Socialism describes any political or economic theory that says the community, rather than individuals, should own and manage property and natural resources.
The term socialism has been applied to very different economic and political systems throughout history, including utopianism, anarchism, Soviet communism and social democracy. These systems vary widely in structure, but they share an opposition to an unrestricted market economy, and the belief that public ownership of the means of production (and making money) will lead to better distribution of wealth and a more egalitarian society.
How Socialism Emerged
The intellectual roots of socialism go back at least as far as ancient Greek times, when the philosopher Plato depicted a type of collective society in his dialog, Republic (360 B.C.). In 16th-century England, Thomas More drew on Platonic ideals for his Utopia, an imaginary island where money has been abolished and people live and work communally.
In the late 18th century, the invention of the steam engine powered the Industrial Revolution, which brought sweeping economic and social change first to Great Britain, then to the rest of the world. Factory owners became wealthy, while many workers lived in increasing poverty, laboring for long hours under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions.
Influence of Karl Marx
It was Karl Marx, undoubtedly the most influential theorist of socialism, who called Owen, Fourier and other earlier socialist thinkers utopians, and dismissed their visions as dreamy and unrealistic. For Marx, society was made up of classes: When certain classes controlled the means of production, they used that power to exploit the labor class.
Socialism in the 20th Century
In the 20th centuryparticularly after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the formation of the Soviet Unionsocial democracy and communism emerged as the two most dominant socialist movements throughout the world.
By the end of the 1920s, Lenins revolution-focused view of socialism had given way to the foundation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its consolidation of absolute power under Joseph Stalin. Soviet and other communists joined forces with other socialist movements in resisting fascism. After World War II, this alliance dissolved as the Soviet Union established communist regimes across Eastern Europe.