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socialism, general term for the political and economic theory that advocates a system of collective or government ownership and management of the means of production and distribution of goods. Because of the collective nature of socialism, it is to be contrasted to the doctrine of the sanctity of private property that characterizes capitalism. Where capitalism stresses competition and profit, socialism calls for cooperation and social service.

In a broader sense, the term socialism is often used loosely to describe economic theories ranging from those that hold that only certain public utilities and natural resources should be owned by the state to those holding that the state should assume responsibility for all economic planning and direction. In the past 150 years there have been innumerable differing socialist programs. For this reason socialism as a doctrine is ill defined, although its main purpose, the establishment of cooperation in place of competition remains fixed.

The Early Theorists

Socialism arose in the late 18th and early 19th cent. as a reaction to the economic and social changes associated with the Industrial Revolution. While rapid wealth came to the factory owners, the workers became increasingly impoverished. As this capitalist industrial system spread, reactions in the form of socialist thought increased proportionately. Although many thinkers in the past expressed ideas that were similar to later socialism, the first theorist who may properly be called socialist was François Noël Babeuf, who came to prominence during the French Revolution. Babeuf propounded the doctrine of class war between capital and labor later to be seen in Marxism.

Socialist writers who followed Babeuf, however, were more moderate. Known as “utopian socialists,” they included the comte de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen. Saint-Simon proposed that production and distribution be carried out by the state. The leaders of society would be industrialists who would found a national community based upon cooperation and who would eliminate the poverty of the lowest classes. Fourier and Owen, though differing in many respects, both believed that social organization should be based on small local collective communities rather than the large centralist state of Saint-Simon. All these men agreed, however, that there should be cooperation rather than competition, and they implicitly rejected class struggle. In the early 19th cent. numerous utopian communistic settlements founded on the principles of Fourier and Owen sprang up in Europe and the United States; New Harmony and Brook Farm were notable examples.

Following the utopians came thinkers such as Louis Blanc who were more political in their socialist formulations. Blanc put forward a system of social workshops (1840) that would be controlled by the workers themselves with the support of the state. Capitalists would be welcome in this venture, and each person would receive goods in proportion to his or her needs. Blanc became a member of the French provisional government of 1848 and attempted to put some of his proposals into effect, but his efforts were sabotaged by his opponents. The anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon and the insurrectionist Auguste Blanqui were also influential socialist leaders of the early and mid-19th cent.

Marxists and Gradualists

In the 1840s the term communism came into use to denote loosely a militant leftist form of socialism; it was associated with the writings of Étienne Cabet and his theories of common ownership. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels later used it to describe the movement that advocated class struggle and revolution to establish a society of cooperation.

In 1848, Marx and Engels wrote the famous Communist Manifesto, in which they set forth the principles of what Marx called “scientific socialism,” arguing the historical inevitability of revolutionary conflict between capital and labor. In all of his works Marx attacked the socialists as theoretical utopian dreamers who disregarded the necessity of revolutionary struggle to implement their doctrines. In the atmosphere of disillusionment and bitterness that increasingly pervaded European socialism, Marxism later became the theoretical basis for most socialist thought. But the failure of the revolutions of 1848 caused a decline in socialist action in the following two decades, and it was not until the late 1860s that socialism once more emerged as a powerful social force.

Other varieties of socialism continued to exist alongside Marxism, such as Christian socialism, led in England by Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley; they advocated the establishment of cooperative workshops based on Christian principles. Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the first workers' party in Germany (1863), promoted the idea of achieving socialism through state action in individual nations, as opposed to the Marxian emphasis on international revolution. Through the efforts of Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, Lassalle's group was brought into the mainstream of Marxian socialism. By the 1870s Socialist parties sprang up in many European countries, and they eventually formed the Second International. With the increasing improvement of labor conditions, however, and the apparent failure of the capitalist state to weaken, a major schism began to develop over the issue of revolution.

While nearly all socialists condemned the bourgeois capitalist state, a large number apparently felt it more expedient or more efficient to adapt to and reform the state structure, rather than overthrow it. Opposed to these gradualists were the orthodox Marxists and the advocates of anarchism and syndicalism, all of whom believed in the absolute necessity of violent struggle. In 1898, Eduard Bernstein denied the inevitability of class conflict; he called for a revision of Marxism that would allow an evolutionary socialism.

