The papers are full of opinion pieces by liberals and conservatives warning us of the dangers of “socialism.” We are told that socialists want the government to run everything, take away your freedom and stifle individual initiative. Yet, there is a strange disconnect between these descriptions and the views of self-described Democratic Socialists in current and past U.S. history like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Dr. Martin Luther King, Helen Keller and others.
Actual Democratic Socialists support policies like Medicare for all, tuition-free college, an increased minimum wage, strong unions, an end to big money controlling our political system, protecting voting rights for all, ending continuous wars to protect corporate profits abroad, etc. These have no relationship with the caricature presented in many mainstream media depictions.
Democratic Socialists believe in democracy. An unfettered capitalist economic system undermines democracy because it creates massive inequality. The wealthy then “buy” their preferred political outcomes; inevitably they have way more influence than ordinary working people.
But what does “socialism” mean? In simplest terms, it means reversing our unbalanced power relations in both our economy and our political system: political and economic power would be transferred from the few (the 1 percent) to the many (the working class). Both our economy and our politics would be brought under democratic control.
We can measure how socialist a society is by the degree to which it has transferred political and economic power from a small group of capitalists (the 1 percent and its surrounding highly paid functionaries) to the working class, a large majority of the population. The more a society has achieved that transfer, the more socialist it is.
A modern conception of Democratic Socialism must transcend the old view of socialism as strictly government ownership and a 100 percent “planned” economy. Modern socialism will have a use for markets as well as planning – but those markets must be shaped and controlled democratically and not “rigged” for the benefit of the capitalists and their henchmen. By democratizing the economy, modern socialism will do a better job of rewarding people who do useful, beneficial work rather than those who take advantage of the system.
Democratic Socialists strongly combat all forms of discrimination against any segment of the working class. We oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, religious bigotry, xenophobic nationalism and the like. All these discriminatory prejudices undermine democracy.
Modern countries closest to Democratic Socialism are the Scandinavian social democracies. Of course, they are not entirely socialist but they have come closer than any other countries in the world. They consistently rank among the world’s most democratic, most egalitarian, healthiest, most prosperous, most environmentally responsible, most highly educated, most crime-free countries in the world.
Are they unsurpassable utopias? No. But they are more socialist than other countries, and various metrics prove that their “socialist” policies deliver a better life than is available under a strictly capitalist society.
It is time Democratic Socialism was depicted accurately. What we have written here is what we Democratic Socialists actually believe.
Bruce Nissen, Carol McNamee and Sean Armil are members of the Pinellas County chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).