My notes on the first section of OUP’s Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, which covers socialism’s various theories and traditions
The general idea
Commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society (equality of resources, rights, opportunities). That inheritance of capital/wealth provides a few with immense privilege; meanwhile, a cycle of deprivation limits opportunities and influence for the rest. Ergo, private property prevents any hope of equality.
Optimistic view of human beings’ willingness to cooperate with one other on large scale.
Emphasis community, cooperation and association; as compared to liberalism’s commitment to individualism.
Reaction to 19th-century urbanization and industrialization (coercion of workers, massive inequality).
Several ‘flavors’ or traditions
Utopianism: potential to develop a perfect, harmonious society
Anarchism: complete opposition to the state…government is inherently oppressive
Marxism: primarily defined by its view of political economy…that it was a matter of when, not if, capitalism collapsed. Focused on who owned the means of production.
Marx’s theory of political economy
A business has two main inputs: constant capital (PP&E) and variable capital (labor)
Whereas in pre-capitalist societies the value of a product = amount of labor necessary to produce it, in capitalism the exchange value of labor < product that the labor created
Businesses increased profits by fighting labor power…it couldn’t change how much PP&E was required to produce $100 worth of goods, but it could try to reduce the wages sufficient to produce $100 worth of goods…i.e., leveraging each worker as much as it could
Eventually, as businesses fight labor power and invest in PP&E to increase productivity and profits, workers would be unable to afford goods that they helped produce
This would lead to cycles/crises of overproduction, consolidation and mass unemployment, eventually leading to the breakdown of the system
Fundamental tension between laborers and owners of capital
Laborers (proletariat) would eventually overturn the social order and capture state power, which heretofore existed to serve the interests of the owners of capital
My reaction to Marx’s theory of political economy
If you are producing goods using the resources of a firm, wouldn’t it make sense that the exchange value of labor < exchange value of the product? If you are a single craftsman, makes more sense that these two quantities would be equal. I.e., of course the firm is able to sell “your” work for more than you earn for it…the final product is the sum of your labor and what the firm has added to it…
I do see this cycle of firms wanting to invest in technology in order to rely less on (expensive) labor…but two can play this game…workers can do things to increase their market power against firms, and if you assume this, no reason the game wouldn’t just go on continuously
If workers would eventually and forcefully take ownership of the means of production, would there ever come to be anything to own? (Don’t think so.)
Centralized socialism, driven by a central ‘vanguard’ party (small group) leading the class war orchestrating the revolution in secretive and authoritarian fashion, instead of being led from the bottom-up by workers in democratic, popular fashion
Is birthed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks who win the Russian Revolution ~1920
Communism and Social Democracy splinter from each other
Internal axes for socialism’s different ‘flavors’
Tolerance for centralization vs democracy
Optimism vs. pessimism on man’s interests (self vs. social) and ability to cooperate (follows the above)
Promise vs pessimism on the potential of human agency and planning ability
Commitment to revolution vs reform
Commitment to working-class internationalism vs nationalism