Death of Socialism? (L2137)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

This module looks at the contemporary condition of socialism, following:

  • the collapse of state socialism in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere
  • the erosion of the central principles of Western social democracy
  • the prevalence of free market and capitalist ideas at the start of the century.

Is socialism a relevant, feasible or desirable idea in contemporary society? Or is it dead, merely a historical relic of the 20th century?

The module will start by looking at the two predominant conceptions and experiences of socialism of the 20th century – Marxist and social democratic socialism. What are the main features of these models of socialism?

The module will then examine criticisms of socialism from liberals and libertarians (such as Hayek and Nozick) and from new social movements (such as the women’s movement and the green movement). What critical points are raised by these perspectives and how telling are they?

We will look at reasons for the collapse of state socialism in the late 1980s and at attempts in the West to rethink socialism during an era in which neo-liberalism was a predominant force. Questions include:

  • Do liberal and new social movements criticisms and the collapse of state socialism suggest that socialism is dead?
  • Do attempts to redefine socialism (as market socialism or radical democratic socialism) escape the criticisms of liberals and the new social movements and the problems experienced under old social democracy and state socialism? Or do they indicate that the era of socialism has well and truly passed?

In the final topics we shall address these questions a little more. We will examine the attempt of New Labour and current European social democrats to respond to the crisis of social democracy and will ask whether there is anything remaining of socialism in such attempts. And we shall examine theses such as that of Fukuyama: that the day of socialism has passed and that capitalism has won the battle.


33%: Lecture
67%: Seminar


30%: Coursework (Essay)
70%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 30 hours of contact time and about 270 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: