Down through the ages people have dreamed of a free and harmonious life based on social equality and voluntary cooperation. A life without rulers and ruled, bosses and underlings, rich and poor. However hard tyrants and exploiters may try to suppress this dream, they can never succeed. While the human race survives, the dream will always arise anew in human hearts and minds. Because until the last few thousand years the human race evolved as small bands of gatherers, hunters, fishers, and gardeners and the members of those bands were of equal status, shared what they had, and cooperated without compulsion. That early evolution hard-wired the dream into our very being.
What to call the dream? Here we face a problem. A variety of terms -- socialism, communism, democracy, anarchy, social democracy -- have been and are used by some to describe the dream. However, the very same terms have been and are also used in other senses, to describe societies that have little or nothing to do with the dream. This causes an enormous amount of confusion and misunderstanding.
Consider, for example, how different people use the word 'socialism' to mean quite different and contradictory things.
For Bernie Sanders and many others like him ‘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 common 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. 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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Stephen D. Shenfield
May 2016, updated December 2018 and September 2019
Personal site: www.stephenshenfield.net