Socialism (n.) - Who Owns You?
A theory or system of economic organization in which the means of production, trade, exchange and the labor force are all owned by either the government or collectively among the entire populace.
History & Etymology
Let’s start with the root word of socialism, social. Even in French, where the word socialism originated, the root comes from the Latin word Socii. The Socii were autonomous tribes and city-states that existed around Rome prior to the first century BC that were allies of Rome, in fact the word Socii meant ally, but in everyday use the word could mean associate or partner. In the first century BC one of Rome’s allies decided that its people needed to have Roman citizenship. This is how the Social War began, which ended with a genocide and nearly all of Rome’s allies were granted citizenship. A foreshadowing of things to come from some of the words born from Socii.
Eventually the Roman Empire stretched all over Europe, and the Roman language, or a variant of it spoken by regular people, generally referred to a Vulgar Latin, was spoken all over. By the 14th century the word Socii had become the word social in French, meaning “living with others, united, or even marriage”
In 1832 a French social reformer named Pierre Leroux claims to have coined the word Socialism to describe the philosophy of Henri de Saint-Simon. Later Saint-Simon would be branded a Utopian-Socialist by Marx and Engels, but his socialism seemed very different. His philosophy focused on the Productive class including everyone that contributed to the economy from laborers to bankers, and focused on their struggle against the idle class including the lazy and politicians. He wanted a society that awarded merit and was planned by the best and brightest among us. His idea was "Rule over men would be replaced by the administration of things" To me this version of socialism initially reminded me of Ayn Rand with it’s focus on merit and it’s antagonism towards the parasitical classes, but the word socialism itself was selected because of the philosophies antipathy to individualism. What his system did was to distribute power unevenly to the most capable, but resources evenly among the people. That’s what set him apart from Ayn Rand and Marx.
Though this origin is a bit contested as Saint-Simon himself and Robert Owen have both been credited with coining the word.
Over time the word socialism was adopted by many groups and philosophies, for a longtime socialism was a synonym for words like “co-operative, mutualist, and associationist”.
Even from the beginning the primary goal of socialist thought was to give power to the people who best knew how to produce. Saint-Simon wanted production and scientific research to be administered by those who work in those fields and are experts in them.
In 1888 Marx was using the words socialism and communism more or less interchangeably and it wasn’t until 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution that socialism was differentiated as a stage of transition between capitalism on it way to communism.
The ideas behind the word socialism have been tossed around for thousands of years. I’ve never read Plato’s Republic but it sounds like the state owns pretty much everything in that system of governance. Some people even attribute early Christian groups as being among the earliest socialists. One verse that I hear defending this idea is:
Acts 2:44-45 - And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
Saint-Simon and others among the first to have their philosophy called socialism were later referred to as Utopian-Socialists by Marx and other revolutionary socialism. The addition of Utopian was added because many felt that a socialist society couldn’t be achieved through voluntary means.
And socialism, ever since, has had words added to it, like national, democratic and soviet etc. All either attempting to put lipstick on a pig or discredit someone else's conception of socialism.
The history of Socialism goes no for a long time and has many winding paths. There are many systems that claim the name socialism. What they primarily have in common at their core is that no single person should control any resource of any meaningful value or quantity, and that the group as a whole should make decisions about how resources are used and distributed.
The definition and attitude that has dominated the word socialism for the past several decades was put there by the Cold War. A long conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Recently the definition has change again, at least in the United States, it’s now conflated with what’s called the Nordic Model. In my personal experience this idea seems to have been popularized by Bernie Sanders during his 2016 Presidential Campaigns. These claims were quickly dispelled by the Prime Minister of Denmark at the time, but that didn’t stop the conflation in people’s minds. So now there are huge swaths of the population that believes the nordic model is socialism. Even with the word democratic modifying the word socialism doesn’t make it fit the nordic model. The DSA website clearly states they are completely opposed to the market economy, and they only accept a few elements of markets when they are required for the success of socialism. This is in stark contrast to the nordic countries with, in some cases, freer markets and lower regulations than the United States.
When it comes down to it socialism comes down to greater society owning or controlling the means of production, and ultimately the basic unit of the means of the production is the individual human being. Socialism comes down to who owns you.