socialism

noun
so·​cial·​ism | \ ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce socialism (audio) \

Definition of socialism

1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

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Socialism vs. Social Democracy: Usage Guide

In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, "pure" socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.

Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Democracy

Communism is one of our top all-time lookups, and user comments suggest that’s because it is often used in opaque ways. In some sources, communism is equated with socialism; in others, it is contrasted with democracy and capitalism. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that the word communism has been applied to varying political systems over time. When it was first used in English prose, communism referred to an economic and political theory that advocated the abolition of private property and the common sharing of all resources among a group of people, and it was often used interchangeably with the word socialism by 19th-century writers. The differences between communism and socialism are still debated, but generally English speakers used communism to refer to the political and economic ideologies that find their origin in Karl Marx’s theory of revolutionary socialism, which advocates a proletariat overthrow of capitalist structures within a society, societal and communal ownership and governance of the means of production, and the eventual establishment of a classless society. The most well-known expression of Marx’s theories is the 20th-century Bolshevism of the U.S.S.R., in which the state, through a single authoritarian party, controls a society’s economy and social activities with the goal of realizing Marx’s theories.

Communism is often contrasted with capitalism and democracy, though these can be false equivalencies depending on the usage. Capitalism refers to an economic theory in which a society’s means of production are held by private individuals or organizations, not the government, and where prices, distribution of goods, and products are determined by a free market. It can be contrasted with the economic theories of communism, though the word communism is used of both political and economic theories. Democracy refers to a system of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised through a system of direct or indirect representation which is decided through periodic free elections. Democracy is contrasted with communism primarily because the 20th-century communism of the U.S.S.R. was characterized by an authoritarian government, whereas the democracy of the 20th-century U.S. was characterized by a representative government.

Examples of socialism in a Sentence

She is quite right, for example, to stress that Thatcher's crusade against socialism was not merely about economic efficiency and prosperity but that above all, "it was that socialism itself—in all its incarnations, wherever and however it was applied—was morally corrupting." — Stephen Pollard, New York Times Book Review, 18 Jan. 2009 Lenin's great genius, of course, was for ideology, which was redefined all too often to support the tactical requirements of the moment. But owing to his fanatical conviction of his own righteousness, especially where socialism was concerned, and also to the Promethean force of his will, his pronouncements were enshrined by his followers as universal truths. — Michael Scammell, New Republic, 20 Dec. 1999

Recent Examples on the Web

Another Republican, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, warned that Democrats are veering toward socialism. Padmananda Rama, The Seattle Times, "House Democrats cheer wins of 1st 100 days, ponder stumbles," 12 Apr. 2019 Today, when higher education tends to be far more inclusive of different populations, college strikes many people as socialism. Chuck Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "The State of American Trade Schools," 13 Mar. 2019 From the 1940s, city policymakers and real estate agents found common ground, both campaigning against funding for public housing in urban areas, the former dismissing it as socialism, while the latter stood to lose profits. Mychal Denzel Smith, The New Republic, "How America became over-policed," 5 June 2018 Sale has the most radical agenda, pushing for a move toward socialism. Anita Chabria, sacbee, "These five activists are keeping the peace in Sacramento in the wake of Stephon Clark | The Sacramento Bee," 13 Apr. 2018 For this reason, American liberalism is left of center — but not as far left as socialism. Walter Hatch, Washington Post, "Cornel West accused Ta-Nehisi Coates of being a neoliberal. Does neoliberal still mean anything?," 23 Jan. 2018 But Moyn leaves socialism undefined, seeming only to envision its global arrival through challenges to equally undefined neoliberalism. Mitchell Cohen, New York Times, "Did the Crusade for Human Rights Lead to More Inequality?," 18 May 2018 Go back to the mid 1990s, India started to open up its economy after 40 years of socialism. Recode Staff, Recode, "How India fits into the global economy: It may not be China, but at least it isn’t Russia," 4 Aug. 2018 This is the progressivism that edges into socialism, that is said to attract the young, that promises a newer, kinder America—the progressivism that exalts identity politics and has no argument with political correctness. Joseph Epstein, WSJ, "Americans Turned to Trump to Roll Back the Progressive Tide," 19 Nov. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'socialism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of socialism

1833, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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More Definitions for socialism

socialism

noun

English Language Learners Definition of socialism

: a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies

socialism

noun
so·​cial·​ism | \ ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce socialism (audio) \

Kids Definition of socialism

: a social system or theory in which the government owns and controls the means of production (as factories) and distribution of goods

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Comments on socialism

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