How to write an essay on socialism and common humanity

Answering a 24 mark Ideologies question on Paper 1 Edexcel Politics: Socialism


The  core ideologies in Paper 1 are Socialism, Liberalism and Conservatism and there will be two questions from which you will answer one. These ideology questions are worth 24 marks so you should writes for about 25- 30 minutes.

You will also need to refer to at least two key thinkers.

A lot of students say that socialism is a difficult ideology to understand because there are so many strands and indeed the differences within socialism are very great.

The three most common divisions in socialism are between:

·   Revolutionary socialists (also called fundamentalist)

·   Social Democracy. (Revisionist and evolutionary)

·   The Third Way. (neo revisionist and evolutionary)

Follow this link for a description  of the Divisions in Socialism


However, there are beliefs which all socialists share and one their view of human nature. All socialists believe that human nature is malleable and improvable by nurture such as education not fixed by nature. On e aspect of this generally optimist view of human nature is a belief in Common humanity

So a typical 24 mark question might be:

 To what extent do socialists accept the concept of common humanity?


While all socialists share this belief revolutionary socialists, such as Marx, believe that human nature is especially susceptible to whichever economic system it lives under. Therefore, people are likely to suffer a ‘false consciousness’ that can be cured only by revolution and authoritarian rule (the dictatorship of the proletariat). Other socialists, including revisionists like Anthony Giddens, argue that human nature can prosper under capitalism.


As with the 30 mark questions you should decide the direction of your essay. However, if you were answering a 30-mark question, you would have a larger introduction which would outline the debate before stating your direction. But for an ideology question, you only need a one-line sentence because you have less time.

For example if you argue that socialists mostly disagree about the concept of common humanity, you might write:

‘While all socialists agree about the general concept of common humanity they fundamentally disagree about how it can flourish.’


If you argue that socialists mostly agree about the concept of common humanity, you might write:

‘While there is some disagreement  about how common humanity can flourish all socialists are united in their  understanding of common humanity.’

Remember the key instruction word in the question is ‘extent’ so you are not expected to say they have no agreement or that they completely agree.

The Sandwich Structure

One way to structure these essays is to adopt the  agree-sandwich approach, or disagree-sandwich approach. i.e Two paragraphs support your direction are the ‘bread’ and one shows you know the alternative view- i.e. the ‘filling’. So begin with the one-line introduction then three paragraphs followed by a conclusion.

Always mention two strands in your first sentence of every paragraph.


 For example if you are arguing that they disagree about common humanity, the first paragraph could contrast the difference between Revolutionary Socialist and Third-Way Socialists. Revolutionary  and third-way views differ widely when it comes to human nature and common humanity. Revolutionary socialists believe that humans are naturally sociable and cooperative. Capitalism, they argue, distorts human nature and brings out the selfishness and greed that works against common humanity. Capitalism, they argue, imposes  alienating pressures on humans, resulting in selfish behaviour and decisions that do not result in human happiness, as it emphasises the acquisition of wealth above all other human priorities. However, Third Way socialists argue that humans are motivated by material rewards such as money and status. But for the third way, being driven by material and being competitive as well as seeking material rewards isn't necessarily a bad thing, just as being motivated by community action and collective endeavour isn't a bad thing. Therefore, Revolutionary Socialists and Third Way socialists have a fundamentally different view of the economic conditions which allow  common humanity to thrive.


Third-way socialists also disagree with Social Democrats about how and whether common humanity can be achieved if society is too unequal, so you can also  mention that in your first paragraph.

In this example, your middle  paragraph, which is the the filling of the sandwich, you should show that you are aware of ways they are similar which means going against the direction you set in the introduction and in the other paragraphs. However you should still remind the examiner of what you believe at the end of this paragraph. If you don’t do this you'll sound like you’re contradicting yourself.

To show that you are acknowledging views counter to the direction of your essay you could use words such as ‘while’ and ‘granted’ or phrases such as ‘there is some agreement’ or ‘It can be argued’. These word distance you from these views.

For example:

While Social Democrats and Revolutionary socialist agree……..the differences remain more significant’

‘Granted, Social Democrats and Revolutionary socialists have some agreement that……however…..’


