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Democratic socialism is a left-wing political philosophy that supports political democracy within a socially owned economy, with a particular emphasis on economic democracy, workplace democracy and workers' self-management within a market socialist economy, or an alternative form of a decentralised planned socialist economy. Democratic socialists argue that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the values of freedom, equality and solidarity, and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realisation of a socialist society. Although most democratic socialists seek a gradual reformist transition to socialism, democratic socialism can support revolutionary politics as means to establish socialism. As a term, democratic socialism was popularised by socialists who were opposed to the authoritarian backsliding towards a one party state in the Soviet Union and other nations during the 20th century.
The origins of democratic socialism can be traced back to 19th-century utopian socialist thinkers and the British Chartist movement, which somewhat differed in their goals, but shared a common demand of democratic decision making and public ownership of the means of production, and viewed these as fundamental characteristics of the society they advocated for. In the late 19th to the early 20th century, democratic socialism was also heavily influenced by the gradualist form of socialism promoted by the British Fabian Society and Eduard Bernstein's evolutionary socialism. Democratic socialism is a broad label and movement, which includes forms of libertarian socialism, market socialism, reformist socialism and revolutionary socialism as well as ethical socialism and several forms of state socialism and utopian socialism.
Democratic socialism is contrasted with Marxism–Leninism, which is often perceived as being authoritarian and undemocratic in practice. Democratic socialists oppose the Stalinist political system and the Soviet-type economic system, rejecting the authoritarian form of governance and the centralised administrative-command system that formed in the Soviet Union and other Marxist–Leninist states during the 20th century. Democratic socialism is also distinguished from social democracy on the basis that democratic socialists are committed to a systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism, whereas social democrats are concerned with reforming and humanizing capitalism through the framework of a welfare state. This has resulted in analysts and democratic socialist critics alike arguing that in effect, social democracy has endorsed capitalism. Many commentators have stated that this was the result of their type of reformism that caused them to administer the system according to capitalist logic.
While having socialism as a long-term goal, some moderate democratic socialists are more concerned about curbing capitalism's excesses, and are supportive of progressive reforms to humanise it in the present day, while other democratic socialists believe that economic interventionism and similar policy reforms aimed at addressing social inequalities and suppressing the economic contradictions of capitalism would only exacerbate the contradictions, causing them to emerge elsewhere under a different guise. Those democratic socialists believe that the fundamental issues with capitalism are systemic in nature, and can only be resolved by replacing the capitalist mode of production with the socialist mode of production through the replacement of private ownership with collective ownership of the means of production, and extending democracy to the economic sphere in the form of industrial democracy. The main criticism of democratic socialism is focused on the compatibility of democracy and socialism. Academics, political commentators and other scholars tend to distinguish between authoritarian socialism and democratic socialism as a political ideology, with the first representing the Soviet Bloc, and the latter representing the democratic socialist parties in the Western Bloc countries that have been democratically elected in countries such as Britain, France, Sweden, et al.
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Democratic socialism is defined as having a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a liberal democratic political system of government. Democratic socialists reject most self-described socialist states and Marxism–Leninism. British Labour Party politician Peter Hain classifies democratic socialism along with libertarian socialism as a form of anti-authoritarian socialism from below (using the concept popularised by American socialist activist Hal Draper) in contrast to authoritarian socialism and state socialism. For Hain, this authoritarian and democratic divide is more important than that between reformists and revolutionaries. In democratic socialism, it is the active participation of the population as a whole and workers in particular in the self-management of the economy that characterises socialism while centralised economic planning coordinated by the state and nationalisation do not represent socialism in itself. A similar, more complex argument is made by Nicos Poulantzas. For Draper, revolutionary-democratic socialism is a type of socialism from below, writing in The Two Souls of Socialism that "the leading spokesman in the Second International of a revolutionary-democratic Socialism-from-Below was Rosa Luxemburg, who so emphatically put her faith and hope in the spontaneous struggle of a free working class that the myth-makers invented for her a 'theory of spontaneity.'" Similarly, he wrote about Eugene V. Debs that "'Debsian socialism' evoked a tremendous response from the heart of the people, but Debs had no successor as a tribune of revolutionary-democratic socialism."
Some Marxist socialists emphasise Karl Marx's belief in democracy and call themselves democratic socialists. The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the World Socialist Movement define socialism in its classical formulation as a "system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the community." Additionally, they include classlessness, statelessness and the abolition of wage labour as characteristics of a socialist society, characterising it as a stateless, propertyless, post-monetary economy based on calculation in kind, a free association of producers, workplace democracy and free access to goods and services produced solely for use and not for exchange. Although these characteristics are usually reserved to describe a communist society, this is consistent with the usage of Marx, Friedrich Engels and others, who referred to communism and socialism interchangeably.
As a democratic socialist definition, the political scientist Lyman Tower Sargent states:
Democratic socialism can be characterised as follows:
- Much property held by the public through a democratically elected government, including most major industries, utilities, and transportation systems
- A limit on the accumulation of private property
- Governmental regulation of the economy
- Extensive publicly financed assistance and pension programs
- Social costs and the provision of services added to purely financial considerations as the measure of efficiency
Publicly held property is limited to productive property and significant infrastructure; it does not extend to personal property, homes, and small businesses. And in practice in many democratic socialist countries, it has not extended to many large corporations.
Another example is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), with the organisation defining democratic socialism as a decentralised socially-owned economy and rejecting centralised, Soviet-type economic planning, stating:
Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favour as much decentralisation as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives. Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.
The DSA has been critical of self-described socialist states, arguing that "Just because their bureaucratic elites called them 'socialist' did not make it so; they also called their regimes 'democratic.'" While ultimately committed to instituting socialism, the DSA focuses the bulk of its political activities on reforms within capitalism, arguing: "As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people."
Labour Party politician Peter Hain, who identifies with libertarian socialism, gives the following definition:
Democratic socialism should mean an active, democratically accountable state to underpin individual freedom and deliver the conditions for everyone to be empowered regardless of who they are or what their income is. It should be complemented by decentralisation and empowerment to achieve increased democracy and social justice. [...] Today democratic socialism's task is to recover the high ground on democracy and freedom through maximum decentralisation of control, ownership and decision making. For socialism can only be achieved if it springs from below by popular demand. The task of socialist government should be an enabling one, not an enforcing one. Its mission is to disperse rather than to concentrate power, with a pluralist notion of democracy at its heart.
Tony Benn, another prominent left-wing Labour Party politician, described democratic socialism as a socialism that is "open, libertarian, pluralistic, humane and democratic; nothing whatever in common with the harsh, centralised, dictatorial and mechanistic images which are purposely presented by our opponents and a tiny group of people who control the mass media in Britain."
Democratic socialism sometimes represents policies within capitalism as opposed to an ideology that aims to transcend and replace capitalism, although this is not always the case. Robert M. Page, a reader in Democratic Socialism and Social Policy at the University of Birmingham, wrote about transformative democratic socialism to refer to the politics of Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee and its government (fiscal redistribution, some degree of public ownership and a strong welfare state) and revisionist democratic socialism as developed by Labour Party politician Anthony Crosland and Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson, arguing:
The most influential revisionist Labour thinker, Anthony Crosland, contended that a more "benevolent" form of capitalism had emerged since the Second World War. [...] According to Crosland, it was now possible to achieve greater equality in society without the need for "fundamental" economic transformation. For Crosland, a more meaningful form of equality could be achieved if the growth dividend derived from effective management of the economy was invested in "pro-poor" public services rather than through fiscal redistribution.
The Socialist International, of which almost all democratic socialist, labourist and social democratic parties are members, declares the goal of the development of democratic socialism. Some tendencies of democratic socialism advocate for social revolution in order to transition to socialism, distinguishing it from some forms of social democracy. In Soviet politics, democratic socialism is the version of the Soviet Union model that was reformed in a democratic way. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev described perestroika as building a "new, humane and democratic socialism." Consequently, some former communist parties have rebranded themselves as being democratic socialists. This include parties such as The Left in Germany, a party succeeding the Party of Democratic Socialism which was itself the legal successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
Democratic socialism has occasionally been described as the form of social democracy prior to the displacement of Keynesianism by neoliberalism and monetarism which caused many social-democratic parties to adopt the Third Way ideology, accepting capitalism as the current status quo and powers that be, redefining socialism in a way that it maintained the capitalist structure intact. The new version of Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution, which was adopted by Tony Blair, uses democratic socialism to describe a modernised form of social democracy. While affirming a commitment to democratic socialism, it no longer definitely commits the party to public ownership of industry and in its place advocates "the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition" along with "high quality public services [...] either owned by the public or accountable to them." Much like modern social democracy, some forms of democratic socialism follow a gradual, reformist or evolutionary path to socialism rather than a revolutionary one, a tendency that is captured in the statement of Labour revisionist Anthony Crosland, who argued that the socialism of the pre-war world was now becoming increasingly irrelevant. This tendency is invoked in an attempt to distinguish democratic socialism from Marxist–Leninist socialism as in Norman Thomas' Democratic Socialism: A New Appraisal, Roy Hattersley's Choose Freedom: The Future of Democratic Socialism, Malcolm Hamilton's Democratic Socialism in Britain and Sweden, Jim Tomlinson's Democratic Socialism and Economic Policy: The Attlee Years, 1945–1951 and Donald F. Busky's Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. A variant of this set of definitions is Joseph Schumpeter's argument set out in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) that liberal democracies were evolving from liberal capitalism into democratic socialism with the growth of industrial democracy, regulatory institutions and self-management.