The struggle between evolutionists and revolutionists affected the socialist movement throughout the world. In Germany, Bernstein's chief opponent, Karl Kautsky, insisted that the Social Democratic party adhere strictly to orthodox Marxist principles. In other countries, however, revisionism made more progress. In Great Britain, where orthodox Marxism had never been a powerful force, the Fabian Society, founded in 1884, set forth basic principles of evolutionary socialism that later became the theoretical basis of the British Labour party. The principles of William Morris, dictated by aesthetic and ethical aims, and the small but able group that forwarded guild socialism also had influence on British thought, but the Labour party, with its policy of gradualism, represented the mainstream of British socialism. In the United States, the ideological issue led to a split in the Socialist Labor party, founded in 1876 under strong German influence, and the formation (1901) of the revisionist Socialist party, which soon became the largest socialist group.

The most momentous split, however, took place in the Russian Social Democratic Labor party, which divided into the rival camps of Bolshevism and Menshevism. Again, gradualism was the chief issue. It was the revolutionary opponents of gradualism, the Bolsheviks, who seized power in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and became the Communist party of the USSR. World War I had already split the socialist movement over whether to support their national governments in the war effort (most did); the Russian Revolution divided it irrevocably. The Russian Communists founded the Comintern in order to seize leadership of the international socialist movement and to foment world revolution, but most European Socialist parties, including the mainstream of the powerful German party, repudiated the Bolsheviks. Despite the Germans' espousal of Marxist orthodoxy, they had been notably nonrevolutionary in practical politics. Thereafter, revolutionary socialism, or communism, and evolutionary, or democratic, socialism were two separate and frequently mutually antagonistic movements.

Democratic Socialism

Democratic socialism took firm root in European politics after World War I. Socialist democratic parties actively participated in government in Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other nations. Socialism also became a powerful force in parts of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. To the Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of independence movements, it was attractive as an alternative to the systems of private enterprise and exploitation established by their foreign rulers.

After World War II, socialist parties came to power in many nations throughout the world, and much private industry was nationalized. In Africa and Asia where the workers are peasants, not industrial laborers, socialist programs stressed land reform and other agrarian measures. These nations, until recently, have also emphasized government planning for rapid economic development. African socialism has also included the revival of precolonial values and institutions, while modernizing through the centralized apparatus of the one-party state. Recently, the collapse of Eastern European and Soviet Communist states has led socialists throughout the world to discard much of their doctrines regarding centralized planning and nationalization of enterprises.


See G. D. H. Cole, A History of Socialist Thought (5 vol., 1953–60); J. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (3d ed. 1950, repr. 1962); G. Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism (1970); M. Harrington, Socialism (1972); W. Lerner, A History of Socialism and Communism in Modern Times (1982); A. S. Linemann, A History of European Socialism (1984); H. Davis and R. Scase, Western Capitalism and State Socialism (1985); D. Sassoon, One Hundred Years of Socialism (1997).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


a political ideology with many variants which emerged in early 19th-century Britain and France, and which aims for societies in which poverty is eliminated, market forces are not the sole means of the distribution of economic wealth, and where the human ideals of cooperation and altruistic behaviour develop.

Whilst there were forerunners of this ideology, for example the Diggers in 17th-century England, the ideas were developed especially in the 19th century, as theory, e.g. by SAINT-SIMON and Robert Owen, and in practice through the development of cooperative societies and the nascent trade unions. MARX and ENGELS had a decisive influence through their attempts to show that socialism was a 'scientific necessity’, rather than merely a preferred form of society. They argued that CAPITALISM AND CAPITALIST MODE OF PRODUCTION could not sustain human civilization since it would lead to economic breakdown and chaos. They also argued that since no RULING CLASS in history ever gave up its dominant position peacefully, the achievement of socialism could only be possible with the revolutionary overthrow of the BOURGEOISIE and thence capitalism.

From Marx and Engel's first socialist writings in the mid-19th century, differences between socialists have centred around one important issue:

  1. whether capitalism can be reformed and modified so that most of the ideas can be achieved within its framework (see also REVISIONISM, FABIAN SOCIETY AND FABIANISM); or
  2. whether it has first to be overthrown. Today, those who advocate SOCIAL DEMOCRACY argue that capitalism is reformable (the position of most European Social Democratic Parties, including the British Labour Party). They argue that some combination of state supervision of the market and state ownership or regulation of selected sectors of the economy, combined with welfare measures and socialization into altruistic rather than selfish motivations, will achieve the aims of socialism. This form of society will be more democratic than forms of STATE SOCIALIST SOCIETY, in that political power will not be so centralized and people will gain more control in more areas of their lives. They argue that this can be achieved within the framework of the electoral politics and parliamentary and legislative procedures established in Western democracies, which socialists have played a major part in creating.

