Key Ideas

  • Many ideologies linked together by similar ideas drawn mainly from Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism
    • Marxism
    • Social Democracy
    • Socialism
    • Marxist-Leninism
    • Anarchism
    • Syndicalism
    • Stalinism
    • Maoism
    • Feminism
    • Reform liberalism
    • *Note: there is no communist ideology, economy, etc.!
  • Oppose capitalism because it is neither free nor just
    • Capitalism is an unjust, exploitative economic system, thus generating conflict and social & political institutions to deal with the conflicts it creates
    • Creates liberal democracy in which:
      • “freedom” and “equal of opportunity” are a mirage for many (most) working people
      • “rights” do not equate to justice
    • Markets are not free – power concentrated in the hands of capitalists
    • Capitalism creates two classes in conflict: workers & capitalists
  • Common Ownership:
    • Society owns and/or controls property collectively
    • Society should operate those things it owns publicly in the interest of the whole society
    • Society is more important than any individual
    • Individual rights or freedoms are secondary to the needs or decisions of the society as a whole
    • No individual has a natural right (God or otherwise) to property because all property is social
  • Goal = equality (elimination of inequality)
  • Historical change is the result of class struggle between capitalist & workers
    • Capitalists: own the means of production & make profits through selling goods & services
    • Workers: sell their labour to capitalists & work to produce goods & services
  • Human nature is not self-interested, competitive, and greedy
    • People are the social and historical products of their societies
    • Can structure society to produce selfless & socially-minded people
  • Many, many thinkers due to diversity of paths socialism has taken BUT we’re only touching on Marx & Lenin

Socialism: The Tradition

  • Tradition of socialism for many centuries:
  • Plato’s Republic (380 BC)
  • Thomas More (1478-1535)
    • Catholic Saint and martyr
    • Advocated communal ownership as an antidote to the sins of pride, envy, greed he saw flourishing
    • Argued that policies that encouraged competition for profits fueled these sins
  • Key turning point: Industrial Revolution:
  • Some reformers (reform liberals): improve working conditions, raise wages through laws and welfare opportunities
  • Others became radicals and revolutionaries (socialists): abolish the system that produced the inequalities and injustices
  • Two types of socialists emerged:
    • 1. Moralist – Robert Owen (1771-1857) & Charles Fourier (1772-1837)
      • Capitalism created bad characters because it rewarded greed and selfishness
      • Need a new system of production: cooperative production for public profit – moral basis to production
    • 2. Scientific – Saint-Simon (1760-1825) & Marx
      • Argued human history “moves” and is divided into successive stages
      • Each society has a “base” of ideas and beliefs (ideology) which results in the prevailing economic, social & political system
      • As these beliefs & ideas lose credibility, so too does the social and economic system that rests upon them
      • In capitalism, life is so complex that people start to realize that humans are really interconnected & interdependent (not relentlessly self-interested or competitive) – capitalism therefore contains the seeds of its own destruction (contradiction)

Socialism: Marx

  • German journalist (trained to be a prof)
  • Impact on:
    • Major political revolutions of the 1900s
    • Major academics & intellectuals, especially social sciences & philosophy
    • Rivals Adam Smith as the most thorough/powerful theorist of capitalism as a system – from the opposition side
  • Key books
    • German Ideology
    • Capital, volumes 1-3 (planned to write 4-6)
    • Communist Manifesto (plan of action)
    • Wrote with his friend, Friedrich Engels (wealthy factory owner)
  • Key Ideas
    • Historical change:
      • From two sources:
      • Economic: change in the mode of production
      • Sociological: class struggle – workers vs. capitalists
      • Class struggle was the “motor of history”, that is, the cause of all changes
      • Historical change was ‘scientific certainty’: Hunters & Gatherers > Primitive Agriculture > Capitalism > Socialism > Communism (end)
      • Had to go through each stage of history before getting to end (no skipping of stages)
    • Base vs. Superstructure
      • Turned upside down Saint-Simon’s analysis
      • Organization of economy > creates the ideology to support it
      • Base = economic basis of society
      • Mode of production: organization of the economy and economic relationships which form the material base of society – how the society produces the goods it needs to survive (food, clothing, shelter, etc.)
      • Means of production: tools, technology, human labour, resources used to produce goods
      • Social relations of production: how people stand in relation to each other through production
      • Superstructure = political, social & legal institutions which help to perpetuate base & prevent workers from understanding (overthrowing) their oppression
      • What’s the point here?
        • Capitalism = private property –> means of production are individually/privately owned = privatized power over social relations of production = power over workers ( = unjust!)
        • Change the base = change the society –> change mode of production through class struggle = change the society
    • Why change capitalism? = alienation, exploitation, state oppression
      • Alienation: people work to gain money (wage-labourers) to access goods and services and so become ‘separated from’ and ‘hateful of’ their work
        • Work should be an expression of people’s goals, aspirations, desires, and potentials
      • Profit & wage-labouring = exploitation
        • Labour theory of value: congealed value of human labour in goods or services
        • Surplus value = profit: difference between what a labourer is paid and what the capitalist sells the goods for
        • Exploitation also includes preventing people from accessing basic goods (and services) they need to survive
      • State = serves the interests of the dominant class
        • Under capitalism = executive committee of the capitalists
        • Works to deal with problems caused by capitalism and oppress workers
    • How do we change capitalism? –> Revolution = workers’ revolt against the capitalists
      • Natural result of the contradictions of capitalism
        • E.g.: capitalism brings workers together who will realize their shared interests; capitalists will be driven by profit, competition, and greed and will eventually destroy each other and create monopolies
      • Overthrow the exploitative system
      • Dictatorship of Proletariat: government of the workers to re-structure the base & coordinate economic production
        • State employs all workers
        • Capitalists become workers also
        • Workers receive according to need
      • Communism: no more classes = no more government required
        • society operates on the basis of “each according to their need, each according to their ability”
    • What role do intellectuals play? –> Praxis: theory and practice/action are intertwined
      • Intellectuals must involve themselves in politics – not just philosophy
      • Marx involved in various international worker’s movements
      • Humanist: humans create and re-create their world, and gain legitimacy through their efforts (not God)

