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Socialism 101

What is socialism?

Socialism is an economic system characterized by public ownership and centralized planning of all major industries (manufacturing, services, and energy), banks and insurance companies, agribusiness, transportation, the media, and medical facilities. Under capitalism, these giant enterprises dominate the economy but are privately owned and operated for the purpose of generating wealth for their owners by extracting it from working people who are paid only a small fraction of what their labor produces. Socialism turns this around so that the class that produces the wealth can collectively decide how it will be used for the benefit of all.

As African American poet and communist Langston Hughes wrote in "Good Morning, Revolution":

We can take everything:
Factories, arsenals, houses, ships,
Railroads, forests, fields, orchards…
And turn 'em over to the people who work.
Rule 'em and run 'em for us people who work.

Real socialism is, by definition, democratic. It is economic as well as political democracy. Many capitalist countries boast of their democratic institutions, but this is an illusion because all the political power is in the hands of those who hold the wealth. Socialism prioritizes human needs and eliminates the profit motive that drives war, ecological destruction, and inequalities based on gender, race, nationality and sexuality.

Like capitalism, socialism must be international so that global resources can be shared. No country can be truly independent of the global economy because until capitalism is defeated internationally it will continue to sabotage efforts to build socialism. Achieving socialism in the United States, the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, is necessary to any country being able to determine its own destiny.

Types of socialism

Most socialists identify themselves as Marxists in recognition of Karl Marx, who discovered the economic laws underlying capitalism. Marx and his lifelong collaborator Frederick Engels laid the foundation of Marxist economics, the philosophical concept of dialectical materialism, and the method of social analysis known as historical materialism.

Leninism denotes the concepts of a disciplined, revolutionary party and the principled, intransigent vision of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, key leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Lenin's works on imperialism, the nature of the state, and the rights of national minorities are essential components of the socialist tradition.

Trotskyism is the continuation of the Marxist and Leninist current led by Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution. When the Stalinist bureaucracy rose to power in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s, Trotsky rallied an international Left Opposition against the betrayal of the revolution's goals. Trotskyism stands for Permanent Revolution, internationalism, and the strategy of the united front against fascism. Trotsky was murdered by a Stalinist assassin in 1940.

Socialist feminism was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by founders of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women. It is a Marxist, Leninist, and Trotskyist tendency that acknowledges that the most oppressed sector of the modern working class is composed of women, particularly women of color, whose life experience of exploitation gives them the strength and determination to carry through a revolution against all forms of oppression. Socialist feminists recognize the revolutionary leadership of workingclass women, people of color, and queers, and others multiply afflicted by capitalism. Socialist feminists orient to grassroots, rank-and-file women and men rather than to the predominantly white male aristocrats of labor who make up the union bureaucracy.

Several currents that emerged from the socialist and communist movements have lost their revolutionary character and misstate the basic principles of socialism's founders. These include: social-democrats, socialist reformers who support mere electoral revision of the capitalist system; Stalinists, who arose out of the Soviet bureaucracy as supporters of Stalin's brutal dictatorship and who advocate peaceful co-existence with capitalism and immersion in bourgeois parties; and Maoists, China-oriented Stalinists, who frequently describe themselves as Marxist-Leninists.

To cite this webpage: "Socialism 101," Red Letter Press, 27 August 2007, http://www.redletterpress.org/socialism101.shtml (accessed Date Month Year).