“We call socialism every doctrine which teases that the state has a right to correct the inequality of wealth which exists among men, and to legally establish the balance by taking from those who have too much in order to give to those who have not enough.” (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon)
Socialism is one of the political ideologies which can be described as the structure or organisation of society where means of production is controlled by groups of society rather than owned by private individuals. According to socialists, individuals live in cooperation with one another and together they produce a social product. They argue that, because society as a group, rather than individually, contributes to production, this production of a good should be equally shared among them. Therefore society should at least have some kind if not full control over the property, which can be referred as “social control”.
Socialist ideas can be traced back as far as Plato’s doctrine, but for the purpose of this essay I will begin by describing the origins and foundations of Socialism in the early nineteenth century. Because of growing industrial capitalism, socialism was born in reaction to this ‘new’ phenomenon, which caused unjust conditions between factory workers and their employers. The essay will go on to describe utopian socialists’ such as; Charles Fourier, Henri De Saint-Simon and Robert Owens’ views on what an ideal & just society should encompass, by promoting the use of socialism. Additionally the essay will consider Karl Marx’ ideologies in relation to socialism while considering the pros and cons of socialism in today’s society. Finally, in contrast the essay will consider the ideologies of Classical Liberalism, whose views came up against Socialist theories.
From as far back as the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, utopian thinkers such as; Fourier, Saint-Simon and Owens all developed visions of an alternative society, one in which they believed should be formed by shared responsibilities in relation to industrialisation. They believed that productive labour rather than ownership should form modern society in order to bring about fairness. These utopian thinkers criticised the excesses of poverty and inequality, caused by the industrial revolution and advocated the changes which would transform society into small communities where private property was to be abolished and wealth would be distributed equally throughout society. So as to understand the foundations of socialism, one has to look at Karl Marx who was considered the most influential representative of socialism, which is commonly referred to as Marxism. Marx took the basic assumptions of the liberal beliefs and subjected them to systematic critical analysis which earlier socialists had tried to do but failed at their attempts. Marx stated that society does not consist of individuals; it expresses the sum of connections and relationships in which individuals find them-selves. Marx believed that the individual does not exist in himself but only as far as he is a member of a society. By this an aspiration of achievement and high standards of human welfare was sought after. Socialists believed that the abolition of poverty, economic socialism would permit the earning of an honourable living, promote self-control, improve the environment and education and therefore enhance character. Marx believed that he had developed a new brand of socialism which he considered to be scientific. His approach to socialism was concerned primarily with revealing the nature of social and historical development rather than with an advancing and essentially ethical critique of capitalism. There are six main fundamental elements that underpin socialism; community, fraternity, social equality, need, social class and common ownership.