Socialism is a type of government. It was developed in the 19th century, and centered around The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engel. According to them, socialism was an intermediate state between a country’s existing government system and communism. It would resolve the problem of the gap between the “have” and the “have nots” or the rich and the poor. Through the equal distribution of wealth, the unfair class structures would be dismantled, and everyone would be able to enjoy a high quality of life.
Socialism, therefore, addresses both the economy of the country and its social organization. The role of the government is to control the means of production, then distribute the profit among the people. However, it is not a dictatorship; the voice of the people dictate the movement of the government, who is seen more as an “administrator” of the wealth that belong to everyone.
However, several questions arise—causing debates that lead to different “versions” of socialism. For example, should the government control all production or just key industries? And how does the country address the question of what to produce: is it dictated by market demands, or do they strategize for the future? In this scenario, who decides the “best” strategy: the government, or the people?
Marx and Engel did not really tackle these questions; they simply set the vision of the perfect society, and for them, socialism (and the role of government) was simply transitory. Eventually, this perfect society would be perfectly controlled by its people.
No country has succeeded in achieving this ideal. While there are some governments that have socialized health schemes (paid through taxes and available to all citizens) none have actually removed all social structures. There are a few communes or kibbutzes, and some small agrarian groups where everyone partakes of the harvest and shares resources, but socialism has proven to be unworkable in very large communities with complex economies.