Socialism : Core Themes

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  • Socialism : Core Thenes
    • Community
      • Human beings as social creatures, capable of overcoming social and economic problems by drawing on the power of the community.
      • Collectivist vision as it stresses the capacity for human beings for collective action, the willingness and ability to pursue goals by working together rather than personal self interest.
      • Human beings are therefore ‘comrades’, ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’ tied to one another by the bonds of common humanity. This is expressed in the principle of fraternity.
      • Fraternity - literally the brotherhood bonds of sympathy and comradeship amongst human beings.
      • Human nature is malleable or ‘plastic’ shaped by the experiences and circumstances of social life, all human skills and attributes are learnt from society, from the way we stand up right to the way we speak.
      • Human beings are neither self-sufficient nor self-contained; to think of them as separate or atomized ‘individuals’ is absurd. Individuals can only be understood, and understand themselves, through the social groups to which they belong, the behavior of human beings therefore tells us more about the society in which they live and have been brought up, than it does about any abiding or immutable human nature.
      • The radical edge of socialism derives not from its concern with what people are like, but with what they have the capacity to become. This has led socialists to develop utopia visions of a better society, in which human beings can genuine emancipation and fulfillment as members of the community.
    • Cooperation
      • Cooperation - Working together; collective effort intended to achieve mutual benefit.
      • If human beings are social animals, socialists believe that the natural relationships amongst them is one of cooperation rather than competition.
      • Socialists believe that competition one individual against another, encouraging each of them to deny or ignore their social nature rather than embrace it.
      • Competition promotes selfishness and aggression. Cooperation on the other hand, makes moral and economic sense. Individuals who work together rather than against each other develop bonds of sympathy, caring and affection.
      • Peter Kropotkin - Human species had survived because of its capacity for ‘mutual aid’.
      • The socialists commitment to cooperation has stimulated the growth of cooperative enterprises, designed to replace the competitive hierarchical businesses that have proliferated under capitalism.
      • Socialists believe that human beings can be motivated by moral incentives, and not merely by materialistics incentives. In theory, capitalism rewards individuals for the work they do; the harder they work, or the more abundant their skills, the greater the rewards will be. The moral incentive to work hard, however is the desire to contribute to the common good, which develops out of sympathy, or a sense of responsibility, for fellow human beings, especially those in need.
    • Equality
      • Socialists believe we are not all born equal - we do vary in our amounts of different skills and talents. However, unlike liberals, they do not associate the social inequities that exist in society due to this variance. Instead they attribute this to capitalism which can lead to competition and selfish behaviour.
      • Regard equality as a fundamental value and, in particular, endorse social equality. Despite shifts within social democracy towards a liberal belief in equality of opportunity, social equality, whether in its relative (social democratic) or absolute (communist) sense, has been seen as essential to ensuring social cohesion and fraternity, establishing justice or equity, and enlarging freedom in a positive sense.
      • Social equality upholds justice or fairness as human equality ver largely reflects the unequal structure of society. Justice, from a socialist perspective, demands that people are treated equally (or at least more equally) by society in terms of their rewards and material circumstances.
      • Social equality underpins community and cooperation. If people live in equal and social circumstances, they will be more likely to identify and work together for a common benefit. Equal outcomes therefore strengthen social solidarity. Social inequality, by the same token, leads to conflict and instability.
      • Socialists support equality because they hold that ‘need satisfaction’ is the basis for human fulfilment and self realisation. A ‘need’ is a necessity; it demands satisfaction; it is not simply a frivolous wish or passing fancy. Basic needs such as the need for food, water, shelter, companionship and so on, are fundamental to the human conditioning, which means for socialists, their satisfaction is the very stuff of freedom.
      • Communists believe in absolute social equality brought about by abolition of private property and collectivization of productive wealth. Social democrats believe in relative social equality, achieved by redistributing wealth through the welfare state and a system of progressive taxation. It is largely the eradication of wealth.
      • Formal equality in its legal and political senses, is clearly inadequate in itself because it disregards the structural inequalities of the capitalist system.E.g political systems in place, universal suffrage (legislative)
        • Fair, impartial legal system. Inadequate - because it does not address the failings of the capitalist system. Equality of opportunity - legitimises inequality - as it justifies inequality through the argument we are not equal, socialism promotes equality of outcome rather than opportunity.
    • Class Politics
      • Socialists have traditionally viewed social class as the deepest and most politically significant of social divisions.
      • Socialists have believed human beings tend to think and act together with those whom they share a common interest or position. This is the most clearly demonstrated in the Marxist belief that historical change is the product of class conflict.ed
      • Socialism has often been viewed as an expression of the interests of the working class, and the working class has been seen as the vehicle through which socialism will be achieved.
      • In emancipating itself from capitalist exploitation, the working class thus also emancipates itself from its own class identity.
      • Class divisions between ‘capital’ and ‘labour’ that is between the owners of productive wealth (the bourgeoisie) and those who live off the sale of their labour power (proletariat).
      • Conflict of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat leading inevitably to the overthrow of capitalism through a proletarian revolution. Social democrats, on the other hand, have tended to define social class in terms of income and status differences.
      • The advance of socialism is associated with the narrowing of divisions between the middle class and the working class brought about through economic and social intervention.
      • Social class - a social division based on economic or social factors; a social class is a group of people who share a similar economic position.
      • Proletariat - A marxist term denoting a class that subsists through the sale of its labour power, strictly speaking, the proletariat is not the equivalent to the manual working class.
      • Bourgeoisie - A marxist term denoting the ruling class of a capitalist society, the owners of productive wealth.
    • Common Ownership
      • Socialists have often traced the origins of competition and inequality to the institution of private property, by which they usually mean productive wealth or ‘capitol’ rather than personal belongings such as clothes, furniture or houses. This attitude to property sets socialism apart from liberalism and conservatism, which both regard property and ownership as natural and proper. Socialists criticize private property for a number of reasons:
      • Property is unjust; wealth is produced by the collective effort of human labour and should therefore be owned by the community, not by private individuals.
      • Second, socialists believe that property breeds acquisitiveness and so is morally corrupting, private property encourages people to be materialistic, to believe that human happiness or fulfillment can be gained through the pursuit of wealth. Those who own property wish to accumulate more, while those who have little or no wealth long to acquire it.
      • Third, property is divisive; it fosters conflict in society, for example, between owners and workers, employers and employees, or simply the rich and poor.
      • ‘Common ownership’ came to mean ‘state ownership’ or what the Soviet constitution described as ‘socialist state property’.
      • However, in the west: Nationalization has been applied more selectively. Its objective is not being full state collectivization but the construction of a mixed economy. In which some industries would remain in private hands while others would be publicly owned.
      • In the UK, Attlee Labour government nationalized what is called the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy: major industries such as coal, steel, electricity and gas. Through these industries, the government hoped to regulate the entire economy without the need for comprehensive collectivization.
      • Social democrats have also been attracted to the state as an instrument through which wealth can be collectively owner and the economy rationally planned.
      • Nationalization - The extent of state or public ownership over private assets or industries, either individual enterprises or the entire economy (often called collectivization)
      • State socialism - A form of socialism in which state controls and directs economic life, acting in theory, in the interests of the people.
      • Fundamentalist socialism - A form of socialism that seeks to abolish capitalism and replace it with a qualitatively different kind of society.
      • Mixed economy - an economy in which there is a mixture of publicly owned and privately owned industries


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