Socialism: Lenin

  • Russian
  • Key Book: Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism
  • Key Ideas:
    • Revolution was not inevitable as Marx predicted
    • Imperialist expansion throughout the world meant revolution was avoided & needed to be global – workers in Europe could be bought off by exploiting the colonials
    • Workers need a vanguard party to organize them and organize the revolution (Marxist-Leninist)
    • Do not need to go through each stage of history – can jump to communism

Social Democrats

  • Splits from socialism – seeks reform not revolution following from Marx’s evolutionary strategy
  • Similar to Reform Liberals, and seek equality of opportunity, BUT try to seek ways to create equality of result
  • Argue for mixed economies:
    • Balance between state-owned and privately-owned companies
    • Balance between state-intervention & market outcomes – “correct” the market & inequalities
    • Basis: needs of society over the wants or freedoms of individuals
    • Pursuing party politics and winning elections
    • Creating laws and government agents to regulate and control the problems of capitalism
  • Follow economic advice of Keynes
  • Fought for welfare state
  • Agree with taxation for income redistribution
  • No longer advocating for overthrow of capitalism
  • Accept some form of liberal constitutional democracy, but advocate broader voting rights & protection of group rights (race, challenged, women, natives, etc.)
  • Most countries in the world are a mixture of reform liberalism & social democracy (even the US!), but Social Democrats are most common in Northern and Western Europe


  • Capitalism cannot be reformed and needs to be overthrown: revolution
  • Capitalism:
    • Market system is “anarchic, inefficient, and inequitable”
    • Profit-motive is immoral because it puts money and greed over people’s needs
    • Makes people operate on the basis of competition and selfishness
  • Replace markets with economic planning by state
    • Own and operate all means of production: factories, land, etc.
    • Distribute goods & services based on needs, not ability to pay
    • Determine volume of goods & services based on bureaucrats’ assessments
    • Wages & prices set by the state
  • Social democracy is flawed:
    • Capitalism cannot be changed by party politics – need a worker’s party to organize the revolution
    • Liberal democracy is a mirage in which voting is used to legitimize oppression & obscure the power of capitalists
    • Equality of result needs to be pursued – people’s needs should be met and their should be no inequality
    • Equality is not natural and cannot just be corrected (again & again), but is result of the structure of the economy and society
    • Done through state planning
  • Countries such as China, Cuba, and North Korea are called “existing socialism” states

Socialism and Our Criteria

  • Today, “workers” are not the only socialists or social democrats
  • Human Nature
    • Humans are social and communal creatures
    • Cooperation among individuals is the foundation of a good society
    • Capitalist system makes people selfish and competitive
    • There are no natural rights to individualism and property
  • Nature of Society:
    • Humans seeks meaningful non-alienating labour in a community
    • Can be re-made into a more equitable system
      • Social Democrats: reform capitalism & have mixed economy
      • Socialism: overthrow capitalism & change economic basis
  • Conception of Freedom:
    • The development of humanity’s creative & labouring capacities
    • Freedom from oppression by a capitalist elite: Negative freedom
    • Freedom to develop oneself: Positive freedom
  • Understanding of Justice
    • “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”
    • Society is of greater importance than the individual
    • Social Democrats: equality of opportunity
    • Socialists: Equality of result
  • State/government:
    • Social democrats: state can be independent of capitalists and can work for the benefit of workers, and workers can work through party politics in liberal democracies
    • Socialists: state not independent of capitalists & serves their interests, so workers must seize control of state and use it to dominate capitalists & create socialist system

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Steve Jones
Steve Jones
12 years ago

i feel men will have to change drastically, less envy, greed, hoarding of property,realize fanatical ambitions, stop telling lies, and realize that their enemies arn;t dark skinned, native americans, or from islam or ancesters in africa. I am a long haul truck and sees the horrific conditions our fellow earth dwellers endure. Socialism sounds good in theory, but i have my doubts about mankind’s ability to realize the destructive behavior of our banking institutes, the corruption inside politics, farm welfare, that should go to struggling farmers, but instead goes to wealthy congressman, just because they have a big farm. The… Read more »