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The term Socialism may refer to a political doctrine, an economic theory, a vision of an ideal society, or a description of an existing society organised along social lines - that is, for the benefit of all, rather than for the profit of a few.

The key ideas of socialism include: a) placing at least some of the means of production and distribution of goods and services into collective ownership, and b) cooperation in place of competition. In some versions of socialism, collective ownership is limited to control of natural resources and utilities. In such states, there is a mixed economy with varying degrees of government ownership and private ownership. In others, there is a view that economic planning and control should be centralized in the state. Centrally planned state socialism is generally referred to as communism. For the sake of clarity, this distinction will be maintained in this article.

Many socialist thinkers argue that free market economics, a hallmark of capitalist systems, generally results in profits for a few at the expense of the many. Many advocates of free markets, particularly in America, dispute this contention, claiming that people generally prosper as a result of free market economies; hence, that Capitalism works for the benefit of all.

However most socialists, (as distinguished from communists), do not seek to remove the capitalist system, only moderate it's workings to produce a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Socialism has thus been integrated with capitalism in many European countries and in other parts of the world. These systems are referred to as social democracies. Social democracy typically involves state ownership of some corporations (considered strategically important to the people) and participation in ownership of the means of production by workers. This can include profit sharing and worker representation on decision-making boards of corporations. Social services are important in social democracies. Such services include social welfare for the disadvantaged and unemployment insurance.

Likewise, market economies have integrated some aspects of socialism in the United States and other democratic countries. Democratic countries typically place limits on the centralization of capital through anti-trust laws and limits on monopolies. Ownership of stock has become common for middle class workers, both in companies they work for and in other companies (see mutual fund). Unionization has led to profit-sharing. Social welfare and unemployment insurance are mandated by law in the US, UK, Canada and other market economies.

Election poster for Eugene V. Debs, American Socialist Party candidate for President, 1904

Branches of Socialism

Since the 19th century, socialist ideas have developed and separated into many different streams. Notable ideologies that have been referred to using the label "socialism" are:

The National Socialists (Nazis) under Adolf Hitler claimed to be "socialist". However, post-World War II political science generally considers these to be conflicting ideologies (See Socialism and Nazism.)

Various Catholic clerical parties have at times referred to themselves as Christian Socialists. An example is the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger in Austria before and after World War I. Such parties are generally not considered to be socialist, either.

Marxism and communism may be further divided into:

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