particularly separates socialism from liberalism.

The central difference between those that identify as socialists is the way in which they go about achieving their goals for society.  Revolutionary socialists believe strongly that the state and its’ capitalist system are an obstacle in the path of progress and must be abolished.  Evolutionary socialists agree that changes need to be made to society, but believe in more ‘gradualist’ methods of realising socialism through existing political institutions.  Further differences can be found in the opinions of how a socialist economy should be run and to what extent redistribution of wealth should take place.  Although redistribution is a key theme of both socialisms, evolutionary socialists would take a more understated approach such as taxation, rather than by controlling wealth on the whole like a revolutionary, for example.

Revolutionary socialism, particularly defined by Karl Marx, believes that the capitalist state cannot change society sufficiently because of its structure, and that creating a new socialist regime is the only way to make an equal society.  Marx believed normatively in a “classless society”, where people are sociable, co-operative and absolutely equal.

In conjunction with the desire for a “classless society”, revolutionary socialism is extremely critical of capitalism.   It believes that capitalism is exploitative of the common man, who is often forced to work long hours for little personal gain. This makes workers ‘alienated from their labour’, which in a Marxian sense means “the estrangement of life-activity…from the self; and the control of the estranged life-activity by another agent for the relative benefit of that agent” (O’Manique, 1994, p288).  This system creates class divisions in society and destroys the “natural” way of living, where people are collaborative and equal.  Therefore, a state ownership system for industry is advocated, to provide a fairer deal to the people by ensuring that everyone benefits from it, instead of only the wealthy ‘bourgeoisie’.  This requires, in most cases, a radical change to the way in which a society is run by means of a revolution.

Such revolutions have meant that strong socialism has been installed in some governments around the world since its inception, but only notably in a specific form: communism.

Communism as we know it from its use in the USSR, Eastern Europe, Cuba, North Korea etc. is a twisted version of Marx’s vision.  These states made their communist parties more powerful than the people, which was not intended by Marx.  Both Cuba and North Korea have been ruled by dictatorships, which was seen by Marx as only an intermediary stage in the transformation into communism, where there would be “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (Marx, 1969, p25-31) with strong state intervention to ease the transition in society.  Andrew Heywood notes that because of the “strong leadership and strict discipline” of those coming into power via these revolutions and the “rooting out…of the old order” that these “totalitarian dictatorships” were inevitable. (Heywood, 2012, p111)  These societies fell because they undermined the will of the people for so long that they eventually revolted themselves.

There are only a few countries worldwide where revolutionary socialism is practiced by the government in the modern day, and none in the communist way that Marx described.

Evolutionary socialism, or social democracy as it is also known, seeks to use current political processes to bring about an acceptance of socialist values, by reforming rather than restructuring the state entirely.  Eduard Bernstein, an early advocate of evolutionary socialism, considered Marx’s call for revolution unnecessary and believed that “success lies in a steady advance than in the possibilities offered by a catastrophic crash” (Bernstein, 1909, Preface)

Rather than enforcing absolute equality, as Marxism would have with proletariat rule, social democrats would believe more strongly in the pursuit of equality and equality of opportunity.  This is done by giving people the ability to ‘level up’ and ‘level down’ within society, but not going as far as to make everyone entirely equal.  This is to the benefit of the people, “because levelling down affects no-one for the better” and leads to a state that is worse off, although equal. (Holtug, 1998, p167) The state’s role is to provide this opportunity for people, with additional policies such as welfare programs to help those in society that are not as wealthy and healthcare provision for those that cannot afford it.  However, evolutionary socialists would believe in far less comprehensive policies in these areas compared to revolutionary socialists, who would believe in providing these services universally to anyone on the basis of need.

Evolutionary socialists believe in progressive taxation as a way of earning the resources to fund such programmes, as a way of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor.  Revolutionary socialists would outright remove the opportunity to earn such wealth, with their replacement of capitalism with state-run industry.

