Different strands of socialism show differing levels of commitment to equality. Fundamentalist socialists such as Marxists show full commitment to equality of outcome as a means of ensuring a completely fair society. Revisionist socialists (Fabian Society and Old Labour) support a midway stance of supporting equality of outcome to a relative economic extent but they put a greater emphasis on social equality. Neo-revisionists such as New Labour accept quite large amounts of inequality of outcome as a means of incentivisation under capitalism.
One reason fundamentalist socialists such as communists and Marxists are committed to absolute equality of outcome is that they do not believe there are definite innate differences in abilities among individuals. Fundamentalist socialists suggest that inequalities due to differences in human capabilities are due to competitive, selfish behaviour fostered under capitalism. This is not to say that fundamentalist socialists believe all humans are innately identical, but rather that significant inequality is due to unequal treatment by society, not unequal endowment by nature. This belief translates itself to socialist ideas such as Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – suggesting that all in society should gain equal satisfaction for their needs.
Fundamentalist socialists underpin their commitment to absolute equality of outcome by their support of the abolition of private property and collectivisation of productive wealth. Fundamentalist socialists agree with anarchists over the idea that private property is only upheld in order to maintain an unequal society. Fundamentalist socialists such as Marx believe that the downfall of private property is inevitable – explained by Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism. After private property is abolished and the proletariat ‘”seize the means of production”, fundamentalist socialists suggest that equality of outcome will be inevitable.
Revisionist socialists are not fully committed to equality of outcome – they believe that relative economic equality will suffice. Revisionist socialists are known as the social democrat strand of socialists – for example the Fabian Society of British Socialists. Social democrats favour efficient welfare system and wealth redistribution as a means of creating relative economic equality. Social democrats are critical of capitalism, but do allow for it – this is ultimately why they cannot achieve full equality of outcome – because capitalism is a system based on competition and incentivisation, created by inequality. Social democrats wish to humanise and regulate capitalism, but allow for some economic inequality as a means of incentivisation in the markets.
Neo-revisionist socialists favour relatively large amounts of social and economic inequality in society. Neo-revisionist socialists, such as New Labour and other supporters of the Third Way favour equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome. This is because Third Way socialists promote the idea of a meritocracy – where individual progress occurs according to merit and ability, rather than economic advantage or enforced equality (which is favoured by fundamentalist socialists). The neo-revisionist socialist stance on equality is very similar to that of liberals – who also favour equality of opportunity and meritocracy above full equality of outcome for all.
Neo-revionist socialists also allow for relatively large amounts of social and economic inequality in society as a means of incentivisation under capitalism. Unlike revisionist and fundamentalist socialists, Third Way socialists whole-heartedly support capitalism as they recognise its capacity for effective wealth production. Neo-revisionist socialists suggest that in order for capitalism to operate successfully, relatively large amounts of inequality must exist in society to incentivise progressive market maneuvering – which would not be possible if full equality of outcome was enforced by the state.
To conclude, commitment to equality of outcome through socialism differs according to strand. Fundamentalists, such as Marxists, are fully committed to equality of outcome and show this stance through support for the abolition of private property and the class system. Revionist socialists such as Old Labour and the Fabian Society support relative social equality – which they favour bringing about via an extensive welfare state and wealth redistribution system. Finally, neo-revisionist socialists such as neo-liberals and New Labour have mostly abandoned the social equality principle; in its place they have formulated the principle of equality of opportunity and meritocracy. Neo-revionist socialists have also supported relative inequality as a means of incentivisation under capitalism.
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