You can make the point that Social Democrats and Revolutionary Socialists agree about the harmful  effects of capitalism on human nature. Revolutionary socialists point to the inevitable exploitation of the weak by powerful elites, and the wide social inequality as well as the damaging effects of alienation. Social Democrats accept these dangers and so for common humanity to flourish there must be welfare equality, a mixed economy where public services must be properly funded through taxing the proceeds of capitalism. That's what social democrats would say, hence Anthony Crosland's support for what he called ‘managed capitalism’, which he argued would tame market forces and allow humans to flourish. You can also show that  Social Democrats and Third-Way Socialists agree that common humanity can still flourish and exist in a capitalist system, in fact the wealth produced by capitalism is vital for human happiness. Third Way thinker Anthony Giddens agued that a fairer society had to embrace new technologies and the inevitability of globalisation. This is simar to Crossland’s call for managed capitalism. You should end this paragraph by returning to the direction you are arguing:

Granted all socialists see  many flaws in the effects of capitalism which hinder acceptance of our common humanity  and they accept the ability of capitalism to produce wealth, but more significant differences remain since revolutionary socialist see the necessity of destroying capitalism, social democrats can accepted a just management of capitalism and third way socialists see ethical values in capitalism.


In the third paragraph you should describe how Revolutionary and Social Democrat Socialists have significant differences regarding just how common humanity is realised. Revolutionary Socialists believe that working together, supporting each other, is human nature's natural state which leads to collectivist policies on the economy, including common ownership, workers control and nationalisation. Yet the other two strands provide a different route, which is described as a revisionist approach to how common humanity can be achieved and how human potential could be maximised. For social democrats, a mixed economy and Keynesian economics need not require complete common ownership, so you don't necessarily need the government to take over every single business. Third-way Socialists, accept that some form of market economy is necessary for human flourishing.  Anthony Giddens for example supported the policies of privatisation as necessary for wealth production. Too much collectivism will stifle human’s natural individualism  so within capitalism, you can still have common humanity. Collectivism, they argue, isn't entirely rejected, but individualism is promoted far more than Social Democrats and Revolutionary socialists would promote.

Finally your conclusion should sum up by returning to the question directly and making the point that while all socialist share a general concept of common humanity in terms of foundational equality- i.e. ‘all men are created equal’ they have significant differences over equality of outcome, which fundamentalist socialist place greater emphasis on and revision socialist tend to reject in favour of equality of opportunity. Above all they differ significantly over the ability of market capitalism to produce a socialist society. This means there are fundamental differences between socialist over the concept of common humanity.


What if you decided that your direction would be:

While there is some disagreement  about how common humanity can flourish all socialists are united in their  understanding of common humanity.’

Your first paraph might make the point that Revolutionary Socialists and Social Democrats both accept that   unrestricted laissez faire capitalism creates inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity.  Revolutionary Socialists such as Rosa Luxemburg  called for mass action by workers to oppose capitalism and Beatrice Webb sought incremental change which would lead to the end of free market capitalism. Therefore they both believed that common humanity requires a recognition of social justice and that market forces and capitalism do not reflect this truth. Free markets favour the strong over the weak with little regard for justice. Collective endeavour, community engagement, are themes common to all socialists. Third Way socialists also accept that capitalism lacks ethical values which instead must be pursued by community action.

In the middle paragraph you should show awareness of the alternative view.

It can be argued that there are differences between Revolutionary Socialists and Social Democrats over whether   common humanity means that human beings are  motivated by personal ambition or material rewards. Marx believed that individualism and competitiveness are a form of false consciousness produced by the powerful to mislead and divide the workers as well as deny their common humanity.  Social Democrats differ because they accept that to some extent these motives are inevitable and need to be managed so Crossland called for manged capitalism and Third Way Socialists go further and see individual ambition as ethically good. For third-way socialists, the responsibility of the state to provide services, which is heavily emphasised by social democrats, must be balanced with responsibility, the responsibility that individuals have for themselves and for others.  Rights and  responsibilities leads to the third way to support self-reliance, ‘welfare to work’ and personal responsibility as well as a more limited welfare state with a carrot and stick approach to benefits. This is different to social democrats who argue that welfare equality,  through services such as the NHS, is the ultimate expression of fraternity, of common humanity. The idea of fraternity is that we see fellow humans as siblings rather than rivals, people that we look after in time of need, and that we have bonds with one another. And these services, these welfare services, help promote that kind of fraternity, that kind of common humanity.  While Third-Way socialists believe that humans are able to compete in a market economy so long as there is a quality of opportunity.

