SocialismHey Cyber Friends: Today's topic (if you're so inclined to read it) is socialism. It seems to me that there is a lot that passes for socialism that isn't quite so (at least in my view)....

Socialism

Hey Cyber Friends:

Today's topic (if you're so inclined to read it) is socialism. It seems to me that there is a lot that passes for socialism that isn't quite so (at least in my view). Most notably are those who claim that the welfare state or any form of redistributive justice (mostly in the form of taxes or public services) is socialism. In my view, socialism is an equal distribution of the means of production, not merely a bit of wealth. The welfare state with a bit of redistribution to me isn't a distribution of the means of production, because the means of production remain privately owned and because the welfare state is compatible with capitalism. In fact, all welfare states remain committed to capitalism.

Furthermore, socialism to me isn't the so-called communism of Russia or China or Hitler's Germany. That was to me a state run capitalist enterprise--and brutal.

I'm interested in your views. But let's not post a million wikipedia entries or links, and let's at least agree that we're talking theoretically, not as I said, what is called communism or democracy or capitalism by states de facto. If you have philosophical insights to clarify the concept aside from Marx, or perhaps just thoughts on what socialism should be, I'm interested to hear.

:-) I'm looking forward to this.

7 Answers | Add Yours

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that socialism gets a bad rap because of people who have twisted it to meet their needs.  People can accuse others of being a socialist, especially during an election, just because they don't like the policies.  Yet America has had social safety nets since the New Deal.

rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Those are very interesting comments. I'd take issue with two things both of you said though. You said most economic systems are a continuum. But I think there are other kinds of socialism that do not have the means of production under government control. I'm thinking something like the socialist anarchists.  Systems like the Russian did not distribute the means of production equally in any way. I know you're not talking about Russia specifically, but I would disagree with the continuum because I disagree with government control.

The other point is that socialism has no work incentive. I don't see how this follows from an equal distribution of the means of production. You can imagine a society where the means are distributed equally but where people still have to work to get an education, enter an occupation of some kind, or hold a public position.

Lastly, I'm not sure that human nature doesn't allow for an equal distribution of anything. The truth is that we're very ethnocentric in our understandings of societies, and there may in fact be societies out there that do allow equality. But even if there have been none to date, that's not to say that human nature is against it, for equality is a king of cooperation, and we do know that cooperation is a very strong part of human natu

Historically, most socialist anarchists have not argued for an absence of government per se. They argue (or have historically argued) for the destruction of the modern nation-state, to be replaced with more local communal (and directly democratic) systems of government through which production would be communally organized.

I think you're right about the work incentive, which is a truism stated without evidence, but then again so is the idea that "equality is a king of cooperation." Setting aside my continuum and accepting a sort of "all or nothing" definition, I still suspect (and there's a bit of historical evidence, not to mention Marxian and anarchist theory, to support this) that some sort of coercive power would be required to achieve socialism as a system. 

 

lorrainecaplan's profile pic

Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

That is a perfectly serviceable definition of socialism, and I agree that this is a highly theoretical construct, if only because human beings, by our very nature,  cannot seem to tolerate an equal distribution of anything.  There may be societies somewhere where this idyllic system can succeed, but I have seen no evidence of it.  The other difficulty with socialism is that it assumes people will work with no incentive, which also seems counter to our natural inclinations.

rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

"Socialism" is a term laden with a great deal of ideological baggage in the United States. It has had long-standing (as in before the Cold War) associations with a sort of vaguely defined European radicalism. For this reason, it has been deployed by some in a debate, one that has raged since the founding of the nation in one form or another, about the proper role of government. Your definition of socialism is the orthodox one, and I agree with it in the abstract. In reality, though, most economic systems can be thought of as being on a continuum, with no government control of the means of production on one end and total government control on the other. No system that I know of is on either end. All of them are somewhere in between, and it's obviously difficult to say at what point, exactly, an system qualifies as "socialist." What I'm trying to say is that socialism to me is a principle more than a system as such. 

discussion1984's profile pic

discussion1984 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

rrteacher: That's an interesting perspective. You probably are right about the socialist anarchists. I'm not familiar with them myself. But I don't know about the coercive power. Insofar as we're speaking normatively, I'd envision a society where people have no need for coercive power, where conflict is resolved through rationality and kindness. I can't remember who once said that that sort of society seems ludicrous because we're so accustomed to cruelty.

discussion1984's profile pic

discussion1984 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

So, I'm interested in hearing what you think about that. Again, I'd caution against using examples like China and Russia that were not in fact socialist. And I'd also caution against holding that the welfare state holds no work incentive for those receiving government assistance since the welfare state is not socialism but a kind of humane capitalism.

discussion1984's profile pic

discussion1984 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

Those are very interesting comments. I'd take issue with two things both of you said though. You said most economic systems are a continuum. But I think there are other kinds of socialism that do not have the means of production under government control. I'm thinking something like the socialist anarchists.  Systems like the Russian did not distribute the means of production equally in any way. I know you're not talking about Russia specifically, but I would disagree with the continuum because I disagree with government control.

The other point is that socialism has no work incentive. I don't see how this follows from an equal distribution of the means of production. You can imagine a society where the means are distributed equally but where people still have to work to get an education, enter an occupation of some kind, or hold a public position.

Lastly, I'm not sure that human nature doesn't allow for an equal distribution of anything. The truth is that we're very ethnocentric in our understandings of societies, and there may in fact be societies out there that do allow equality. But even if there have been none to date, that's not to say that human nature is against it, for equality is a king of cooperation, and we do know that cooperation is a very strong part of human natu

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