Socialism: Origin, Development, Components and Divisions!
Definition of Socialism:
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics defines Socialism as, “a political and economic theory of system of social organisation based on collective or state ownership of the means of production, distribution or exchange”. C.E.M. Joad thinks that socialism denotes “both a doctrine and a political movement”. Socialism consists of both economic and political doctrines.
Bernard Crick in his small book Socialism (World View, 1998) describes socialism as, “an invented system of society that stressed the social as against the selfish, the cooperative as against the competitive, sociability as against the individual self-sufficiency and self-interest, strict social controls on the accumulation and use of private property; and either economic equality or at least rewards according to merits (merits judged socially) or rewards judged according to need”.
Crick has not simply defined socialism as economic and political doctrine; he has briefly elaborated what is exactly meant by this concept. Strictly speaking socialism is not a political and economic doctrine, it at the same time envisages methods to reach certain goals which large number of men aspire to.
Similarly capitalism, fascism and anarchism are also methods. But some adherents of socialism claim that it is not at par with them. It, as a method, is different from other methods. In this respect socialism has speciality.
Nature of Socialism:
1. A thorough investigation about socialism reveals that it is an ever-changing concept. With the change of social, political, economic conditions and also with the change in attitude the concept simultaneously undergoes changes. Looking at this aspect of socialism Joad writes, “Socialism is like a hat that has lost its shape because everybody wears it”. Everyone claims to be a socialist. Whatever an individual adopts is named socialism. In this regard socialism has come to be linked with democracy because even an autocrat demands that he is a democrat.
2. Joad observes that though there are few similarities among its adherents as to its aim, they clearly differ among themselves so far as the methods of achieving aims are concerned.lt implies that the methods of socialism have failed to receive universal approval.
3. Socialism is a doctrine and a movement. Both these features are parts of the concept. It is a doctrine closely linked with the practical objectives which people ardently desire (of course not all men) to realise in practice. Because of this, attempts are made to achieve socialism or socialist goals and to that end socialists launch movement. Thus socialism, in fact, combines three things—it is a theory, it is a movement and it is, finally, an objective.
4. Bernard Crick is of opinion that “socialism is the product of the modern world. It has no precedent in the ancient or the medieval worlds”. This observation of Crick is true conditionally. As a unified “clear” doctrine socialism, no doubt, is a modern doctrine. But the seeds or the ideas in embryonic form were hidden in the literature, movements or activities of earlier epochs and the past records of history are replete with manifold examples. Plato’s The Republic contains a number of hints of communism of what may be called socialism. In old Indian scriptures there are few hints on socialism.
The term socialism or socialist can be traced to the Latin word sociare which means to combine or share. The present meaning has got sufficient relevance to the Latin meaning though at present it is used in broad sense. As to the first use of the term almost all the scholars agree that the word socialist or socialism was first used in 1827.
The Cooperative Magazine in 1827 first circulated the word and subsequently Robert Owen (Utopian Socialist, 1771-1858) and Saint-Simon (1760- 1825) used the word in their writings. Like Owen, Saint-Simon was also a Utopian socialist. Besides the Cooperative Magazine another journal La Globe used and popularised the word socialism.
Saint-Simon was a Frenchman and he was so much perturbed by the growing misery and poverty of the working class people that he was seriously thinking about their emancipation. He also believed that only the establishment of socialism could give them relief. Robert Owen also believed same idea. We thus hold the view that socialism arose as a reaction against the evils and conditions generated by the Industrial Revolution.
The fact is that when Owen and Saint-Simon were writing in the early nineteenth century the impact of the Industrial Revolution upon all the spheres of society was as clear as broad daylight. It was not difficult for persons like Owen and Saint-Simon to gauge that the Industrial Revolution had failed to fulfill the aspiration of common people.
Rather it brought with it degradation, misery and many other evils. Both socialism and sociology arose from the shattering of the old order—the old order was agriculture-based economy.
The concept of socialism or socialist thought first appeared in the famous work of Thomas More (1478-1535). His Utopia was published in 1516, few years before his death. Though Utopia is regarded as a first comprehensive and to some extent modern book on socialism, more was not interested in propagating the concept.
He simply provided a sketch of an imaginary island, with ideal economic, social and political conditions which modern scholars treat as basis of socialism. At the next stage we encounter three Utopian socialists—Robert Owen, Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier (1772-1837). All the three socialists are called Utopian because the methods suggested by these three socialists had no relevance with the real world and because of this F. Engels called them so.
