In fact, it can be difficult to answer the question of what precisely socialism is, because socialists themselves disagree over it. That’s not surprising; Democrats disagree over what it means to be a Democrat, too. It’s an abstract term that describes a diverse population with a lot of conflicting ideas. One popular perception, repeated by Republican Sen. Rand Paul in “The Case Against Socialism,” is that socialism is about “government control of the means of production.” But that’s pretty clearly wrong: historically, many socialists considered themselves outright anarchists, who wanted to get rid of government altogether.
A better definition, at least as far as the economic dimension of socialism, is the concept of “worker control.” What socialists have disliked is the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small number of people. What they have demanded is that ordinary working people get their fair share of the wealth. Some socialists have believed strongly in the power of government, others have believed that worker cooperatives or syndicates could give workers their share. Matt Bruenig of the socialist People’s Policy Project has proposed a large “social wealth fund” that would distribute returns on public assets to the people as a whole, while Bernie Sanders (now running for president again) has put forth a plan to give employees seats on company boards and give ordinary workers guaranteed shares of stock.