Socialism: a definition

Terrible things were done in the name of socialism in the 20th century; there’s no denying that.  Yet in spite of all that has happened, socialism remains our best hope for saving the world. Unfortunately, it is also now an idea that is frequently misunderstood. So to be clear, when I use the word ‘socialism’ on this blog, this is what I mean:

1. Real socialism is fundamentally democratic.

Like most on the democratic left, I define socialism as the democratic control of the economy, and for real socialism, control is the key; control is more important than ownership. Citizens of communist countries may have nominally ‘owned’ the economies in their countries, but without real democracy, they did not meaningfully control them.

2. Socialism works best when it is small-scale and diverse.

There are so many different ways to democratically control an economy, and different models will suit different situations. One size does not fit all. True, some industries really do work best if they are simply nationalized, but most don’t, and we now have a wide choice of different models of democratic ownership that, depending on the situation, might work much better than nationalization: worker-ownership being chief among them.

3. Socialism also works best when it is open and market-based.

This modern version of socialism is founded on a mature understanding of the market: markets are neither the root of all evil, as classic communist theory would have it, nor are they the solution to all problems, as current neoliberal theory would have it. A market is simply a tool for setting prices and motivating efficiency, the only such tool that actually works. Markets aren’t forces of nature; they are human-made institutions, and if we want to, we can design the rules of our markets to efficiently and fairly serve a democratic economy.