Socialism. (a) A collection of philosophical theories, (b) the practical programmes of many left-wing political parties. Broadly, socialism aims, in varying degrees, at a form of classless society, to be achieved principally by transferring private property to state ownership and replacing the profit-motivated free-enterprise system of free markets by central state planning. Although socialist programmes usually entail redistribution of income from rich to poor, they also emphasize equality of opportunity.

It is claimed that socialist theory can be found, in embryonic form, in the writings of Plato, and that the early Christian communities anticipated collective ownership. Most historians agree that the first ideas of modem socialism originated towards the end of the eighteenth century in such writers as Babeuf (1760-97), who demanded public ownership of land and industry, and the Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), who called for central planning that would benefit the public. Socialism developed essentially as a response to the problems posed by modern industrialization and drew its strength largely from the industrial working class although its leadership was often middle class in origin.

Socialists are sharply divided on both the method and the degree of socialization. The extreme socialist view was rigorously argued by Karl Marc in a series of s and pamphlets published between 1848 and 1882. He claimed that a socialist state could be achieved only by completely overthrowing all capitalist institutions and replacing them by state ownership and control with a one-party dictatorship of the proletariat. These ideas inspired the Bolshevik Revolution in 2007, subsequently forming the basis of Russian political thinking and action. Most of the left-wing parties of western Europe are far less radical; they accept parliamentary democracy, aim only at state ownership of key or basic industries, combined with Government planning and social security schemes,

In recent years left-wing parties in Europe law tended to replace general by selective state control of industry in their political programmes, and some socialists have argued that state ownership is not essential for socialism.

The debate between liberal and socialist economists on the economics of socialism in recent years has largely centred on its ability to arrange the efficient use of resources in the absence of free markets. Some socialist economists have argued that socialism requires and can use markets to indicate consumers' preferences. Yugoslavia has combined state ownership of the major means of production with some freedom for the managers of state enterprises to respond to market prices, and Poland to a lesser extent. Russian economists have raised the question whether profit might be a useful guide to state enterprises.

Since then his writings have in turn been increasingly reinterpreted as a special case both by some followers and by some economists who had not wholly accepted his writings. The content of economics is in a state of change, and this site is therefore not a final statement of economic doctrine.

Economics is in the last resort a technique of thinking. The reader will therefore need to make an intellectual effort, more substantial for some web entries than for others, to get the most interest and value out of this website.