What is Socialism?

The difference between Socialism and capitalism
is not primarily a difference of technique. One
cannot simply change from one system to the other
as one might install a new piece of machinery in a
factory, and then carry on as before, with the same
people in positions of control. Obviously there is
also needed a complete shift of power. New blood,
new men, new ideas – in the true sense of the
word, a revolution.” 

– George Orwell
The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the
English Genius

So, where have all the radicals gone?

They are here. They are democratic socialists.

They believe:

  • The government should play even a bigger part in shaping capitalism and the economy.
  • All services for the public should be owned by the government, and profits made from services should be used to improve services for people.
  • Workers should have a stake or a say in big business. Eventually they would own the company.
  • Universal basic services will be free to all.
  • Workers should have more rights than they would have under the current economy.
  • Unions will work with businesses to ensure their members get a fair deal and are treated correctly.

By giving the workers more rights, it means that they are not as heavily exploited by the companies in order to generate more profit. It also ensures that workers have a louder voice and more of a say in how the company is run. Democratic socialists want to ensure that profit accumulated by companies, and by the government, is spread fairly between everybody in the country. This is done through fair taxation and fair wages. How the economy affects society and the people in it. As I’ve already pointed out (earlier in the book), more equal and less capitalist countries have fewer problems and greater social cohesion. Socialists believe the economy plays a big part in how humans behave and how we function as a society. 

This is a theory that Karl Marx is famous for. It was his belief that the economy underpins how we behave as a society and how we function as human beings. Like many socialists, he believed that capitalism makes people become more competitive and therefore greedier. They become focused on their own world rather than the one around them. 

This is because under capitalism you have the haves and have-nots. The haves are the ones that may own several houses or a business. Maybe they can live without working. This then gives them the advantage over people that must work to live. The owners of the businesses are in competition with their market competitors. They must continue to make profits to ensure that they can keep up with the competition. Because of this, they lower their workers’ wages and give bad contracts so that they don’t have to pay as much sickness or maternity pay or taxes. (Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, neoliberalism.)

In response to this, the workers’ wages remain low and they are not able to accumulate any money. They must spend their livelihood working to ensure that they can survive. Eventually, with the accumulation of wealth, the haves end up with most of the money and the have-nots end up with very little. They end up finding it very difficult to make ends meet whilst others have more than they could ever possibly need. By 2020, it’s predicted that 1% of the world’s population will own two thirds of the world’s wealth. 

That is where Socialism comes in

Therefore, socialism wants to change capitalism to help scale down the gap between the haves and have nots. By doing this, they will change society and human nature itself. Therefore, a competitive and materialistic society will be replaced by a more empathetic, less commercial one. Many socialists feel that by shrinking and restricting capitalism they will eventually be able to replace it with a socialist economic modal. This would have industry owned by the state or by workers’ cooperatives. Profit would be equally distributed and reinvested into the industry. 

People would have access to employment. Everyone would also have the right to access education, health, housing, money and legal defence. This would end hunger, homelessness, poverty and ill health. But this will not happen overnight, and socialists know this. They know that it may take many years to replace the global capitalist system. People should not fear change: they should embrace progress.

Many people say that they “make it on their own”, which is good. This is, after all, entrepreneurial spirit and the idea of the American dream. Socialists don’t want them to give it all up straight away; rather, they encourage it. The more people who work and make businesses, the more jobs are created. These people then pay into society through taxes, and this helps fund services for everyone. Moreover, in a socialist economy, people would be free to innovate more as they would not have to invest their life savings into projects and would have back-up from the state. Innovation is encouraged, not stifled. If one person or group progresses, then all of society benefits; not just the people with money.

However, not all capitalists or entrepreneurs pay taxes. In the UK, for example, Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Apple have all avoided or reduced their tax payments in one way or another. This is estimated to cost the country around $500 billion a year in lost taxes on profits – money that should have gone to the government for things like healthcare; to the military for better equipment; or towards building homes for homeless people or free childcare or university for the public.

We are encouraged to race against one another in this competitive society. Work, spend, earn, save and invest. People are judged by whether they have made it or not. Capitalism breeds this way of thinking and socialism helps to calm and will eventually change it.

Capitalism won’t be here forever, and we must find something to replace it. Socialism can.

This is the first of several extracts from my book “Basic Socialism: Why Socialism is Sexy Now“. They aim to explore and answer what a socialist is and what they want to achive. If you enjoy it buy the book!

You can buy the book here

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