Social democrats do not agree with communists in believing that capitalism is inherently bad for society.  With a position that “capitalism as an economic system seems to have won… as organisation of economic activity is concerned” (Buchholz, p115), social democrats believe that combining their belief in equality with a capitalist system to form a “mixed economy” is the best way of ensuring growth.  This means that evolutionaries believe in a more laissez-faire approach to the state’s role in the economy compared to revolutionaries.  Evolutionary socialism does advocate some state authority over industry through “economic…intervention”, though – because as socialists, they still believe that capitalism is a “morally defective means of distributing wealth”.  (Heywood, 2012, p128)  This means that regulation of industry is still important; to preserve the rights of workers and to ensure that the capitalist system is working for the benefit of the people rather than the bourgeoisie.

This form of socialism is far more commonly found in governments worldwide compared to its more radical counterpart.  The Democratic Party in Italy is social democratic and forms part of the country’s government.  The Canadian New Democratic Party has similar political positions and is the opposition in the Canadian parliament.  The Labour Party in the UK is often considered to be social democratic, although some have argued that it has “struggled to establish its identity”, in this regard. (Sheldrick, 2012, p149).  The success of evolutionary socialism when compared to revolutionary socialism is due to its more moderate stance on societal shift, which are more appealing to voters than the seismic changes that revolutionary socialists propose.

Both socialisms are heavily related, although it can be argued that “the only common characteristic of socialist doctrines is their ethical content.” (Giddens, 1998, p71)  Like many other ideologies, the more ‘modern’ version, the evolutionary model, makes compromises on some of its traditional values to ensure that progress towards others is made.  Both socialisms strive for economic redistribution, but evolutionaries look to do this through taxation whilst maintaining capitalism rather than reinventing the entire economy around socialism.  Evolutionary socialism believes it is a more “moral critique of capitalism” compared to Marx’s “scientific” approach, and therefore more successful in introducing “social justice” through capitalism rather than destroying it outright.  (Heywood, 2012, p129) It is this more measured approach that has seen social democracy remain as a strong political ideology in the twenty-first century whilst Marxism has fallen along with the end of the Cold War.

Socialism, even whilst considering the two distinct subdivisions, is an ideology based on the common desire for equality.  However, evolutionary and revolutionary socialists will disagree upon how you define equality.

Word Count (excl. bibliography) – 1,448


Bernstein, E. (1909).  Evolutionary Socialism: A Criticism and Affirmation . London: Independent Labour Party.

Buchholz, R (2012).  Reforming Capitalism: The Scientific Worldview and Business . New York: Routledge

Giddens, A. (1998) Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press

Goodwin, B. (2007). Using Political Ideas . 5 th ed. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. p101-127

Heywood, A. (2012).  Political Ideologies: An Introduction . 5th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p97-139

Holtug, N. (1998). “Egalitarianism and the Levelling down Objection”. Analysis. 58 (2), Oxford: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Committee

Marx, K. (1969). “Critique of the Gotha Programme”. In:  Marx/Engels Selected Works . 3rd edition. Moscow: Progress Publishers. p13-30.

O’Manique, J. (1994). “A Marxian View of the Fundamentals of Political Development”.  Political Psychology . 15 (2), Oxford: International Society of Political Psychology. p277-305.

Sheldrick, B. (2012) “The British Labour Party: In Search of Identity Between Labour and Parliament” In: Social Democracy after the Second World War edited by B. Evans and I. Schmidt, Athabasca: Athabasca University Press

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Equality of Outcome in Revolutionary Socialism

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Equality of outcome is the concept that if you give two people the same privileges and opportunities, two people should end up in the same or equal position. This is the opposite of a meritocracy where you become successful depending on your skills, regardless of the outcome being unequal. Revolutionary socialists support equality of outcome, whereas, social democrats and Third way thinkers critique the concept.

