There may be more species of birds than of socialists, but not many.
The unifying theme of socialism is the call for social ownership of all nonhuman factors of production---capital and natural resources.
This does not imply that socialism forbids owning your own toothbrush. Ideally, it does mean that land, factories, and all major capital equipment would be held in trust by government so that everyone could share equitably in national income.
Although centrally planned socialism is increasingly recognized as a failure, there are still schisms within the socialist camp about how far social ownership should extend and which groups should make social and economic decisions. Some socialists believe that socialism will evolve democratically through the ballot box. Another large but shrinking group insists that capitalists control political processes, leaving violent revolution as the only way to institute socialist goals. The most conspicuous of these are communists, who tried to adapt the ideas of Karl Marx to the circumstances of the twentieth century. Before we explore Marxism, we will briefly outline other forms of socialism.
Dreamers who have sought to improve our imperfect world are scattered across the pages of history. Sir Thomas More (1478--1535), a Catholic saint and martyr who served as an advisor to England's Henry VIII, was one such dreamer. More's famous book Utopia borrowed a Greek word meaning "no place." Today, utopian commonly refers to unrealistic ideals. More blamed poverty, waste, and avarice on private property, and proposed the creation of "Utopia," where everyone would share everything.
Utopian socialism is the idea that collective ownership eliminates greed and promotes personal growth, cultural enrichment, and democracy.
People would work for the common good in jobs of their choice. Prices would be superfluous, because there would be as much joy from giving as from receiving; supplying and demanding would be equally satisfying.
More's ideas were largely ignored until early in the nineteenth century, when social ferment and the prospect of revolution swept Europe. Utopian socialism bloomed. Prominent utopians of this period included the French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772--1837) and the philanthropist Robert Owen (1771--1858). Owen, though born into poverty, became wealthy as a Scottish cotton-mill owner while still in his twenties. Infatuated with the utopian vision, he financed several self-contained, communally owned villages in Scotland and the United States. Neat rows of houses, free education, better working conditions, and wages in proportion to hours worked attracted thousands of people to this grand experiment. But all utopian communities of this period were (predictably?) poorly managed and uniformly failed.
It seems ironic that some of Owen's dreams were integrated into public policies in many modern mixed economies. Free public education, socialized medicine in much of Europe and medical insurance in the United States, healthier working conditions, and substantial parts of our current welfare system can all be traced to utopian goals.
Founded in England in 1884, the Fabian Society jettisoned the utopian ideal of small communities, urging instead nationalization of heavy industry and municipal ownership of public utilities. Otherwise, their agenda echoed many reforms proposed by utopians: universal suffrage, income redistribution, free education and medical care, and laws to ensure safe work environments, forbid child labor, and limit women's working hours.
The early Fabians included such prominent intellectuals as playwright George Bernard Shaw, science fiction writer H. G. Wells, historian G. D. H. Cole, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, a married team of economists. This small band grew and, as it collected members who were active in the British union movement, evolved into the present Labour party, which dominated the British government from World War I until 1980. Many advocates of capitalism blamed the Labour party's policies of nationalization for technological obsolescence and the sluggish growth of the British economy. They credit massive privatization since 1980 for the modern resurgence of British industry.
It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Gospel of Matthew
Many conservative theologians interpret Christianity as supporting the status quo and the sanctity of private property. These clerics cite the scripture to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's" to justify existing distributions of wealth, status, and power. In this view, social struggle is a diversion from spiritual development.
The "social gospel" movement, launched over a century ago by a group of French Catholic priests who borrowed many utopian ideas, reflects a very different view.
Christian socialism advocates charity and peaceful social reforms.
Repudiating the violence advocated by revolutionary socialists, Christian socialism stresses the dignity of work and favors labor unions. It resembles Fabian socialism in its goals, even though most Fabians were atheists or agnostics.
Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI affirmed Catholicism's support for the "social gospel." Protestant theologians who were Christian socialists included Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. The "social gospel" remains a powerful force within the World Council of Churches, as a mainspring of the ecumenical movement, and in church-related social programs.
An offshoot of this movement is the "liberation theology" espoused by radical South American priests who favor violent revolution to overthrow repressive regimes. Their philosophy blends Christianity with elements of Marxism, but it is opposed by more conventional Christian socialists, while most Marxists view liberation theology as a refusal to recognize reality.
Marxism: Revolutionary Socialism
The history of . . . society is the history of class struggle.
Few people have left footprints on history comparable to those of Karl Marx. In the century following his death, more than one-third of humanity came to be governed by professed Marxists.
A central tenet of Marxism is the idea that socialism will replace capitalism only after a violent revolution.
Although the last few years have boded poorly for Marxists, his ideas continue to have millions of followers.