What does 'Socialism' mean?

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What does 'Socialism' mean?

Post by Red » Mon Feb 25, 2019 3:31 pm

Quick question.

It seems as though people disagree on these definitions, like with the term 'liberal' (in America it means progressive, in UK it means centrist).

I've heard many definitions for the term 'Socialist.' Some equate it to communism (Which is just an extreme form of socialism), but other definitions include worker's control over the means of production, or collective ownership over things in society.

Which definition is more accurate/useful?
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Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Mon Feb 25, 2019 3:37 pm

Socialism is the worker ownership of the means of production.

Some misunderstand that socialism means welfare reforms and social programs, but at the end of the day, this is not socialism, otherwise most of the post-war Conservative governments in Britain up until Heath would have been socialist.

I made a more in-depth post about this here: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=4262
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Post by Lay Vegan » Mon Feb 25, 2019 6:29 pm

Socialism is an economic system where some of the means of production (making and trading wealth) are community-owned. They can be owned by either the state or federal government, or worker cooperatives. A rather arguable example would be the Nordic countries, who practice mostly free-market capitalism, but also have high taxes and abundant social safety nets.

Contrary to popular opinion, socialist governments don’t have total control over the production/distribution of wealth, and its citizens are indeed capable of owning private property. Business owners are largely free to make their own economic decisions, but must pay taxes on their property (and otherwise abide by the minimal regulations set by the government) after which their tax money is used to fund public services like the court system and k-12 education.

I’d argue that “socialist” is often used incorrectly when “communist” is more of an appropriate term. Socialism is basically a “free-market” economy with a few caveats, like taxation and minimal government regulation. Of course, the idea that a complex society can function on a completely unregulated “free-market” is fairy-tale thinking. There are a few cases where countries adopted libertarian-style government and economics (although not fully free-market) and in each instance, the system collapsed. The best case scenarios I can think of are post-communist Russia and pre-Great Depression United States (where banks, steel plants, and food processing plants) were free to monopolize their markets and ignore the interests of consumers. Think, New Deal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal

Anyway, I really hate to use the term “socialist” and instead prefer “compassionate capitalism, effective capitalism" or “mixed economy.”

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Post by Zane » Tue Feb 26, 2019 1:19 am

All of these terms have been grossly abused and misused for propaganda purposes (the difference between "liberal" in the US vs. England/Europe is not just a matter of where it rests on the spectrum). The most useful definition of socialism has been mentioned, more or less: the people who labor in the steel mills, own the steel mills. Workplace democracy, essentially. One oft-cited example is the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation The last time I heard anyone mention Mondragon, there was some concern about growing inequality (Wikipedia says managers typically make five times as much as entry-level workers).

Socialism can be market-oriented (e.g., David Schweickart's Against Capitalism), but even egalitarian-ish firms will have an incentive to free-ride/generate negative externalities.

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Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:23 am

Lay Vegan wrote:
Mon Feb 25, 2019 6:29 pm
Anyway, I really hate to use the term “socialist” and instead prefer “compassionate capitalism, effective capitalism" or “mixed economy.”
I think that that's wise as advocating for capitalism with a mixed economy and a social safety net is not advocating for socialism. As I said, this would have made the post-war UK Conservative governments of Churchill, Eden and Macmillan socialist, as they all shared with the Labour Party a belief in a strong welfare state and in nationalisation (although the Conservatives wanted less nationalisation than Labour). The difference was that the Labour Party had in mind the eventual goal of the common ownership of the means of production, as expressed by Clause IV of the party's constitution, making them a democratic socialist party.
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Post by Lay Vegan » Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:47 pm

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:23 am
I think that that's wise as advocating for capitalism with a mixed economy and a social safety net is not advocating for socialism. The difference was that the Labour Party had in mind the eventual goal of the common ownership of the means of production, as expressed by Clause IV of the party's constitution, making them a democratic socialist party.
Thanks for that clarification. I neglected to mention that “socialist” is often used incorrectly when “capitalist” is more of an appreciate term. Hence my statement about the Nordic countries being *arguably* socialist, even though their economy largely adopts basic tenets of the private enterprise model (their governments recognize private property, allow free exchange of capital and goods, participate in free trade etc.). The main distinction between them and other capitalist nations is the implementation of high taxes a welfare system to combat abject poverty. That in itself wouldn't make them socialists though.

Quite useful to know.

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