Ever since Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, much attention has been focused on the fact he calls himself a democratic socialist. Socialist, in the American lexicon, has a negative connotation, mainly because of common misunderstandings.
Sanders himself has tried many times to explain the difference between "socialism" and "democratic socialism," but the right still seems hung up on misrepresenting his views and exploiting people's fears. America has a rich socialist history many people are unaware of, but still fear the "S" word and picture evil dictators and red flags.
To quell any fears and to put a great deal of misinformation to rest, here are five things that democratic socialism is not.
1. Democratic Socialism Is Not Marxism
When Sanders spoke at the Georgetown University, he said clearly that he is NOT in favor of "workers owning the means of production," which is one of the most important aspects of Marxism. Marxism would replace the corporate ownership of business and would hand the companies to the workers to manage and control. This eliminates the capitalist structure, something democratic socialism does not do.
2. It Is Not Communism
In Karl Marx's writing, he often used the terms "socialism" and "communism" interchangeably. Many still do today in the Marxist movements, but outside of that, most people see Communism as the political structure of the (now-separated) USSR and China. Marxist communism is impossible to enact wholely, so these regimes did not represent true Marxism. Even so, they are much closer to Marxist communism than to democratic socialism.
3. It Is Not A Replacement For Capitalism
True socialism would replace the capitalist economy we live in now and replace it fully with a socialist one. While this is the dream of Marxists and socialists everywhere, this is not the plan under democratic socialism. Democratic socialism would instead put more restrictions on corporations and owners. This would include limitations on how much more money a CEO can make compared to their employees, and granting employees more rights and higher minimum wage.
4. It Is Not The Same As Regular Socialism
Democratic socialists have historically rejected the belief that the economy should be centrally planned (a centrally-planned economy is a socialist keystone belief). Instead, democratic socialism believes that some parts of society may be better if they are democratically planned: mass transit, medical care, minimum wage, etc. Democratic socialism still believes the capitalist market is best for consumer goods and services.
5. It Is Not Outside The Democratic Party
When Sanders announced he was running for President, he switched his party from Independent to Democrat, and many wondered why a socialist would run as a Democrat. Yet, what many didn't understand was that Democratic Socialism is not a party in itself and is an ideology that actually exists inside the Democratic Party.
Democratic socialists only hope to strengthen the party by improving upon issues the nation faces today such as healthcare, college tuition, and a strengthened social safety net.
Originally published at www.liberalamerica.org on December 22, 2015.
Image: Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons