It is difficult to say what socialism is, because socialism emerged as s sharp reaction to individualism.
It is a political philosophy as well as a great movement. In socialism, economic principles and logic have amalgamated with the political principles in such a manner that it has become extremely difficult to separate them.
Secondly, the supporters of socialism hold similar views, regarding many things and because of many contradictory definitions of this subject, it has become difficult to decide which of the definitions is correct.
Thirdly, the term socialism is also used for a particular set-up and way of life.
Therefore, different writers have used socialism in different ways with different meanings. That is why Joad writes that “Socialism is like a hat that has lost its shape because everybody wears it”. Though there is difficulty in explaining the meaning of socialism and there is no uniformity in various social notions and principles and programmes, yet many things are common among them.
For instance, all socialists are against capitalism, whether they are Communists, State-Socialists or Collectivists, or Syndicalist, Guild Socialists or Anarchists. They want the socialisation of the means of production. This means that they want social control over the means of production.
This is the broad meaning of socialism. If socialism is used in a narrow sense, it will mean Collectivism or State Socialism. Now we give some definitions of socialism, which will help us in understandings the meaning of socialism more clearly.
Definitions of Socialism:
The following are some of the popular definitions of socialism:
(1) Humphrey says, “Socialism is a system of society in which means of the life belong to the community as a whole and are developed and operated by the ‘community with the aims of promoting the general well-being”.
(2) According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Socialism is that policy or theory which aims at securing by the action of the central democratic authority better distribution and in due subordinate thereto, a better production of wealth now prevails”.
(3) According to Hugham, Socialism is the political movement of class which aims to abolish exploitation by means of the collective ownership and democratic management of the basis instrument of production and distribution”.
(4) Prof. Ely says, “A socialist is one who looks to society organised in the state for aid and bringing about a more perfect distribution of economic goods and an elevation of humanity, while individualists desire every man to work out his own salvation, material and spiritual”.
(5) Ramsay Macdonald writes, “No better definition of socialism can be given in general terms than that it aims at the organisation of material economic forces of society and their control by the human forces”.
(6) Sellers regard socialism a movement and say, “It is democratic movement whose purpose is the securing of an economic organisation of society which will give the maximum possible at any one time, of justice and liberty”.
(7) Robert has laid emphasis on collective ownership. He says, “The programme of socialism consists of essentially one demand, viz., that the land and other instruments of production shall be the common property of the people and shall be used and governed by the people for the people”.
(8) According to Emile, “Socialism means the organisation of workers for the conquest of political power for the purpose of transforming capitalist property into social prosperity”.
(9) Shri Jai Prakash Narayan, after considering the socialism from the point of view says, “Socialism is a society in which all are workers of a classless society. It is a society in which human labour is not a subject to explanation with interest of private property, in which all wealth is truly national or common wealth, in which there are no unearned incomes and no large income disparities, in which human life and progress are planned and where all live for all”.
(10) English philosopher Bertrand Russel is of the view that “I think we come nearest to the essence of Socialism by defining it as the advocacy of communal ownership of land and property”.
Main features of socialism:
All socialists, irrespective of their alignment with any branch of socialism, accept the four points, mentioned below:
(1) State and not individual should control the means of production.
(2) Production should be based on social necessity and not on individual profit.
(3) Individual profit motive should be replaced by that of social service.
(4) Open competition and arbitrary production should give way to cooperation and definite production.
Development of Socialism:
During the period from 1750 to 1850, there was a great development of science, art and vocational knowledge in Europe. Therefore, the influence of middle-classes increased. After this, Industrial Revolution took place, and the capitalist influence increased.
Though during the nineteenth century, many countries of Europe saw the rise of democracy and nationalism, yet due to the influence of individualism, governments did not feel it necessary to have economic control or to remove the ills of capitalism.
Owing to this, the condition of the working classes deteriorated. Having been influenced by the condition of the workers, Karl Marx produced sufficient literature on scientific socialism. Prior to Karl Marx there were many socialists, who suggested social control over private property.
They were deeply touched by the miserable conditions of the poor, and thus they suggested this measure. To differentiate them from Karl Marx, they are called Utopian Socialists, because they did not give any solid arguments like Marx about the practical form of socialism.
