The Meaning of Socialism

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’


The Supreme Court has rejected Good Governance Foundation India’s petition to have the word ‘socialist’ struck out of the preamble of the Indian Constitution. This is because the word socialism does not actually have a fixed meaning, and can be interpreted any which way:

Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, who headed the three-judge bench, observed: “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by communists? In broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy.”


“It hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meanings in different times,” PTI quoted the the Bench, as saying.


The vital question now is – does this whole different meaning in different times thing apply to the other words in the preamble – democratic, secular, and sovereign – as well?

If these words don’t have any definite meaning either, that’s good news for me. I can go ahead with my plan to create a one-Brahmin-five-votes imperial republic where Saivism is the official religion, and it’ll still be in accordance with the current Constitution. No need to expend effort writing a new one.

0 Responses to The Meaning of Socialism

  1. Vivek Kumar says:

    Is any country truly democratic? Truly secular? Truly sovereign? Of course not.
    I suppose you can go ahead.

  2. Aadisht says:


    truly democratic is the hardest to achieve I guess. True sovereignty is easy if you’re a superpower (or if you’re so insignificant that nobody finds it worth their while to interfere in your affairs).

    Truly secular – I can’t think of any country right now, but I don’t think it’s that difficult to achieve. Australia, for example, would come close if it stopped state funding of religious schools.

  3. Vivek Kumar says:

    True sovereignty is actually impossible in present times, regardless of size or economic might. Think globalization.

    For the same reason, I think it would be impossible for countries to achieve true secularism in the foreseeable future.

  4. Aadisht says:

    Fair enough on the sovereignty. I thought about treaties (whether global or otherwise), but decided that as long as the treaty is made between two countries as equals (as opposed to something like a Treaty of Versailles or a Subsidiary Alliance), it doesn’t really compromise sovereignty since the country is voluntarily restricting its own sovereignty. But that’s a definition-based quibble.

    Why do you feel that holds for secularism, though?

  5. Vivek Kumar says:

    Because people (most of them) are not really secular in their behaviour anywhere.

    We like those who we think are of “our kind” and view with suspicion those who aren’t. You cut a society along any axis.. of religion, of skin colour, of geography etc and you find that they remain quite intolerant of the “other” no matter which way you look at them. So, as long we have different religions, and religion continues to hold some significance for people, it would be pretty difficult for States (which are artificial constructs, comprised of not-religiously-homogenous people) to be truly secular in their policies and actions.

    Add globalization to the mix, and you get all these people coming into contact with each other more often than they are comfortable with. Of course, one could expect this to increase awareness and understanding as well.. but that doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere in the real world.

    The presence of States which are actually theocratic makes this possibility even more remote. Country X is theoratic (Religion Y) and discriminates against people of Country Z (officially secular, with people of several religions). Would Country Z’s response (official, and more importantly that of its people) be truly secular? I doubt it very much.

  6. Vivek Kumar says:

    BTW.. I found it quite ironic that the SC labeled the term “secular” to not have any definite meaning, while giving a fairly definite meaning to the term at the same time!

  7. Aadisht says:

    Vivek, you meant ‘socialist’, not ‘secular’, I guess (Comment #6)?

    Thanks for the clarification in #5. Yes, it would be difficult, but I think American-style secularism would make it easier than Indian-style secularism.

  8. Vivek Kumar says:

    Ah yes.. sorry for the typo. “secular” was on my mind because of the previous comment.

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