Against this, a minority strand of European socialist movements continues to support revolutionary socialism, arguing that reformist measures will be resisted by the dominant bourgeoisie, and that capitalism will not provide the framework for socialism and must be overthrown.

A recent variant of either of these positions exists in modern EUROCOMMUNISM, that gradual changes in a socialist direction can be defended by the working class within capitalism and there will be a gradual, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, change from capitalism to socialism.

A second main strand of debate concerns the social basis of socialism. Marxist and communist variants have tended to see the working class as the major social force capable of producing socialism, whereas social democrats have generally rejected a Marxian analysis of social class and argued that the middle classes are as important, and that even sections of the capitalist class can be won over to socialist ideals (see also CLASS, CONTRADICTORY CLASS LOCATIONS).

Outside of Europe, socialist ideas have been adopted and modified and incorporated into non-European political ideologies. One important example is African Socialism, which developed in the 1950s independence movements around the idea that cooperative and communal forms of organization already existed in small-scale African societies, and that socialism could be built on the bases of these, especially as capitalism was weakly developed in Africa and therefore without entrenched indigenous capitalist interests. See also COMMUNISM, PUBLIC OWNERSHIP, PRIVATIZATION.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) The first stage of the communist formation. The economic basis of socialism is social ownership of the means of production; its political basis is the power of the toiling masses under the leadership of the working class, headed by the Marxist-Leninist party. Socialism is a social structure that precludes the exploitation of man by man and develops in conformity with a plan, with the objectives of improving the well-being of the people and comprehensively developing every member of society.

(2) Scientific socialism, the doctrine that reveals the historical necessity for the establishment of socialism and shows the way for its gradual transformation into communism; part of the Marxist-Leninist theory.

Origin and development of socialist theories. The protest of the oppressed classes of the population against coercion and exploitation was expressed in the emergence and development of doctrines presenting socialism as a just social system. However, representatives of pre-Marxian socialism did not understand the lawlike regularities of social development, nor did they view the working class as the force capable of establishing socialism through revolution, on the ruins of the capitalist mode of production.

The history of socialist theories is inextricably linked with the exacerbation of the class struggle and with the growth of the revolutionary role of the proletariat. Undeveloped forms of the struggle of the working class corresponded to immature socialist theories. The Utopian socialists, including T. More and T. Campanella, were the first to undertake a systematic presentation of socialist theory. Their ideas were further developed by Saint-Simon, C. Fourier, and R. Owen, whose views were a source of Marxism. The representatives of Utopian socialism criticized the flaws of the capitalist system and advocated a socialist society based on common ownership of the means of production; they believed such a society could be established by convincing the representatives of the ruling classes of the necessity of socialism, by changing human nature, or by founding associations and cooperatives. Although the Utopian socialists brilliantly predicted certain features of the future system, they were unable to link their theory to the revolutionary struggle of the working class and thereby raise it to the level of a science.

The Russian revolutionary democrats A. I. Herzen and N. G. Chernyshevskii abandoned the idea of a peaceful transition of humanity to socialism and linked the establishment of socialism with the revolutionary struggle of the people. However, they were unable to grasp the principles of social development and the role of the working class.

In addition to Utopian socialism, bourgeois and petit bourgeois theories of socialism became popular. They were critically analyzed by K. Marx and F. Engels in the Communist Manifesto.

As a result of the revolution they achieved in the social sciences, Marx and Engels were able to transform socialism from a Utopian theory into a science. They established the scientific foundations of socialism, demonstrated the inevitability of its victory over capitalism, and elucidated its main characteristics and the principles of its development. In a new historical epoch, that of the transition of humanity from capitalism to communism, V. I. Lenin creatively developed socialist theory by generalizing from the first experience in building socialism, which took place in the USSR. Socialist theory is constantly being developed, enriched, and made more specific through the activity of the CPSU and other Marxist-Leninist parties, in the documents of the international communist and working-class movement, and in research by Marxist scholars.

The first stage of communism. Socialism replaces capitalism as a result of the operation of the objective laws of social development, by the revolutionary elimination of the capitalist mode of production. Under capitalism, the material prerequisites for socialism emerge—the development of the production forces and the large-scale socialization of production. The main contradiction of capitalism is between the social character of production and the private, capitalist form of appropriation. It is resolved by the socialist revolution, which ensures a correspondence between the production relations and the character and level of the productive forces.

The construction of socialism, which is the result of the creative activity of the working class and all the toiling people, under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist party, marks the end of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism.

Unlike all the other social systems, socialism emerges and becomes fully established not as a result of spontaneous processes in the depths of the preceding mode of production but by the conscious efforts of the masses, based on the knowledge and application of the objective laws of the development of socialism. The building of socialism was essentially completed for the first time in the mid-1930’s in the USSR. Centuries of backwardness were ended in the lifetime of a single generation. The country made substantial technological, economic, and social progress. By the late 1930’s, the USSR ranked second in the world in volume of industrial output. The most important branches of industrial production were entirely rebuilt, the socialist transformation of agriculture was carried out, and a cultural revolution made advanced cultural and scientific achievements accessible to the popular masses.

Since the victory of the socialist revolution and the building of socialism in the USSR, socialism has become more than a theory and a popular social movement: it has become established as a social system in many countries. A large group of European and Asian countries adopted socialism after World War II (1939–45). With the formation of the world socialist system, there was an international foundation for the further development of socialism. The political alliance between the socialist countries is growing stronger, as is their economic, scientific, and technological cooperation. The world socialist system includes 14 countries, which account for 25.9 percent of the world’s territory and 32 percent of its population and produce more than 40 percent of the total world industrial output. The members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), the most rapidly developing area of the world, are united by their common economic and sociopolitical systems, as well as by a common ideology and goals. The socialist countries have actively promoted the reduction of international tension and have been the initiators of the most important actions for disarmament and for the preservation of world peace.

Socialism abolishes private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of man by man, eliminates antagonisms in social development, and fundamentally modifies the character and goals of economic progress. “The goal of socialism is to more fully satisfy the growing material and cultural needs of the people by the continuous development and improvement of social production” (Programma KPSS, 1976, p. 15). Socialism differs fundamentally from capitalism, over which it has tremendous advantages. The socialist system eliminates all social barriers that hinder scientific, technological, economic, and social progress; puts an end to economic crises, unemployment, and national dissension; opens up wide vistas for the development of science and culture and makes scientific and cultural achievements accessible to the broadest masses of the people; and establishes the conditions for the comprehensive and harmonious development of the individual. The decisive advantages of socialism include much higher growth rates in production and labor productivity, as well as the use of economic achievements for the systematic improvement of the standard of living of the people.

Economic structure. The economic structure of socialism is characterized by an adequate material and technical basis and a system of production relations based on social ownership of the means of production. Lenin wrote: “A large-scale machine industry capable of reorganizing agriculture is the only material basis that is possible for socialism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 44, p. 9). The material and technical basis for socialism consists of large-scale machine production, based on electrical energy and spanning all branches of the national economy. Large-scale machine production constitutes the foundation for the shape and development of socialist production relations, which strengthen the role of the working class as the leading force in socialist society, and serve to build up the socialist economic system.

Socialist production relations, which completely dominate social production, ensure the rapid and stable growth of the productive forces in conformity with a plan. The distinguishing feature of the socialist economic system is harmony between the production relations and the character of the productive forces. The establishment of public ownership radically changes the developmental goal and mode of functioning of production. The spontaneous forces of anarchy and competition are replaced by the organization of economic processes in conformity with a plan. The direct producers are united with the means of production, full employment is ensured, each individual is assigned to work corresponding to his capacities, and broad new prospects are opened for the development of the personality.

The characteristic feature of a socialist society is the complete dominance of public ownership of the means of production in all spheres and sectors of the national economy. By the mid-1930’s the socialist sector had become dominant in the Soviet economy. By the early 1970’s, the socialist economy included 100 percent of the fixed productive capital, the national income, and the output of industry and agriculture (see Table 1).

Under socialism, there is the citizen’s personal property in consumer goods and household articles, as well as public ownership of the means of production and fixed nonproductive capital, including housing, theaters, museums, and stadiums. Another variety

Table 1. Proportion of the socialist sector of the economy in the USSR (in percent)
1Including the personal subsidiary agriculture of kolkhozniks, workers, and office employees
Fixed productive capital ...............
National income ...............
Industrial output ...............76.382.499.8100
Net agricultural output1 ...............1.53.398.5100
Retail trade turnover of commercial enterprises ...............47.376.4100100

of personal property is the property of the kolkhoz household, which includes certain very simple means of production (agricultural equipment and domestic animals).

Socialist production relations constitute a single, integral system, all the elements of which have a socioeconomic content characteristic of this stage of development of society, whether they are characteristic of the communist formation in general or typical, to varying degrees, of several socioeconomic formations. Thus, under socialism, ownership of the means of production by all the people—a typical feature of both phases of communism—assumes the form of a specifically socialist state ownership. Likewise, commodity-money relations, which are characteristic of several social formations, have a specific content under socialism.

The system of economic categories and laws of socialism corresponds to the unified system of socialist production relations. A leading role in this system is played by the fundamental economic law of socialism, which is manifested in the dominance of social ownership of the means of production and in the characteristic orientation of the development of production: that is, the subordination of industrial development to raising the standard of living of the people and comprehensively developing the personality of every member of society. The mode of functioning of a socialist economy is described by the law of the planned, proportional growth of the national economy.

Under socialism, economic laws lose the role of spontaneous regulators of social production. Society consciously applies these laws to bring about a steady increase in production and to utilize the advantages of the socialist economic system. Successful mastery of the economic laws through a system of planned direction of the national economy lends a dynamic quality to the socialist economy and accelerates the rates of growth. Rapid, steady growth of the national economy is one of the principles of the development of socialism and one of its main advantages over capitalism. Between 1950 and 1975 the average annual increase in industrial output in the socialist countries was more than twice that of the capitalist countries. The average annual increase in industrial output in the USSR during the same period was more than twice the corresponding indicator for the USA (see Table 2).

Table 2. Growth rates of industrial output in the socialist countries and the developed capitalist countries (percent of 1950 figures)
 195019651974Annual average
Socialist countries ...............10050199810.1
USSR ...............1004589189.7
Developed capitalist countries ...............1002183405.2
USA ...............1001992784.4

The establishment of social ownership of the means of production creates the decisive prerequisites for the socioeconomic equality of all members of society. Under socialism equality means the elimination of exploiting classes, the equal relationship of all members of society to the means of production, and equal opportunities for every member of society to use his abilities. However, equality does not lead to equalization, to a leveling of tastes and needs, or to the abolition of incentives for labor. Socialism affirms the following principle: “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his labor.” Distribution according to labor is the basis for the workers’ interest in the results of their labor. Applying the principle of material interest in planning, the socialist state achieves the true unity of the economic interests of society, collectives, and individual workers.

The socialist economic system is characterized by a specific economic mechanism, including a system of managing the national economy in conformity with a plan, and all the forms and methods of management associated with such a system, which is based on a single economic plan for the entire state. Economic management integrally combines directive targets and economic levers influencing production, including profit, credit, prices, and economic accountability. The economic mechanism of socialist society functions on the basis of the application and creative development of the Leninist principles of socialist economic activity. The extensive involvement of the toiling masses serves as the basis for the administration of the socialist economy and all public affairs. Management by the people in the interests of the people is a typical feature of socialist society. One of the most active forms of mass participation in management is socialist competition (emulation), which is increasingly aimed at mobilizing internal production reserves, utilizing factors that intensify economic growth, and assimilating the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution.

Sociopolitical system. The socialist sociopolitical system is characterized by the establishment and development of the socialist state and by the existence of two friendly classes—the working class and the cooperative (kolkhoz) peasantry, as well as the popular intelligentsia, under the leadership of the working class and its vanguard, the Marxist-Leninist party. Under socialism, profound economic transformations result in the abolition of exploiting classes and strata. Society is entirely made up of working people, and there is a continuous increase in the proportion of the working class in the population (see Table 3).

The most important changes in the sociopolitical structure of socialism are associated with the development of the socialist state. The victory of the socialist revolution leads to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a necessary condition for the construction of socialism. The dictatorship of the proletariat strives to suppress and abolish the exploiting classes. But its chief goals are the organization of socialist construction, the creation of a socialist society, and ensuring the complete, final victory of socialism. The exploiting classes in the cities and the countryside are abolished during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. With the strengthening of socialist economic forms and the sociopolitical alliance of the working class, the cooperative (kolkhoz) peasantry, and the intelligentsia, the dictatorship of the proletariat exhausts its functions in the country’s domestic affairs, and the proletarian state gradually becomes the socialist state of all the people. This process is completed with the transition to the stage of developed socialism.

In all socialist countries the state, as the political organization of the alliance between the working class and the peasantry, has the same character and functions. However, the socialist state (the dictatorship of the proletariat) may assume various forms, depending on historical conditions, the specific correlation of class forces in a particular country, and national traditions. Forms of popular representation, as well as the forms of state organization, may vary. (For example, a federative structure is characteristic of a number of countries.) Within a system of political forces there may be a one-party system or a multiparty system based on a united popular front. The form of government in the Soviet Union is the Soviets of People’s Deputies, and in the majority of other socialist countries, the people’s democracy.

