In calling himself a ‘democratic socialist’ Senator Bernie Sanders has revived interest in the subject of ‘socialism.’ More people are trying to find out what ‘socialism’ means. If you are one of them then this site is designed to help you.

The issue of ‘socialism’ is surrounded by an enormous amount of confusion. One of the reasons for that is that different people use the same word to mean quite different things.

For Bernie Sanders ‘socialism’ means a series of reforms to make American society fairer and more democratic—more like what exists in West European countries and especially Scandinavia. He wants the capitalists who own most of the means of life—the land and other productive wealth—to pay more taxes. He wants more effective government regulation of their business activity. But he never talks about the need to replace capitalism by a fundamentally different system.

There are other people for whom ‘socialism’ means the ‘communist’ dictatorships that used to exist in Russia and other countries. (In a few places they are still in power.) Under these regimes the means of life were owned by the state and controlled by officials.

However, there exists another tradition of socialist thought in which socialism means neither the reform of capitalism nor state ownership. It means social (or communal) ownership—that is, democratic control of the means of life by and for the whole of society (or the whole community). It also means production for use not profit.

This is the meaning given to ‘socialism’ by myself and by the World Socialist Movement (WSM) to which I belong. As you will see from the home page, a similar definition was given by Sylvia Pankhurst. (Like her mother and sisters, Sylvia Pankhurst was a prominent British suffragette — that is, a campaigner for votes for women. Opposed to militarism, she broke with them on account of their support for World War One and became a staunch socialist.)

The WSM views socialism as a worldwide society. The interconnected nature of today’s world makes it impossible to create a new society in a single country. Capitalism is a world system, so socialism too has to be a world system.

The headings along the navigation bar on the home page and the drop-down menus you will see by clicking them provide a guide to the topics covered by the site. Let me explain a few points.

-- The heading ‘Potential’ indicates the natural, human, and technological resources whose effective use could satisfy all human needs. The sub-heading ‘Waste’ refers to the ways in which these resources are wasted under the existing system.

-- The heading ‘Thinkers’ links to articles about early socialist writers whose memory I would like to revive (Pioneers), works of literature envisioning a better society (Utopias), and past cultural figures who have been socialists (People of Culture).

-- The heading ‘Problems’ covers areas in which the theory of socialism seems to me to require further development.  

-- Under the heading "Contact" you will find information about how to contact the WSM in various countries.

While on the whole the contents of this site reflect the general viewpoint of the WSM, not every opinion expressed is shared by all members of the movement.

If you want to contribute a comment about any particular article, please send me an e-mail message about it to the address <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>. I shall insert any comments that seem to me to make a valuable contribution to the discussion, perhaps in agreed edited form. 

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You are also invited to explore my personal website


Stephen D. Shenfield

May 2016, updated December 2018


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