Socialist Individualism

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Socialist Individualism = Concept and article by Magnus E. Marsdal


Summary of the Argument

Contrary to a now generally held belief, socialism as a tradition was for more individualism, and critiqued capitalism for undermining individualism.

Currently, an updated form of socialist individualism needs to make a similar critique of the neoliberal undermining of individualism.

The article contains many useful graphs on the history of ideas.

The author also wrote a Norwegian book on The Third Left and Radical Individualism.


"Here, socialism is defined as the democratic management of society’s vital resources (“the economy"). Under Stalinism, undeniably the economy was subject to explicitly political governance, but no-one would ever label that political economy “democratic". It belongs at the far end of our axis, with meagre individual liberties. Now, notice how the nearest challenger of the Evil Empire in this respect is unrestrained capitalism! Market liberalism weakens the position of the working individual on the labour market as far as it can, and does pretty much the same with the political bodies of democracy. Under the welfare state there are substantial “socialist inroads" in the capitalist system. This partial protection from “the tyranny of the rich" strengthens the position of the individual.

The increase in individual liberty indicated along the axis from left to right corresponds to the level of democracy. This is demonstrated by The Scheme of Socialism in it’s general version.

When the historical advancement of democracy is seen like this, the current position of “the new movements"—arguing that “another world is possible" and at the same time fiercely defending the existing welfare state arrangements—becomes less paradoxical. Neoliberalism is perceived as reactionary. The foes of the welfare state are truly “winding the clock backwards". Therefore we fight to defend what already exists. But there is something to fight for beyond the instable truce of the so-called mixed economy of Keynesian times. Therefore, we also fight for what does not yet exist." (

More Information

Barker, Jeffrey H. Individualism and Community: The State and Marx in Early Anarchism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986. (Contributions in Political Science; no. 143)

Berman, Marshall. The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society. New York: Atheneum, 1972.

Forbes, Ian. Marx and the New Individual. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Lukes, Steven. Individualism. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. (Key Concepts in the Social Sciences)

Schaff, Adam. Marxism and the Human Individual. Introduction by Erich Fromm. Edited by Robert S. Cohen, translated by Olgierd Wojtasiewicz. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1970. (Original Polish ed., 1965.)

Thomas, Paul. Karl Marx and the Anarchists. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

Tucker, D.F.B. Marxism and Individualism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1980.

Wood, Ellen Meiksins. Mind and Politics: An Approach to the Meaning of Liberal and Socialist Individualism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.