Democratic socialism has some degree of significant overlaps on practical policy positions with social democracy, although they are often distinguished from each other. Policies commonly supported by democratic socialists are Keynesian in nature, including significant economic regulation alongside a mixed economy, extensive social insurance schemes, generous public pension programs and a gradual expansion of public ownership over strategic industries. Policies such as free, universal health care and education are described as "pure Socialism" because they are opposed to "the hedonism of capitalist society." Partly because of this overlap, some political commentators occasionally use the terms interchangeably. One difference is that modern social democrats tend to reject revolutionary means accepted by more radical socialists. Another difference is that social democrats are mainly concerned with practical reforms within capitalism, with socialism either relegated to the indefinite future or entirely abandoned. In contrast, democratic socialists want to go beyond mere meliorist reforms and advocate systemic transformation of the mode of production from capitalism to socialism.
While the Third Way has been described as a new form of social democracy or neo-social democracy standing for a modernised social democracy and competitive socialism, the form of social democracy that remained committed to the gradual abolition of capitalism as well as social democrats opposed to the Third Way merged into democratic socialism. During the late 20th century and early 21st century, these labels were embraced, contested and rejected due to the development within the European left of Eurocommunism between the 1970s and 1980s, the rise of neoliberalism in the mid- to late 1970s, the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and of Marxist–Leninist governments between 1989 and 1992, the rise and fall of the Third Way between the 1970s and 2010s and the simultaneous rise of anti-austerity, green, left-wing populist and Occupy movements in the late 2000s and early 2010s due to the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the Great Recession, the causes of which have been widely attributed to the neoliberal shift and deregulation economic policies. This latest development contributed to the rise of politicians that represent a return to the post-war consensus social democracy such as Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Bernie Sanders in the United States, who assumed the democratic socialist label to describe their rejection of centrist politicians that supported triangulation within the Labour and Democratic parties such as with New Labour and the New Democrats, respectively.
As social democracy originated as a revolutionary socialist or communist movement, one distinction made to separate the modern versions of democratic socialism and social democracy is that the former can include revolutionary means while the latter asserts that the only acceptable constitutional form of government is representative democracy under the rule of law. Many social democrats "refer to themselves as socialists or democratic socialists" and some "use or have used these terms interchangeably." Others argue that "there are clear differences between the three terms, and preferred to describe their own political beliefs by using the term 'social democracy' only." In political science, democratic socialism and social democracy are occasionally seen as synonyms and as overlapping or otherwise not being mutually exclusive while they are distinguished in journalistic use, in most cases sharply. While social democrats continue to call and describe themselves as democratic socialists or simply socialists, the meaning of democratic socialism and social democracy effectively reversed. Democratic socialism originally represented socialism achieved by democratic means and usually resulted in reformism whereas social democracy included both reformist and revolutionary wings. With the association of social democracy as policy regime and the development of the Third Way, social democracy became almost exclusively associated with capitalist welfare states, while democratic socialism came to include communist and revolutionary tendencies.
While most social-democratic parties describe themselves as democratic socialists, with democratic socialism representing the theory and social democracy the practice and vice versa, political scientists distinguish between the two. Social democratic is used for centre-left political parties, "whose aim is the gradual amelioration of poverty and exploitation within a liberal capitalist society." On the other hand, democratic socialist is used for left-wing socialist parties, including left-wing populist parties such as The Left, Podemos and Syriza. This is reflected at the European party level, where the centre-left social democratic parties are within the Party of European Socialists and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, while left-wing democratic socialist and communist parties are within the Party of the European Left and the European United Left–Nordic Green Left. Aside from democratic socialism, the latter also include communist tendencies and communist parties that embrace a left-libertarian form of communism.
According to Steve Ludlam, "the arrival of New Labour signalled an unprecedented and possibly final assault on the party’s democratic socialist tradition, that is to say the tradition of those seeking the transformation of capitalism into socialism by overwhelmingly legislative means. [...] It would be a while before some of the party's social democrats—those whose aim is the gradual amelioration of poverty and exploitation within a liberal capitalist society—began to fear the same threat to Labour's egalitarian tradition as the left recognised to its socialist tradition." This was reflected similarly in Labour: A Tale of Two Parties by Hilary Wainwright.
According to Andrew Mathers, Hilary Wainwright's 1987 work Labour: A Tale of Two Parties provided "a different reading which contrasted the 'ameliorative, pragmatic' social democratic tradition expressed principally in the Parliamentary Labour Party with a 'transformative, visionary' democratic socialist tradition associated mainly with the grassroots members engaged closely with extra-parliamentary struggles."
Democratic socialists have promoted a variety of different models of socialism and economics, ranging from market socialism where socially owned enterprises operate in competitive markets and are self-managed by their workforce to non-market participatory socialism based on decentralised economic planning. Democratic socialism is also committed to a decentralised form of economic planning, where productive units are integrated into a single organisation and organised on the basis of self-management. Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, both of whom were United States Presidential candidates for the Socialist Party of America, understood socialism to be an economic system structured upon production for use and social ownership in place of the for-profit system and private ownership of the means of production. Democratic socialists and contemporary proponents of market socialism have argued that rather than socialism itself, the major reason for the economic shortcomings of Soviet-type economies were command economies. Their administrative-command system caused their failure to create rules and operational criteria for the efficient operation of state enterprises in their hierarchical allocation of resources and commodities and the lack of democracy in the political systems that the Soviet-type economies were combined with.
A democratic planned economy has been proposed as a basis for socialism and variously advocated by some democratic socialists who support a non-market form of socialism whilst rejecting Soviet-type central planning. It has been argued that decentralised planning allows for a spontaneously self-regulating system of stock control, relying solely on calculation in kind), to come about and that in turn decisively overcomes the objections raised by the economic calculation argument that any large scale economy must necessarily resort to a system of market prices.
This form of economic planning implies some process of democratic and participatory decision-making within the economy and within firms itself in the form of industrial democracy. Computer-based forms of democratic economic planning and coordination between economic enterprises have also been proposed by various computer scientists and radical economists. Proponents present democratic or decentralized and participatory economic planning as an alternative to market socialism for a post-capitalist society.
Some proponents of market socialism see it as an economic system compatible with the political ideology of democratic socialism. Advocates of market socialism such as Jaroslav Vaněk argue that genuinely free markets are impossible under conditions of private ownership of productive property. Vaněk contends that the class differences and unequal distribution of income and economic power that result from private ownership of industry enable the interests of the dominant class to skew the market in their favour, either in the form of monopoly and market power, or by utilising their wealth and resources to legislate government policies that benefit their specific business interests. Additionally, Vaněk states that workers in a socialist economy based on cooperative and self-managed enterprises have stronger incentives to maximise productivity because they would receive a share of the profits based on the overall performance of their enterprise, plus their fixed wage or salary. Many pre-Marx socialists and proto-socialists were fervent anti-capitalists just as they were supporters of the free market, including the British philosopher Thomas Hodgskin, the French mutualist thinker and anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the American philosophers Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner, among others. Although capitalism has been commonly conflated with the free market, there is a similar laissez-faire economic theory and system associated with socialism called left-wing laissez-faire to distinguish it from laissez-faire capitalism.
One example of this democratic market socialist tendency is mutualism, a democratic and libertarian socialist theory developed by Proudhon in the 18th century, from which individualist anarchism emerged. Benjamin Tucker is one eminent American individualist anarchist, who adopted a laissez-faire socialist system he termed anarchistic socialism as opposed to state socialism. This tradition has been recently associated with contemporary scholars such as Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier, Charles W. Johnson, Samuel Edward Konkin III, Roderick T. Long, Sheldon Richman, Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Brad Spangler, who stress the value of radically free markets, termed freed markets to distinguish them from the common conception which these left-libertarians believe to be riddled with statism and bourgeois privileges.
Referred to as left-wing market anarchists or market-oriented left-libertarians, Proponents of this approach strongly affirm the classical liberal ideas of self-ownership and free markets while maintaining that taken to their logical conclusions these ideas support anti-capitalist, anti-corporatist, anti-hierarchical and pro-labour positions in economics, anti-imperialism in foreign policy and radically progressive views regarding sociocultural issues such as gender, sexuality and race. Echoing the language of these market socialists, they maintain that radical market anarchism should be seen by its proponents and by others as part of the socialist tradition because of its heritage, emancipatory goals and potential and that market anarchists can and should call themselves socialists. Critics of the free market and laissez-faire as commonly understood argue that socialism is fully compatible with a market economy and that a truly free-market or laissez-faire system would be anti-capitalist and socialist in practice.
According to its supporters, this would result in the society as advocated by democratic socialists, when socialism is not understood as state socialism and conflated with self-described socialist states and the free market and laissez-faire are understood to mean as being free from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities. This is consistent with the classical economics view that economic rents, i.e. profits generated from a lack of perfect competition, must be reduced or eliminated as much as possible through free competition rather than free from regulation. David McNally, a professor at the University of Houston, has argued in the Marxist tradition that the logic of the market inherently produces social inequality and leads to unequal exchanges, writing that Adam Smith's moral intent and moral philosophy espousing equal exchange was undermined by the practice of the free market he championed as the development of the market economy involved coercion, exploitation and violence that Smith's moral philosophy could not counteract. McNally criticises market socialists for believing in the possibility of fair markets based on equal exchanges to be achieved by purging parasitical elements from the market economy such as private ownership of the means of production, arguing that market socialism is an oxymoron when socialism is defined as an end to wage labour.
While socialism is commonly used to describe Marxism–Leninism and affiliated states and governments, there have also been several anarchist and socialist societies that followed democratic socialist principles, encompassing anti-authoritarian and democratic anti-capitalism. The most notable historical examples are the Paris Commune, the various soviet republics established in the post-World War I period, early Soviet Russia before the abolition of soviet councils by the Bolsheviks, Revolutionary Catalonia as noted by George Orwell, and the Federation of Rojava in Northern Syria. Other examples include the kibbutz communities in modern-day Israel, Marinaleda in Spain, the Zapatistas of EZLN in the region of Chiapas, and to some extent the workers' self-management policies within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Cuba. However, the best-known example is that of Chile under President Salvador Allende, who was violently overthrown in a military coup funded and backed by the CIA in 1973.
