The recent presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders has brought new attention to “socialism.” In fact, during the Democratic Primary a poll revealed that as many as 43% of likely Democratic Caucus goes identified as ‘socialist‘. One YouGov poll found that as many as 1/3 of millennial voters had a favorable view of socialism. One Gallup Poll taking during the primary found that as many as 47% of Americans would consider voting for a socialist candidate.
With all this new interest in socialism, it begs the question, what is socialism? The textbook definition of socialism would sound something like, “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” In lame terms, socialism is political and economic system characterized by workers controlling the means of production.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the broader point of discussion, what socialism is not. Socialism is not “big government.” Socialism is not “the welfare state.” Socialism is not “tough Wall Street reform.” To make it as clear as I possibly can, anything short of worker or public control of the means of production is not ‘socialism’.
Socialism has a clear and a very concise definition. To expound upon the point, let’s look at how some of the most prominent socialists thinkers and theorists and actual socialist parties have defined the term.
In his book, The State and Revolution, Vladimir defined socialism as thus, “What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the ‘first’, or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production become common property, the word ‘communism’ is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism”
The Socialist Party USA defined socialism as the following; “Socialism is not mere government ownership, a welfare state, or a repressive bureaucracy. Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools. The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.”
The Socialist Equality defines socialism as “the reorganization of all economic life under the democratic control of the working class, to serve social needs, not private profit.”