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In addition to the debate over markets and planning, the varieties of socialism differ in their form of social ownership, how management is to be organised within productive institutions and the role of the state in constructing socialism.

Core dichotomies include reformism versus revolutionary socialism and state socialism versus libertarian socialism.

The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France were considered "respectable" socialists, while working-class movements that "proclaimed the necessity of total social change" denoted themselves communists.

This latter branch of socialism produced the communist work of Étienne Cabet in France and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany.

It has been claimed – though controversially – that there were elements of socialist thought in the politics of classical Greek philosophers Plato In the period right after the French Revolution, activists and theorists like François-Noël Babeuf, Étienne-Gabriel Morelly, Philippe Buonarroti and Auguste Blanqui influenced the early French labour and socialist movements.

The first "self-conscious socialist movements developed in the 1820s and 1830s.

and while the emergence of the Soviet Union as the world's first nominally socialist state led to socialism's widespread association with the Soviet economic model, many economists and intellectuals argued that in practice the model functioned as a form of state capitalism Socialist parties and ideas remain a political force with varying degrees of power and influence in all continents, heading national governments in many countries around the world.

It was not until 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution that "socialism" came to refer to a distinct stage between capitalism and communism, introduced by Vladimir Lenin as a means to defend the Bolshevik seizure of power against traditional Marxist criticisms that Russia's productive forces were not sufficiently developed for socialist revolution.

Simon coined "socialism" as a contrast to the liberal doctrine of "individualism", which stressed that people act or should act as if they are in isolation from one another.

The original "utopian" socialists condemned liberal individualism for failing to address social concerns during the industrial revolution, including poverty, social oppression and gross inequalities in wealth, thus viewing liberal individualism as degenerating society into supporting selfish egoism that harmed community life through promoting a society based on competition.

By contrast, Robert Owen proposed the organization of production and ownership in cooperatives.

The modern definition and usage of "socialism" settled by the 1860s, becoming the predominant term among the group of words "co-operative", "mutualist" and "associationist", which had previously been used as synonyms.