5.1 The Principles and Concepts of Socialism

Étienne Schmitt

Socialism is an ideology hard to define because it incorporates many currents that are sometimes antagonistic and often contradictory. However, all the currents that claim to be socialist share the same conception of society, which they perceive as an egalitarian human community that aspires to the common good through social progress.

Michael Freeden (1996, p. 425) conceives socialism through five main concepts:

1 The constitutive nature of human relationships i.e., society “is the sum of connections and relationships in which individuals find themselves” (Marx [1857-61] 1973).
2 Human welfare as a desirable objective.
3 Human nature as active i.e., work is seen as a major component of natural activity.
4 Equality, by the rejection of any kind of alienation. Differences based on social condition (rich vs. poor) result from the domination of the bourgeoisie.
5 History as an arena of beneficial change. In Karl Marx’s perspective, human beings are masters of their own history, but the domination of the bourgeoisie deprives them of their life choices. Class struggles are a means of historical change.

Socialism thus envisages changing today’s society. For this reason, it is critical of capitalism, which is seen as a system that allows those who hold the means of production to establish their domination. Socialism advocates for emancipation, which means “overcoming obstacles in the path of self-control; a release from waged production …; and the consequence enabling of self-realization within a social framework, which exploitation and alienation had impeded” (Freeden, 1996, p. 456). This emancipation purpose leads socialism to oppose to any oppressive power and institution, such as the state, the market, the church, and so forth.

What is Socialism?

Socialism is an ideology that society should aspire to become an egalitarian community and social progress should be made to emancipate people from any kind of oppression.

Principles of Socialism
  • Equality
  • Emancipation
  • Progress

Thus, socialism intends to be the ideology of the worker class and the oppressed people, promoting comprehensive social policies and a system change.



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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2023 by Étienne Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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