What is Socialism? – Definition, Features, Advantages and Disadvantages
Definition of Socialism
Socialism is an intermediate or transition stage between capitalism and communism. It is both an economic and political concept. As an economic concept, socialism means an economic system in which the means of production (i.e land, labour, capital) are controlled mainly by the state. Most economic activities in a socialist state are performed by the government and its agencies.
As a political concept, socialism involves the transfer of political power from the ruling class (bourgeoisie) to the working class (proletariat). It is a political system in which government is under the control of the working people and their allies.
Historical Development of Socialism
Socialism has its origin in the works of Karl Marx, a German Jew and philosopher (1818 – 1883) also lived in England for many years. As a revolutionary, Karl Marx was confused beyond doubt that much was wrong with the existing state of things at that time and he had a fervent desire to put things right.
While living in Britain, Karl Marx saw a lot of economic prosperity in the British society which was brought about by the Industrial Revolution. He However, observed that the wealth and progress of the time was accompanied by poor working conditions and much suffering. That is, while a few people were enjoying the economic boom, a large section of the society was severely pauperized.
The philosophers of the day did not really consider it right or wise for the state to intervene to protect those who are economically weak or deprived. However, Karl Marx had a deep concern for the plight or condition of the impoverished masses and it was this that led him to propound his theory of socialism.
In his books, the Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1881), Karl Marx made his greatest contribution to political thinking by emphasizing that it was the economic substructure of society that determined its superstructure (i.e history, politics, religion, culture, law, etc).
That is, the economy or productive system, in particular, determine the nature of the social and political system. In simple terms, it means, for example, God’s power belongs to those who have money in the society. Karl Marx therefore contended that political power was merely the organised machinery of one class for oppressing others.
Marx also argued that the history of all hitherto existing societies was a history of class struggle and that the contradictions in each system would eventually lead to the collapse of existing social order.
Karl Marx predicted that just as the feudal system collapse and gave way to capitalism, in the same way capitalism would collapse and be replaced with socialism. To him, a revolution is therefore inevitable.
Although Karl Marx propounded socialist theory, it was Vladimir Lenin, a Russian who first put it into practice as a result of the Russian (or Bolshevik) Revolution of 1917. As a result of the revolution, V.I. Lenin became the first leader of a socialist state in the world. From then on, the socialist revolution spread like a wild fire and several countries embraced socialism including all the Eastern Europe. In Africa, many countries also claimed to be socialist including Guinea, Angola, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, with the collapse of socialism in the former USSR and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, only few countries today can claim to be socialist. The notable exceptions are Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.
Features / Characteristics of Socialism
Socialism has certain unique features:
- Means of production: There is the state ownership and control of the means of production.
- Nation’s wealth: Equal distribution of nations wealth is maintained.
- Employment: There is gainful employment for all citizens.
- Free education and free medical services: Free medical services and free education provided for all citizens.
- One sole party: There is the existence of only one political party.
- Uniformity in price: Prices of all state produced goods and services are uniform.
- Competition: Competition in the areas of production and price is absent.
- Private enterprises: Individuals are not allowed to engage in the production and distribution of goods and services.
- Production: Production is mainly embarked upon to satisfy the needs of the people and not for profit.
- Prevention of waste: There is one central planning economic system.
Advantages of Socialism
The main benefits of socialism are as follows:
- Job security: There is no fear of undue loss of job, since it is the government that creates jobs and employs all.
- Industrial harmony: There is industrial harmony because the conditions of service of workers are uniformly determined by the state.
- Exploitation: The tendency of exploit is eliminated in the system.
- Welfare: The welfare of the people is adequately taken care of by the state.
- Issue of class: There is no class distinction in the system. In fact, such act is highly discouraged.
- Unity: People are brought together under one central authority.
- Resources: Resources are equitably distributed among the citizens.
- Unhealthy rivalry: There is no unhealthy rivalry in the area of production. The state is only involved.
Disadvantages of Socialism
Socialism has certain drawbacks:
- No competition: The absence of competition has virtually affected the quality of goods produced. Most of the goods are of low quality.
- Control of the economy: The government controls all aspects of the economy. It does not give room for personal initiatives.
- The economy may not grow fast: The reason is that individuals are not allowed to take part in running the economy on a large scale.
- Absence of choice: Since almost all goods are produced by the government, the consumer may have no alternative in the choice of goods.
- Division of labour: Socialism does not encourage the division of labour and specialisation.
- Creativity: The sense of creativity is out of question in the life of an individual, since the state does not encourage such.
- Dictatorship: Most socialist states are one-party states and can possibly become opressive and dictatorial.
- Economic development: Economic development is very low.
- Inefficiency: As the state alone monopolised the means of production of goods and services, it can lead to inefficiency.
- Monopoly: In socialism the state gains control of means of production, and this way this competitions among entrepreneurs.