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Is socialism a system or a theory?

  1. Jun 21, 2005 #1
    I've been all over the world and travelled in 35 nations, lived in four and yet I never found a socialist nation! By that I mean one where the government rationed everything so all would get an equal amount of eveything and, therefore, where prices were not determined by supply and demand. Every nation has currency and it is always used for reflecting supply and demand. In no nation are people supplied according to need, every nation has a class structure, and in no nation are the common people soverign because they always have to have leaders who claim to represent them but who are financed by the rich.

    What I am saying is that socialism is a theory, but not real economic system. It is an ideology. There are millions of socialists in the world and there are governments run by socialists, but there are no socialist nations. Socialism is a "cause" and huge tomes have been published which merely outling the history of the socialist MOVEMENT.

    Are people thinking of communes when they speak of socialism? Unlike socialism, communes do have a definite history. Israel was established by Kibutzim communes which functioned very well. The people lived, worked and ate all together and there was no significant inequality of wealth. The decisions were made in common so that people were soverign. These communes worked well with the general capitalistic system which characterized the general Israeli economy.

    The point is that capitalism and communism are able to work and function together in the same economy! Also, that it is not necessary for a dictatorship to set them up or impose them. All that is needed is a great deal of idealism and dedication. As that has dwindeled considerably in Israel, so have the size and importance of the communes to the state' economic system. They are being phased out just like communes were in Medieval Europe. As the manors turned into villages, the villages into towns with guilds, the abbeys and monks going into business, so has Israel changed.

    One last point. Just as there is no real socialism, Marxism is also not communism. Communism is a communal economic system while Marxism a la Soviet Union and now East Asia is a secular religion.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 29, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2005 #2


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    Its important to separate the system from the concepts. While there is no "pure" socialist system in place (and such a thing is what you would call the theory), there is also no "pure" capitalist system in place. But there are a lot of socialist and capitalist concepts in place.
  4. Jun 26, 2005 #3
    Yes, there is no "pure" capitalism because NOTHING is "pure", the concept is an absolute and cannot be conceived by us in our finite world. So, lets be practical. "Capitalism" exists where we have private ownership, the people do not live in communes, and prices are determined by supply and demand.

    When we tax the rich to pay for social programs, we are not dispensing with any of those things which determine what is capitalism. If the government owns the largest blocks of stock in a number of the country's major corporations (nationalizing), that does not alter the three critera above either. You still have a capitalistic system.

    But it tends to be one run by socialists. They like to call the results "socialism" so they can take credit for running the country and proving old Karl Marx was not such a fool after all.

    He wasn't, either. Old Marx was so smart he managed to get everyone to believe successful capitalism was really Marxist socialism! Even the Chinese Marxists caught on. They've adopted capitalism while calling it socialism and describing it as the path to communism! People like to be fooled!

  5. Jun 28, 2005 #4
    Socialism is a label, just like capitalism. Its definition is the one that's most widely and usefully used; under that definition, there are tons of countries that warrant the label.

    Specifically, socialism is the label for a normative system, that is it is the collection of related events and processes that make up or lead to something that ought to be. Other examples include capitalism, Communism, democracy, racial equality, and hygiene. As far as I know, Communism is the only term that's also used to label a macroeconomic theory, albeit a silly one that's more self-serving than useful.

    Rev Prez
  6. Jun 28, 2005 #5
    There's no "pure" capitalism because the label isn't historically or presently defined in grades. Something is either capitalist or not, and there are tons of country that fit the defined criteria.

    Rev Prez
  7. Jul 4, 2005 #6
    Maybe, we should try to define just what Socialism is before we can evaluate whether it is feasible or not. I'll start off by giving a couple of of possible candidate definitions:

    1) A system in which the government attempts to control all economic activity (ie., that from which production and distribution of economic goods and services is derived). It attempts thereby to get everyone to produce to his/her maximum capability, the wealth which will become the property of the state - - which then apportions that wealth back to the people according to some formula that the government devises to determine who should get what. I see many problems with this approach. Who determines and controls what should be produced, how much and by whom? Who keeps the monitors/controllers from helping themselves. How do we get the "producers" to not sit on their "duffs" waiting for everyone else to do the work (since there's no personal gain coming from work)? Who decides how much each can produce? Who decides what each can get? Most of all, how do we deal with the inevitable 'scarcities' that occur?

    2) A second definition of Socialism, is one that came from someone of the regular populace in the former Soviet Union. In this definition, the ruling powers simply divide the populace in to classes (usually using economic criteria, but not necessarily so), and take from one defined class and redistribute the wealth to one (or more) other class(es). I see serious problems keeping this approach viable also.