Revolutionary socialists support equality of outcome. Marx believed in a society where needs were not determined by effort or other factors. The existing state favours the bourgeoisie and encourages competition in society. Marx and Engels argued that class consciousness is needed for soiclaist revolution to take place because it means that individuals become aware of the interests of their social class determined to pursue them. Marx and Engels also stated that a revolution will happen as class conflict intensifies between the exploited workers and the ruling class. Although Luxemburg warned against revolutions that highly affected the proletariat and she also accepted the equality of outcome. Luxemburg believed that the working class would protest against the state through strikes which would lead to a final mass strike that would establish socialism. Therefore, they all believe in equality of outcome as the state should be changed in order for this to happen.

Whereas, social democrats support equality of outcome to a much lesser extent that revolutionary socialists. They favour equality of opportunity instead. Webb believed in the idea called ‘the inevitability of gradualness’. This outlines how socialism can be established peacefully through parliamentary law making and democratic reforms. This idea is that democratic politics can bring about policies which look after the working class.

Webb didn’t believe in the Marxist belief in class conflict. She supported the introduction of socialism through democratic institutions, this is called evolutionary socialism. Webb wanted to make changes to capitalism. Although equality of opportunity may lead to differing outcomes, social democrats saw equal opportunity as a means to denying massive income and wealth inequalities. Revolutionaries would argue that social democrats were at best naive to accept a market economy would ever create equality, instead they stood guilty of furthering inequalities by giving life to Capitalism

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Revollutionary and evolutionary socialist hae different ends and means

Filed Under: Essays Tagged With: communism

Socialism is a broad ideology which covers a whole range of different traditions and ideals. There are disagreements within socialism are most definitely between revolutionary and evolutionary socialist in terms of means and ends. Revolutionary socialism believes in the idea that a capitalist system will not easily fall and so the only way to remove a capitalist society is for a mass up rise and overthrow of the system accepting that violence may be involved with this. From a Marxist-Leninist view the way for this to take place is for a vanguard party to help the proletariat to have some sort of revolutionary class consciousness.

Revolutionary socialist reject electoral and constitutional politics as it is inextricably tied to the interest of a capitalist society and the ruling class, which is why Marxists see revolution as inevitable as they believe in the complete abolition of it. Revolutionary socialism therefore seeks the abolition of Private property and the state; this is because Marx and Engels viewed capitalism and its traditions to be a system of naked oppression and exploitation on the working masses and therefore the only way to remove capitalism and enforce socialism is by mass up rise from working class.

Marxists therefore believe that political power reflects class interests and that the state is a bourgeois state that is based on the capital. Reasons in which there is a need for a overthrow of the bourgeois state by political revolution is because Revolutionary Socialists understand that change by political reform and gradual change which is supported by evolutionary socialist are clearly misleading as the ideas of universal suffrage and regular and competitive elections are simply a disguise of the actual reality of unequal classes and to mislead the political energies of the working class.

The Term Paper on Labour Party Socialism Social Socialist

Critically assess the Political Philosophy of Socialism and it's evolution within the British labour party during the interwar period, 1919-1939 It was Karl Marx (1818-1883) who said: 'Socialism moves us to take a definite position against a structure of society in which the unjust division of wealth contradicts basic decency'. Marx, often founded as the father of modern day socialism, saw a huge ...

Hence the need for the class-conscious proletariat to overthrow the capitalist state in order to enforce socialism. However in contrast evolutionary socialists believe that means of socialism should be brought about peacefully by the ballot. An example of this is Fabian Socialists who believe in inevitability of gradualism, which means that the working class would use the means of political democracy to empower them and therefore use voting to bring a Socialist Party into power. Fabian

Socialists therefore take the liberals view on the state rather than the Marxist, so the state should be neutral authority rather than an agent of class oppression. They also believe that through education and a combination of political action that the elite of the capitalist society can be converted to socialism this way, essentially for them is the most easiest way to achieve socialism in the most peaceful manner. the use of the ballot would therefore develop an evolutionary outgrowth of capitalism.

The inevitability of gradualism is supported by evolutionary socialists as extension of franchise would eventually lead to universal adult suffrage which will then lead on to political equality. if political equality is apparent, then in practice it will work in the interest of the majority. so evolutionary socialists believe political democracy would go in the hands of the working class as within any industrial society, the proletariat would be the majority.