When nationalisation of large industries was relatively widespread during the Keynesian post-war consensus, it was not uncommon for some political commentators to describe several European countries as democratic socialist states seeking to move their countries towards a socialist economy. In 1956, leading British Labour Party politician Anthony Crosland claimed that capitalism had been abolished in Britain, although others such as Welshman Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health in the first post-war Labour government and the architect of the National Health Service, disputed the claim that Britain was a socialist state. For Crosland and others who supported his views, Britain was a socialist state. According to Bevan, Britain had a socialist National Health Service, which stood in opposition to the hedonism of Britain's capitalist society. Although the laws of capitalism still operated fully as in the rest of Europe and private enterprise dominated the economy, several political commentators claimed that during the post-war period, when socialist parties were in power, countries such as Britain and France were democratic socialist states, and the same claim is now applied to Nordic countries with the Nordic model. In the 1980s, the government of President François Mitterrand aimed to expand dirigisme by attempting to nationalise all French banks, but this attempt faced opposition from the European Economic Community, which demanded a capitalist free-market economy among its members. Nevertheless, public ownership in France and the United Kingdom during the height of nationalisation in the 1960s and 1970s never accounted for more than 15–20% of capital formation.
The form of "socialism" practised by parties such as the Singaporean People's Action Party during its first few decades in power was of a pragmatic kind, as it was characterised by its rejection of mass nationalisation. The party still claimed to be a socialist party, pointing out its extensive regulation of the private sector, activist intervention in the economy and its social welfare policies as evidence of this claim. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stated that he has been influenced by the democratic socialist factions of the British Labour Party. Those confusions and disputes are caused not only by the socialist definition, but by the capitalist definition as well. Christian democrats, social liberals, national and social conservatives tend to support social democratic policies and generally see capitalism compatible with a mixed economy, while classical liberals, conservative liberals, liberal conservatives, neoliberals and right-libertarians define capitalism as a purely free market economy. Those economic liberals support a small government, laissez-faire, and deregulated capitalist market economy, while opposing all democratic socialist policies as well as economic interventionism and government regulations. According to them, the negative effects of actually existing capitalism are caused by "corporatism", "corporatocracy", or "crony capitalism".
Socialism has often been erroneously conflated with an administrative command economy, authoritarian socialism, a big government, Marxist–Leninist states, Soviet-type economic planning, state interventionism and state socialism. Austrian School economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises continually used socialism as a synonym for central planning and state socialism, falsely conflating it with fascism and opposing democratic socialist policies, including the welfare state. This is especially true in the United States, where socialism has become a pejorative used by conservatives and right-libertarians to taint liberal and progressive policies, proposals and public figures.
Democratic socialism involves the entire population controlling the economy through some type of democratic system, with the idea that the means of production are owned and managed by the working class as a whole. The interrelationship between democracy and socialism extends far back into the socialist movement to The Communist Manifesto's emphasis on winning as a first step the "battle of democracy", with Karl Marx writing that democracy is "the road to socialism." Socialist thinkers as diverse as Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg also wrote that democracy is indispensable to the realisation of socialism. Philosophical support for democratic socialism can be found in the works of political philosophers such as Axel Honneth and Charles Taylor. Honneth has put forward the view that political and economic ideologies have a social basis, meaning they originate from intersubjective communication between members of a society. Honneth criticises the liberal state and ideology because it assumes that principles of individual liberty and private property are ahistorical and abstract when in fact they evolved from a specific social discourse on human activity. In contrast to liberal individualism, Honneth has emphasised the intersubjective dependence between humans, namely that human well-being depends on recognising others and being recognised by them. With an emphasis on community and solidarity, democratic socialism can be seen as a way of safeguarding this dependency.
While socialism is frequently used to describe socialist states and Soviet-style economies, especially in the United States due to the First and Second Red Scares, democratic socialists use socialism to refer to their own tendency that rejects the ideas of authoritarian socialism and state socialism as socialism, regarding them as a form of state capitalism in which the state undertakes commercial economic activity and where the means of production are organised and managed as state-owned enterprises, including the processes of capital accumulation, centralised management and wage labour. Democratic socialists include those socialists who are opposed to Marxism–Leninism and social democrats who are committed to the abolishment of capitalism in favour of socialism and the institution of a post-capitalist economy. According to Andrew Lipow, thus wrote in 1847 the editors of the Journal of the Communist League, directly influenced by Marx and Friedrich Engels, whom Lipow describes as "the founders of modern revolutionary democratic socialism":
We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced that in no social order will freedom be assured as in a society based upon communal ownership.
Theoretically and philosophically, socialism itself is democratic, seen as the highest democratic form by its proponents and at one point being one and the same with democracy. Some argue that socialism implies democracy and that democratic socialism is a redundant term. However, others such as Michael Harrington argue that the term democratic socialism is necessary to distinguish it from that of the Soviet Union and other self-declared socialist states. For Harrington, the major reason for this was due to the perspective that viewed the Stalinist-era Soviet Union as having succeeded in propaganda in usurping the legacy of Marxism and distorting it in propaganda to justify its politics. Both Leninism and Marxism–Leninism have emphasised democracy, endorsing some form of democratic organisation of society and the economy whilst supporting democratic centralism, with Marxist–Leninists and others arguing that socialist states such as the Soviet Union were democratic. Marxist–Leninists also tended to distinguish what they termed socialist democracy from democratic socialism, a term which they associated pejoratively to "reformism" and "social democracy." Ultimately, they are considered outside the democratic socialist tradition. On the other hand, anarchism (especially within its social anarchist tradition) and other ultra-left tendencies have been discussed within the democratic socialist tradition for their opposition to Marxism–Leninism and their support for more decentralised, direct forms of democracy.
While both anarchists and ultra-left tendencies have rejected the label as they tend to associate it to reformist and statist forms of democratic socialism, they are considered revolutionary-democratic forms of socialism and some anarchists have referred to democratic socialism. Some Trotskyist organisations such as the Australian Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative and Victorian Socialists or the French New Anticapitalist Party, Revolutionary Communist League and Socialism from below have described their form of socialism as democratic and have emphasised democracy in their revolutionary development of socialism. Similarly, several Trotskyists have emphasised Leon Trotsky's revolutionary-democratic socialism. Some such as Hal Draper spoke of "revolutionary-democratic socialism." Those third camp revolutionary-democratic socialists advocated a socialist political revolution that would establish or re-establish socialist democracy in deformed or degenerated workers' states. Draper also compared social democracy and Stalinism as two forms of socialism from above, contraposed to his own socialism from below as being the purer, more Marxist version of socialism.
As a political tradition, democratic socialism represents a broad anti-Stalinist leftist and in some cases anti-Leninist strand within the socialist movement, including anti-authoritarian socialism from below, libertarian socialism, market socialism, Marxism and certain left communist and ultra-left tendencies such as councilism and communisation as well as classical and libertarian Marxism. It also includes the orthodox Marxism related to Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg as well as the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein. In addition, democratic socialism is related to the trend of Eurocommunism originating between the 1950s and 1980s, referring to communist parties that adopted democratic socialism after Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation in 1956, but also that of most communist parties since the 1990s.
As a related ideology, social democracy is occasionally classified as a form of democratic socialism. Social democracy underwent various major forms throughout its history and is distinguished between the early trend that supported revolutionary socialism, mainly related to Marx and Engels as well as other notable social-democratic politicians and orthodox Marxist thinkers such as Bernstein, Kautsky, Luxemburg and Lenin, including more democratic and libertarian interpretations of Leninism; the revisionist trend adopted by Bernstein and other reformist socialist leaders between the 1890s and 1940s; the post-war trend that adopted or endorsed Keynesian welfare capitalism as part of a compromise between capitalism and socialism; and those opposed to the Third Way.
Socialist models and ideas espousing common or public ownership have existed since antiquity, but the first self-conscious socialist movements developed in the 1820s and 1830s. Western European social critics, including Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Louis Blanc, Charles Hall and Henri de Saint-Simon, were the first modern socialists who criticised the excessive poverty and inequality generated by the Industrial Revolution. The term was first used in English in the British Cooperative Magazine in 1827 and came to be associated with the followers of Owen such as the Rochdale Pioneers, who founded the co-operative movement. Owen's followers stressed both participatory democracy and economic socialisation in the form of consumer co-operatives, credit unions and mutual aid societies. In the case of the Owenites, they also overlapped with a number of other working-class and labour movements such as the Chartists in the United Kingdom.
Fenner Brockway identified three early democratic socialist groups during the English Civil War in his book Britain's First Socialists, namely the Levellers, who were pioneers of political democracy and the sovereignty of the people; the Agitators, who were the pioneers of participatory control by the ranks at their workplace; and the Diggers, who were pioneers of communal ownership, cooperation and egalitarianism. The philosophy and tradition of the Diggers and the Levellers was continued in the period described by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class by Jacobin groups like the London Corresponding Society and by polemicists such as Thomas Paine. Their concern for both democracy and social justice marked them out as key precursors of democratic socialism. Democratic socialism also has its origins in the Revolutions of 1848 and the French Democratic Socialists, although Karl Marx disliked the movement because he viewed it as a party dominated by the middle class and associated to them the word Sozialdemokrat, the first recorded use of the term social democracy.
The Chartists gathered significant numbers around the People's Charter of 1838 which demanded the extension of suffrage to all male adults. Leaders in the movement also called for a more equitable distribution of income and better living conditions for the working classes. The very first trade unions and consumers' cooperative societies also emerged in the hinterland of the Chartist movement as a way of bolstering the fight for these demands. The first advocates of socialism favoured social levelling in order to create a meritocratic or technocratic society based on individual talent as opposed to aristocratic privilege. Saint-Simon is regarded as the first individual to coin the term socialism.
