Socialism is like a hat that has lost its shape because everyone wears it.CEM Joad
It implies that it is a very challenging task to define socialism. There are endless varieties of socialism. There are country specific models, person specific models.
The emergence of universal adult franchise gives poor, right to vote. Since poor have got right to vote, political parties compete to gain votes of the poor, which explains the attractiveness of the ideology of socialism.
Origin of socialism.
Socialism originated in modern west in response to the exploitative system which emerged because of capitalism. Socialism is primarily an economic doctrine. They believe that modern industrial societies, need not to be based on capitalist mode of production. Which denotes private ownership. They suggest ‘social ownership’ over the means of production.
If core value of liberalism is liberty, socialism stands for equality.
Socialist conception of equality
Socialist consider liberal’s view of equality as formal and procedural. Instead of legal equality, they believe in social and economic equalities. Instead of equality of opportunity, they believe in equality of outcomes. If liberal concept of equality is proportionate equality, socialist concept is absolute equality.
Basic Assumptions of Socialists.
Human Nature: They reject the liberal view of atomistic man. They support the view of social nature of man. According to them, no man is an island, each is a part of continent. Socialist emphasize on fraternity, they prefer to use the term comrade.
Society: They reject the aggregative, market model of society. On the other hand, they believe that society is natural and whole is prior to part.
State: There is a major disagreement among socialists over state. Some favour state led socialism. (Fabian socialism, Nehruvian socialism), others prefer stateless society and community led development. (Marxian socialism – Communism, Gandhian Socialism – Sarvodaya ).
Concept of freedom: They believe liberal concept of liberty as alienation, isolation, the real liberty implies freedom from want or hunger. Thus they believe freedom is freedom from necessities.
Method of bringing socialism: Socialists are also divided with respect to the method of socialism. Some believe in peaceful, constitutional changes. Other believe in revolutionary methods.
Types of Socialism.
It is customary to classify socialism with reference to Marx considering his contribution to the theory of socialism.
Socialism before Karl Marx
Before Marx they prefer appealing to the conscience of capitalist class. They didn’t had any achievements. Hence Karl Marx called them utopians. They lacked scientific understanding of capitalism and hence they didn’t had a concrete strategy. The believed in appealing to the conscience, whereas Marx rejected the concept of conscience or soul.
It is a revolutionary doctrine, described by Marx as scientific socialism. It will result into the establishment of communism.
Socialism after Marx
It was proposed by Bernstein and Kautsky in ‘Erfurt program’. They were contemporaries of Lenin. They developed difference with Lenin. Lenin continued to think that socialism should be brought through revolution. But Bernstein believed that revolution has become the redundant idea. He proposed parliamentary road to socialism. He suggested that revolution was relevant because workers didn’t had right to vote. Once workers got right to vote, they will be forming majority in parliament. Hence through legislative means, such laws can be made in the interest of poor.
2] German Social Democracy
Similar to ideas of Bernstein.
It is a British variety of socialism. It is a peaceful form. It is a constitutional method of bringing socialism. Other socialisms are led by poor or working classes. Fabianism is socialism through middle classes.
The term Fabianism comes from the policy of Roman general Fabius. ‘Strike when iron is hot.’ Socialism can come social conditions are favourable. Socialism cannot come until and unless it becomes ‘common sense’. People should find socialism logical.
Socialism cannot be brought in a single day. We have to consistently work for generating consensus in favour of socialism. Middle class intellectuals should work for creating awareness. They suggested to establish societies known as Fabian societies dedicated to the promotion of such ideas. What is their strategy? / What is the title of their strategy? It is called as permeation. It means diffusion of socialist ideas.
Another unique feature of Fabianism is ‘state led socialism’. Middle class will work in partnership with the state by creating public opinion and influencing legislations.
This socialism is farthest from Marxism and nearest to liberalism. At times, difficult to differentiate between theory of welfare state and Fabianism.
4] Guild Socialism
British variety. Peaceful constitutional method. They believe in the concept of class and class struggle, the primacy of economic factors. However they do not approve violent method. The concept of Guild comes from medieval Europe. Guild is a type of association. There can be guild of capitalists, traders, workers, consumers, lawyers, doctors or any other economic interest. According to GDH Cole, the real interest is economic. The main concern of state is the formulation of economic policies. GDH Cole has proposed
1] The idea of functional representation. Functional representation denotes multi-member constituencies where people having different economic interests or professions elect their own representatives.
2] Functional Parliament. There may be two houses – one house may represent the territorial generalist representation, the other house may represent functional or economic interests. Thus Guild socialism not only takes into account interests of workers but also of different economic interests.
French variant. They support violent techniques. Exponents: Fernand Pelloutier and Émile Pouget. It denotes worker’s union. However it is different from guild. Syndicate is workers union whereas guild can be of different economic interest, it can be workers union, capitalist union, consumers union, farmers union etc.
The objective is to establish the dominance of working classes. [* It may correspond to stage of ‘dictatorship of proletariat’. Marx was not for domination of any class. His communism is a society of equals.]
Basic assumption of syndicates.
Like guild socialists, they believe that real interest is economic. Syndicalists believe in principles of Marxism like historical materialism, dialectical materialism, class struggle. They are also inspired by Sorel, the author of THE REFLECTIONS ON VIOLENCE.
Syndicalists support methods like strikes, lockouts, slowdown of work. They propose to abolish political state and set up economic state. Syndicalists state will be a confederation of syndicates or workers union. All positions of authority, decision making lies with workers. e.g. The president will be worker. It means the essential qualification for any post of authority will be worker.
Do you think Guild socialism is a halfway house between Syndicalism and Fabianism?
Contemporary relevance of Socialism.
Question mark on relevance of socialism started with the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and acceptance of the neo-liberal economic policies at global level including in communist China and non-aligned India. Scholars like Francis Fukuyama explained the moment as ‘the end of history’.
It communicates that there is a universal acceptance that liberalism has won the historic battle of ideologies. Francis Fukuyama held that we are not just witnessing, the end of cold-war but the end point of man’s ideological evolution.
It is to be noted that just before cold-war, socialism was more popular and had bigger outreach than capitalism. Most of the third world countries because of mass poverty and history of imperialism, colonialism were naturally attracted towards socialism.
Contemporary status of Socialism.
With the emergence of WTO, neo-liberalism became the hegemonic ideology, if liberalism became end of history, socialism became ‘dustbin of history’. However very soon, the negative impacts of neo-liberal model of economic growth have been realized. Thomas Piketty, who is also called as modern Marx has demonstrated the huge inequalities which have emerged throughout the world in his book THE CAPITAL IN 21st CENTURY.
We have seen the rise of civil society movements against the neo-liberal economic policies. Thus at present, we do not see socialism to be adopted by the countries in their economic policies but socialism is gaining relevance as a movement known as ‘anti-capitalist movement’. There are numerous protest movements influenced by left ideology, challenging neo-liberalism at present.
Socialism always remained an utopia. Socialism’s biggest relevance lies in making capitalism humane. To ensure capitalism remains humane, socialism will always be relevant. e.g. The biggest achievement of Marx can be considered as emergence of welfare state.