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Socialism

A Very Short Introduction

By Michael Newman
13-minute read
Audio available
Socialism: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Newman

Socialism (2005) is a dash through the history of the term after which the book is named. Socialism has played an important role over the past 200 years of human history, but its original goal of achieving an egalitarian society has, in recent decades, been somewhat forgotten. This book is a thorough tour of socialism’s history. It’s also an exploration of the various ways the word has been implemented and a guide to ways we might use it in the future.

  • Anyone tired of their unstable economic condition
  • Students of politics, economics or history
  • Those who want more information on a commonly misunderstood term

Michael Newman is a professor of politics at London Metropolitan University. His other books include Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left and Democracy, Sovereignty and the European Union.

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Socialism

A Very Short Introduction

By Michael Newman
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Socialism: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Newman
Synopsis

Socialism (2005) is a dash through the history of the term after which the book is named. Socialism has played an important role over the past 200 years of human history, but its original goal of achieving an egalitarian society has, in recent decades, been somewhat forgotten. This book is a thorough tour of socialism’s history. It’s also an exploration of the various ways the word has been implemented and a guide to ways we might use it in the future.

Key idea 1 of 8

Although there’s no single definition of “socialism,” the forms it’s taken over the years share a number of characteristics.

What do you think when you hear the word socialism?

For many, the term “socialism” is often reduced to its most infamous incarnation – the long-lived USSR and its brutal dictator, Joseph Stalin.

However, the USSR’s Stalinism is far from the only form that socialism can take. Indeed, socialism has taken many forms since it first arose in the nineteenth century. Consider the huge difference between Cuba and Sweden. The former is a communist single-party state; the latter, a parliamentary social democracy. Although the two nations are a world apart politically, each has a system of government that stems from socialist ideals and is rooted in a number of common socialist characteristics.

The most overarching principle guiding all forms of socialism is the goal to create an egalitarian society. And although various forms disagree on how to achieve this, they all agree that society’s inequalities in income and power stem from the economic system that dominates the world today: capitalism. To varying degrees, socialists of all stripes have sought to remove the structural barriers put in place by capitalism – specifically, the ownership of capital by a small elite – so that all members of society can prosper equally.

Beyond this overarching characteristic, socialists of all shapes and sizes believe in the possibility of creating an egalitarian society founded upon human solidarity. This optimistic belief is rooted in a fundamental assumption: that human beings are by nature cooperative, not competitive.

But how would such an egalitarian system be brought about? Well, all socialists concur that such a system must come about via conscious human agency. It won’t happen naturally; human action is required. In other words, if people want change, they must be the agents of that change.

Now that we have an idea of what binds socialists together, let’s delve into how the ideology developed. It’s time to head back to the nineteenth century, a time of industry and progress.

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