Socialism is both a political and an economic theory that was developed between 1750 1850 as a reaction and response to capitalism. It advocates for a system where the community as a whole owns and regulates the means of production, distribution and exchange.It aims to a build a new social order and remove the maladies of the capitalistic system. The chief proponents of socialism are Robert Owen, Sismondi, Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier.
Throughout history, there has always been a big gap between the rich and the poor due to monopolization of the means of production by a few people. The select few have constantly exploited the poor to amass wealth and to retain power. The poor barely meet the necessities of life and do not control any means of production. During the industrial stage, the gulf between the poor and the rich widened unlike before. Post the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of machines increased the divide and led to the concentration of the means of production in the hands of an even more select few. They took advantage of their position and churned out illegitimate profits. This exploitation was the reason the idea of socialism was developed.
Some definitions of socialism are:
“ Socialism is a system of society in which means of life belong to the community as a whole, and are developed and operated by the community.”
Here, means of life refers to things like land, capital, implements and other such things which help humans to earn a living.
“Socialism is the political movement of class which aims to abolish exploitation by means of the collective ownership and democratic management of basic instruments of production and distribution.”
Socialism developed as a response to capitalism and its primary aim was to create a new social order that eliminates the drawbacks of capitalist system. According to the proponents of socialism, capitalism fosters competition among citizens, as a result making them egoistic and immoral. It also leads to needless expenditure. It encourages a certain few to monopolise means of production and allows them to exploit other people. So the proponents propose a certain way to eliminate the miseries caused by capitalism. They propose that the factors of production be controlled by the community as a whole and not allow individuals to control the means of production. This idea formed the crux of socialism.
There are certain general principles to this theory. According to C. E. M Joad, socialism is “like a hat which has lost its shape, because everybody wears it.” Socialism as an idea has gone through many changes and one exact definition cannot be agreed upon. Nevertheless, some general principles can be seen as its distinguishing features. Socialism opposes capitalism because it believes it to be the cause of exploitation of resources. It aims to protect the common population from the select few. It advocates for social ownership of material resources and that the community should own all the factors of production like land, other property industries, etc. The motive behind production should be social necessity and not profit making for the benefit of one. Its action should at the end benefit the society. Some proponents of socialism have advocated for absolute economic equality where everyone is given the same rewards and other proponents have advocated for proportionate economic equality where people are given rewards to fulfil their basic needs. It is completely opposed to laissez-faire economy and favours the establishment of a planned economy. It is for the abolition of the institution of private property to bring about social equality. It believes in the widening of democracy, and is of the view that socialism and not capitalism can help further this end.
Socialism has been subjected to criticism for certain of its aspects. The most important criticism of all about socialism is that it crushes the very spirit of the individual. Socialism establishes an order where there is no scope of incentive for people to work, as everyone is distributed the same or similar rewards and there is no scope for any additional incentive as a result of the individual’s hard work. Another major criticism of socialism is its impracticality. It cannot be implemented in a real world scenario as it does not provide people any incentive to work. Perfect socialism has not existed anywhere and even the countries that proclaim themselves as socialist are not completely socialist. In this theory, the State overburdened with too many functions like distribution of resources, controlling of production, distribution of rewards, etc. This will lead to inefficiency. One other major criticism is that the State interferes with everything. Socialism kills individual freedom.