I found this quote that sums up the idea of socialism pretty clearly. To be fair I am a Trotskyist and am VERY critical of Stalin and Stalinism but on this issue he hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately the USSR never actually achieved socialism as Stalin, equating the dream with the reality for the Russian people declared socialism having been achieved. The state had seized the means of production- achieving state-capitalism which was a necessary prerequisite to socialism in countries (like Russia, China, etc.) which had not undergone an advanced capitalist phase of development. Lenin recognized the neccesity of this and had great confidence that the party would see socialism through. But in the 30’s Stalin- after some 15 years of revolutionary struggle and hardship on account of the Russian people made a political decision to tell the Russian people that ‘socialism has been achieved’, that what Russia had WAS socialism. Of course any marxian economist can tell you that it was not socialism as the state owned and controlled the means of production- and not the workers. What Russia had is what we call state-capitalism, which is inherently authoritarian because the state (and not the workers democratically) controlled the economy. Socialism has nothing to do with the government. Like capitalism it can be libertarian or authoritarian in nature. I myself prefer a small government- and yes I am a socialist. There is another misconception about socialism which I think Stalin (sigh) clears up very well. The misconception that the egalitarianism of socialism is not mere equal chance to succeed but actual, forced equality. This is ludicrous as Stalin clarifies by saying,
“The kind of socialism under which everybody would receive the same pay, an equal quantity of meat, an equal quantity, of bread, would wear the same kind of clothes and would receive the same kind of goods and in equal quantities—such a kind of socialism is unknown to Marxism. All that Marxism declares is that until classes have been completely abolished, and until work has been transformed from being a means of maintaining existence, into a prime necessity of life, into voluntary labour performed for the benefit of society, people will continue to be paid for their labour in accordance with the amount of labour performed. ‘From each according to his capacity, to each according to the work he performs,’ such is the Marxian formula of socialism, i.e., the first stage of communism, the first stage of a communist society. Only in the highest phase of communism will people, working in accordance with their capacity, receive recompense therefor in accordance with their needs: ‘From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.’
It is obvious that people’s needs vary and will vary under socialism. Socialism never denied that people differed in their tastes, and in the quantity and quality of their needs. Read Marx’s criticism of Stirner’s inclination toward equalitarianism; read Marx’s criticism of the Gotha Programme of 1875; read the subsequent works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and you will see how severely they attacked equalitarianism. The roots of equalitarianism lie in the mentality of the peasant, in the psychology of share and share alike, the psychology of primitive peasant ‘communism.’ Equalitarianism is entirely alien to Marxian socialism. It is those who know nothing about Marxism who have the primitive idea that the Russian Bolsheviks want to pool all wealth and then share it out equally. It is the idea of those who have never had anything in common with Marxism. It was the idea of communism entertained by such people as the primitive ‘communists’ of the time of Cromwell and the French Revolution. But Marxism and Russian Bolshevism have nothing in common with the equalitarian ‘communists.'”
Indeed, socialism doesn’t force people to be equal. It merely provides and equal chance for all to succeed regardless of what family or neighborhood they are born into.