Differences and conflict within Socialism

Socialists share the belief that human nature is changeable and can be improved rather than fixed. Some view human nature as heavily influenced by the economic system in place, leading to a state of "false consciousness" that can only be corrected through revolution and authoritarian rule. Others argue that human nature can flourish within capitalism while still upholding socialist principles like cooperation and collectivism. 

Regarding society, socialists agree that our social surroundings play a crucial role in shaping our personalities. There is disagreement, however, on whether society can be gradually enhanced or if a revolutionary overhaul is necessary to align it with socialist values. 

When it comes to the state, socialists diverge on the role it should play in promoting socialist ideals. While some advocate for the complete dismantling of the capitalist state in favor of a dictatorship of the proletariat, others believe in utilizing the existing state to guide society towards socialist principles through constitutional reforms. 

In terms of the economy, there are varying perspectives among socialists. Some argue that socialism cannot coexist with private property and advocate for a swift transition to a non-capitalist economy, while others support a gradual shift towards socialism within a capitalist framework, allowing for public ownership and government intervention.

Revolutionary socialism

Revolutionary socialism rejects the use of democratic methods in the pursuit of a socialist society. In the 19th century, this 'revolutionary road' to socialism was popular with many on the left for

two reasons.

·   The early development of industrialisation and capitalism brought poverty, exploitation and unemployment, which was expected to radicalise the working classes who were at the sharp end of these changes.

·      As the workers were not part of the 'political nation', they had little ability to influence policies in government systems usually dominated by the landed aristocracy or bourgeoisie.

Revolutionary socialism, closely associated with Marxism, is a strand of socialist thought advocating for the overthrow of the existing system to establish a fundamentally different one. This theory emerged in the nineteenth century in various forms, appealing to many during a time when voting rights were limited and trade unions were illegal. Revolutionary socialists believed that revolution was imperative as the state served the ruling class and could not be reformed but had to be dismantled. They aimed for the complete abolition of capitalism, class distinctions, and private property, ultimately striving for absolute equality in a communist society. The Russian Revolution of 1917 marked the first successful socialist revolution, introducing Lenin's concept of an intellectual vanguard leading the unpoliticized masses. Throughout the twentieth century, revolutionary socialism inspired global uprisings against oppression and played a significant role in anti-colonial movements, with revolutions in China and Cuba. However, the outcomes of revolutionary socialism often fell short of expectations, with authoritarian states emerging and civil rights being suppressed. Today, revolutionary socialism has waned in relevance due to the USSR's failure and the collapse of communism in 1989/90. Understanding socialism necessitates a grasp of European history, with changes in ideology linked to historical events such as the Industrial Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the fall of communism.

Social democracy  & Democratic Socialism

Democratic socialism believed in  ‘the inevitability of gradualism’

Democratic socialist parties would campaign peacefully and gradually win the attention and trust of voters. The majority of voters (the working class) would gradually and inevitably realise they had no vested interest in capitalism.

■ Voters would inevitably elect socialist governments. Democratic socialist governments would inevitably oversee the gradual replacement of private ownership with state ownership. Voters would gradually recognise the progress being made and inevitably re-elect democratic socialists to government. The continuous effects of democratic socialist governments would gradually and inevitably produce a socialist society.