Essentials of Utopian Socialism:
Utopian socialism had a great faith in human intellect, good nature and goodwill. These socialists were against capitalism and said that it created not only social and economic inequality, but also degenerated morality. Thus, they wanted to bring in socialism by abolishing capitalism. However, they believed that socialism could be established by will. This was a great mistake on their part.
Downfall of Utopian Socialism:
There was less reality and more idealism in Utopian socialism. Therefore, when Karl Marx preached his scientific socialism, Utopian socialism vanished in no time. Marx emphasised the socialisation of the means of production, which is the chief basis of modern socialism.
Arguments in Favour of Socialism:
(1) Socialism contradicts capitalism which is based on exploitation:
Socialism is against capitalism, which is based on exploitation. The capitalists exploit the poor and lead an idle and luxurious life on the profits earned by the poor. There is economic inequality due to capitalism, which hinders social progress. Therefore, socialism wants to put an end to this exploitation and establish social equality.
(2) Socialism prevents economic waste due to open competition:
In a capitalistic system, there is open economic competition, in which much money is spent on propaganda, advertisement and on other such things. The capitalists do not produce wealth according to the needs of the society, but they produce goods for their own benefit.
This results in the production of something’s and there is also dearth of many other things. This situation creates trouble for the society. Socialism removes both these evils of capitalism and lays emphasis on co-operation instead of an open competition.
(3) Socialism is based on justice more than capitalism:
Capitalism concentrates the capital of the society in a few hands, which is based on injustice. Socialism wants the social control over factories, ships and railways. It does not want that these should be controlled by a few persons. Therefore, socialism is based on justice.
(4) Socialism is more democratic than capitalistic system:
The question of economic equality does not arise in a capitalistic system, because in this system the wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a few persons. Where there is a great economic inequality, success of democracy becomes doubtful. Thus, in order to make democracy successful, it is essential to establish socialism.
(5) It is More:
The socialists are of the view that socialism is more natural than capitalism. Nature has distributed air, water, rain, etc., equally among all the people. Therefore, it is desirable that there should be social control over land and minerals.
(6) It is more scientific:
Socialism is more scientific than capitalism, because capitalism safeguards the interests of a few, while socialism protects the interests of the society. Socialism attaches more importance to the society, than to the individual and urges the individual to devote himself to the service of the community.
Socialism has been criticised as under:
(1) It kills individual initiative:
Each individual works more and more for private property. In socialism, private property cannot be utilized for investment in the market to earn profit. Therefore, individual initiative to produce more will be killed under social control.
(2) Under socialism, functions of the state would be so much enlarged that it would not be possible for it to discharge them well:
According to socialism the state should not only take up protective functions like maintenance of law and order, justice and protection against foreign aggression, but it should also increase the production. For this purpose it should take up the socialisation of the means of production. It will be very difficult for the state to perform enormous functions.
(3) Socialism will fail in practice:
Critics are of the view that socialism will fail in practice. wants to establish peace and economic prosperity and to remove economic disparity and social ills. But in practice this is very difficult to accomplish.
(4) Socialism divides society into two classes:
Socialism divides the society into two classes-Capitalists and Workers. Their interests are conflicting and there can be no unity between them. This brings about conflicts and clashes in the society.
(5) It kills individual :
Socialism gives many powers to the state and it interferes in every sphere of the individual activity. This mars individual freedom.
Socialism may be criticised bitterly, but the progressive powers of the world were against capitalism and they were in favour of socialism. Today socialism is seen in different parts of Asia in one form or the other. In England in 1974 the Labour Party formed its government. In 1966 elections, Labour Party won with a thumping majority.
In India the ruling Congress Party’s aim is to establish socialism. The Congress repeated its determination in its 1955 session at Avadi (Tamil Nadu) and in 1964, at Bhubaneswar, to establish socialism in the country. Many of the drawbacks of socialism can be removed.
It is positively better than capitalism and individualism because its aim is to remove economic inequality and to establish comfort, peace and prosperity. Socialist governments have made many laws for the benefit of the workers and for the abolition of capitalism. Therefore, it got expanded in the world at a great speed.