Saint-Simon was fascinated by the enormous potential of science and technology and advocated a socialist society that would eliminate the disorderly aspects of capitalism and would be based on equal opportunities. He advocated the creation of a society in which each person was ranked according to his or her capacities and rewarded according to his or her work. The key focus of Saint-Simon's socialism was on administrative efficiency and industrialism and a belief that science was the key to the progress of human civilisation. This was accompanied by a desire to implement a rationally organised economy based on planning and geared towards large-scale scientific progress and material progress, embodying a desire for a more directed or planned economy. The British political philosopher John Stuart Mill also came to advocate a form of economic socialism within a liberal context known as liberal socialism. In later editions of Principles of Political Economy (1848), Mill would argue that "as far as economic theory was concerned, there is nothing in principle in economic theory that precludes an economic order based on socialist policies." Similarly, the American social reformer Henry George and his geoist movement influenced the development of democratic socialism, especially in relation to British socialism and Fabianism, along with Mill and the German historical school of economics.
In the United Kingdom, the democratic socialist tradition was represented by William Morris's Socialist League and in the 1880s by the Fabian Society and later the Independent Labour Party founded by Keir Hardie in the 1890s, of which writer George Orwell would later become a prominent member. In the early 1920s, the guild socialism of G. D. H. Cole attempted to envision a socialist alternative to Soviet-style authoritarianism while council communism articulated democratic socialist positions in several respects, notably through renouncing the vanguard role of the revolutionary party and holding that the system of the Soviet Union was not authentically socialist.
The Fabian Society is a British socialist organisation which was established with the purpose of advancing the principles of socialism via gradualist and reformist means. Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of the fifteen socialist societies affiliated with the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), in Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and the now disbanded League for Social Reconstruction) and in New Zealand. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonisation of the British Empire, most notably India and Singapore. Originally, the Fabian Society was committed to the establishment of a socialist economy, alongside a commitment to British imperialism and colonialism as a progressive and modernising force. In 1889 (the centennial of the French Revolution of 1789), the Second International was founded, with 384 delegates from twenty countries representing about 300 labour and socialist organisations. It was termed the Socialist International and Friedrich Engels was elected honorary president at the third congress in 1893. Anarchists were ejected and not allowed in mainly due to pressure from Marxists. It has been argued that at some point the Second International turned "into a battleground over the issue of libertarian versus authoritarian socialism. Not only did they effectively present themselves as champions of minority rights; they also provoked the German Marxists into demonstrating a dictatorial intolerance which was a factor in preventing the British labour movement from following the Marxist direction indicated by such leaders as H. M. Hyndman."
In Germany, democratic socialism became a prominent movement at the end of the 19th century, when the Eisenach's Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany merged with Lassalle's General German Workers' Association in 1875 to form the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Reformism arose as an alternative to revolution, with leading social democrat Eduard Bernstein proposing the concept of evolutionary socialism. Revolutionary socialists, encompassing multiple social and political movements that may define revolution differently from one another, quickly targeted the nascent ideology of reformism and Rosa Luxemburg condemned Bernstein's Evolutionary Socialism in her 1900 essay titled Social Reform or Revolution? The Social Democratic Party of Germany became the largest and most powerful socialist party in Europe despite being an illegal organisation until the anti-socialist laws were officially repealed in 1890. In the 1893 German federal election, the party gained about 1,787,000 votes, a quarter of the total votes cast according to Engels. In 1895, the year of his death, Engels highlighted The Communist Manifesto's emphasis on winning as a first step the "battle of democracy."
In his introduction to the 1895 edition of Karl Marx's The Class Struggles in France, Engels attempted to resolve the division between gradualist reformist and revolutionary socialists in the Marxist movement by declaring that he was in favour of short-term tactics of electoral politics that included gradualist and evolutionary socialist policies while maintaining his belief that revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat should remain a key goal of the socialist movement. In spite of this attempt by Engels to merge gradualism and revolution, his effort only diluted the distinction of gradualism and revolution and had the effect of strengthening the position of the revisionists. Engels' statements in the French newspaper Le Figaro in which he argued that "revolution" and the "so-called socialist society" were not fixed concepts, but rather constantly changing social phenomena and said that this made "us [socialists] all evolutionists", increased the public perception that Engels was gravitating towards evolutionary socialism. Engels also wrote that it would be "suicidal" to talk about a revolutionary seizure of power at a time when the historical circumstances favoured a parliamentary road to power which he predicted could happen "as early as 1898."
Engels' stance of openly accepting gradualist, evolutionary and parliamentary tactics while claiming that the historical circumstances did not favour revolution caused confusion among political commentators and the public. Bernstein interpreted this as indicating that Engels was moving towards accepting parliamentary reformist and gradualist stances, but he ignored that Engels' stances were tactical as a response to the particular circumstances at that time and that Engels was still committed to revolutionary socialism. Engels was deeply distressed when he discovered that his introduction to a new edition of The Class Struggles in France had been edited by Bernstein and Karl Kautsky in a manner which left the impression that he had become a proponent of a peaceful road to socialism. On 1 April 1895, four months before his death, Engels responded to Kautsky:
I was amazed to see today in the Vorwärts an excerpt from my 'Introduction' that had been printed without my knowledge and tricked out in such a way as to present me as a peace-loving proponent of legality [at all costs]. Which is all the more reason why I should like it to appear in its entirety in the Neue Zeit in order that this disgraceful impression may be erased. I shall leave Liebknecht in no doubt as to what I think about it and the same applies to those who, irrespective of who they may be, gave him this opportunity of perverting my views and, what's more, without so much as a word to me about it.
Early 20th century
In Argentina, the Socialist Party was established in the 1890s, being led by Juan B. Justo and Nicolás Repetto, among others, becoming the first mass party in the country and in Latin America. The party affiliated itself with the Second International. Between 1924 and 1940, it was one of the many socialist party members of the Labour and Socialist International (LSI), the forerunner of the present-day Socialist International. In 1904, Australians elected Chris Watson as the first Prime Minister from the Australian Labor Party, becoming the first democratic socialist elected into office. The British Labour Party first won seats in the House of Commons in 1902. By 1917, the patriotism of World War I changed into political radicalism in Australia, most of Europe and the United States. Other socialist parties from around the world who were beginning to gain importance in their national politics in the early 20th century included the Italian Socialist Party, the French Section of the Workers' International, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the Socialist Party of America and the Chilean Socialist Workers' Party. The International Socialist Commission (ISC) was formed in February 1919 at a meeting in Bern, Switzerland by parties that wanted to resurrect the Second International.
The socialist industrial unionism of Daniel De Leon in the United States represented another strain of early democratic socialism in this period. It favoured a form of government based on industrial unions, but it also sought to establish a socialist government after winning at the ballot box. Democratic socialism continued to flourish in the Socialist Party of America, especially under the leadership of Norman Thomas. The Socialist Party of America was formed in 1901 after a merger between the three-year-old Social Democratic Party of America and disaffected elements of the Socialist Labor Party of America which had split from the main organisation in 1899. The Socialist Party of America was also known at various times in its long history as the Socialist Party of the United States (as early as the 1910s) and Socialist Party USA (as early as 1935, most common in the 1960s), but the official party name remained Socialist Party of America. Eugene V. Debs twice won over 900,000 votes in the 1912 presidential elections and increased his portion of the popular vote to over 1,000,000 in the 1920 presidential election despite being imprisoned for alleged sedition. The Socialist Party of America also elected two Representatives (Victor L. Berger and Meyer London), dozens of state legislators, more than hundred mayors and countless minor officials. Furthermore, the city of Milwaukee has been led by a series of democratic socialist mayors in the early 20th century, namely Frank Zeidler, Emil Seidel and Daniel Hoan.
In February 1917, revolution broke out in Russia in which workers, soldiers and peasants established soviets, the monarchy was forced into exile fell and a provisional government was formed until the election of a constituent assembly. Alexander Kerensky, a Russian lawyer and revolutionary, became a key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the February Revolution, Kerensky joined the newly formed Russian Provisional Government, first as Minister of Justice, then as Minister of War and after July as the government's second Minister-Chairman. A leader of the moderate socialist Trudovik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party known as the Labour Group, Kerensky was also the Vice-Chairman of the powerful Petrograd Soviet. After failing to sign a peace treaty with the German Empire to exit from World War I which led to massive popular unrest against the government cabinet, Kerensky's government was overthrown on 7 November by the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin in the October Revolution. Soon after the October Revolution, the Russian Constituent Assembly elected Socialist-Revolutionary leader Victor Chernov as President of a Russian Republic, but it rejected the Bolshevik proposal that endorsed the Soviet decrees on land, peace and workers' control and acknowledged the power of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies.
As a result of the 1917 Russian Constituent Assembly election which saw a landslide victory for the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks declared on the next day that the assembly was elected based on outdated party lists which did not reflect the Socialist Revolutionary Party split into Left and Right Socialist-Revolutionary factions. The Left Socialist-Revolutionaries were allied with the Bolsheviks. The All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets promptly dissolved the Russian Constituent Assembly.
At a conference held on 27 February 1921 in Vienna, parties which did not want to be a part of the Communist International or the resurrected Second International formed the International Working Union of Socialist Parties (IWUSP). The ISC and the IWUSP eventually joined to form the LSI in May 1923 at a meeting held Hamburg. Left-wing groups which did not agree to the centralisation and abandonment of the soviets by the Bolshevik Party led left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks. Such groups included anarchists, Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. Amidst this left-wing discontent, the most large-scale events were the workers' Kronstadt rebellion and the anarchist-led Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine uprising which controlled an area known as the Free Territory.