    Once defined, the problem isn't in the establishment of a Socialist society. It is in keeping it going. Basic human nature will always get in the way.

  8. Jul 5, 2005 #7
    Please elaborate on which aspect of human nature exactly are you speaking.
  9. Jul 5, 2005 #8
    I believe he's referring to profit incentive.

    Rev Prez
  10. Jul 6, 2005 #9
    Rev Prez was correct in his assessment, but to use an even more general reference, I offer the word 'selfishness'. This basic trait of humans (and most other animals) is death to Socialisms (all varieties). It manifests itself in many ways:

    1) One example; people take the general attitude "Why should I work harder or produce more, when I'm not going to get more for it? I'll just ride along with the flow." Most of us will do this, so the Socialist operation just limps along, barely productive.

    2) Socialisms rely almost exclusively on bureaucracies, that are set up to administer and control its programs. The initial people in these bureaucracies are the 'true believers', those who have devoted themselves to the program and who will do almost anything to assure its success. Thereafter, however those that come in are the ordinary everyday people. These are simply seeking to make a living, and most important, to find a secure place for themselves (here the selfishness motive starts to enter). These are the "bureaucrats" or "apparachniks". To them, the security of the position is far more important than the mission of the organization, and they will do almost anything (as long as it isn't readily apparent) to entrench themselves. The upshot is that they will sabotage virtually any program that puts the mission above their personal welfare, and this covers just about everything. Thus when any conscientious top manager launches a program designed toward efficiency, the bureaucrats almost always resist in very subtle, but effective ways. (This is one of the main reasons why I like to say that the best days of any socialist program are almost always its first days.)

    3) People will always try to "game" the system. Thus, when a socialist program offers its benefits to the selected class, almost everyone will try to get in on the 'windfall'. Most will rationalize that "It is my right", and go after the greatest benefits derivable from the program. This is what generally overburdens socialized medicine (or auto insurance, etc.). When there's money being passed out, almost everyone looks for ways to go for the max. It is our nature. When money is free, or appears to be, go for it. Unfortunately the system can't bear this kind of burden, so rationing must be exercised, and many of those truly in need are left out.

    4) The main device used by 'traditional' socialists is confiscation. The problem with this approach is they are not confiscating from inanimate objects, but from thinking people. Most of those intended victims can see the act coming, and if their assets are at all mobile, will move them out of country before the confiscation takes place, leaving the country weaker overall. (Greed prevails.)

    5) 'Entrepreneurs' are above all else gamblers, something a bureaucrat in a socialist society cannot be. Some gamblers win big, and others lose everything, but this is the driving motive in an expanding society. Those who guess right add a lot to the economy, and get rich doing it. Those who guess wrong are soon forgotten. (There 'should be' no guarantees in Capitalism.) This gambling expansionism is singularly absent in Socialism. Their leaders must always be followers - - and come in on a new idea always too late.

    7) Finally, the "crooks" and hustlers go for Socialist programs programs like bears for honey. Come up with a program for dispensing assets, and the hustlers will find ways to get in on it. Bureaucrats work eight hours a day trying to eliminate these hustlers, but the legions of hustlers work twenty four hours a day figuring ways around them.

    The upshot is, that for a Socialism environment to work, human nature must must be more aimed toward cooperation and symbiosis, rather than toward the selfish. We, however are more like tigers (self oriented) than like ants, termites or bees (group oriented). Socialism, however doesn't work in our natural environment. We are just not constituted for it. (But we still need some of its aspects, at least where money isn't the medium, if we are to be 'civilized'. For example, we need to impose some order. We can't just hit each other over the head when we feel the urge. Socialism, however is an order that we haven't learned to effectively impose - - - it just hasn't worked for us. It would if we were perfect, but then if that were the case, we wouldn't need it.

    Post Script: Do you wonder why corporations, as they become larger, become less efficient? The main answer is that they become more internally Socialistic, more bureaucratic.

  11. Jul 6, 2005 #10


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    I prefer the word 'competitiveness', but the idea (and the death to socialisms) is the same.
  12. Jul 6, 2005 #11
    I feel I'm going to ask this question a lot here.

    Why would you use such a word?

    Profit incentive is an operational definition with a real standard of measure. It readily generalizes into the other social sciences and the terms accumulate linearly into a quantifiable variable of self-interest. "Selfishness" may be a convenient rhetorical device despite its connotation, but in that event the discussion is probably better suited for the Politics forum.