In this ‘middle’ paragraph it’s important to make it clear that this is not the line you are arguing, so prefacing these points with ‘It can be argued’ or ‘There is some disagreement..(or agreement depending on your line). End the paragraph with:

While it can be argued that socialists differ over human motivation their common  acceptance that the moral and ethical emptiness of laissez faire capitalism leads to an attack on common humanity since all strands of socialism accept that humans are mouldable and that humans are plastic and thus shape-able and that equality in one form or another will likely lead to greater social cohesion and thus to common humanity, to a shared sense of purpose in your community. Therefore the fundamentalist support for absolute equality and hence the third way support for equality of opportunity although very different types of equality, cannot be achieved through  unrestricted capitalism.


Social democrats share the idea of classlessness with fundamentalists (Revolutionary Socialists) and how this will bring about the best in people. All socialists in foundational equality that each of us is of equal worth and opportunities should be spread as widely as possible. There is  no natural order or hierarchy. Fundamentalists believe that class is the most significant divider of humans from one to another. Class divisions are inevitable in capitalism for fundamentalists and must be addressed for common humanity to be recognised. Similarly The third way share all socialists view that social classes are an obstacle to meritocracy and equality of opportunity. Anthony Crosland saw class as “the indefensible differences of status and income that disfigure our society”. In this sense all socialists are advocates of a society free of irrational traditions and structures such as class and privileges of birth, because these deny social justice and in an unjust society common humanity can not flourish.

Finally as with all of these essays  your conclusion should sum up by returning to the question directly and making the point that while  socialists have profound disagreements over the nature of human motivation they share a common belief in shared humanity as reflected in human’s natural fraternity and desire for justice. They also share a common analysis of the essential immorality of laissez-faire capitalism. This means there is a fundamental  agreement between socialists over the concept of common humanity’s shared goals.


Overall It is worth remembering that socialism is a very divided ideology because while all socialists share the view that societies based on rationality and justice are the only systems which can allow common humanity to thrive there are considerable differences over how a just and rational society might be achieved and how that society should be organised. These differences are so great that a belief in the evolutionary route to a just society and the belief in the revolutionary route is one of the oldest and deepest divides- Mensheviks argued for  evolutionary change  through education and reforms of capitalism which would gradually lead to a socialist society, whereas Bolsheviks argued for revolutionary change followed by vigorous repression of capitalism through the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. Revolutionary socialists view capitalism as too powerful and too adaptive to be changed slowly. According to Marx, common humanity can only be achieved through acknowledging historical materialism. This is the idea that whoever controls the economy influences every aspect of human life and thus it is important that the bourgeoisie, the middle class, the property class be immediately removed from the economy and replaced by workers control. Revolution to achieve common humanity is also inevitable, according to Marx, because of Marx's idea of the dialectic, that capitalism produces two competing forces that will always lead to conflict.

However, even with these considerable differences all strands of socialism accept that humans are naturally sociable, cooperative and community-minded yet for these very reasons evolutionary socialists reject the chaos and violence that they think will be caused by a revolution. The Webb’s believed that the middle classes because of human sociability could be co-opted into supporting socialism as they too would come to see collectivism as being in their own interest since cooperation would be seen as more efficient than unrestricted market capitalism.

All socialists are somewhat vague about exactly what a completed socialist society might look like. Marx seemed to think that once achieved, it would require very little organisation with the state ‘withering away’ and technology making material inequality unnecessary and work itself being unnecessary. Evolutionary socialists are also vague but do not agree with Marxists that it would  involve the complete collective ownership of all wealth  and means of production. For Social Democrats and Third Way Socialists, some capitalism would persist. This is a fundamental difference.