What is Democratic Socialism?

Buster Scheuer, Blogger

In our nifty fifty United States, there has been a growing fear of “socialism” in the political climate as it relates to the policy platform of Senator/2020-hopeful Bernie Sanders. In talking to many of my friends about what socialism and democratic socialism are, I find that not too many fully understand the terms. And that’s not their fault… Bernie might be mislabeling himself.

When Senator Sanders explains what democratic socialism means to him, he does not include the actual definition: a democracy in which the workers control the means of production. Essentially, it means public (whether it be government owned or generally communal) ownership of all industry implemented democratically. However, when Bernie describes his form of “democratic socialism”, he does not explicitly say this. As his examples for where democratic socialism works, he points out Scandinavian countries. But, even according to Denmark’s prime minister[1], these countries are not socialist. Rather, Bernie has been pointing to glimmering examples of social democracies.

The difference between democratic socialism and social democracy may seem like semantics, but it is important to understand; while democratic socialism entails a socialist economic system, social democracy maintains a capitalist economy. Even though social democracy is all about heavier regulations on large companies as well as a bulky social safety net (welfare, single-payer healthcare, free college), the nationalization of all industry is not at all included in the social democratic “manifesto”.

In America, we tend to conflate the two terms. As a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, I have often found myself lingering in the area between social democracy and democratic socialism. The broader nationalization of all industry is a goal that I still don’t know if America can achieve, but regardless, I find it important to stop aligning myself with less centrist vehicles of politics that have failed to get much done for the left in the past ten years, and to join in solidarity with social democrats & democratic socialists alike in support of a better world of less war and less poverty.

Bernie is a candidate for president who says loud and clear that a person’s health, their accessibility to knowledge, and their pursuit of happiness are all inalienable human rights. Regardless of whether he is a social democrat or a democratic socialist, he will not enact full blown socialism. That’s why his support is spread across people of multiple different backgrounds… from West Virginian union workers who want fair pay, to civil rights activists looking to end the war on drugs, to actual socialists hoping that Bernie will move the Overton window of American politics leftwards, the faces of America seem to want a more equitable society.

  1. https://www.vox.com/2015/10/31/9650030/denmark-prime-minister-bernie-sanders