The Essay on Socialism and Capitalism 2

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is a ridiculously oversimplified look at socialism and a very sinister look at capitalism. The Jungle is the tale of a Lithuanian immigrant, Jurgis Rudkus, and his family. Jurgis and his family move to the United States in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, only to find themselves ill equipped for the transition in the workplace and in society in general. Jurgis ...

Therefore, as human nature seen by socialist is ultimately altruistic, they will inevitably be drawn towards social political parties which offer social justice. this will then guarantee the success of socialist parties numerically. once in power the party will then be able to legitimately create changes within society towards socialism and so achieving socialism peacefully and therefore making it inevitable. There are also disagreements with the terms of ends in socialism between revolutionary and evolutionary socialists.

As seen, revolutionary socialism seeks to abolish capitalism and seek to replace it with a classless and stateless society which essentially the Marxist utopia; they also seek a social system based on common ownership. Revolution socialists believe private property should be removed as they believe that the origins of competition and inequality come from private property, and so they seek to remove private property as it is seen as unjust because wealth is produces as a collective effort of humans and so should not be owned by individuals.

Common ownership as a terms of ends also emphasises on the fact that private property is morally corrupting and it fosters conflict in society ie. between owners and workers, or simply rich and poor. Therefore Fundamentalist socialists seek to abolish capitalism and replace it with a qualitatively different kind of society based on common ownership.

Whereas, the evolutionary socialist seek to attain socialism through a parliamentary route and evidently showing the clear disagreement between evolutionary and revolutionary socialists as they have very different ways to achieve socialism and the type of socialism that will be enforced as evolutionary socialists believe in a few types of ends ranging from the abolition of capitalism, to taming it through welfare state, wealth and progressive taxation which is definitely opposed by revolutionary socialists.

Essentially they moderately critique capitalism as they only want to reform and reduce the economic inequalities and increase social justice. this has led to the redefinition of socialism in terms of distributive equality rather than common ownership. however there has been an exception within socialism with ‘Fundamentalist democrats’ as they want to remove capitalism through the parliamentary route, however there has not been any demonstration of this type of ideology.

The Essay on Socialism and Capitalism

Introduction This essay has critically discussed two models, they are capitalism and socialism. I have compare the advantage and disadvantages of these model and analysis why capitalism is going to transit to socialism. Lastly, I have discussed how capitalism satisfies Rawls’ two principles of justice. Body Capitalism and socialism Capitalism has being developed over time to time. It can be ...

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essay on evolutionary socialism

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Socialism essay: essay on socialism and it’s main characteristics.

essay on evolutionary socialism


Socialism Essay: Essay on Socialism and it’s Main Characteristics!

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (1994), ‘an economic and political system based on collective or state ownership of the means of production and distribution is known as socialism’. This approach has its roots in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. These thinkers were disturbed by the exploitation of the working class as it emerged during the industrial revolution. In their view, capitalism forced large numbers of people to exchange their labour for wages.

The owners of an industry pay workers less than the value of the goods they produced. They pocket the difference between the value of the labour and the value of the product—surplus value as Marx called it. Marx was struck by the inequalities the capitalist system creates.

A socialist economic system represents an attempt to eliminate such economic inequalities and exploitation. The goals of socialist system include destroying the class system and thereby ending the exploitation, oppression and alienation of workers, replacing greed and the profit motive with concern for collective well-being.

Socialism differs from capitalism in a sense that the means of production and distribution in a society are collectively rather than privately owned. The basic objective of the socialist system is to meet people’s needs rather than to maximize profits.

Socialism also differs from capitalism in that it is not controlled by the market—it has a planned economy. The government controls what will be produced and consumed. It sets prices for goods, decides what goods the society needs, and what would be the luxuries.

Thus, there is no free market. Socialists reject the laissez-faire philosophy that free competition benefits the general public. As a result, social life would be regulated democrati­cally in ways that put human needs first and make more efficient and effective use of human and other resources.