In 1922, the 4th World Congress of the Communist International took up the policy of the united front, urging communists to work with rank and file social democrats while remaining critical of their party leaders, whom they criticised for betraying the working class by supporting the war efforts of their respective capitalist classes. For their part, the social democrats pointed to the dislocation and chaos caused by revolution and later the growing authoritarianism of the communist parties after they achieved power. When the Communist Party of Great Britain applied to affiliate with the Labour Party in 1920, it was turned down. On seeing the Soviet Union's growing coercive power in 1923, a dying Lenin stated that Russia had reverted to a "bourgeois tsarist machine [...] barely varnished with socialism." After Lenin's death in January 1924, the communist party, increasingly falling under the control of Joseph Stalin, rejected the theory that socialism could not be built solely in the Soviet Union in favour of the concept of socialism in one country.
In other parts of Europe, many democratic socialist parties were united in the IWUSP in the early 1920s and in the London Bureau in the 1930s, along with many other socialists of different tendencies and ideologies. These socialist internationals sought to steer a centrist course between the revolutionaries and the social democrats of the Second International and the perceived anti-democratic Communist International. In contrast, the social democrats of the Second International were seen as insufficiently socialist and had been compromised by their support for World War I. The key movements within the IWUSP were the Austromarxists and the British Independent Labour Party while the main forces in the London Bureau were the Independent Labour Party and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification.
After the end of World War II, democratic socialist, pro-labour and social democratic governments introduced social reforms and wealth redistribution via welfare state social programmes and progressive taxation. Those parties dominated post-war politics in the Nordic countries and countries such as: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. At one point, France claimed to be the world's most state-controlled capitalist country, starting a period of unprecedented economic growth known as the Trente Glorieuses, part of the post-war economic boom set in motion by the Keynesian consensus. The public utilities and industries nationalised by the French Government included: Air France, the Bank of France, Charbonnages de France, Électricité de France, Gaz de France and Régie Nationale des Usines Renault.
In 1945, the Labour Party in the United Kingdom led by former UK Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee was elected to office based on a radical, democratic socialist manifesto. The Labour Government nationalised major public utilities and industries such as: mining, gas, coal, electricity, rail, iron, steel and the Bank of England. British Petroleum was officially nationalised in 1951. In 1956, Anthony Crosland stated that at least 25% of British industry was nationalised and that public employees, including those in nationalised industries, constituted a similar proportion of the country's total workforce. The 1964–1970 and 1974–1979 Labour governments strengthened the policy of nationalisation. These Labour governments renationalised steel (British Steel) in 1967 after the Conservatives had privatised it and nationalised car production (British Leyland) in 1976. The 1945–1951 Labour government also established the National Health Service (NHS) which provided taxpayer-funded medical care to every British citizen, free at the point of use. High-quality housing for the working-class was provided in council housing estates and university education became available to every citizen via a school grant system. The 1945–1951 Labour government has been described as being transformative democratic socialist.
During most of the post-war era, democratic socialist, pro-labour and social democratic parties dominated the political scene and laid the ground to universalistic welfare states in the Nordic countries. For much of the mid- and late-twentieth century, Sweden was governed by the Swedish Social Democratic Party largely in co-operation with trade unions and industry. Tage Erlander was the Leader of the Social Democratic Party and led the government from 1946-69, an uninterrupted tenure of twenty-three years, one of the longest in any democratic society. From 1945-62, the Norwegian Labour Party held an absolute majority in the parliament led by Einar Gerhardsen, who served as Prime Minister for seventeen years. The Danish Social Democrats governed Denmark for most of the twentieth century and since the 1920s and through the 1940s and the 1970s, a large majority of Prime Ministers were members of the Social Democrats; the largest and most popular political party in Denmark.
This particular adaptation of the mixed economy, better known as the Nordic model, is characterised by more generous welfare states (relative to other developed countries) which are aimed specifically at enhancing individual autonomy, ensuring the universal provision of basic human rights and stabilising the economy. It is distinguished from other welfare states with similar goals by its emphasis on maximising labour force participation, promoting gender equality, egalitarian and extensive benefit levels, large magnitude of redistribution and expansionary fiscal policy. In the 1950s, popular socialism emerged as a vital current of the left in Nordic countries could be characterised as a democratic socialism in the same vein as it placed itself between communism and social democracy. In the 1960s, Gerhardsen established a planning agency and tried to establish a planned economy. Prominent Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme identified himself as a democratic socialist.
The Rehn–Meidner model was adopted by the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the late-1940s. This economic model allowed capitalists who owned very productive and efficient firms to retain excess profits at the expense of the firm's workers, exacerbating income inequality and causing workers in these firms to agitate for a better share of the profits in the 1970s. Women working in the state sector also began to assert pressure for better and equal pay. In 1976, economist Rudolf Meidner established a study committee that came up with a proposal called the Meidner Plan which entailed the transfer of excess profits into investment funds controlled by the workers in said efficient firms, with the goal that firms would create further employment and pay workers higher wages in return; rather than unduly increasing the wealth of company owners and managers. Capitalists immediately denounced the proposal as socialism and launched an unprecedented opposition and smear campaign against it, threatening to terminate the class compromise established in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt by democratic socialists against the Marxist–Leninist government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its dictatorial Stalinist policies of repression, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of the excesses of Stalin's regime during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that same year as well as the revolt in Hungary produced ideological fractures and disagreements within the Communist and socialist parties of Western Europe. A split ensued within the Italian Communist Party (PCI), with most ordinary members and the PCI leadership, including Giorgio Napolitano and Palmiro Togliatti, regarding the Hungarian insurgents as counter-revolutionaries as reported in l'Unità, the official PCI newspaper.
Giuseppe Di Vittorio, General Secretary of the Italian General Confederation of Labour, repudiated the leadership position as did the prominent party members Loris Fortuna, Antonio Giolitti and many other influential Communist intellectuals who later were expelled or left the party. Pietro Nenni, the national secretary of the Italian Socialist Party, a close ally of the PCI, opposed the Soviet intervention as well. Napolitano, elected in 2006 as President of the Italian Republic, wrote in his 2005 political autobiography that he regretted his justification of Soviet action in Hungary and that at the time he believed in party unity and the international leadership of Soviet communism.
Within the Communist Party of Great Britain, dissent that began with the repudiation of Stalin by John Saville and E. P. Thompson, influential historians and members of the Communist Party Historians Group, culminated in a loss of thousands of party members as events unfolded in Hungary. Peter Fryer, correspondent for the party newspaper The Daily Worker, reported accurately on the violent suppression of the uprising, but his dispatches were heavily censored. Fryer resigned from the paper upon his return and was later expelled from the party. In France, moderates such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie resigned, questioning the policy of supporting Soviet actions by the French Communist Party. The French anarchist philosopher and writer Albert Camus wrote an open letter titled The Blood of the Hungarians, criticising the West's lack of action. Jean-Paul Sartre, still a determined party member, criticised the Soviets.
In the post-war years, socialism became increasingly influential throughout the so-called Third World after decolonisation. During India's freedom movement and fight for independence, many figures in the left-wing faction of the Indian National Congress organised themselves as the Congress Socialist Party. Their politics and those of the early and intermediate periods of Jayaprakash Narayan's career combined a commitment to the socialist transformation of society with a principled opposition to the one-party authoritarianism they perceived in the Stalinist model. Embracing a new ideology called Third World socialism, countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America often nationalised industries held by foreign owners. In addition, the New Left, a movement composed of activists, educators, agitators and others who sought to implement a broad range of social reforms on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gender roles and liberalisation of drugs, in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on labour unionisation and issues related to class, became prominent in the 1960s and 1970s. The New Left rejected involvement with the labour movement and Marxism's historical theory of class struggle.
In the United States, the New Left was associated with the anti-war and hippie movements as well as the black liberation movements such as the Black Panther Party. While initially formed in opposition to the so-called Old Left of the Democratic Party, groups composing the New Left gradually became central players in the Democratic coalition, culminating in the nomination of the outspoken anti-Vietnam War George McGovern at the Democratic Party primaries for the 1972 United States presidential election.
The protest wave of 1968 represented a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, predominantly characterised by popular rebellions against military dictatorships, capitalists and bureaucratic elites, who responded with an escalation of political repression and authoritarianism. These protests marked a turning point for the civil rights movement in the United States which produced revolutionary movements like the Black Panther Party. The prominent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. organised the Poor People's Campaign to address issues of economic and social justice while personally showing sympathy with democratic socialism. The classic Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society combined a stringent critique of the Stalinist model with calls for a democratic socialist reconstruction of society.
In reaction to the Tet Offensive, protests also sparked a broad movement in opposition to the Vietnam War all over the United States and even into London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. Mass socialist or Communist movements grew not only in the United States, but also in most European countries. The most spectacular manifestation of this was the May 1968 protests in France in which students linked up with strikes of up to ten million workers and the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government, albeit for only a few days. In many other capitalist countries, struggles against dictatorships, state repression and colonisation were also marked by protests in 1968 such as the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City and the escalation of guerrilla warfare against the military dictatorship in Brazil. Countries governed by Marxist–Leninist parties had protests against bureaucratic and military elites. In Eastern Europe, there were widespread protests that escalated particularly in the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. In response, the Soviet Union occupied Czechoslovakia, but the occupation was denounced by the Italian and French Communist parties as well as the Communist Party of Finland.
Late 20th century
In Latin America, liberation theology is a socialist tendency within the Roman Catholic Church that emerged in the 1960s. In Chile, Salvador Allende, a physician and candidate for the Socialist Party of Chile, became the first democratically elected Marxist President after presidential elections were held in 1970. However, his government was ousted three years later in a military coup backed by the CIA and the United States government, instituting the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet which lasted until the late 1980s. In addition, Michael Manley, a self-described democratic socialist, served as the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972 to 1980 and from 1989 to 1992. According to opinion polls, he remains one of Jamaica's most popular Prime Ministers since independence.
