There are a lot of “isms” out there. Conservatism, liberalism, Catholicism, Buddhism, hedonism, altruism, fascism, communism, capitalism, socialism — there is an “ism” for all kinds of political, economic, religious and social philosophies.
Most of them have evolved in meaning throughout their existence and usage, and often end up as a kind of shorthand, especially for those who don’t want to take the time to understand the concepts and history behind the words, and for those inclined to exploit that tendency. You might know what a certain “ism” means to you, and you may not be interested in exploring any further.
Socialism seems to fall into that category these days. It is a term often equated with communism and fascism, but they are not synonymous. Probably thousands of college-level courses (and perhaps even a handful of high school civics classes) are taught every year on those particular “isms,” but it’s been a while since I sat in a Poli-Sci or philosophy class, so I’m not the go-to person for an in-depth explanation regarding any of them.
I did end up with a couple of “ah-ha” moments, however, during a quick perusal of the basics. Socialism is essentially an economic philosophy and includes a range of social systems.
Writing for thoughtco.com, a guy named Robert Longley says that both socialism and communism arose via protests against exploitation of the working class during the Industrial Revolution. If you’ve ever worked on an assembly line or in a job that is dangerous — not by its nature but because nobody cares enough about the employees to ensure their safety or well-being — then you might know something of that feeling of being exploited.
Writing in quora.com, Tom Wetzel, a Ph.D. in philosophy, says that American public schools of the mid-19th century were something of a capitalists’ invention, as they helped ensure a workforce that could read, take instruction, and become used to boredom and following rules.
In “Don’t Know Much About History,” Kenneth C. Davis says Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” an expose of the appalling conditions in the Chicago meatpacking industry of the early 1900s, “was the most prominent example of a socialist novel” and was “a call to workers to unite (unionize).”
He explains that Americans, for years, have associated socialism with Russian and Chinese communism, but, in the early part of the 20th century, it was a “growing political force” among the working class who saw it as way to “distribute wealth through government control rather than through private enterprise.”
“Since few workers were getting any wealth distributed by the Morgans and Rockefellers, they decided to give socialism a try,” Davis writes, somewhat wryly.
The question on the flip side, of course, is why should the Morgans or the Rockefellers give up any of their wealth? Would that be stupidism, or what?
Longley, in his essay, goes on to suggest that socialism is based on the premise that people naturally want to cooperate (I’m not so sure that anything like cooperate-ism exists), but are restrained from doing so by capitalism’s competitive nature.
He says that in a socialist democracy such as exists in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, universally used services such as housing, utilities, mass transit and health care are handled and distributed by the government, with consumer goods (Ikea?) distributed by a capitalistic free market.
With government providing basic needs, he continues, people see little need to accumulate wealth.
Those Danes, however, insist on hanging on to Greenland. Selfish-ism, for sure.