Socialism rests on the belief that people should cooperate to share the profits of their work and that all people should have the same opportunities to enjoy good life both culturally, materially and professionally. Thus, the benefit of education and other social services such as medical treatment should be available to all people without reference to their race, religion, colour or sex.
Furthermore, socialism maintains that people should also work for the benefit of the society and not for their own personal gains. This means that there should be no competition between factory owners and workers. There should be cooperation between the two classes and all should benefit equally for their work.
Under this concept, the State owns and controls the industries, trade and services such as Banking and Public transportation. Examples of countries practicing socialism are Russia and Cuba.
Origins of Socialism
Socialist theories have gained popularity at different times in history in various societies. One can see this trend in Plato’s Republic, when he advocated that the rulers should hold all their possessions in common. Thomas More wrote about an ideal society, a kind of cooperative commonwealth, in his Utopia (1516).
The influence of the French revolution is remarkable in the spread of socialism. Though the French revolution was mainly concerned with the problem of legal and political equality; there was a minority wing which claimed that economic equality was also one of the basic rights of man. It was claimed that the revolution would be meaningless unless its legal reforms was accompanied by drastic reformation of the existing economic order. The outstanding proponents of this belief was the Societe de Egaux, a group of dissident Jocobbins under Francois Babeuf (1760-97). He believed in a society of equals where property was communally owned. Having conspired against the government, they were detected and suppressed in 1796.
The traditional thinking in terms of economic equality continued after the French Revolution, and was expounded in various ways by such thinkers as Louis Blanc and Piere Proudhon. Some of the first socialists were labelled Utopians, because they believed that capitalists would abandon capitalism if convinced of the merits of socialism.
Count Henri de Saint – Simon (1760-1825) and Charles Fourier (1772-1837), two French men, advocated the creation of cooperative communities whose members were to work together for common good. Several communities were therefore, established but they did not last long. A famous one in the United States during the 1840s was Brook Farm in Massachusetts.
Robert Owen (1771-1858) created a model industrial community at his New Lanark Cotton Mills, in Scotland. Good conditions were provided for the workers and the community prospered, but other manufacturers were not prepared to follow his example. Though Owen was a capitalist he saw the defects of the system and advocated cooperation rather than competition. He has been called the father of English socialism.
As a result of Owen’s ideas, soul weavers known as Rochdale pioneers established the first modern consumers cooperative in Britain in 1844. Producer’s cooperatives were also started in France in the 1838s and soon many other States adopted cooperative organisations to meet their needs.