What Is Socialism? The Basics


  1. ABCs of Socialism, Chapter 1: “Isn’t America already kinda socialist?” by Chris Maisano
  2. ABCs of Socialism, Chapter 2: “At least capitalism is free and democratic right?” by Erik Olin Wright


  1. How was socialism talked about when you were growing up?
    (Note: We recommend dividing the group into smaller groups to discuss this question and then sharing highlights with the rest of the group, numbers permitting. Make sure to encourage older members to pair up with new members.) 
  2. Have you perceived a change in how people talk about socialism? 
  3. Think about ideas, rhetoric, speeches, or quotes about:
    a) what’s wrong with the world,
    b) what a better world would be
    that particularly resonated with you. Sketch or write these out on a piece of paper (2-3 minutes). Now think about those that didn’t work. Sketch or write them out (1-2 minutes). Then, discuss with the person sitting next to you.
  4. Does more government spending mean more socialism? What are some consequences of equating the two? How else can we assess policies and programs?
  5. How is the government shaped to promote capitalist interests? Does it always act in the interest of capitalists?
  6. Name some existing examples of policies, laws, or programs that do not serve capitalist interests (e.g. 8 hour working day).
    1. What are some examples that are currently being proposed?
    2. How do we win these? (i.e. Can we win these by electing progressive or socialist politicians?)
  7. Socialists often talk about nationalizing key industries like electric power, mining, and railways. What does this mean? How can these policies empower labor? How can these policies promote, or fall short in promoting, freedom and democracy?
  8. Write the following sentence on the board and invite members to unpack, give examples – “Capitalism has promoted the emergence of certain limited forms of freedom and democracy, but it imposes a low ceiling on their further realization.” (Wright, pg. 23-4)
  9. Get into groups of 2 to 3 people and draft one sentence in which you explain what socialism is. Pretend you are tabling and a curious student wants to know. Once everyone is ready, have one person from each group write the definition on the board. All together, discuss and debate each one and vote on the one you think more effectively communicates what socialism is.