In the sociopolitical system of socialism the working class plays a leading role assigned to it not merely on the basis of numerical significance, which varies, depending on the level of economic development and the pace of the scientific and technological revolution. The working class has always been the main productive force in society. Its revolutionary character, discipline, organization, and collectivism have determined its leadership position in the system of socialist social relations. The foundation for the political structure of socialist society is the alliance of the working class and the cooperative (kolkhoz) peasantry.

The growth of productive forces in agriculture, the rising cultural level in the countryside, and the reorganization of the village way of life result in changes in the social makeup and psychology of the peasantry, which exhibits more and more traits in common with those of the working-class. Under socialism, the intelligentsia grows rapidly, owing to a continuous influx of members of the working class and peasantry. The socialist intelligentsia is a social stratum which, by virtue of its social character, constitutes an integral part of socialist society. The consistent obliteration of the differences between the working class, the peasantry, and the intelligentsia is an objective, lawlike regularity of the development of socialism.

An important role in the sociopolitical life of socialist society is played by the principle of the equal rights of nations and nationalities, and their constant rapprochement, based on a common economic life, the mutual enrichment of cultures, the strengthening of a single Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the consistent application of the Leninist national policy. Political equality between nations is guaranteed, and the remnants of economic and cultural inequality inherited from the previous regime are completely eliminated (seeNATIONAL QUESTION). During the period of socialist construction in the Soviet Union a new historical community, the Soviet people, took shape, and new, harmonious relations developed between classes and social groups and between nations and nationalities.

In socialist society, democratic principles constitute the foundation for the development of political structures. Socialist democracy includes political freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to elect plenipotentiary representatives and to be elected to such positions. Among the social rights ensured by socialist democracy are the right to work, vacations, free education and medical services, old-age pensions, and sickness and disability pensions. In addition, socialist democracy guarantees the equal rights of all nations and nationalities and the equal rights of men and women in all spheres of political, economic, and cultural life. Socialist democracy has decisive advantages over bourgeois democracy: it not only proclaims the rights of the working people but also guarantees that these rights are realized. Socialism protects the freedom of the individual, especially freedom from exploitation.

The Marxist-Leninist party is the guiding and leading force in socialist society. Marxist-Leninist parties unite the advanced, most conscious part of the working class, the cooperative (kolkhoz) peasantry, and the intelligentsia. Moreover, the Marxist-Leninist parties direct all the productive activity of the people, and lend an organized, planned, and scientific foundation to the people’s struggle to build socialism and communism. The party carries out its leadership role through state bodies, the trade unions, and youth and other mass organizations.

Ideology, morality, and culture. The ideology, morality, and culture of socialist society are characterized by the growing strength of Marxist-Leninist ideology, the affirmation of the prin-

Table 3. Class composition of the population of the USSR (in percent)
Workers and office employees ...............17.014.817.650.268.382.9
workers ...............14.610.412.433.549.560.9
Kolkhoz peasants and craftsmen in cooperatives ...............1.32.947.231.417.1
Individual peasants and craftsmen not incooperatives ...............66.775.474.
Bourgeoisie, pomeschiki, merchants, and kulaks ...............

ciples of communist morality, the rise in the cultural and educational level of the population, and the flowering of literature and art. With socialist construction, there are profound changes not only in economic and sociopolitical life but also in the diverse intellectual sphere. As a social structure, socialism establishes a new, socialist way of life, the inalienable features of which are the equal rights and cooperation of all members of society, the free access of each individual to labor and education, conscious discipline, and a high sense of social duty. The creation of the new man, a socialist way of life, and high moral and political qualities takes place in the process of participation in the reconstruction of society and is determined by the content and direction of the party’s ideological and political activity.

Under socialism, the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the vanguard of the working class becomes the dominant ideology of socialist society. At the same time, the formation of a communist world view among the broad masses of the people, as well as their education in Marxist-Leninist ideas, has become the foundation of all of the party’s ideological and educational work, owing to the growth and increasing complexity of the tasks of social development, the rise of new generations, and the exacerbation of the ideological struggle between the two opposing socioeconomic systems.

One of the most important aims of the party’s ideological activity and of governmental and public organizations under socialism is the struggle for the establishment of socialist morality—the moral code of the builders of communism. This task entails education in a new, communist attitude toward labor; a thrifty, economical attitude toward public property and the material wealth created by the people; a spirit of collectivism and mutual help; patriotism; and proletarian internationalism. The new attitudes of the members of socialist society, their morality, and their world view develop in the constant, uncompromising struggle against the vestiges of the past.

Socialism creates the most favorable conditions for the development of science in the interests of the toiling masses and ensures the persistent application of scientific and technological discoveries in production. The high, constantly rising educational level of the population is among the distinctive traits of socialism (see Table 4).