■ The benefits of such a society would inevitably be clear to all, thus making any reversal of socialism unlikely.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 'social democracy' was linked to anti-capitalism and even revolutionary beliefs. In the UK, for instance, the Social Democratic Federation was established by Henry Hyndman in 1881 after being inspired by Marx's works. By the mid-20th century, it evolved into a key form of revisionist socialism, moving away from Marx and Lenin's ideologies. This transformation originated from post-1945 developments within West Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), a significant socialist entity in Western Europe. At the 1959 Bad Godesberg conference, SPD revisionists like future West German chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt persuaded the party to sever ties with Marxism, embracing modern capitalism and the post-war West German state. This shift also had a British influence, with Brandt and others bolstered by British socialist Anthony Crosland's book 'The Future of Socialism' (1956), a seminal work in post-war social democracy. Crosland advocated for a reformed capitalism based on John Maynard Keynes' principles, where the state actively managed market forces to ensure full employment and steady economic growth. He argued that Keynesian economics made capitalism more stable, leading to a richer, fairer, and more egalitarian society. Social democrats drew inspiration from theorists like Bernstein, who in 'Evolutionary Socialism' (1899) posited that capitalism had evolved, workers' conditions were improving, and classes could collaborate. This perspective challenged Marx, asserting that revolution was neither inevitable nor desirable. Bernstein highlighted democracy as the path to achieving socialist objectives, supporting trade unions and cooperative movements to enhance workers' rights. Social democracy combines capitalist acceptance with a belief in a proactive state to curb capitalism's excesses and establish a welfare system for societal equality. Gradualism rejects revolution in favor of parliamentary socialism, aiming to unite the nation across classes peacefully and democratically. As workers' economic and social statuses improved, they gained voting rights and societal integration through avenues such as trade unions. This progress led to the emergence of socialist political parties like the UK's Labour Party, appealing to the expanding working-class electorate. Social democrats view the state as a neutral instrument adaptable to any mandate, not merely a tool of the capitalist elite. Critical of free-market inequalities yet recognizing capitalism's wealth creation capacity, social democrats seek to harmonize socialism with capitalism. Through progressive taxation and a mixed economy model blending private enterprise with state control in key sectors, they address social and economic disparities. Influential liberal economist John Maynard Keynes shaped 20th-century social democracy, advocating for active state intervention to stimulate economic growth.

Is there a difference between Social Democracy and Democratic socialism?

Democratic Socialism is associated with the Webbs and figures such as HG Wells. Bernard Shaw and with the Fabian Society.

Webb’s democratic socialism argued for reform: overthrowing capitalism via the ballot box. In this sense it was a democratic revolutionary movement.  The original Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution is a democratic socialist aspiration. socialist state would see the free-market economy gradually nationalised as the workers obtained common ownership. Democratic Socialists tended to believe in bureaucracy and technical experts who would manage the economy through rational planning. 

Postwar Labour governments were only partially swayed by her economic ideas, nationalising state utilities but allowing private companies to exist in a free market. Webb’s ‘Minority Report’ to the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws (1909) was a key influence on the development of the post-war welfare state. 

Social Democracy is associated with the ideas of Anthony Crosland. Crosland’s book The Future of Socialism (1956) profoundly influenced the Labour Party in the post-war period.  He dismissed Marxism as irrelevant and Webb’s socialist state as flawed. It did not call for the overthrow of capitalism and social democracy became the first branch of socialism to recognise a positive role for the free market. It did not see state ownership and centralised planning as the best way to achieve a fairer and more prosperous.  State intervention, via Keynesian regulation of the economy, would ensure continual full employment and economic growth. Progressive taxation would help fund the welfare state and the social engineering- through education,  would be required to create an egalitarian society. 

The Third Way 

Since the 1980s, reformist socialist parties globally, particularly in nations like the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand, have faced a wave of revisionism referred to as 'neo-revisionism'. This has prompted them to distance themselves to varying degrees from the traditional principles of social democracy. Referred to in various ways, such as 'new' social democracy, the 'third way', the 'radical center', the 'active center', and the 'Neue Mitte' (new middle), the ideological implications of neo-revisionism, especially its connection to traditional social democracy and socialism in general, have ignited debate and confusion. The different forms of neo-revisionism in various countries have given rise to contrasting projects, including those spearheaded by Tony Blair and New Labour in the UK, Bill Clinton and the New Democrats in the USA, as well as initiatives in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. Despite these differences, the core concept of neo-revisionism is encapsulated in the notion of the third way, proposing an alternative to both capitalism and socialism, particularly challenging old-style social democracy and neoliberalism. Open to interpretation and lacking precision, the third way emphasizes certain recurring themes. One of these is the rejection of traditional socialism, particularly the 'cybernetic model' of socialism advocated by Anthony Giddens. This model envisions the state as the brain within society, a concept that neo-revisionism moves away from in favor of a 'dynamic market economy', aligning with the ethos of globalization and the transition to an 'information society' or 'knowledge economy'. Embracing the market over state intervention, the third way advocates a pro-business and pro-enterprise approach, aiming to build upon the neoliberal changes of the 1980s and 1990s. Another fundamental belief of the third way is its emphasis on community and moral responsibility, drawing on socialist principles like fraternity and cooperation. While it incorporates many economic theories of neoliberalism, the third way rejects its philosophical foundations and social implications, cautioning against the moral decay brought about by market fundamentalism. Some interpretations of the third way, such as the 'Blair project' in the UK, seek to blend communitarian and liberal ideals, mirroring the 'new liberalism' of the late nineteenth century. At the heart of communitarian liberalism lies the notion that rights and responsibilities are inherently connected, advocating for a balance between the two.

