How and why have socialists endorsed collectivism?

All socialists have endorsed collectivism, the idea that collective human endeavour is of greater practical and moral importance than individual self-striving. However, they envisage a collectivist society in different ways.

All socialists have endorsed collectivism, the idea that collective human endeavour is of greater practical and moral importance than individual self-striving. However, they envisage a collectivist society in different ways.

Socialists have endorse collectivism because they believe that humans can only be understood and can only understand themselves through the social groups to which they belong. Humans are neither self-sufficient nor self-contained so to think of them as ‘atomised’ individuals, like liberals and some conservatives and anarchists do, is absurd. Therefore, for socialists, because humans are inseparable from society, collectivism is the logical way to organise life.

Furthermore, socialists believe that humans are cooperative and capable of overcoming problems by drawing on the power of the community rather than individual effort. Working like this leads to more being achieved than if workers were competing against one another. Humans are comrades, expressed in the principle of fraternity, and have a willingness and ability to work together to pursue goals, as opposed to striving for personal self-interest. As John Donne said, ‘no man is an island’. Thus, socialists believe that humans can be motivated by moral incentives. This is the desire to contribute to the common good, which develops out of bonds of sympathy, or a sense of responsibility. Collectivism is therefore desirable because it fosters human sympathy for one another, unlike competition, which sets individuals against each other and leads to inequalities in society.

The way in which collectivism has been endorsed by fundamentalist socialists is through the common ownership of wealth. Marx and Engels believed that property should be owned collectively and used for the benefit of humanity. This is because property and wealth are created by the collective efforts of the community, not just one individual. Therefore, there should be a classless, communist society in place of capitalism, in which people live in small communities and the means of production are commonly owned. Revisionist socialists have endorsed collectivism in a more moderate sense; through the construction of mixed economies and welfare states. The Attlee government of 1945-51 nationalised the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy. This meant bringing the major industries of coal, steel, electricity, gas etc. under control of the state. The government hoped to regulate the entire economy without the need for comprehensive collectivisation. The social welfare state is meant to promote the general advancement of the whole community and foster bonds between the rich and the poor. Welfare helps the most disadvantaged people in society by attempting to eradicate social disadvantages and create equality of opportunity. Therefore, whilst fundamentalist and revisionist socialists have different outlooks on how a collectivised society should be, they both endorse that collectivism is a vital feature of society.

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