Socialism and Its Characteristics, Pros, Cons, Examples and Types

What It Is, How It Works, Comparison to Capitalism, Communism, Fascism

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Socialism is an economic system where everyone in society equally owns the factors of production. The ownership is acquired through a democratically elected government. It could also be a cooperative or a public corporation where everyone owns shares. The four factors of production are labor, entrepreneurship, capital goods, and natural resources.

These factors are valued only for their usefulness to people. Socialists take into account both individual needs and greater social needs. They allocate resources using central planning, as in a command economy. 

Examples of the greater social needs include transportation, defense, education, health care, and preservation of natural resources. Some also define the common good as caring for those who can't directly contribute to production. Examples include the elderly, children, and their caretakers. 

A mantra of socialism is, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution." Everyone in society receives a share of the production based on how much each has contributed. This system motivates them to work long hours if they want to receive more. Workers receive their share of production after a percentage has been deducted for the common good. 

Socialists assume that the basic nature of people is cooperative. They believe that this basic nature hasn't yet emerged in full because capitalism or feudalism has forced people to be competitive. Socialists argue that the economic system must support this basic human nature before these qualities can emerge.


Under socialism, workers are no longer exploited because they own the means of production. Profits are spread equitably among all workers according to their individual contribution. But the cooperative system also provides for those who can't work. It meets their basic needs for the good of the whole society.

The system eliminates poverty. It provides equal access to health care and education. No one is discriminated against. 

Everyone works at what one is best at and what one enjoys. If society needs jobs to be done that no one wants, it offers higher compensation to make it worthwhile.

Natural resources are preserved for the good of the whole. 


The biggest disadvantage of socialism is that it relies on the cooperative nature of humans to work. It ignores those within society who are competitive, not cooperative. Competitive people tend to seek ways to overthrow and disrupt society for their own gain. Capitalism harnesses this "Greed is good" drive. Socialism pretends it doesn't exist.

As a result, socialism doesn't reward people for being entrepreneurial. It struggles to be as innovative as a capitalistic society.

A third disadvantage is that the government has a lot of power. This works as long as it represents the wishes of the people. But government leaders can abuse this position and claim power for themselves. 

Difference Between Socialism, Capitalism, Communism, and Fascism

Attribute Socialism Capitalism Communism Fascism
Factors of production are owned by: Everyone Individuals Everyone Individuals
Factors of production are valued for: Usefulness to people Profit Usefulness to people Nation building
Allocation decided by: Central plan Demand and supply Central plan Central plan
From each according to their: Ability Market decides Ability Value to the nation
To each according to their: Contribution Wealth Need Value to the nation

Socialists believe their system is the next obvious step for any capitalistic society. They see income inequality as a sign of late-stage capitalism. They argue that capitalism's flaws mean it has evolved past its usefulness to society. But capitalism's flaws are endemic to the system, regardless of the phase it is in.

America's Founding Fathers included the promotion of the general welfare in the Constitution to balance capitalism's flaws. It instructed the government to protect the rights of all to pursue their idea of happiness as outlined in the American Dream. It's the government's role to create a level playing field to allow that to happen. That can happen without throwing out capitalism in favor of another system.

Examples of Socialist Countries

There are no countries that are 100% socialist, according to the Socialist Party of the United Kingdom. Most have mixed economies that incorporate socialism with capitalism, communism, or both.

The following countries have strong socialist systems, where the state provides health care, education, and pensions:

  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Denmark

But these countries also have successful capitalists. The top 1% of each nation's people hold more than 40% of the wealth, according to Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report, Figure 5, page 28. That's because most people don't feel the need to accumulate wealth since the government provides a great quality of life.

These countries incorporate characteristics of both socialism and communism:

  • Cuba
  • China
  • Vietnam
  • Russia
  • North Korea

These countries all expressly state they are socialist in their constitutions. Their governments run their economies. All have democratically-elected governments:

  • Algeria
  • Angola
  • Bangladesh
  • Guyana
  • India
  • Mozambique
  • Portugal
  • Sri Lanka
  • Tanzania

These countries all have very strong aspects of governance, ranging from health care, the media, or social programs run by the government:

  • Belarus
  • Laos
  • Syria
  • Turkmenistan
  • Venezuela
  • Zambia

Many other countries, such as Ireland, France, Great Britain, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Belgium have strong socialist parties. Their governments provide a high level of social support. But most businesses are privately owned. This makes them essentially capitalist. 

Many traditional economies use socialism, although many still use private ownership. 

Eight Types of Socialism

There are eight types of socialism. They differ on how capitalism can best be turned into socialism. They also emphasize different aspects of socialism. Here are the major branches, according to "Socialism by Branch." 

  1. Democratic Socialism: The means of production are managed by the working people, and there is a democratically elected government. Central planning distributes common goods, such as mass transit, housing, and energy, while the free market is allowed to distribute consumer goods. 
  2. Revolutionary Socialism: Socialism will emerge only after capitalism has been destroyed. "There is no peaceful road to socialism." The factors of production are owned by the workers and managed by them through central planning. 
  3. Libertarian Socialism: Libertarianism assumes that the basic nature of people is rational, autonomous, and self-determining. Once the strictures of capitalism have been removed, people will naturally seek a socialist society that takes care of all, free of economic, political, or social hierarchies. They see it is the best for their own self-interest.
  4. Market Socialism: Production is owned by the workers. They decide how to distribute among themselves. They would sell excess production on the free market. Alternatively, it could be turned over to society, which would distribute it according to the free market. 
  5. Green Socialism: This type of socialistic economy highly values the maintenance of natural resources. Public ownership of large corporations achieves this. It also emphasizes public transit and locally sourced food. Production focuses on making sure everyone has enough of the basics instead of consumer products one doesn't really need. This kind of economy guarantees a livable wage for everyone. 
  6. Christian Socialism: Christian teachings of brotherhood are the same values expressed by socialism. 
  7. Utopian Socialism: This was more a vision of equality than a concrete plan. It arose in the early 19th century, before industrialization. It would be achieved peacefully through a series of experimental societies. 
  8. Fabian Socialism: This type of socialism was extolled by a British organization in the late 1900s. It advocated a gradual change to socialism through laws, elections, and other peaceful means.

Article Sources

  1. Karl Marx. "Critique of the Gothra Program," Page 27. Wildside Press, 2008.

  2. Socialist Party. “Socialism vs Capitalism,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  3. Credit Suisse. “Global Wealth Report 2019: Global Wealth Rises By 2.6% Driven By US & China, Despite Trade Tensions,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  4. The Basics Of Philosophy. “Socialism,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  5. Democratic Socialists Of America. “What is Democratic Socialism?” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  6. Alison Edgley. “The Social And Political Thought Of Noam Chomsky,” Page 11. Routledge, 2004.

  7. Richard D. Wolff. “Marxism and Socialism,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  8. Alliance for Green Socialism. “General Election Manifesto 2015,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  9. Dialectical Marxism: The Writings Of Bertell Ollman. “Socialism Is Practical Christianity,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  10. The Socialist Party Of Great Britain. “Utopian Socialism,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.

  11. The Victorian Web. “The Fabian Society In Late Victorian Britain,” Accessed Nov. 2, 2019.