After the Utopian socialists the most prominent names linked with the theory of socialism are F. Engels (1820-1895) and K. Marx (1818- 1883). We thus come across a very interesting fact which is the chief tenets of socialism as a political and economic doctrine were prepared before the end of the nineteenth century, Nevertheless what we call socialism today was primarily a product of Marx’s and Engels’ political and economic philosophy based on materialist conception of history or what is popularly called the historical materialism.
After Marx and Engels’ scores of writer contributed to the development of socialist thought such as Henry Mayers Hyndman (1842-1921), V. I. Lenin (1870-1924). Besides them in the European continent numerous movements were started by different radical and socialist groups and organisations. Their chief aim was to emancipate common men from atrocities.
Components of Socialism:
Vincent Geoghegon in his article Socialism published in Political Ideologies edited by Robert Eccleshall and Vincent Geoghegan says that socialism in general comprises three basic components and these are: it is a critique, it is an alternative and, finally, it is a theory of transition.
In the first place, socialism is regarded as a critique. We have earlier said that it is a reaction against the deteriorating conditions of the Industrial Revolution. The socialists came to the conclusion that the deteriorating social, political and economic conditions must be removed and for this purpose concerted efforts both at academic and practical levels are to be made. Geoghegan says that as a critique it is a form of egalitarianism. Some may raise question against this contention. But it is a fact that some sort of egalitarianism contains in it. It is again an alternative.
The persons who criticise the liberal, political and economic system have offered an alternative approach and it is socialism. They forcefully argue that only through the implementation of socialist principles the economic conditions of common men can be appreciably improved. Hence socialism is an appropriate alternative to capitalism.
As a theory of transition socialism indicates how the improvements could be achieved through concerted efforts. We have said that socialism is an alternative model to capitalism. Naturally setting up of a new social order is the goal of the socialists. The socialists aim at freeing the society from all the evils and at the same time they want to build up a new society taking the best elements of all political models.
Change from one system to another and so it is transition. It is a theory of transition in another sense also. A socialist society is built upon the ashes of capitalism, but the completion of this task requires continuous efforts and a number of revolutions.
Ways of Understanding Socialism:
Different people/scholars try to understand socialism in their own ways and this gives rise to the different meanings of socialism or these may be called various ways of understanding socialism. These are the following. In the first place, socialism is understood by many as an economic model. In this sense socialism means generally the nationalisation of the means of production and at the same time to vest the function of the distribution in the state.
The economic functions are performed through a centralised planning system. In this regard socialism is opposite to capitalism which is based on private management. In some instances socialism means the blending of private or capitalist and socialist features. Secondly, socialism is being viewed by many as an instrument of movement specially used by the working class.
The workers use it for fulfilling some economic demands which are deemed by them as just. In many states it is an instrument of labour movement. In this sense socialism has been termed by many as a form of labourism. There is a final manifestation of socialism and it is socialism is a political doctrine or ideology.
Needless to say that this last meaning is prominent among the socialists, political scientists and even general public. But the three meanings are not separate from each other. When the application of the political ideology proceeds it appears to us as an instrument. Again, when applied, the socialist principles stand opposite to the capitalist principles and socialism is regarded as an alternative to capitalism. However, we shall now turn to the third way—socialism as an ideology.
Philosophy of Socialism:
A thorough analysis of the various aspects of socialism as an ideology reveals its philosophical aspects which can be described in the following way:
1. Socialism wants all-round development of the individuals:
There is a long and heated controversy between socialism and individualism and the chief point of this controversy is the former tries to subjugate or suggests subjugation of the individual to the authority or common order. Individuals alone cannot do anything. Naturally the development and welfare can be done only through the cooperation and common order or ownership of property.
But the individualists strongly oppose this. To force the individual to carry out the direction of authority is another name of coercion and loss of freedom. The scheme of the socialists, the individualists allege, will stand on the way of all-round progress of individuals. But socialists challenge this argument and their contention is that only through the system of socialism an all-round progress of society and all the faculties of the individuals are possible.
The socialists further contend that only socialism professes to free the individuals from various pressures and necessities of day-to-day life and this abundantly promises all-round development. C. E. M. Joad says, “Socialism in fact seeks to free the individual from the pressure of material cares, in order that he may live his life in his own way and freely develop his personality”.
The individualism throws the individuals into the vortex of keen competition among themselves and thus creates a lot of tension, confusion and anxiety. This blocks the free development of personality. To sum up, the standpoint of liberalism is competition among individuals will lead to all-round progress whereas socialism believes that this type of competition creates an atmosphere of tension and animosity.