    Everything else you discuss in this post alludes to something captured by run of the mill models in economics and sociology, though it is not clear how you're defining states and processes.

    Rev Prez
  13. Jul 6, 2005 #12
    Essentially, I was looking for a word that is broad enough in scope to include all possibilities of motivation. As example, "self interest" to me includes those cases in which a person acts to improve his/her own fortunes but does not cross over the line to "cheating" others or, in other words, trying to exploit an unfair or illegal advantage.

    By "selfishness" I am trying to denote the set of conditions in which that line is not considered in the discussion. It is not meant by me to imply that the person has necessarily crossed that line, but to include that possibility. If the term is generally used to include only those who are acting unfairly, I apologize. I could not, however think of a more universal (inclusive) term. I was seeking a term to denote those who are simply acting out their basic animal instincts, consciously or otherwise, to prevail over others. It is intended to include both those who compete fairly and those who do not. Basically, I need terms to define each of the following:
    Those who act cooperatively.
    Those who compete, but only in a "sportsman-like" manner.
    Those who compete, but cheat.
    All who compete.
    Not being a sociologist, I do not know the terminology to define all the cases, but I have observed human actions and traits over the years. I welcome your help in this matter.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2005
  14. Jul 20, 2005 #13
    Socialism is the monsterous idea that my stuff isn't my stuff, its everyone elses.

    The reason you don't find it "pure" anywhere is because its fundamentally
    incompatible with the nature of man.
  15. Jul 20, 2005 #14


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    That's not socialism, that's government, or if you will, society. Any society is going to take some stuff from some people, to do work that will problably benefit others more than the one taken from. Quite often they take the life! (of soldiers, particularly conscripts). You don't live all by yourself with your stuff, and it wasn't your abilities alone that gathered that stuff. You had to act through an orderly society, using, for example the free market and the legal system, to acquire it. And because of that, society - any society not just socialism - has some call on that stuff.

    And as for "the nature of man", humans evolved from creatures that ran in bands, and there has never been a time in human history when men were isolated. Always they were in tribes, city states, hydraulic empires, feudal systems or just scores of different kinds of societies, all of them defined by the duties and taxes they levied on their members.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2005
  16. Jul 20, 2005 #15
    What you describe is necessary taxation. I'm fine with that.

    I mean that general property rights are entirely non-existent under pure socialism.

    Edit: For example, if I am able to make bricks and you are able to grow corn,
    we could trade as free men. But what if I can only make 2 bricks/day while
    you can make 20 baskets of corn? Under socialism, my need for your corn
    defines it's value- not what it's worth to YOU. Maybe you need to build a
    house using 100 bricks/day. I can trade you one brick/day for 10 baskets of
    your corn because I NEED them, not because I've EARNED them. That is not
    a natural way for humans to cooperate. It enslaves the able in order to
    serve the unable or unwilling. That's why I call it monsterous and unnatural.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2005
  17. Jul 20, 2005 #16


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    Your references for this statement please?
  18. Jul 20, 2005 #17


    2 a : a system or condition of society or group living in which there is no private property <trace the remains of pure socialism that marked the first phase of the Christian community W.E.H.Lecky>

    (Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary 3.0)
  19. Jul 20, 2005 #18


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    I see that is definition 2. Why should Antiphon be allowed to quote it as if it were definition 1? And by the way, you don't find that among the several definitions given in other sources. Google on socialism definitions and see.
  20. Jul 20, 2005 #19
    Socialism vs pure socialism

    He qualified it with the word pure. Since the M-W Unabridged also used that qualification in its example sentence, it too seems to be implying that socialism unqualified does not normally imply an entire lack of private property and that that qualification is necessary in order for the zero private property condition to obtain. I would imagine that most people, even the prototypical Socialist whose goal is a socialism with plenty of private property, would take the phrase pure socialism to mean zero private property. Likewise, I would imagine that most people, even the prototypical Capitalist whose goal is a capitalism with plenty of public property, would take the phrase pure capitalism to mean zero public property.

  21. Jul 21, 2005 #20
    In addition to the moral objections there are also extremely negative practical
    consequences to the group (economy) when you disallow the accumulation of
    capital which is private property also.

    For the physics-inclined amoung us, capital is the economic equivalent of potential
    energy. If you have none, it is difficult to translate this into your economic system
    as "kinetic" energy or production/trade.

    BTW, the "means of production" has always been the human mind, not the factory,
    hammer, or scyth. These are the only tools with which the hand guided by the mind
    makes everything. Just try to seize the means of production at Microsoft and it will
    become clear.
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