Friday, August 01, 2014


Socialism: some fear that in this country we are moving in that direction, others welcome that perceived development. 

But does the term have any fixed meaning? According to one definition its essential feature is the social ownership of the means of production. That is a rather slippery characterization, for social ownership could mean nationalization - complete control by an all powerful state; or an interlocking series of cooperative associations; or a form of anarchism in which private property has become irrelevant. Probably there are other plausible interpretations.

During the 19th century a number of advocates advanced their own views of socialism, the most prominent of these being Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Other strands soon emerged. In England, for example, there was Christian socialism, guild socialism, and Fabianism. With his “Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Oscar Wilde weighed in, describing something closer to anarchism.

Ostensibly, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 created a wall of separation between socialism proper and Communism. Yet the Communists also claimed to be socialist.

During the height of gay liberation, in the 1970s, to be a gay activist automatically meant - according to a widespread view - adhesion to socialism, In those days, some gay men and lesbians withdrew to rural communes, socialist laboratories where they could share possessions and responsibilities equally. Few of these settlements remain today.

Today some say that the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are socialist. Others hold that with their mixed economic systems these nations are simply social democratic.

It is all rather confusing. Should we then simply retire the term “socialism”? In reality, many terms in politics are fuzzy, though we cling to them anyway. This one seems to be no exception. My reason for posting this - probably a vain one - is to reduce the casual invocation of the term "socialism" without qualification - as if it designated something specific.