2. Life is not for struggle for existence alone:
Many individualists borrowing Darwin’s famous phrase argue that only the fittest persons can survive. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), in his most thought-provoking famous book The Origin of the Species (1859), said that in the animal world it was found that only the fit animals had been able to survive. Many individualists claim that in society there is a continuous competition or struggle among the individuals and only the persons who have been able to establish their superiority in all or many respects will ultimately survive.
For this competition the individuals will be left alone and any type of outside interference shall be stopped. But the socialists have rejected this contention. Their view in life is not simply for struggle and competition. Life has greater and nobler objectives and these can be attained if the individuals are completely freed from their day to day’s petty necessities.
It is the noble function of all individuals to advance civilisation and progress of society, to realise more liberty and exercise large number of rights. Rights and liberties can help the individual to develop personality. The socialists, therefore, claim that all these are possible only in a true socialist society.
So life should not be thrown to the unlimited and cut-throat competition. The life conceived by individualism is a life of competition and hard struggle. The life imagined by socialism is for greater and nobler objectives and life of leisure and comfort.
3. Socialist state is based on cooperation:
Mention has been made how cooperation comes to be a fundamental principle of socialism. Here we want to highlight other aspects—without cooperation among the citizens and also the cooperation between the ruler and the ruled no state structure can discharge its responsibility.
For that reason every state aspires cooperation and a socialist state gives emphasis on it because it abhors competition and struggle among citizens. Men are not always interested in cooperation and often they forget this principle. So it is the duty of the state to create an atmosphere of cooperation among the citizens and this could be done in socialism.
A critic makes the following observation: “No socialist can be logically and thoroughly a socialist unless he gives the right answer, which is that they (citizens) shall cooperate so that they may escape from the struggle of life to the doing of those things which are worth doing for their own sake”. “Hence the social creed which underlies the socialist view of the state is that society is an association of human beings, formed with the object of giving all its members the opportunity to satisfy their desires for spiritual freedom and the good life”.
Here the noble and lofty aim of cooperation has been briefly stated by Joad. It is unfortunate that individualism by emphasising on the competition has ignored this. This view is generally found in the writings of idealist philosophers. Particularly Rousseau and Hegel thought that a state has noble aims. Before them Plato and Aristotle said the same thing. We conclude that socialism is for noble purpose.
4. Socialism envisages democracy but it is more than that:
There has been found a confusion as regards the relationship between socialism and democracy. It is admitted on all hands that without democracy socialism is not complete and without socialism democracy is void. Bernard Crick says: “Socialism is a special form of democracy, it arises from a tradition of democratic ideas and to some extent, democratic experience. Democracy is a necessary, but not a sufficient, part of any definition of socialism.
Socialism says that free development of each is the condition of the free development of all. Democracy also aims at the same noble objective. Socialism—through the machinery of cooperation and collective ownership of the means of production—can ensure of development of all. In socialism every individual gets the adequate scope to exercise rights and culture liberties. Opening up this opportunity is the primary condition of successful working of democracy. But today democracy has changed considerably.
All the citizens do not get the scope to participate directly in the administration of state; they do it through their representatives. In such a situation it is the duty of democratic government to see that the most important objectives of socialism are translated into reality. If there are inequalities (specially the economic inequality) among the individuals that will make democracy a mockery.
Both socialism and democracy need each other. Democracy stresses rights and liberties and socialism tries to create a friendly atmosphere for their realisation. However, one cannot reach the destination without the other. The above-noted intimate relationship between socialism and democracy is not based on imagination but on the ground realities and because of this we talk of democratic socialism or socialist democracy.
5. Socialism aims at social benefit and not private benefit:
The main philosophy of socialism is it always gives priority to social good or common welfare of society and welfare of the particular individual receives secondary importance. Recollecting our memory we can say that this conception was (in modern times) first enunciated by Rousseau.
In his idea of general will the common good was of prime importance and he in no uncertain terms announced that the individuals must adjust themselves with the general will which aims at common good and through this adjustment they will be in a position to reach the goal of moral upliftment.
In a different languished Joad has observed: “Socialism aims at substituting the motive of social service for the motive of private profit. It holds that men will do better work to make the good life with the leisure and financial competence it requires possible for a society which in the long run is themselves, than they will at present consent to do for a society which compels them to enrich the exploiters of their labour in order to avoid starvation for themselves”.
The socialisation of production and distribution the objective of common good can be better served. Private profile and satisfaction of the needs of few persons at the cost of interests of others can never be the goal of any social philosopher. Viewed from this angle, it is asserted, socialism is far better than any other political ideology. This view has, however, been contested by many liberals and conservatives. For this very reason socialism is a polemical concept.