Socialism is an economic system characterized by public ownership of the means of production, the pursuit of collective goals, and centralized dedsion makIng. Like "pure" capitalism. "pure" socialism does not exist. Karl Marx described socialism as a temporary stage en route to an ideal communist society. Although the terms socialism and communism are associated with Marx and are often used interchangeably. they are not identical. Marx defined communism as n economic system characterized by common ownership of all economic resources. In the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. he predicted that the working class would become increasingly impoverished anp alienated under capitalism. As a result. the workerswould become aware of their own class interests. revolt against the capitalists, and overthrow the entire system (see Turner. Beeghley,and Powers, 2002). After the revolution. private prop erty would be abolished.and capital would be controlled by collectives of workers who wculd own the means of production. The
government (previously used to furthe the interests of the capitalists) would no longer be necessary. People would contribute according to their abilities and receive according to their needs (Marx and Engels, 1967/1848; Marx, 1967/1867). Over the years. state control was added as an organizing principle for communist societies. This structure is referred to as a system of "state socialism:' and the former Soviet Union (the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." what today is Russia and certain other nearby countries) became the best example.
Why did state socialism in the Soviet Union not evolve intc a communist economic system? For one thing, Marx's ideas about a truly communistic society were based on his perceptions of industrialized nations. At the time that an attempt was made to implement communism in Russia, however. it was largely a feudal society that had not experienced the type of conditions Marx envisioned would be necessary for
the development of communism (Rosengarten. 1995). The system of state socialism tailed for other reasons as well. as discussed later in this chapter. However. many
of the ideas of Marx have had a profound effect on how sociologists and other researchers view our contemporary .
Public Ownership of the Means of Production In a truly socialist economy. the means of production are owned and controlled by a collectivity or the state. not
by private individuals or corporations. Prior to theearly 1990s, the state owned all the natural resources and almost all the capital in the Soviet Union. In the 19805.for example, state-owned enterprises produced more than 88 percent of agricultural output and 98 percent of retail trade, and owned 7S percent of the urban housing space (Boyes and Melvin. 2002). At least in theory. goods were produced to meet the needs of the people. Access to housing and medical care was considered to be a right. Leaders of the Soviet Union and some Eastern European nations decided to abandon government ownership and control of the means of production because the system was unresponsive to the needs of the marketplace and offered no incentive or increased efficiency (Boyes and Melvin. 2002). Shortages and widespread unrest led to a reform movement by then-President Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 19805.
Since the 19905.Russia and other states in the former Soviet Union have attempted to privatize ownership of production. China-previously the world's other major communist economy-ann ounced in 1997 that it would privatize most state industries (Serrill, 1997). In privatization, resources are converted from state ownership to private ownership; the government takes an active role in developing. recognizing, and protecting private property rights (Boyes and Melvin, 2002).
Pursuit of Collective Goals Ideal socialism is based on the pursuit of collective goals rather than on personal profits. Equality in decision making replaces hierarchical relationships (such as between owners and workers or political leaders and citizens). Everyone shares in the goods and services of society. especially necessities such as food. clothing. shelter. and medical care, based on need. not on ability to pay. In reality. however. few societies can or do pursue purely collective goals .