'a hand-up, not a hand-out'

Social democracy provided extensive welfare benefits, while the third way, as described by Tony Blair, emphasized empowerment over handouts for a distinct approach to equality in welfare. Giddens promoted the coexistence of self-reliance and mutual dependence, envisioning a 'welfare society' with 'positive welfare' to assist the socially marginalized 'underclass'. He criticized atomistic societies and advocated for communitarianism, blending individualism with social responsibility. Giddens favored a bottom-up approach, urging government support for civic society to address local needs. He argued for a balance of rights and responsibilities, suggesting that unemployment benefits should require active job-seeking without discouraging initiative.

Giddens stated that the government should encourage investment in education and infrastructure to support the competitive state. New Labour's dedication to infrastructure further illustrated the blending of neo-liberal and social democratic concepts. 

The virtues of the Free Market and the failures of state planning

Giddens rejected the concept of the 'cybernetic model' of socialism, where the state functions as an artificial brain directing society and the economy. He also opposed Webb's idea of common ownership and Crosland's Keynesian state management in favor of a dynamic free market focused on maximizing wealth creation. Giddens believed in the empowerment of society through market capitalism. Blair implemented these notions by rebranding his party as 'New' Labour and breaking away from the Webbs' commitment to public ownership by modifying Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution. Giddens asserted that globalization weakened the Keynesian economic solutions advocated by Crosland and emphasized the significance of the free market. He highlighted how globalisation eroded the powers once held by nation-states, including those crucial for Keynesian economic management. The 'third way' moved away from the high tax rates typical of social democracy, recognizing their hindrance on economic growth. New Labour administrations reduced business taxes and maintained the top income tax rate at 40%, raising it to 50% in 2010 in response to the financial crisis. Giddens argued that neo-liberal economies generated more revenue than state-managed ones, enabling increased public spending to support the most vulnerable in society. New Labour embraced Giddens' principles, resulting in an annual economic growth of 2.4% during Blair's tenure, marking a period of sustained economic expansion.

Third way ideas and New Labour  

Positive welfare Minimum national wage Tax credits provided to workers 10% tax rate for individuals with low incomes Grants for educational maintenance offered to disadvantaged students Implementation of a 'New Deal' to assist the unemployed in securing jobs 

Social welfare system Inclusion of dedication to social justice in the New Labour Party constitution Focusing on addressing issues impacting the 'underclass', such as poverty, limited educational achievements, substance dependency, inadequate housing, and ineffective parenting, through the welfare-to-work initiative 

Education - Giddens advocated for a 'redistribution for all' Establishment of academy schools in 2000: Blair suggested it would enhance student performance and disrupt the cycle of low expectations Promotion of competition among schools through league tables (a neoliberal concept) to enhance effectiveness, allowing parents the freedom to select their child's school (encouraging civic involvement) Blair's education-oriented policies boosted university enrollment. From 3.4% in 1950, it increased to 19.3% in 1970, and by 2017, it soared to 49% New Labour supported Giddens' concept of lifelong learning to enable individuals to adjust to the dynamic twenty-first-century job market: 'Education must be redefined to concentrate on skills that individuals can develop throughout their lives' Encouragement of self-sufficiency (restructuring the welfare system) 

Between 1997 and 2010, New Labour raised public expenditure to develop what Giddens referred to as 'social capital,' including schools, hospitals, and public structures, alongside initiatives like Crossrail (which introduced the Elizabeth line on the London Underground) and the campaign for the 2012 Olympic Games. Instead of being managed by the government, New Labour outsourced the construction projects to the private market through the use of private finance initiative (PFI) and public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Approaches towards crime Rejection of government control Promotion of community values Introduction of university tuition fees Conditional welfare support contingent on individuals actively seeking employment Justice system that combined authoritarianism and reform by being 'tough on crime and its root causes' 

Amendment of Clause IV in the Labour Party constitution, signaling the end of Labour's dedication to public ownership Acknowledgment of the advantages of the free market by not reverting to a mixed economy following the Conservative governments' privatization of national services from 1979 to 1997 Devolvement of powers to Scotland and Wales, alongside the election of mayors