Eurocommunism became a trend in the 1970s and 1980s in various Western European communist parties which intended to develop a modernised theory and practice of social transformation that was more relevant for a Western European country and less aligned to the influence or control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Outside of Western Europe, it is sometimes referred to as neocommunism. Some communist parties with strong popular support, notably the Italian Communist Party and the Communist Party of Spain, enthusiastically adopted Eurocommunism and the Communist Party of Finland was dominated by Eurocommunists.
In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, the Socialist International had extensive contacts and held discussion with the two powers of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union, regarding the relations between the East and West, along with arms control. Since then, the Socialist International has admitted as member parties the Nicaraguan Sandinista National Liberation Front and the left-wing Puerto Rican Independence Party as well as former communist parties such as the Italian Democratic Party of the Left and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique. The Socialist International aided social democratic parties in re-establishing themselves after right-wing dictatorships were toppled in Portugal and Spain, respectively in 1974 and 1975. Until its 1976 congress in Geneva, the Socialist International had few members outside Europe and no formal involvement with Latin America.
In the United States, the Social Democrats, USA, an association of reformist social democrats and democratic socialists, was founded in 1972. The Socialist Party of America had stopped running independent presidential candidates and begun reforming itself towards democratic socialism. Consequently, the party's name was changed because it had confused the public. With the name change in place, the Social Democrats, USA clarified its vision to Americans who confused democratic socialism with Marxism–Leninism, harshly opposed by the organisation. In 1983, the Democratic Socialists of America was founded as a merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee with the New American Movement, an organisation of New Left veterans. Earlier in 1973, Michael Harrington and Irving Howe formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee which articulated a democratic socialist message while a smaller faction associated with peace activist David McReynolds formed the Socialist Party USA. Harrington and the socialist-feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich were elected as the first co-chairs of the organisation which does not stand its own candidates in elections and instead "fights for reforms [...] that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people."
In Greece, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, better known as PASOK, was founded on 3 September 1974 by Andreas Papandreou as a democratic socialist, left-wing nationalist, Venizelist and social democratic party following the collapse of the military dictatorship of 1967–1974. As a result of the 1981 legislative election, PASOK became Greece's first centre-left party to win a majority in the Hellenic Parliament and the party would later pass several important economic and social reforms that would reshape Greece in the years ahead until its collapse in the 2010s.
During the 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev intended to move the Soviet Union towards democratic socialism in the form of Nordic-style social democracy, calling it a "socialist beacon for all mankind." Prior to its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union had the second largest economy in the world after the United States. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the economic integration of the Soviet republics was dissolved and industrial activity suffered a substantial decline. A lasting legacy of the Soviet Union remains physical infrastructure created during decades of policies geared towards the construction of heavy industry and widespread environmental destruction.
The rapid transition to neoliberal capitalism and privatisation in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc was accompanied by a steep fall in standards of living as poverty, unemployment, income inequality and excess mortality rose sharply as Russia would be in recession until the depths of the 1998 Russian financial crisis. This was further accompanied by the entrenchment of a newly established business oligarchy in the former countries of the Soviet Union. The average post-communist country returned to 1989 levels of per-capita GDP only by 2005. In a 2001 study by economist Steven Rosefielde, he calculated that there were 3.4 million premature deaths in Russia from 1990 to 1998 which he partly blames on the "shock therapy" that came with the Washington Consensus. GDP in Russia began rising rapidly around 1999 after currency devaluation, tax reforms, further deregulation of small and medium-sized businesses and increasing commodity prices. It would surpass 1989 levels only in 2007, with poverty decreasing from 30% in 2000 to 14% in 2008, after adopting a mixed economy approach. In the decades following the end of the Cold War, only five or six of the post-communist states are on a path to joining the wealthy capitalist West while most are falling behind, some to such an extent that it will take over fifty years to catch up to where they were before the end of the Soviet system.
Many social-democratic parties, particularly after the Cold War, adopted neoliberal economic policies, including austerity, deregulation, financialisation, free trade, privatisation and welfare reforms such as workfare, experiencing a drastic decline in the 2010s after their successes in the 1990s and 2000s in a phenomenon known as Pasokification. As monetarists and neoliberals attacked social welfare systems as impediments to private entrepreneurship, prominent social-democratic parties abandoned their pursuit of moderate socialism in favour of economic liberalism. This resulted in the rise of more left-wing and democratic socialist parties that rejected neoliberalism and the Third Way. In the United Kingdom, prominent democratic socialists within the Labour Party such as Michael Foot and Tony Benn put forward democratic socialism into an actionable manifesto during the 1970s and 1980s, but this was voted overwhelmingly against in the 1983 general election after Margaret Thatcher's victory in the Falklands War and the manifesto was referred to as "the longest suicide note in history."
By the 1980s, with the rise of conservative neoliberal politicians such as Ronald Reagan in the United States, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Brian Mulroney in Canada and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the Western welfare state was attacked from within, but state support for the corporate sector was maintained. According to Kristen Ghodsee, the triumphalist attitudes of Western powers at the end of the Cold War and the fixation with linking all leftist and socialist ideals with the excesses of Stalinism allowed neoliberalism to fill the void. This undermined democratic institutions and reforms, leaving a trail of economic misery, unemployment, hopelessness and rising economic inequality throughout the former Eastern Bloc and much of the West in the following decades. With democracy weakened and the anti-capitalist left marginalised, the anger and resentment which followed the period of neoliberalism was channelled into extremist nationalist movements in both the former and the latter.
As a result of the party's shift, Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made a public attack against the entryist group Militant at the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth. The Labour Party ruled that Militant was ineligible for affiliation with the Labour Party and the party gradually expelled Militant supporters. The Kinnock leadership had refused to support the 1984–1985 miner's strike over pit closures, a decision that the party's left-wing and the National Union of Mineworkers blamed for the strike's eventual defeat.
In 1989, the Socialist International adopted a new Declaration of Principles at its 18th congress in Stockholm, Sweden, stating: "Democratic socialism is an international movement for freedom, social justice, and solidarity. Its goal is to achieve a peaceful world where these basic values can be enhanced and where each individual can live a meaningful life with the full development of his or her personality and talents, and with the guarantee of human and civil rights in a democratic framework of society." Within the Labour Party, the democratic socialist label was used historically by those who identified with the tradition represented by the Independent Labour Party, the soft left of non-Marxist socialists such as Michael Foot around the Tribune magazine and some of the hard left in the Campaign Group around Tony Benn. The Campaign Group, along with the Socialist Society led by Raymond Williams and others, formed the Socialist Movement in 1987 which now produces the magazine Red Pepper.
In the late 1990s, the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair enacted policies based on the liberal market economy with the intention of delivering public services via the private finance initiative. Influential in these policies was the idea of a Third Way which called for a re-evaluation and reduction of welfare state policies. In 1995, the Labour Party re-defined its position on socialism by re-wording Clause IV of their Constitution, effectively removing all references to public, direct worker or municipal ownership of the means of production and now reading: "The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that, by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create, for each of us, the means to realise our true potential, and, for all of us, a community in which power, wealth, and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few." New Labour eventually won the 1997 United Kingdom general election in a landslide and Blair described New Labour as a "left of centre party, pursuing economic prosperity and social justice as partners and not as opposites." It has been argued that the Labour Party under the Blair ministry effectively governed from the radical centre, something which Blair had promised to do in the 1997 general election.
By the 21st century, democratic socialism became a synonym in American politics for social democracy due to social-democratic policies being adopted by progressive-liberal intellectuals and politicians, causing the New Deal coalition to be the main entity spearheading left-wing reforms of capitalism, rather than by socialists like elsewhere. Democratic socialists see the welfare state "not merely to provide benefits but to build the foundation for emancipation and self-determination."
Despite the long history of overlap between the two, with social democracy considered a form of democratic or parliamentary socialism and social democrats calling themselves democratic socialists, this is considered a misnomer in the United States. One issue is that social democracy is equated with wealthy countries in the Western world while democratic socialism is conflated either with the pink tide in Latin America or with Marxist–Leninist socialism as practised in the Soviet Union and other self-declared socialist states. Democratic socialism has been described as representing the left-wing or socialist New Deal tradition.
The Progressive Alliance is a political international organisation founded on 22 May 2013 by left-wing political parties, the majority of which are current or former members of the Socialist International. The organisation states that its aim is becoming the global network of "the progressive, democratic, social-democratic, socialist and labour movement." On 30 November 2018, The Sanders Institute and the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 founded the Progressive International, an international political organisation which unites democratic socialists with labour unionists, progressives and social democrats.
African socialism has been a major ideology around the continent and remains so in the present day. Although affiliated with the Socialist International, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa abandoned its socialist ideology after gaining power in 1994 and followed a neoliberal route. From 2005 until 2007, the country was wracked by thousands of protests from poor working-class communities. One of these gave rise to a mass democratic socialist movement of shack dwellers called Abahlali baseMjondolo which continues to work for popular people's planning and against the proliferation of capitalism in land and housing, despite experiencing repression at the hands of the police. In 2013, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country's biggest trade union, voted to withdraw support from the AFC and the South African Communist Party and to form an independent socialist party to protect the interests of the working class, resulting in the creation of the United Front.
Other democratic socialist parties in Africa include the Movement of Socialist Democrats, the Congress for the Republic, the Movement of Socialist Democrats and the Democratic Patriots' Unified Party in Tunisia, the Berber Socialism and Revolution Party in Algeria, the Congress of Democrats in Namibia, the National Progressive Unionist Party, the Socialist Party of Egypt, the Workers and Peasants Party, the Workers Democratic Party, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in Egypt and the Socialist Democratic Vanguard Party in Morocco. Democratic socialists played a major role in the Arab Spring of 2011, especially in Egypt and Tunisia.