Socialist societies also differ from capitalist ones in their commitment to social service programmes. Contrary to capitalist societies, socialist societies typically offer government financed medical care, housing, education and other key services for all citizens.

In practice, however, like capitalism, the socialism takes many and diverse forms. It has worked quite differently. Authoritarianism rather than democracy has been the predominant form of political power, inefficient central planning has generally failed to meet the needs of the people, a privi­leged class of bureaucrats has perpetuated the class system, and chronic (until recently) conflict and competition with wealthier and more powerful capitalist nations have drained both attention and resources. In fact, no socialist society has met Marx’s main preconditions for successful socialism.

Main Characteristics of Socialism/Socialist Societies :

While there are various strands of socialist thought, most socialists identify the following as the important characteristics of socialist societies:

1. There is a common ownership of the means of production and distri­bution. It is collectively owned system of production.

2. Economic activities are planned by the state and the market plays little or no role in the allocation of resources.

3. There is no place for exploitation, oppression and alienation in a socialist society.

4. With the disappearance of private property, economic classes also disappear and hence the state has an administrative rather than repressive function.

5. The structural changes will also vanish the ideology, especially religious.

6. Socialism emphasizes the abolition of markets, capital, and labour as a commodity.

7. The socialist state or government of each nation will eventually ‘wither away’ as will inequality and class differentiation.

8. In a communistic state (a brand of socialistic state found in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Eastern Europe) most of the industry and agriculture was owned by the state—only a few businesses were in private sector.

Socialist thought, emerged as a powerful and credible alternative to capitalism in USSR, Eastern Europe, Asia (China) and Africa, faded away with the collapse of Soviet communism in 1989. Some commentators believe European socialism is dead and buried.

Communist parties in West and East have given themselves new names and distanced themselves from the heavy-handed, state communism of the past. However, the concerns that have been addressed by those who espoused or eschewed the cause still remain.

The dichotomies of freedom and equality, individual and collective rights all remain very much to the fore. Liberal capitalism fails to see the uneven and unequal impact that globalized economy has. As written earlier that socialism emerged in response to and as a challenge to the inequalities of capitalism.

Since capitalism has now been globalized, there is always a potential for this challenge to re-emerge, but perhaps via a different sort of language and organization, perhaps based on ecology, gender, anti-consumerist movements, and so on.

Thus, capitalism and socialism serve as ideal types of economic systems. In reality, the economy of each industrial society (Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union including India) includes certain elements of both capitalism and socialism.

All industrial societies rely chiefly on mechanization in the production of goods and services. In almost all countries, some property is private and some is owned by the state. In India, before the introduction of liberal economy in 1990, there was mixed economy—railways, airways and many other industrial units like BHEL were owned by the state but now the wind is changing towards privatization of these units also. Before adopting the liberal model of development, Indian model, based on socialist ideology, was known as ‘democratic collectivistic model’.

Related Articles:

  • Merits and Demerits of Socialism in India
  • Socialism in India: 8 Important Characteristics of Socialism in India

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  9. Eduard Bernstein: Evolutionary Socialism (Chapter 3-3)

    Evolutionary Socialism. Chapter III ... in an essay on the draft scheme of the programme then under discussion, and I declared that the paragraph in question gave "too much and too little". The article belongs to a series which Kautsky and I then drew up jointly on the programme question, and of which the first three essays were almost ...

  10. Socialism

    [ 1] 1. Socialism and Capitalism 2. Three Dimensions of Socialist Views 3. Socialist Critiques of Capitalism and their Grounds (Dimension DI) 3.1 Socialist Principles 3.2 Socialist Charges against Capitalism 3.2.1 Exploitation 3.2.2 Interference and domination 3.2.3 Alienation 3.2.4 Inefficiency

  11. Essay on Guild Socialism: Meaning, Origin, Principles and Criticism

    Like Fabian Socialism, Guild Socialism is a kind of evolutionary socialism which means that socialism or socialist goals can be achieved through gradual or evolutionary ways. Through a gradual process or number of ways or processes a capitalist society can be converted into a socialist society. Guild Socialism laid its full faith on the trade ...

