“The proletariat has nothing to lose but their chains” – Karl Marx
These wise words by one of the most renowned economists in the world hold a profound impact even today. The principle that the community should hold the power to control what directly affects it is based around the Socialist ideology. Many countries worldwide have adopted this ideology and have either flourished or failed. Let us take a look into what exactly Socialism is.
Socialism refers to a system wherein the ownership and means of production are in the hands of the community concerned, whether an organization/corporation or a country. It talks about how the factors of production of an economy namely- land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship are controlled by the members of a community. In simple words, each and every person gets an equal share out of all the factors and output of production. It’s also widely known as a gateway towards communism. State-owned firms, public goods, and welfare, labor unions as well as elements of equality, justice, common well-being and cooperation find their way through in this type of economy. Socialism was present even in the Mauryan empire in India and in the politics of Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato and has over the centuries emerged and developed through real movements and political systems. Currently, countries like China, Cuba, Laos, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Vietnam, among others, identify themselves as purely socialist states with some others like India, Bangladesh, Algeria, Nepal, etc. having constitutional references to socialism.
The theory of socialism was created with a ‘utopian’ vision in mind. Utopia, a term coined by Thomas More, basically talks about an idealistic world to live in; a world where everyone is equal and without any distinctions. In practice, however, we have seen that all of the control goes to the State and the benefits in form of education, healthcare, housing, etc. are distributed among the citizens of the country proportionately. Whether or not socialism has socialism ever worked for a country is a matter of debate for many due to contrasting features of this theory.
Socialism arose out of the imbalanced power dynamics in a capitalist society. A society where there is an unjust authority in the hands of the State and the workers are merely made to work and shut out from any decisions which concern them is an evil and unjust one and it’s with these thoughts in mind that socialist theories of a better society emerged. Capitalism is exploitative and the creator of unjust income inequalities and socialism claims to solve exactly that.
People in opposition to socialism remark that since there’s no private ownership of property in a socialist regime, market prices are non-existent, thereby disbalancing the whole market equilibrium. Added to that is a huge risk of demotivation and a general fall in the competitive spirit of businesses, which is often the driving force of most industries. Because of the decline in innovation, government spending increases and this creates a vicious cycle of increased spending and redundant creativity.
In the past, the Soviet Union, Chavez’s Venezuela, Nazi Germany; all worked on principals of socialism. They reached nowhere near attaining a class-less society as predicted by Karl Marx. Many arguments have also arisen against socialism claiming that it does anything but fulfill the promises made to workers i.e. it puts more unaccountable power in the hands of the State to redistribute wealth and control disproportionately. Another argument is that socialism relies heavily on the cooperative nature of human beings which is more often than not overestimated. Greed is the nature of human beings and thus competition and personal gain at the expense of others may still be highly valued by a large chunk of the human population.
Others point at Nordic countries as socialism success stories. With some of the best education systems in the world, high standards of living, free health, and medical care, among other rare benefits, these countries are said to be one of the biggest inspirations for socialism. However, some argue that these nations are actually capitalist, stating that the success of these countries is based on a capitalist foundation and not technically a socialist one. I think that countries are an amalgamation of various ideologies and institutions and to try and categorize them as one would be extremely foolish.
Capitalists argue that socialism impedes the economic prosperity of a nation by curbing the liberty of owners of production and interfering with market processes and outcomes. In that sense, everyone should be happy and satisfied in a capitalist regime however that’s not what is being observed nowadays. A socialist regime looks an ideal world in theory but in practice, there has been no pure socialist country that has been witnessed as accomplishing the objectives of socialism. We are yet to be eye-witnesses of such a spectacle.