In North America, Canada and the United States represent an unusual case in the Western world in that they have never been governed by a socialist party at the federal level. However, the democratic socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), had significant success in provincial Canadian politics. In 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first socialist government in North America and its leader Tommy Douglas is known for having spearheaded the adoption of Canada's nationwide system of universal healthcare called Medicare. At the federal level, the NDP was the Official Opposition (2011–2015).
In the United States, Bernie Sanders, who was the 37th Mayor of Burlington, became the first self-described democratic socialist to be elected to the Senate from Vermont in 2006. In 2016, Sanders made a bid for the Democratic Party presidential candidate, thereby gaining considerable popular support, particularly among the younger generation and the working class. Although he ultimately lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, who was later defeated by Donald Trump, Sanders ran again in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, briefly becoming the front-runner in February until Super Tuesday in March and suspending his campaign in April. Sanders would remain on the ballot in states that had not yet voted to further influence the Democratic Party's platform as he did in 2016.
Since his praise of the Nordic model indicated focus on social democracy as opposed to views involving social ownership, it has been argued that the term democratic socialism has become a misnomer for social democracy in American politics. Nonetheless, Sanders has explicitly advocated for some form of public ownership as well as workplace democracy, an expansion of worker cooperatives and the democratization of the economy. Sanders' proposed legislation include worker-owned business, the Workplace Democracy Act, employee ownership as alternative to corporations and a package to encourage employee-owned companies. Sanders associates Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society as part of the democratic socialist tradition and claimed the New Deal's legacy to "take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion."
While opponents of Sanders have used the democratic socialist label to accuse him of being too left-leaning for American politics, the theoretical and practical applications of it are based on the precept of shifting responsibility away from the national level to local decision-makers, a fundamental principle shared by the system of federalism in the United States. A democratic socialist perspective on government investment in infrastructure would support more projects with smaller-sized budgets on a local level instead of a few highly expensive ones. This view aligns with the Republican Party's fundamental identity, philosophy and agenda of local people exerting control over their own affairs.
In a 2018 poll conducted by Gallup, a majority of people under the age of 30 in the United States stated that they approve of socialism. 57% of Democratic-leaning voters viewed socialism positively and 47% saw capitalism positively while 71% of Republican-leaning voters who were polled saw capitalism under a positive light and 16% viewed socialism in a positive light. A 2019 YouGov poll found that 7 out of 10 millennials in the United States would vote for a socialist presidential candidate and 36% had a favorable view of communism. An earlier 2019 Harris Poll found that socialism is more popular with women than men, with 55% of women between the ages of 18 and 54 preferring to live in a socialist society while a majority of men surveyed in the poll chose capitalism over socialism.
Although there is no agreement on the meaning of socialism in those polls, there has been a steady increase of support for progressive reforms such as the United States National Health Care Act to enact universal single-payer health care and the Green New Deal. In November 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a democratic socialist organisation which advocates progressive reforms that "will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people", were elected to the House of Representatives while eleven DSA candidates were elected to state legislatures.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "the attempt by Salvador Allende to unite Marxists and other reformers in a socialist reconstruction of Chile is most representative of the direction that Latin American socialists have taken since the late 20th century. [...] Several socialist (or socialist-leaning) leaders have followed Allende's example in winning election to office in Latin American countries." Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa refer to their political programmes as socialist and Chávez adopted the term socialism of the 21st century. After winning re-election in December 2006, Chávez stated: "Now more than ever, I am obliged to move Venezuela's path towards socialism."
Chávez was re-elected in October 2012 for his third six-year term as president, but he suddenly died in March 2013 from advanced cancer. After Chávez's death, Nicolás Maduro, the Vice President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, assumed the powers and responsibilities of the President on 5 March 2013. A special election to elect a new president was held on 14 April 2013 which Maduro won by a tight margin as the candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He was formally inaugurated on 19 April 2013. Most democratic socialist scholars and analysts have been sceptical of Latin America's examples. While citing their progressive role, they argue that the appropriate label for these governments is populism rather than socialism due to their authoritarian characteristics and occasional cults of personality. On the socialist development in Venezuela, Chávez argued with the second government plan (Plan de la Patria) that "socialism has just begun to implant its internal dynamism among us" whilst acknowledging that "the socio-economic formation that still prevails in Venezuela is capitalist and rentier." This same thesis is defended by Maduro, who acknowledges that he has failed in the development of the productive forces while admitting that "the old model of corrupt and inefficient state capitalism" typical of traditional Venezuelan oil rentism has contradictorily combined with a statist model that "pretends to be a socialist."
The pink tide is a term being used in contemporary 21st-century political analysis in the media and elsewhere to describe the perception that left-wing politics are becoming increasingly influential in Latin America. The Foro de São Paulo is a conference of leftist political parties and other organisations from Latin America and the Caribbean. It was launched in 1990 by the Brazilian Workers' Party in São Paulo. The Forum of São Paulo was founded in 1990, when the Workers' Party approached other parties and social movements of Latin America and the Caribbean with the objective of debating the new international scenario after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequences of the implementation of what were taken as neoliberal policies adopted at the time by contemporary right-leaning governments in the region, with the stated main objective of the conference being to argue for genuine alternatives to neoliberalism. Among its members, it includes democratic socialist and social democratic parties in the region such as Bolivia's Movement for Socialism, Brazil's Workers' Party, the Ecuadorian PAIS Alliance, the Venezuelan United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the Socialist Party of Chile, the Uruguayan Broad Front, the Nicaraguan Sandinista National Liberation Front and the Salvadoran Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. Former members included the Brazilian Socialist Party and the Popular Socialist Party. In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement was elected in a landslide victory in the 2018 Mexican general election. Furthermore, Pedro Castillo of the socialist Free Peru party was elected President of Peru in 2021. 
In Japan, the Japanese Communist Party (JPC) does not advocate for a violent revolution, instead proposing a parliamentary democratic revolution to achieve "democratic change in politics and the economy." There has been a resurgent interest in the JPC among workers and the Japanese youth due to the financial crisis of 2007–2008.
In the Philippines, the main political party campaigning for democratic socialism is the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party which was founded by Joel Rocamora in January 1998 as a democratic socialist and progressive political party. The Akbayan Citizens' Action Party has consistently won seats in the House of Representatives, with Etta Rosales becoming its first representative. It won its first Senate seat in 2016, when its chairwoman, senator and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Risa Hontiveros was elected.
In 2010, there were 270 kibbutzim in Israel. Their factories and farms account for 9% of Israel's industrial output, worth US$8 billion and 40% of its agricultural output, worth over $1.7 billion. Some kibbutzim had also developed substantial high-tech and military industries. Also in 2010, Kibbutz Sasa, containing some 200 members, generated $850 million in annual revenue from its military-plastics industry.
Other democratic socialist parties in Asia include the National United Party of Afghanistan in Afghanistan, the April Fifth Action in Hong Kong, the All India Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Samta Party and the Sikkim Democratic Front in India, the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon, the Federal Socialist Forum and the Naya Shakti Party in Nepal, the Labor Party in South Korea and the Syrian Democratic People's Party and the Democratic Arab Socialist Union in Syria.
The United Nations World Happiness Report shows that the happiest nations are concentrated in Northern Europe, where the Nordic model (which democratic socialists want to strengthen against austerity and neoliberalism) is employed, with the list being topped by Denmark, where the Social Democrats led their first government in 1924 and governed Denmark for most of the 20th century. The Norwegian Labour Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party of Finland also led the majority of governments and were the most popular political parties in their respective countries during the 20th century. While not as popular like its counterparts, the Icelandic Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Alliance have also led several governments and have been part of numerous coalitions. This success is at times attributed to the social-democratic Nordic model in the region, where the aforementioned democratic socialist, labourist and social-democratic political parties have dominated the political scene and laid the ground to universalistic welfare states in the 20th century, fitting the social-democratc type of "high socialism" which is described as favouring "a high level of decommodification and a low degree of stratification." The Nordic countries, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as Greenland and the Faroe Islands, also ranked highest on the metrics of real GDP per capita, economic equality, healthy life expectancy, public health, having someone to count on, education, perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity and human development. The Nordic countries have ranked high on indicators such as civil liberties, democracy, press, labour and economic freedoms, peace and freedom from corruption. Numerous studies and surveys have indicated that people tend to live happier lives in social democracies and welfare states as opposed to neoliberal and free-market economies.
The objectives of the Party of European Socialists, the European Parliament's social democratic bloc, are now "to pursue international aims in respect of the principles on which the European Union is based, namely principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy, respect of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and respect for the Rule of Law." As a result, today the rallying cry of the French Revolution—Liberté, égalité, fraternité—is promoted as essential socialist values. To the left of the European Socialists at the European level is the Party of the European Left, a political party at the European level and an association of democratic socialist and communist parties in the European Union and other European countries. It was formed for the purposes of running in the 2004 European Parliament election. The European Left was founded on 8–9 May 2004 in Rome.
Elected MEPs from member parties of the European Left sit in the European United Left–Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament. The democratic socialist Left Party in Germany grew in popularity.[better source needed] Popular dissatisfaction with the increasingly neoliberal policies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany after Gerhard Schröder's tenure as Chancellor contributed to The Left becoming the fourth biggest party in parliament in the general election on 27 September 2009.[better source needed]In 2008, the Progressive Party of Working People candidate Dimitris Christofias won a crucial presidential runoff in Cyprus, defeating his conservative rival with a majority of 53%. In 2007, the Danish Socialist People's Party more than doubled its parliamentary representation to 23 seats from 11, making it the fourth-largest party. In 2011, the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party and the Danish Social Liberal Party formed a government after a slight victory over the main rival political coalition. They were led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt and had the Red–Green Alliance as a supporting party. In Norway, the red–green alliance consists of the Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party and governed the country as a majority government from 2005 to 2013. In the January 2015 legislative election, the Coalition of the Radical Left led by Alexis Tsipras and better known as Syriza won a legislative election for the first time. Syriza has been characterised as an anti-establishment party, whose success sent "shock-waves across the EU."
