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New Harmony, a model community suggested by Robert Owen, 1838

Socialism is an economic and political system where the workers control the means of production, such as machinery or farmland, instead of their bosses. Those people that advocate this cooperative society are called socialists. Another key belief is that goods and services should be produced for the people's use, not for profit. Socialists believe that everything in society is made by the cooperative efforts of the people.

There are many varieties of socialism, so no one definition can apply to all of them; however, in all varieties, the workers own the means of production.[1] The major differences between the different varieties are the role of the free market or planing, the method of ownership of the means of production, the role of management of workers and the government's role in the economy.


Socialism is an economic and governmental system where the workers own and run companies. Its goal is to have the industries make money which can be used for the benefit of everyone. It wants to give workers control over their workplaces.

Social democracy is a form of socialism that tries to mix parts of communism with capitalism. In this system, the government redistributes wealth from the rich to the poor like a communist state, but people can also run their own businesses and own private property like a capitalist state. Unlike communism, it is public money raised from taxes being redistributed to the poor, rather than private property eg. seizing all funds over $1 million to give to everyone. It supports gradual reform over revolution. Much of the time the people collectively (as a group) contribute money or other goods for the benefit of the entire community. An example of this would be the U.S. fire departments. They rely on taxes paid by the people to keep equipment and staff for the benefit of the community, should something catch on fire. Some of these countries use a progressive tax, where richer people are taxed more than poorer people. This tax, and other measures, helps to reduce the inequality between rich and poor in a nation.

In many countries that practice social democracy, specific services, and some industries, are subsidized and/or partially controlled by the government. For example, education, health care, housing, utility companies or public transportation are some industries that might be owned/maintained by the government in a socialist system. For the most part, people working in these industries are paid by the government, with money paid by the people as taxes. Welfare is likely offered under socialism.

Another kind of Socialism is "Collectivization." In this system, money and goods are shared more equally among the people, with the government in control. In theory, this system results in the divide between classes getting smaller, with the poorest of a nation's people being better cared for while the richest accept higher taxes and economic regulations. Of course, socialism as it is commonly practiced differs in many ways from communism (See "The History of Socialism and Communism", later in the article.)

Today, many democratic socialists, especially in Western Europe, want industries to be guided jointly (together) by representatives of shareholders as well as the workers working together in what is known as an industrial democracy because both groups have interests in the success of the enterprise. This would be a more direct democratic way of organizing rather than control by central government. Trade unions and/or workers councils would represent the interests of the employees.

Many countries see Socialism differently. Social Democracy, for example, a Democratic form of Socialism, is the most common kind of government in the world. Socialist International is an organization dedicated to the cause of promoting socialist ideals, and has ties with many Socialist parties, especially Social Democratic ones.

Most non-communist people say "communism" when they mean the Marxist and Leninist ideas of Russia's Bolshevik party. Marx believed that capitalism followed the economic and political system of feudalism. He also believed that capitalism would oppress many people, and those people would eventually revolt and use socialism. Then he thought that socialism can be another bridge, but to Communism. However, many people incorrectly use the term "Communist" to refer to a socialist state. Others call this 'State Socialism,' to distinguish it from the communist goal that does not need a state or any form of government. To non-communists, the word 'socialism' is now mostly used for attempts to come close to this goal in a democratic state. Often in United States politics "socialism" is used as a slur against liberals, by conservatives.


A Welshman, Robert Owen, was the first socialist. His followers began calling themselves socialists in 1841.[2] He is still regarded as a pioneer of the Co-operative Movement in Britain. He said that workers should own the companies they worked for. The workers would then share the profits among themselves. He set up a new model factory in New Lanark, Scotland.[3]

Karl Marx is most well known, however, as the architect of the theory of socialism, and communism. He wrote the comprehensive book about capitalism, socialism, and communism, called "The Communist Manifesto". Friedrich Engels co-wrote the book, and paid for much of Marx's work and research.

Many socialist political parties were formed during the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. Left-wing political parties are generally newer than right-wing ones.

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  1. Peter Lamb, J. C. Docherty. Historical dictionary of socialism. Lanham, Maryland, UK; Oxford, England, UK: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2006. p. 1.
  2. Gale (2001). "Socialism" . World of Sociology. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  3. "Socialism". Encyclopedia of World Trade From Ancient Times to the Present. 2005. Retrieved 15 June 2011.