  12. Fabian Society

    The Fabians put their faith in evolutionary socialism rather than in revolution. (Read George Bernard Shaw's 1926 Britannica essay on socialism.) The name of the society is derived from the Roman general Fabius Cunctator, whose patient and elusive tactics in avoiding pitched battles secured his ultimate victory over stronger forces.

  13. Essay on Socialism

    Essay # 1. Theory of Socialism: Socialism as a theory of the sphere of state activities came to eradicate the evils associated with the free competition and private property under the individualistic order of the nineteenth century.

  14. Revolutionary and Evolutionary Socialism

    Evolutionary socialists agree that changes need to be made to society, but believe in more 'gradualist' methods of realising socialism through existing political institutions. Further differences can be found in the opinions of how a socialist economy should be run and to what extent redistribution of wealth should take place.

  15. Marxism

    Marxism, a body of doctrine developed by Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, by Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century. It originally consisted of three related ideas: a philosophical anthropology, a theory of history, and an economic and political program.There is also Marxism as it has been understood and practiced by the various socialist movements, particularly before 1914.

  16. Reformism

    Reformism is a political doctrine advocating the reform of an existing system or institution instead of its abolition and replacement via revolution.. Within the socialist movement, reformism is the view that gradual changes through existing institutions can eventually lead to fundamental changes in a society's political and economic systems.Reformism as a political tendency and hypothesis of ...

  17. University of Massachusetts Amherst ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst

    Union. The three essays of thisdissertation are in essence critiques of this 21st century orthodoxy. The first essay addresses the idea of market socialism, as proposed by several academic works in the decades before and after the fall of the USSR. The essay questions whether market socialism would be substantially different from

  18. Social democracy

    social democracy, political ideology that originally advocated a peaceful evolutionary transition of society from capitalism to socialism using established political processes. In the second half of the 20th century, there emerged a more moderate version of the doctrine, which generally espoused state regulation, rather than state ownership, of the means of production and extensive social ...

  19. Equality of Outcome in Revolutionary Socialism

    Equality of outcome is the concept that if you give two people the same privileges and opportunities, two people should end up in the same or equal position. This is the opposite of a meritocracy where you become successful depending on your skills, regardless of the outcome being unequal. Revolutionary socialists support equality of outcome ...

  20. Revollutionary and evolutionary socialist hae different ...

    The Term Paper on Labour Party Socialism Social Socialist. Critically assess the Political Philosophy of Socialism and it's evolution within the British labour party during the interwar period, 1919-1939 It was Karl Marx (1818-1883) who said: 'Socialism moves us to take a definite position against a structure of society in which the unjust division of wealth contradicts basic decency'.

  21. Socialism Essay: Essay on Socialism and it's Main Characteristics!

    Socialism Essay: Essay on Socialism and it's Main Characteristics! According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (1994), 'an economic and political system based on collective or state ownership of the means of production and distribution is known as socialism'. This approach has its roots in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

  22. Essay on Early Socialists

    Essay on Early Socialists. The term early socialists may be misleading. The socialist thought started more or less from Rousseau. Marx and Engels gave it a concrete shape and they proclaimed their socialism as scientific. In order to distinguish Marxian socialism from the socialism or socialist thought that prevailed before them the term early ...

  23. Essay

    Oct. 27, 2023 9:00 pm ET. Listen. (2 min) You're alone in your house, and something just woke you up in the middle of the night. You lie in your bed and listen. Your heart is pounding. There is ...

  24. Evolutionary socialism synonyms, Evolutionary socialism antonyms

    Synonyms for Evolutionary socialism in Free Thesaurus. Antonyms for Evolutionary socialism. 5 words related to reformism: doctrine, ism, philosophical system, philosophy, school of thought. What are synonyms for Evolutionary socialism?