The term ‘socialist’ derives from the Latin sociare, meaning to combine or to share. Its earliest known usage was in 1827 in the UK, in an issue of the Co-operative Magazine. By the early 1830s, the followers of Robert Owen in the UK and Henri de Saint-Simon in France had started to refer to their beliefs as ‘socialism’ and, by the 1840s, the term was familiar in a range of industrialized countries, notably France, Belgium and the German states. Socialism, as an ideology, has traditionally been defined by its opposition to capitalism and the attempt to provide a more humane and socially worthwhile alternative. At the core of socialism is a vision of human beings as social creatures united by their common humanity. This highlights the degree to which individual identity is fashioned by social interaction and the membership of social groups and collective bodies. Socialists therefore prefer cooperation to competition. The central, and some would say defining, value of socialism is equality, especially social equality. Socialists believe that social equality is the essential guarantee of social stability and cohesion, and that it promotes freedom, in the sense that it satisfies material needs and provides the basis for personal development. Socialism, however, contains a bewildering variety of divisions and rival traditions. These divisions have been about both ‘means’ (how socialism should be achieved) and ‘ends’ (the nature of the future socialist society).
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