Table 4. Level of education of the employed population of the USSR (in thousands with a higher and complete or incomplete secondary education)
Entire population employed in the national economy ...............123433751
Workers ...............84396697
Kolkhozniks ...............18226512
Specialists and office employees ...............542907968

Illiteracy has been eliminated in the Soviet Union and in most of the other socialist countries, and the transition to universal secondary education is under way. Cultural achievements have been made accessible to the working people through theaters, clubs, museums, and numerous amateur art groups.

By making culture and art accessible to the popular masses, socialism opens possibilities for their genuine flowering. The gradual rapprochement of national cultures takes place, and their common, international traits become more evident. The culture that has taken shape in the Soviet Union is socialist in content and in the main direction of its development, diverse in its national forms, and international in spirit and character.

Stages of development. Socialism develops by stages, each of which reflects the increasing maturity of socialist society. The experience of socialist development in a large group of countries has shown that socialism is not a short-lived condition but a relatively long stage in the development of the communist socioeconomic formation. As the first phase of communism, socialism shapes an entire historical epoch of human development, distinguished by a number of characteristics. The socialist phase consists of stages, each of which has specific features. Socialism is characterized by exceptionally rapid changes in the productive forces, economic relations, and the forms and methods of social organization. The qualitative transformation of various aspects of the social structure determines the transition from one stage of socialism to another.

The economic foundation of socialism emerges in the concluding stage of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism—a stage marked by the formation of the main features of the material and technical basis for socialism and the predominance of social ownership of the means of production in all branches of the economy. In the Soviet Union the foundation of the socialist economy had been created through the fulfillment of the first five-year plan (1929-32). The material and technical basis for socialism was created, socialist production relations became dominant, a planned economy was established, and a cultural revolution took place. All of these achievements were reinforced by the political superstructure. The construction of socialism signifies the end of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. The final victory of socialism is achieved when it is no longer possible to restore capitalism—that is, when the process of socialist transformations is irreversible. In the USSR the complete and final victory of socialism was reflected in the resolutions of the Twenty-first Congress of the CPSU (1959).

The historical experience of the socialist countries provides evidence of the inevitability of two stages in the development of socialism after the period of transition: the initial, or first, stage of socialist society and the stage of developed socialism. The first stage begins essentially when socialism is built and ends with the construction of a mature, developed socialist society. Developed socialism was established for the first time in the USSR as a result of profound changes in the economy and the entire system of social relations by the selfless labor of the people, under the leadership of the party. The transition to the stage of developed socialism took place in the USSR in the early 1960’s. In the mid-1970’s a number of European socialist countries have adopted the goal of building developed socialism. A developed socialist society can make fuller use of the advantages of the new social structure. During the stage of developed socialism, economic and scientific and technological competition between socialism and capitalism enters a decisive phase.

The transition from one stage of socialist society to another is associated with major changes in the development of material production and in the system of economic, sociopolitical, and intellectual relations. Thus, the criteria for recognizing developed socialism are complex. During the relatively long stage of developed socialism, the comprehensive improvement of socialist society is ensured, and the material and technical basis for communism develops. A developed socialist society is characterized by the comprehensive manifestation of the advantages of socialism and by the persistent unification of the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution with the advantages of the socialist economic system. Some of the features of developed socialism are present from the outset, and others emerge gradually.

Many processes are associated with the construction of developed socialism. In the economy there is a multiple increase in social production, scientific and technological achievements are applied in production, and there is a transition to an intensive type of expanded reproduction and a higher degree of maturity in social ownership and the entire system of production relations. The national economy is consistently oriented toward raising the standard of living of the population and promoting the comprehensive development of the individual.

In the sociopolitical sphere there is an increase in social homogeneity and in the leadership role of the working class. The dictatorship of the proletariat is transformed into a state of the entire people, the full equality of nations and nationalities is established, and socialist democracy develops. The toiling masses are extensively involved in the management of industry and all public affairs.

In the cultural sphere, Marxist-Leninist ideology becomes completely dominant, a high level of education is provided for all strata of the population, and culture and art flourish and are made accessible to all social groups.

As socialism develops and matures, the preconditions take shape for the transition to the higher phase of communism. This process is particularly evident during the period of developed socialism.

The transformation of socialism into communism. The growth of socialism into communism is one of the objective, lawlike regularities of the development of the communist mode of production. Because socialism and communism have the same social character and are based on social ownership of the means of production, there can be no specific period of transition from one to the other. The transition from socialism to communism is a continuous process. It is just as incorrect to delay artificially the construction of a communist society by hampering the development of its elements as it is to force the pace of the transition to communism by skipping necessary stages of development and neglecting the objective laws.

