- Socialism – a political and economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned by the community collectively, usually through the state.
- Capitalism – an economic system based on the private ownership of industry.
- Socialism – a political and economic theory which holds that a country’s land, transport, natural resources and chief industries should be owned or controlled by the community as a whole.
- Capitalism – an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit.
- Ideology – a system of ideas and principles forming the basis of an economic or political theory.
The definitions numbered 1. and 2. are taken from the Collins English dictionary. The definitions numbered 3. and 4. are taken from the Oxford English dictionary. The reasons that I have provided these two definitions are, firstly, because those happen to be the only two such books that I have and, secondly, because I wanted to demonstrate that there can be a difference in setting out exactly what constitutes both Socialism and Capitalism, even in dictionaries.
Speak to 4 people; ask them to define both, and you will get 10 different versions. Yes, it’s semantics as well as a matter of interpretation, but it’s also an accurate portrayal of the confusion – sometimes contrived – that surrounds both.
Socialism is described in both dictionaries as ‘a political and economic theory’. Both center socialism upon the ‘community’. Number 1. is more generalized, whereas number 3. is slightly more specific.
Capitalism is described in both dictionaries as ‘an economic system’. Both speak of ‘industry’ and ‘private ownership’. Again we can see number 2. is more generalized, whereas number 4. provides more specifics.
The definition for ideology is included only to demonstrate that both socialism and capitalism are ideological theories or systems, according to popular understanding.
My intention, in this article, is to change the reader’s perception of what it means to be either socialist or capitalist. I wish to redefine the general understanding of both, and to do this I will need to reach into your mind.
Firstly, allow me to demonstrate further complications of definition by referencing a well-known ideology. Communism is accepted as a more intense form of economic and political socialism. I won’t bore you with an in-depth analysis of what communism is, mainly because such in-depth economics bores the tits off me and, additionally, I would end up sounding like a drunken student at a campus party who wants to have Lenin babies with Che hair.
Suffice to say, there are many different variations of communism. We have the aforementioned Leninism, Marxism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Yugoslavian communism, Vietnamese communism, modern Chinese communism (which is barely communist at all), Nepalese communism, as well as the form widely regarded as the purest and most noble form, namely Castroism.
All of these versions of the one political and economic system are demonstrative of the pitfalls to be encountered when attempting to define either socialism or capitalism using only economics and politics. After World War II, the UK became a socialist state, but yet differed from the socialism to be found in the French Republic. Spanish socialism differs again from both, and also from that which is to be found in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador today.
Capitalism varies in the same way. The US is Capitalist Central, yet Roosevelt’s New Deal of the Great Depression was a socialist response to the obvious failures of rampant capitalism. India is capitalist, as is Saudi Arabia, yet in different ways.
When we try to impose rigid definitions for each ideology, upon the various forms to be encountered in the nations of the globe, we must use such wide-ranging interpretations as to render the terms frustratingly vague and ineffectual. If we take the UK of today as an example, we can see that dictionary definitions of both socialism and capitalism are applicable. The UK is in the pain-staking – and many would claim heart-breaking – process of moving from a socialist state to US style capitalism. Free market capitalism (another variant), introduced into the UK, is but one means of speeding up this process.
Therefore, if we cannot clearly define what constitutes each system, and if we cannot easily separate one entirely from the other – as there is too much grey – then how do we get a clear understanding of the motivations for each? I stated earlier, that in order to redefine each, I would have to reach into your mind. What I mean by this is that all economic systems and political theories have one fairly obvious common factor. People.
It is the people who postulate, expand and install political and economic systems. Behind either socialism or capitalism, anywhere in the world at any time of our history, it is individuals who have shaped the theories and promoted the particular ideologies. If we wish to truly define what constitutes both socialist and capitalist, then we have to investigate the mindsets of those who adhere to each.
