In his later years, Mill referred to himself as a socialist; by his standard, however, most voters today are socialists.
Universal suffrage for men and for women, universal free education, the curbing of laissez faire in the interests of the general welfare, the use of the taxing power to limit the unbridled accumulation of private property— all these major changes foreseen by Mill are now widely accepted.
But the modern socialist does not stop, as Mill did, with changes in the distribution of wealth but goes on to propose changes in arrangements for the production of goods. The means of production are to be transferred from the control of individuals to the control of the community as a whole.
Historically, socialism denotes any philosophy that advocates the vesting of production in the hands of society and not in those of private individuals. In practice it usually means that the state, acting as the theoretical trustee of the community, owns at least the major industries, such as coal, railroads, and steel.
Socialism in its most complete form involves public ownership of almost all the instruments of production, including the land itself, virtually eliminating private property. To varying degrees in the late twentieth century, most states control some industries and the means of public transportation; Canada, Australia, and Sweden are examples of what are referred to as “mixed enterprise economies.”
Today the complete form of socialism is often called communism; in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the terms socialism and communism were used almost interchangeably. Over a hundred years of history have gone into making the distinction now drawn between the two.
Especially since the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, a communist has come to mean someone who believes that the collectivization of property must be accomplished swiftly and violently, by revolution and direct seizure, often at bloody cost to those defeated in class warfare. A socialist has come to mean someone who believes that collectivization should be accomplished gradually and peacefully through democratic political procedures and with compensation to private owners.
Though the ends may be similar, the means are worlds apart. This highly significant difference started to become apparent long before 1917, with the development of two divergent schools of socialist thought in the mid-nineteenth century, often called the Utopian and the Marxian.