Three interrelated tasks are completed during the transformation of socialism into communism: the creation of the material and technical basis for communism, the transformation of socialist social relations into communist social relations, and the creation of the new man. As the productive forces develop and the relations of production mature, the essential differences between the city and the countryside are overcome, as well as the differences between intellectual and physical labor. Society becomes completely homogeneous. The socialist state of all the people is replaced by communist self-government. Labor is no longer simply a means of living. There is a growing consciousness of the necessity of working for the general welfare, and the wealth and potential of the human personality emerges. The creation of abundant material and cultural goods simultaneously with the shaping of comprehensively developed people will make it possible to put into practice the following principle: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

During the lawlike transformation of socialism into communism, the leading role of the Marxist-Leninist party increases further, owing to the growing scale and complexity of the problems encountered in building communism, which require a higher level of political and organizational leadership. Other reasons for the enhancement of the party’s leading role include the increasing creative activity of the masses and the involvement of millions of workers in the management of state affairs and production; the further development of socialist democracy; the increasing role of public organizations; the growing importance, creative development, and propaganda of scientific communism; and the necessity of strengthening the communist education of the working people and the struggle to eradicate vestiges of the past from the consciousness of the people.

The construction of socialism and its transformation into communism depend on the creative development of the theory of scientific communism by the CPSU and the fraternal Marxist-Leninist parties. This is accomplished in the decisive struggle with bourgeois socialist “theories” and with attempts by right and “left” opportunists to oppose scientific communism with various “models” of socialism.

The crisis of bourgeois and opportunistic “theories” of socialism. The right-wing opportunistic distortion of socialism, which is reflected in anarchosyndicalist theories and theories of “market” socialism, rejects the necessity of a revolutionary passage from capitalism to socialism, as well as the dictatorship of the proletariat. These theories deny not only the necessity of state ownership of the means of production as the foundation of socialism but also the need for a planned economy. They advocate a free market and competition, reject the regulation of society by the state, and propose classless “democracy” and “freedom.”

Also associated with the conceptions of right-wing opportunism is the theory of “democratic” socialism, one of the varieties of contemporary bourgeois theories that oppose scientific socialism and the revolutionary struggle of the working class.

“Left-wing” opportunistic concepts are clearly expressed in Maoism in the theory of “barracks communism,” which distorts the Marxist theory of socialism and proposes that the higher standard of living of the people be rejected as the goal of social production under socialism. Blind to the objective necessity of economic accountability and material incentives, Maoism presents socialism as a society of universal poverty and egalitarianism. The theory of “barracks communism” opposes the development of democratic institutions and the broad participation of the masses in the administration of public affairs.

Theories of “national” socialism deny the existence of general laws governing the transition from capitalism to socialism, exaggerate the importance of national traits, and arouse confusion among the popular masses in their struggle to build socialism. Among the bourgeois theories that present a distorted picture of the development of socialism, the “convergence theory” is widely accepted. It attempts to prove that a rapprochement is taking place between socialism and capitalism, because both have a similar material and technical basis, because the capitalist economy incorporates elements of planning, and because the planned socialist economy uses price levers. The convergence theory distorts the processes taking place under capitalism and under socialism and overlooks their radically different socioeconomic character.

The experience of world history, and especially the experience gained by the countries in the world socialist system, convincingly demonstrates the untenability of all non-Marxist theories of socialism. Only scientific socialism, which has developed as a component of Marxism-Leninism, has established its status as a profound, comprehensive explanation of objective processes and its right to determine the methods for building socialism and communism.

At the present time, socialism is the society that exists in a large group of countries and constitutes a world system. Its possibilities are more and more convincingly revealed in the economic and scientific and technological competition against capitalism, in which the advantages of social ownership and a planned economy are demonstrated. Socialism is exerting an increasingly powerful influence on the course of social development throughout the world.


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Marx, K. Kritika Gotskoi programmy. Ibid., vol. 19.
Lenin, V. I. Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia, ch. 5. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. an economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned by the community collectively, usually through the state. It is characterized by production for use rather than profit, by equality of individual wealth, by the absence of competitive economic activity, and, usually, by government determination of investment, prices, and production levels
2. any of various social or political theories or movements in which the common welfare is to be achieved through the establishment of a socialist economic system
3. (in Leninist theory) a transitional stage after the proletarian revolution in the development of a society from capitalism to communism: characterized by the distribution of income according to work rather than need
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