Don’t panic. Stay calm. I’m not going to smother you in the biographies of Engels, Marx or Adam Smith. Personally, I don’t feel that we need base our own understanding of politics and economics upon the writings of those who are long gone. I am of the (perhaps naive) opinion that all we need do is look around and open both our eyes and our minds.
So how to define the socialist or capitalist mind?
People are a mixture of both socialist and capitalist tendencies. They (we) are merely percentages of one or the other, in terms of how we view and relate to the world. Yes, economic and political systems could be said to be this way also, however, it is much easier to relate to, and understand, the personalities that adhere to either ideology at any given time. By providing definitions of both psychological approaches, in terms of the individual, everyone can relate, as everyone is involved.
Allow me to begin with capitalism. This political system, economic theory and mindset, is based upon putting the needs of the individual first, at the expense of the greater good. A capitalist will be determined to ensure that they have, not only what they need, but much more than they need. Captains of Industry, CEO’s of capitalist corporations, the Church hierarchies, and also less prominent members of society will be united in their individual pursuit of wealth and power, regardless of consequence to others. This last line is very important.
As much as ambition can be admirable, ruthless ambition is not. It is ruthless ambition that surely defines the capitalist mind. A capitalist, without reference to economics or politics, is a person who will do whatever they have to in order to achieve their goals. If the capitalist must pay poor wages, no wages (slavery), provide poor working conditions, abuse and exploit their workforce to gain profits, then they will. If a capitalist must cheat and steal from the community, or prey malignantly upon them (drug-dealers) in order to become rich, then they will.
The capitalist, as an individual, has little or no scruples about doing bad to good people. Such a mindset driven by greed, desire for power, ruthless ambition (repetition I know, but important), callous disregard for the rights and welfare of others, and a lack of concern for the consequences to others of their actions, is what determines the capitalist. It is a personality type that will be found in every walk of life, from motor mechanics to solicitors, and from human traffickers to politicians. Not every capitalist is rich and successful. Many – most even – are not. This does not make them any less capitalist. It merely means that they are not very good at it.
However, in terms of those who do reach the summits of our current societies, it will be seen that most possess the qualities that define the capitalist. It is precisely their lack of empathy, their deliberate disconnect from consequences (even if only temporarily), their failure to appreciate the harm they do, that allows them to better climb the rungs that exist within our social structures.
For example, it is possible to cheat people if you choose to, when you are a building contractor. You can cut corners, use shoddy materials and techniques, demand high prices from more timid clients, bully your workforce whilst using the law to protect you from repercussions, pay poor wages and generally exploit everyone in the sector. This is easy to do if you have little or no morals or scruples. It’s not easy for someone with a strong conscience to treat others in this way. Ergo, the capitalist will gain whilst others feel pain.
A wise man once stated, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth’. Yet, sadly, that wise man was excusing the corruption and inequality of his time, and promising those with a conscience that their lot would be improved upon in the next life. But in this life, which is what we should all be primarily concerned with, the truth is that the only things the meek will inherit within the capitalist systems that dominate our planet, are garbage, debt, need and turmoil. Capitalist systems thrive upon the rape of the body politic. Capitalists thrive on inequality. They feed upon the blood, sweat and tears of those who have been conditioned to accept their place as prey animals. If such social and political systems exist, whereby the callous might progress, then it will be the callous who will always push most aggressively forward to progress. The rest remain behind, bewildered.
Capitalist businesses are run along the same lines as the minds of those who own them. They have but one slogan that fits all: MAXIMIZE PROFIT – this is the Capitalist Creed. It means increasing said profits regardless of consequence. This is the very epitome of capitalist thinking as an economic system,because it also epitomizes the personality traits of those who own and/or run those businesses.
Politicians, Generals, clergy, celebrities, sports stars; no area, where people have ambitions, is immune to the ruthless determinations of capitalists. Doping in cycling, capitalist mind. Shock-jocks, capitalist mind. Political corruption, capitalist mind. Church scandals and cover-ups, capitalist mind.
