The Economy

At the heart of the socialist approach to the economy is a preference for common or collective ownership over private ownership. Such a view sets socialism apart from liberalism and conservatism, which both regard private ownership as natural and proper. Socialists criticise private property for a number of reasons: 

Socialists propose either abolishing private property and instituting common ownership of productive wealth, or balancing property rights with community interests. Pioneering socialists like Marx and Engels envisioned eliminating private property to establish a classless, communist society as an alternative to capitalism. They advocated collective ownership of property for the benefit of humanity, although they provided few details on practical implementation. When Lenin and the Bolsheviks took control in Russia in 1917, they believed socialism could be achieved through nationalization. By the 1930s, Stalin's 'second revolution' led to the creation of a centrally planned economy and state collectivization in the Soviet Union. This resulted in 'common ownership' equating to 'state ownership' or 'socialist state property' as per the Soviet constitution, marking the rise of state socialism. Social democrats also see the state as a means for collective ownership and rational economic planning. Nationalization in the West, however, has focused on creating a mixed economy instead of full state collectivization. For instance, the post-World War II Attlee Labour government in the UK nationalized key industries like coal, steel, electricity, and gas to regulate the economy without complete collectivization. Since the 1950s, socialist parties in parliaments have moved away from emphasizing ownership politics, instead defining socialism in terms of equality and social justice. 

To what extent do socialists agree about the economy?

● Socialists differ in their attitude to capitalism. Revolutionary socialists like Marx and Engels argue that capitalism distorts human consciousness and leaves the worker ‘deformed’, with the proletariat exploited by the bourgeoisie.

● Revolutionary and democratic socialists want capitalism abolished and replaced with an economy based on collective ownership of property and the workers controlling the means of production. Revolutionary socialists think capitalism is beyond reform. Evolutionary socialists think capitalism can be reformed (but disagree on how to reform it)

● Revolutionary socialists argue that equality can be achieved only with the abolition of private property and the common ownership of the means of production with workers’ control.

● Revolutionary socialists argue that any attempts to reform capitalism will completely undermine the core objectives of socialism. Luxemburg maintains that the exploitative elements within capitalism are too strong.

● Marx and Engels argued that capitalism’s innate contradictions and crises mean that its collapse is inevitable. This is a predominant theme within revolutionary socialism.

● Democratic socialist Beatrice Webb argued that equality of ownership would equate to extensive state nationalisation and not the workers taking direct control. She preferred a paternal socialist governing class.

● Social democrats disagree with revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists and argue that capitalism should not be abolished but reformed.Socialists disagree on the role of the state in organising the economy. Revolutionary socialists think the state will wither away, while evolutionary socialists disagree on how active the state must be in managing the economy

● Social democrats argue for a mixed economy of state and privately run industries. The state would regulate the economy using Keynesian economics to maintain growth and full employment. Evolutionary socialists disagree on how to manage the economy. Webb favours nationalisation; Crosland, a mixed economy; and Giddens prefers a neo-liberal free market.

● Social democrats wish to reform the inequalities of capitalism via the welfare state, which would redistribute wealth.

● Social democrats like Anthony Crosland focus on social justice rather than common ownership and emphasize that the state must manage the economy wisely so that its benefits can be shared on an egalitarian basis.

● Social democrats wish to redistribute wealth, resources, and opportunities via public ownership and extensive public services that would be financed by progressive taxation.

● The Third Way embraces aspects of the free market and abandons top- down state intervention. It envisages private enterprise being involved in the delivery of public services, as in the private finance initiatives instigated by New Labour.

So overall Socialists generally agree on the fundamental principles of an economy that prioritize improving the lives of the many not just the few. Better living standards, good public services, and a flourishing life. However, the extent to which they agree on specific economic policies and strategies can vary significantly.

Democratic socialists, Social Democrats, and Revolutionary Socialists all advocate for the redistribution of wealth and resources to create a more equitable society. They believe in reducing income inequality, ensuring access to essential services like healthcare and education, and promoting workers’ rights.

While there is broad consensus among socialists on these overarching goals, there are significant disagreements on the best methods to achieve them. Different socialists may have varying views on the role of the state in the economy, the extent of government intervention, and the pace of transition towards a socialist system.

Democratic and Revolutionary socialists advocate for a planned economy, where the state controls the means of production and resource allocation. They argue that central planning can lead to more efficient use of resources and better distribution of wealth. Social Democrats support a mixed economy, combining elements of both public and private ownership, with strong regulations to protect workers and prevent exploitation.

Additionally, socialists may differ in their approach to international trade and globalization. Democratic Socialists and Revolutionary Socialists emphasize the need for economic self-sufficiency and protectionism to safeguard domestic industries and workers, while social democrats and Third Way Socialists advocate for global cooperation and fair trade practices.

Overall, while socialists share a common vision of social justice and a prosperous society for all  the extent of their agreement on specific economic policies can vary based on ideological differences and contextual considerations.