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A socialist realist painting.

Socialism is a political, social, and economic philosophy defined by social ownership[1][2][3] of the means of production[4][5][6][7] and democratic control or workers' self-management of enterprises.[8][9] Social ownership can be through the state, through a collective or cooperative, or of equity, in the sense of shares of ownership in businesses.[10] Socialism is synonymous with left-wing politics, and has many different variants, as it is defined by just social ownership of the means of production. Different socialists thus have different views on things like the role of democracy, whether to focus more on electoralism or revolution, or the degree of market involvement in the economy.[11]

As the means of production are owned collectively in socialism, enterprises are oriented for the needs of many rather than the pleasure of a few. There are different dynamics in socialism than in modes of production which feature private property, as socialism seeks the abolition of commodity production and capital accumulation, instead organizing industry on the principle of production for use.[12]

Marx and Engels on socialism

Proletarian Revolution — Solution of the contradictions. The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialized means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus far borne, and gives their socialized character complete freedom to work itself out. Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the State dies out. Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time the lord over Nature, his own master — free.

— Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Chapter III

Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time. Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.

— Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume I, Part I: Commodities and Money, Chapter One: Commodities, Section 4: The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secrets Thereof

Within the co-operative society based on common holding of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase "proceeds of labor", objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.


In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

—Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Chapter I

Variants of proletarian socialism

Scientific socialism

Scientific socialism, or Marxism, is the framework of ideas developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century. It incorporated continental philosophy, early socialist thought, and contemporary political economy to create dialectical and historical materialism as well as Marxian economics. Marxism distinguishes itself from other forms of socialist thought in that it regards itself as scientific socialism, being founded on concrete analysis of historical phenomena.

Libertarian socialism

Libertarian socialism seeks to apply socialist principles and organization to a stateless society and to limit or abolish unjust hierarchy. The most common form of libertarian socialism is anarchism and its sub-ideologies, although many other libertarian socialist trends exist, some of which include Marxist ideologies like libertarian Marxism and council communism.

Other ideologies labelled 'socialist'

In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx describes ideologies which labelled themselves socialist but which had a bourgeois or even reactionary character. Socialism has continued to inspire syncretic movements which share its name and certain symbols but little else in actual practice.

Bourgeois socialism

Bourgeois or conservative socialism are alleged variants of socialism which seek to maintain capitalist society but modifying it to varying extents in order to rid it of the social ills to which it necessarily gives rise. These modifications may include money reform schemes or social welfare provisions.[13] Variants include:

Reactionary socialism

Reactionary socialism bases its opposition to capitalism on previous social stages of development, resulting in what are often feudal and/or patriarchal perceptions of socialism, thus advocating partial or virtually whole restoration of feudal relations, patriarchal society, or a society based on the rule of guildmasters or small producers. Engels argued that "As soon as the proletariat becomes revolutionary and communist, these reactionary socialists show their true colors by immediately making common cause with the bourgeoisie against the proletarians".[13] Examples of this type of socialism include:


There are some ideologies, such as fascism and National Socialism, which do not even bear superficial resemblance to socialism.

A Socialist is one who serves the common good without giving up his individuality or personality or the product of his personal efficiency. Our adopted term ‘Socialist’ has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti‐property; true Socialism is not. Marxism places no value on the individual, or individual effort, or efficiency; true Socialism values the individual and encourages him in individual efficiency, at the same time holding that his interests as an individual must be in consonance with those of the community. All great inventions, discoveries, achievements were first the product of an individual brain. It is charged against me that I am against property, that I am an atheist. Both charges are false.

— Adolf Hitler, Speech given on December 28, 1938[14]

See also


  1. Busky, Donald F. (2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-275-96886-1. Socialism may be defined as movements for social ownership and control of the economy. It is this idea that is the common element found in the many forms of socialism.
  2. Sinclair, Upton (1 January 1918). Upton Sinclair's: A Monthly Magazine: for Social Justice, by Peaceful Means If Possible. Socialism, you see, is a bird with two wings. The definition is 'social ownership and democratic control of the instruments and means of production.'
  3. Arnold, N. Scott (1998). The Philosophy and Economics of Market Socialism: A Critical Study. Oxford University Press. p. 8. "What else does a socialist economic system involve? Those who favor socialism generally speak of social ownership, social control, or socialization of the means of production as the distinctive positive feature of a socialist economic system."
  4. Rosser, Mariana V. and J Barkley Jr. (23 July 2003). Comparative Economics in a Transforming World Economy. MIT Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-262-18234-8. Socialism is an economic system characterised by state or collective ownership of the means of production, land, and capital.
  5. Bertrand Badie; Dirk Berg-Schlosser; Leonardo Morlino (2011). International Encyclopedia of Political Science. SAGE Publications. p. 2456. ISBN 978-1-4129-5963-6. Socialist systems are those regimes based on the economic and political theory of socialism, which advocates public ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources.
  6. Zimbalist, Sherman and Brown, Andrew, Howard J. and Stuart (1988). Comparing Economic Systems: A Political-Economic Approach. Harcourt College Pub. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-15-512403-5. Pure socialism is defined as a system wherein all of the means of production are owned and run by the government and/or cooperative, nonprofit groups.
  7. Brus, Wlodzimierz (2015). The Economics and Politics of Socialism. Routledge. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-415-86647-7. This alteration in the relationship between economy and politics is evident in the very definition of a socialist economic system. The basic characteristic of such a system is generally reckoned to be the predominance of the social ownership of the means of production.
  8. Nove, Alec. "Socialism". New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Second Edition (2008). A society may be defined as socialist if the major part of the means of production of goods and services is in some sense socially owned and operated, by state, socialised or cooperative enterprises. The practical issues of socialism comprise the relationships between management and workforce within the enterprise, the interrelationships between production units (plan versus markets), and, if the state owns and operates any part of the economy, who controls it and how.
  9. Michie, Jonathan (2001). Readers Guide to the Social Sciences. Routledge. p. 1516. ISBN 978-1-57958-091-9. Just as private ownership defines capitalism, social ownership defines socialism. The essential characteristic of socialism in theory is that it destroys social hierarchies, and therefore leads to a politically and economically egalitarian society. Two closely related consequences follow. First, every individual is entitled to an equal ownership share that earns an aliquot part of the total social dividend…Second, in order to eliminate social hierarchy in the workplace, enterprises are run by those employed, and not by the representatives of private or state capital. Thus, the well-known historical tendency of the divorce between ownership and management is brought to an end. The society—i.e. every individual equally—owns capital and those who work are entitled to manage their own economic affairs.
  10. O'Hara, Phillip (2003). Encyclopedia of Political Economy, Volume 2. Routledge. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-415-24187-8. In order of increasing decentralisation (at least) three forms of socialised ownership can be distinguished: state-owned firms, employee-owned (or socially) owned firms, and citizen ownership of equity.
  11. Docherty, James C.; Lamb, Peter, eds. (2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism (2nd ed.). Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements. 73. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 9780810855601.
  12. "Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase "proceeds of labor", objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning""
    —Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Chapter I
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Communist Manifesto and Principles of Communism
  14. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler: April 1922-August 1939, page 93