There is widespread confusion and disagreement on what exactly constitutes socialism, and what is encompassed within the umbrella of that concept, even in academia. It has always been a concept that has had a variety of applications. By that very fact, I believe it should be considered more broad than simply centrally planned economies, as in Stalinism.
I am personally of the opinion that socialism is already being used to refer to very broad principle rather than a specific system, as you can see by reading about it on Stanford’s page on the subject here, the wikipedia page on types of socialism here, and the socialist half of the mixed economy concept.
In a nutshell: if we’re calling a mixed economy a combination of capitalism and socialism, then the socialist half of that “mix” is clearly democratic control over industry/business, via things like strong regulations, government sanctioned unions in Germany and other countries, etc., along with strong social safety nets. This shows that socialism is not merely absolute control of industry by government, but also partial control, which is even included in it’s dictionary definition:
a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole (democracy required).
So, essentially, socialism = democracy applied to business/industry, in some way or another. Or at least, that’s what it should mean.
Cooperatives are basically socialist, regulation of industry by democratic government is socialist, unions are socialist.
Why should we adopt this view, you might ask, when the term is so often already used to refer only to completely centralized Stalinist regimes?
Beyond what I just outlined, another reason is that the term is primarily used to refer to stalinism by those who are opposed to socialism; most of those who are in favor of it are not using it that way, but are using it to refer to a more mixed economy or social democracy type of system, or a braoder principle. In general, the language of the proponent should have precedence over the language of the opponent.
I’ve covered this in great detail in other articles which you might enjoy, such as:
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