Democratic Socialism and Socialism: Are They the Same?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ win over Rep. Joe Crowley in the New York Democratic Congressional primary last week has people talking for several reasons. First, Crowley was a long-standing incumbent. Second, Ocasio-Cortez is a millennial; she’s only 28 years old. But most notable (and disturbing, to some) may be the fact that she’s a Democratic Socialist.

As with Bernie Sanders, many Americans simply refer to Ocasio-Cortez as a socialist, not acknowledging the differences between socialism and democratic socialism. Since Socialism has historically had a negative connotation (to say the least) in American politics, and remains misunderstood by many, some are alarmed at Ocasio-Cortez’ victory. Though it’s true that both socialism and democratic socialism share the goal of reducing economic inequality, they also differ significantly.

Many Americans jump to the conclusion that all socialists (including democratic socialists) advocate an authoritarian government. They envision a tyrannical, state-controlled society with oppressive central government control of business and industry, and forced redistribution of wealth.

Though socialism aspires to fully replace our capitalist economy with a socialist economy, democratic socialism does not list this as its goal. It would, however, aim to grant employees more rights and a higher minimum wage, as well as place some limitations on corporations and large business owners, such as how much CEOs can make in comparison with their employees.

And though socialists hold that all parts of the economy should be centrally run, democratic socialists support the idea that some parts of an economy are better democratically run. Hence, the word democratic as a modifier of socialist.

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) stress that they are committed to Democracy. They hold that changes in government and policy should be a result of fair elections. They also support the empowerment of workers in the workplace and in the economy, and they aim to create more equitable gender and cultural relationships.

Generally, “socialists believe the government should provide a range of basic services to the public, such as health care and education, for free or at a significant discount” (Business Insider).

Ocasio-Cortez, in fact, sees housing as a right, advocates Medicare for all, and calls for tuition-free college. It also calls for the de-militarization of police departments and the abolishment of for-profit prisons.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist, said, “I think [democratic socialism] means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest.”

Though Americans, particularly conservative Americans, find the idea of democratic socialism in the U.S. to be horrifying, we should note that a number of successful democratic socialist nations exist, including Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Not all democratic socialist countries have been successful at remaining democratic, however. Whether we’re on board with democratic socialism, or whether we feel it should be avoided at all costs, it would be wise to observe and examine the spectrum of democratic socialism in practice.

Judge Jeanine: The rise of socialism | Fox News [2018-06-30]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: There’s Room For Democratic Socialists In The Democratic Party  | (HBO)  VICE News [2018-06-28]

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