If we allow ourselves to become bogged down in the nitty gritty of economics and political thinking, we can lose sight of what the fundamentals of capitalism are. But if, instead, we examine the personalities of the people, then we can more readily understand the traits that shape and create capitalist ideology.
It’s fair to say that socialism is the opposite. An individual with a socialist mind will be concerned with the results of their actions. They will care if they have caused suffering and will work to avoid hardship to good people (I realize that the term ‘good people’ is relative, but for convenience will use the mainstream understanding of the term here).
A socialist must have principles. They must have scruples. They must have ethics. They need not have a halo and wings, as no one is perfect, yet they should strive to be considerate of the needs of good people. Again, I use the term ‘good people’ as I view it as no crime to take, by force if necessary, the assets of those who harm societies. Socialists can, if they choose, take every asset that a drug-dealer might possess, for example, so long as it is for the good of others. This could be readily applied to any rampant capitalist who has stolen from or exploited the people. Think of it as redistribution of wealth.
I do not state that everyone must have an equal amount of money, or live in identical houses. Homo Sapiens are not production line units. We should not live as drones. Yet we can ensure that everyone has enough, and that no one goes without because of the inherent greed and excess of some.
Socialists will not be as inherently greedy as capitalists and, while socialists most certainly can be ambitious, they will not naturally possess the ruthlessness necessary to compete with their opponents or, if they do possess such ruthlessness, they will be able to regulate it so that it is socially benign. This is why the world is dominated by capitalist corporations and lead by capitalist governments and systems. Capitalists do not have to overcome the obstacles of morality, scruples, ethics and conscience.
Capitalist systems also receive quick acceptance within societies, as they appeal to the baser needs and desires of our species; greed, desire, lust, envy, resentment, hedonism. These are the qualities that we all possess to one extent or another, and these are all areas where capitalism focuses its consumer campaigns. Capitalist systems peddle lies, as consumers are inundated with specious promises of how life will be improved by purchasing capitalist products. The capitalist businessperson does not care about the financial strains and debt associated with purchasing the trendiest, most extortionately-priced jeans, or the latest model of car. The capitalist cares only about profit.
So how do we address these flaws in our social systems, so that fairer societies might be created?
As mentioned previously, the answer lies in redistribution. Let the idle rich remain rich, but make them slightly less so, whilst similtaneously preventing them from gaining further profits via exploitation.
The Cubans got it right in so far as any communist system can be applied to a species that has not yet evolved sufficiently to fully embrace it. Castro et. al seized the wealth of the nation, acquired as it was by capitalists at the expense of the Cuban people, and then those revolutionaries used it for the betterment of the population as a whole.
Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl, Camilo Cienfuengos and, of course, Che Guevara were all true socialists. They did what they did not for personal gain, but for the good of all. And it worked. If we compare Castro to Stalin, we will see a vast difference in both approach and personality. Stalin was a man with the mindset of a capitalist, in control of a socialist system. The same criticism could be applied to Kim Jong Un of North Korea (although I must state a lack of intimate familiarity with that particular ruler and, instinctively, I distrust any western media portrayals and news reports).
On many occasions over the decades, capitalists have forced their way to the helm of socialist movements and succeeded, albeit unintentionally at times, in bringing about the downfall of said movements. Orwell was correct in his parody of the ruling elite in his 1945 novel Animal Farm. Too often, it has been the case that ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. The Soviet Union proved this analogy entirely.
The Cubans were ruthless, though, when it was necessary, but it was directed at those who sought to destroy a movement to liberate the people from penury and oppression. This is why I referred to ‘good people’ earlier. The Cubans were not ruthless, as a rule, with good people. They targeted capitalists. When we understand the harm that capitalists do, then who can blame Castro for his actions.
Capitalism is a disease of the mind. Capitalists are not born, they are made. Such personalities develop due to failures within societies, caused by failures of government. No child is born bad. Immorality, as we understand it, is introduced into the young mind as that young mind grows. Good, stable and fair societies will produce good citizens. Capitalist societies, based upon inequality as they are, produce an increase in the percentage of capitalists, which in turn feeds the cycle of negativity.
