What is Democracy | What is Communism | What is Capitalism | What is Socialism | What is Republic | What is Fascism | What is Aristocracy | What is Anarchism | What is Corporatism | What is Libertarianism | Conclusion
Socialism is an economic system in which all the resources of a nation is democratically controlled through fully centralized or semi-centralized management – by the people, for the benefit of the people.
Socialism seeks to use all the resources of a country to better lives its own people, directly. And it does it totally democratically. Since it necessitates democracy in economy, it naturally implies that it needs democracy in politics too. Therefore, it’s a system in which everything still must be democratic, individuals or minority groups must not have vast influence, and private interests must be totally nonexistent.
What difference does this have from Communism, you may ask…
That’s a good question.
Socialism is much more centralized. It may not be totally centralized, regions may govern themselves and their resources to greater degree. However it is much more centralized than Communism, which requires total local and direct governance in all aspects.
The idea is to better integrate all the economic activity of the country, and create synergy in the system so that greater productivity and greater betterment of people’s lives can be achieved.
There’s the ‘immediate’ aspect too. Other systems rarely have that: Socialism immediately channels the economic output to improve conditions of people in the country. Like housing, healthcare, benefits, education, literacy rates, infant mortality, lifespan, environment and so on. Since what problems plague a country is something that is almost always known, socialism goes for these problems and provides immediate betterment in what it tackles.
Prominent examples of Socialism are the ‘eastern bloc’ countries like USSR, Cuba and so on. However, these countries were actually State Capitalist, but they had good measure of socialism thrown in.
Unfortunately most of their resources right since their inception were used for defense industry – due to imminent and realized threat from empires and capitalist countries. But there was still good measure of economic output available for betterment of people’s lives.
For example, 1960s USSR had industrialized very rapidly and raised life standards of its people so rapidly that, Kennedy administration panicked, started to circulate internal memos (now declassified) of the example USSR was making and the potential of other countries under U.S. influence following that example and leaving US system. Justified fears, of course, since Cuba had already done such a move and they knew that more were to come. Which is the reason for the Vietnam war – as per the ‘Domino Theory’ (they named it as such), US set out to ‘make an example of’ Vietnam as advocated by Henry Kissinger. Cuba, which was not possible to invade due to USSR, had been taken under a full, illegal trade blockade instead, starving them and forcing them to keep using cars from 1950s.
Threats like these, NATO, and constant harassment in the form of ‘freedom fighters’ imported to neighboring countries (like the Afghan Islamist mujaheddin), pushed all the countries with eastern bloc to allocate more and more resources to defense industry. This deprived their consumer industries of resources, and practically suspended countries like USSR in mid 1960s in terms of consumer luxuries. This is what is generally shown as ‘the failure’ of socialist system as told in capitalist countries’ media and politics. A more calm-headed look into this situation would tell that US was commanding around 75% of world’s resources, whereas the eastern bloc was not even commanding ~10-15% of world’s resources during the cold war – making it so natural that if almost entirety of that available resource was channeled into defense sector, anything else would lack.
This is one of the problems plaguing socialism – due to threat from external sources, it ended up allocating more resources to military than its people, causing a defect in the consumer comforts. At least, in our contemporary times.
Another problem with socialism is, it is possible for socialism to go towards totalitarianism in certain cases. The stronger central control is, the greater the prospect of totalitarian control, as early USSR showed. However, due to the system mandating democratic governance, the nature of the politics in such countries tend to change as per the ruling parties’ composition changes – again exemplified by USSR.
Another problem with socialism is lacking the incentive the freedom to engage economic activity creates. If everything is centrally planned then there is less freedom in economic arena and this causes people to be less active in engaging in economic activities.
However, this can be alleviated with less centralized management or allowing individuals to engage in their own economic activities and instead centrally managing only the most critical, biggest sectors and resources – like telecommunications backbone, mines, power infrastructure and so on.
An interesting cross in between socialism and capitalism is Social Democracy, or Democratic Socialism, in which there is heavy taxation and heavy regulation of private corporations so no corporation can become a feudal lord in its domain. Taxes make sure that strong social security, services and healthcare can be provided for all people by the state, making sure no one goes destitute.
The countries which are chart-toppers in Human Development Index are all Social Democrat countries. In contrast, USA stands at #23 in an average year, while reaching only as high as #13 in a good year.
Human Development Index measures how much of the country’s wealth actually reflects on average people. Instead of just taking GDP (the total economic wealth created in a country over a year) and dividing it to the number of people (as if there is any reason why the wealth should be reflected on everyone), it calculates how much income inequality there is in a country and how safe are the future of the people, how assured is the education of children, what is the literacy rate and many more.
Of course, in socialist countries these rates reach 100% – you don’t have to ever fear unemployment, you don’t ever lack healthcare, you don’t ever have to fear the future of your children, their education, your paid vacations, workplace security, working hours, and so on.
So, by statistics it is easy to say that Socialism is very strong in providing security and assurances to all the people where it is practiced, ranging from healthcare to higher education guarantee, job security. Even to better crime rates – since there remains little incentive for crime in a society in which everyone is 100% employed, taken care for, and has amenities and entertainment they need. This is one of the things that are most missed by peoples of ex-eastern bloc countries, according to recent statistics.
In short, Socialism is a system which seeks to democratically control, govern and manage both the economy and politics of a country in order to immediately better the lives of its people.
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