In the United Kingdom, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) put forward a slate of candidates in the 2009 European Parliament election under the banner of No to EU – Yes to Democracy, a broad left-wing Eurosceptic, alter-globalisation coalition involving socialist groups such as the Socialist Party, aiming to offer a leftist alternative among Eurosceptics to the anti-immigration and pro-business policies of the UK Independence Party. In the subsequent 2010 general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, launched in January 2010 and backed by Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT, along with other union leaders and the Socialist Party among other socialist groups, stood against the Labour Party in forty constituencies. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition contested the 2011 local elections, having gained the endorsement of the RMT June 2010 conference, but it won no seats.
Left Unity was also founded in 2013 after the film director Ken Loach appealed for a new party of the left to replace the Labour Party which he claimed had failed to oppose austerity and had shifted towards neoliberalism. Following a second consecutive defeat in the 2015 general election, self-described democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn succeeded Ed Miliband as the Leader of the Labour Party, leading some to comment that New Labour is "dead and buried." In the 2017 general election, Corbyn's Labour increased its share of the vote to 40%, with Labour's 9.6% vote swing being its largest since the 1945 general election but remained in Opposition. In the 2019 general election, Labour's vote share fell, leaving it with lowest number of MPS since 1935.
In France, Olivier Besancenot, the Revolutionary Communist League candidate in the 2007 presidential election, received 1,498,581 votes (4.08%), double that of the candidate from the French Communist Party candidate. The party abolished itself in 2009 to initiate a broad anti-capitalist movement within a new party called the New Anticapitalist Party, whose stated aim is to "build a new socialist, democratic perspective for the twenty-first century."
In Germany, The Left was founded in 2007 out of a merger of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and the Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG), a breakaway faction from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) which rejected then-SPD leader and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for his Third Way policies. These parties adopted policies to appeal to democratic socialists, greens, feminists and pacifists. Former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine has noted that the founding of The Left in Germany has resulted in emulation in other countries, with several Left parties being founded in Greece, Portugal, Netherlands and Syria. Lafontaine claims that a de facto British Left movement exists, identifying the Green Party of England and Wales as holding similar values. Nonetheless, a democratic socialist faction remains within the SPD. The SPD's latest Hamburg Programme (2007) describes democratic socialism as "an order of economy, state and society in which the civil, political, social and economic fundamental rights are guaranteed for all people, all people live a life without exploitation, oppression and violence, that is in social and human security" and as a "vision of a free, just and solidary society", the realisation of which is emphasised as a "permanent task." Social democracy serves as the "principle of action."
On 25 May 2014, the Spanish left-wing party Podemos entered candidates for the 2014 European parliamentary election, some of which were unemployed. In a surprise result, it won 7.98% of the vote and was awarded five seats out of 54 while the older United Left was the third largest overall force, obtaining 10.03% and five seats, four more than the previous elections. Although losing seats in both the April 2019 and November 2019 general elections, the result of the latter being a failure of negotiations with the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), Podemos reached an agreement with the PSOE for a full four-year coalition government, the first such government since the country's transition to democracy in 1976. The PSOE–Unidas Podemos coalition government was able to get a simple majority  and the new cabinet was sworn into office.
The government of Portugal established on 26 November 2015 was a left-wing minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa Socialist Party, who succeeded in securing support for the government by the Left Bloc, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Ecologist Party "The Greens". This was largely confirmed in the 2019 legislative election, where the Socialist Party returned to first place, forming another left-wing minority government, this time led only by the Socialist Party. Nonetheless, Costa said he would look to continue the confidence-and-supply agreement with the Left Bloc and the Unitary Democratic Coalition.
In Australia, the labourist and socialist movements were gaining traction and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was formed in Barcaldine, Queensland in 1891 by striking pastoral workers. In 1889, a minority government led by the party was formed in Queensland, with Anderson Dawson as the Premier of Queensland, where it was founded and was in power for one week, becoming the world's first government led by democratic socialists. The ALP has been the main driving force for workers' rights and the welfare state in Australia, backed by Australian trade unions, in particular the Australian Workers' Union. Since the end of the Whitlam government, the ALP has moved towards centrist policies and Third Way ideals which are supported by the ALP's Right Faction members while the supporters of democratic socialism and social democracy lie within the ALP's Left Faction. There has been an increase in interest for socialism in recent years, especially among young adults. Interest is strongest in Victoria, where the Victorian Socialists party was founded.
Current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of the democratic socialist New Zealand Labour Party, who has called capitalism a "blatant failure" due to the extent of homelessness in New Zealand, has been described and identified herself as democratic socialist, although others have disputed this.
In Melanesia, Melanesian socialism was inspired by African socialism and developed in the 1980s. It aims to achieve full independence from Britain and France in Melanesian territories and creation of a Melanesian federal union. It is very popular with the New Caledonia independence movement.
One of the major scholars who have argued that socialism and democracy are compatible is the Austrian-born American economist Joseph Schumpeter, who was hostile to socialism. In his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), Schumpeter emphasised that "political democracy was thoroughly compatible with socialism in its fullest sense", although it has been noted that he did not believe that democracy was a good political system and advocated republican values.
In a 1963 address to the All India Congress Committee, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stated: "Political democracy has no meaning if it does not embrace economic democracy. And economic democracy is nothing but socialism."
Historian and economist Robert Heilbroner argued that "[t]here is, of course, no conflict between such a socialism and freedom as we have described it; indeed, this conception of socialism is the very epitome of these freedoms", referring to open association of individuals in political and social life; the democratization and humanization of work; and the cultivation of personal talents and creativity.
Bayard Rustin, long-time member of the Socialist Party of America and National Chairman of the Social Democrats, USA, wrote: "For me, socialism has meaning only if it is democratic. Of the many claimants to socialism only one has a valid title—that socialism which views democracy as valuable per se, which stands for democracy unequivocally, and which continually modifies socialist ideas and programs in the light of democratic experience. This is the socialism of the labor, social-democratic, and socialist parties of Western Europe."
Economist and political theorist Kenneth Arrow argued: "We cannot be sure that the principles of democracy and socialism are compatible until we can observe a viable society following both principles. But there is no convincing evidence or reasoning which would argue that a democratic-socialist movement is inherently self-contradictory. Nor need we fear that gradual moves in the direction of increasing government intervention will lead to an irreversible move to 'serfdom.'"
Journalist William Pfaff wrote: "It might be argued that socialism ineluctably breeds state bureaucracy, which then imposes its own kinds of restrictions upon individual liberties. This is what the Scandinavians complain about. But Italy's champion bureaucracy owes nothing to socialism. American bureaucracy grows as luxuriantly and behaves as officiously as any other."
Some politicians, economists, and theorists have argued that socialism and democracy are incompatible. According to them, history is full of instances of self-declared socialist states that at one point were committed to the values of personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association, but then found themselves clamping down on such freedoms as they end up being viewed as inconvenient or contrary towards their political or economic goals. Chicago School economist Milton Friedman argued that a "society which is socialist cannot also be democratic" in the sense of "guaranteeing individual freedom." Sociologist Robert Nisbet, a philosophical conservative who began his career as a leftist, argued in 1978 that there is "not a single free socialism to be found anywhere in the world."
Neoconservative Irving Kristol argued: "Democratic socialism turns out to be an inherently unstable compound, a contradiction in terms. Every social democratic party, once in power, soon finds itself choosing, at one point after another, between the socialist society it aspires to and the liberal society that lathered it." Kristol added that "socialist movements end up [in] a society where liberty is the property of the state, and is (or is not) doled out to its citizens along with other contingent 'benefits'."
Similarly, anti-communist academic Richard Pipes argued: "The merger of political and economic power implicit in socialism greatly strengthens the ability of the state and its bureaucracy to control the population. Theoretically, this capacity need not be exercised and need not lead to growing domination of the population by the state. In practice, such a tendency is virtually inevitable. For one thing, the socialization of the economy must lead to a numerical growth of the bureaucracy required to administer it, and this process cannot fail to augment the power of the state. For another, socialism leads to a tug of war between the state, bent on enforcing its economic monopoly, and the ordinary citizen, equally determined to evade it; the result is repression and the creation of specialized repressive organs."
Italian Left communist and Marxist Amadeo Bordiga proudly defined himself as anti-democratic, believing himself to be following the tradition of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Bordiga's hostility toward democracy was unrelated to the Stalinist narrative of the single-party state. Indeed, he saw fascism and Stalinism as the culmination of bourgeois democracy. To Bordiga, democracy meant above all the manipulation of society as a formless mass. To this, he counterposed the dictatorship of the proletariat, to be implemented by the communist party based on the principles and program enunciated in The Communist Manifesto (1848). He often referred to the spirit of Engels' remark that "on the eve of the revolution all the forces of reaction will be against us under the banner of 'pure democracy'". Bordiga opposed the idea of revolutionary theory being the product of a democratic process of pluralist views, believing that the Marxist perspective has the merit of underscoring the fact that like all social formations, communism is above all about the expression of programmatic content. This enforces the fact that, for Marxists, communism is not an ideal to be achieved, but a real movement born from the old society with a set of programmatic tasks. He also criticized socialists that emphasized workplace democracy, believing that "the hell of capitalism is the firm, not the fact that the firm has a boss".
- Democratic capitalism
- Democratic liberalism
- Democratic Socialist Party (disambiguation)
- International Group of Democratic Socialists
- List of anti-capitalist and communist parties with national parliamentary representation
- List of democratic socialist parties that have governed
- List of democratic socialist parties and organizations
- List of democratic socialists
- List of Labour parties
- List of left-wing political parties
- List of social democratic parties
- List of social democrats
- Millennial socialism
- Republican democracy
- Social Democratic Party
- Socialist Party
- Soviet democracy
- Workers' council
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