If our communities are to become healthy places for all, then we must adopt the Cuban approach. I am not suggesting communism because, as mentioned before, humanity has not evolved to an extent whereby we can truly embrace such a noble ideal. It may be centuries before we might reach that stage of development. I am suggesting that socialists i.e. those individuals with a conscience, must be prepared for ruthless action against bad people. This is not necessarily a call to arms, if only because such could see me arrested and thrown into a capitalist prison. It is, however,a belief that those who care about what happens to good people should act in defence of those people.
Percentages, percentages, percentages. We are all percentages. As stated, we all have elements of both socialist and capitalist tendencies. The percentages determine which camp we fall into. In order to paint a slightly clearer picture, let us tentatively affix some figures upon both.
Ok, let us say that approximately 20% of any population are solid socialists. This means that for those 20%, they conduct themselves in the manner of socialists at least 70% of the time. Approximately 20% of any population are solid capitalists, and therefore conduct themselves in the manner of capitalists at least 70% of the time. The remaining 60% of any population vary between both mindsets, with their conduct being either socialist or capitalist less than 70% of their time. One cannot be both at the same time as both are opposites. A person might behave as a socialist in one scenario but then switch to that of the capitalist in the next. If this happens with great frequency, then the individual is not ‘liberal’ as many would state, but is someone of weak conscience and poor morality. They could be regarded as inconsistent socialists or capitalists.
Individuals must, in so far as they are able, self-regulate their conduct with respect to others. This will determine which psychological camp they are in. When they cannot do so, society and government must intervene to prevent exploitation and abuse. I believe that it should be accepted that although we are all flawed, we do not have to be bound by those flaws. In order for an ideal society to be achieved, we must try to evolve. It doesn’t sound easy though, and it’s not. If it was, then humanity would have progressed much further, in terms of its humanitarianism, than it currently has.
The Mongols slaughtered hundreds of thousands. The Belgians killed millions in the Congo. Then the Nazis did the same during the Holocaust. Stalin continued with such numbers. Mao was responsible for tens of millions of unnecessary deaths. Cambodia, the Balkans, Rwanda, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Libya, it continues today unabated. So where is the evolution? Some would say that it is only to be found in the weapons now used to destroy one another. Our species appears not to have evolved in its psychology, and it is the capitalist mindset that is behind it all. Old dowdy Queen Vic was a Capitalist, as was Hitler, and Stalin, and Pol Pot, and Milošević, and Bush (both of them), and Obama, and Netanyahu, and Cameron and, of course, Trump.
Stamp out capitalism = stamp out exploitation = stamp out inequality = stamp out a nightmare existence.
These topics are vast and worthy of a weighty tome where, chapter by chapter, the various symptoms of the capitalist disease can be highlighted and examined – debt as a means of control, for example. But such an undertaking is for those more worthy and educated than I.
This piece is designed solely to open up the reader’s mind to how it is psychology that most accurately and fundamentally defines either a socialist or capitalist. Perhaps for the future, when assessing both the socialist and capitalist, we should view them, respectively, as a psychological, taxonomic, delineation between humanity and inhumanity?
To be defined as the latter should be regarded as a grave insult, as such diseased minds can bring no good to society overall and are, I believe, the root cause of every man-made ill to inflict our societies and planet. From current government measures of austerity, to the toxic destruction of our environment, the capitalist psychology is responsible for it all.
To be defined as the former is a start. It would be much better if further personal progress were made, and a person of conscience could then be termed either humanitarian or active socialist, as both mean the same thing. So now, when you interact with other citizens, perhaps you can better assess their personalities, or think upon their minds, and you will then more readily understand just who the person before you really is… socialist or capitalist.
‘Capitalism thrives in the Dark. Socialism lives in the Light.’