Democratic socialism is a term used to refer to the socialist political philosophy which advocates political democracy alongside a socially owned economy, with an emphasis on workers' self-management and democratic control of economic institutions within a market or some 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 be achieved only through the realisation of a socialist society. Democratic socialism can support either revolutionary or reformist politics as a means to establish socialism.
In the term democratic socialism, the adjective democratic is added and used to distinguish democratic socialists from Marxist–Leninist inspired socialism which to many is viewed as being undemocratic or authoritarian in practice. Democratic socialists oppose the Stalinist political system and the Soviet-type economic system, rejecting the perceived authoritarian form of governance and highly centralised command economy that took form in the Soviet Union and other Marxist–Leninist states in the early 20th century. Democratic socialism is distinguished from meliorist and Third Way social democracy on the basis that democratic socialists are committed to systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism whereas Third Way social democrats are opposed to ultimately ending capitalism and are instead supportive of progressive reforms to capitalism.
In contrast to modern social democrats, democratic socialists believe that policy reforms and state interventions aimed at addressing social inequalities and suppressing the economic contradictions of capitalism will ultimately exacerbate the contradictions, seeing them emerge elsewhere in the economy under a different guise. Democratic socialists believe the fundamental issues with capitalism are systemic in nature and can only be resolved by replacing the capitalist economic system with socialism, i.e. by replacing private ownership with collective ownership of the means of production and extending democracy to the economic sphere.
The origins of democratic socialism can be traced to 19th-century utopian socialist thinkers and the British Chartist movement that differed in detail yet all shared the essence of democratic decision making and public ownership of the means of production as positive characteristics of the society they advocated. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, democratic socialism was also influenced by social democracy. For instance, the gradualist, reformist socialism promoted by the British Fabian Society and Eduard Bernstein's evolutionary socialism in Germany influenced the development of democratic socialism.
Democratic socialism is defined as having a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratic political system of government. Democratic socialism rejects self-described socialist states as it rejects Marxism–Leninism and its derivatives such as Stalinism and Maoism, among others. As a result, Peter Hain classifies democratic socialism along with libertarian socialism as a form of anti-authoritarian socialism from below (using the term popularised by Hal Draper) in contrast to Stalinism and state socialism. For Hain, this democratic/authoritarian divide is more important than the revolutionary/reformist divide. In this type of 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 democratic socialism while nationalisation and centralised economic planning (whether coordinated by an elected government or not) are characteristic of state socialism. A similar, more complex argument is made by Nicos Poulantzas. Draper himself used the term revolutionary-democratic socialism as a type of socialism from below in his The Two Souls of Socialism, writing: "[T]he 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: "Debsian socialism" evoked a tremendous response from the heart of the people, but Debs had no successor as a tribune of revolutionary-democratic socialism".
Democratic socialism has also been defined as social democracy prior to the 1970s, when the displacement of Keynesianism caused many social democratic parties to adopt the Third Way ideology, accepting capitalism as the current powers that be and redefining socialism in a way that it maintains the capitalist structure intact. As an example, the new version of Clause IV of the New Labour Constitution conflates democratic socialism with modern 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". Like traditional social democracy, democratic socialism tends to follow a gradual, reformist or evolutionary path to socialism rather than a revolutionary one, a tendency that is captured in the statement that Labour Party revisionist Anthony Crosland, intellectual leader of the liberal and right-wing of the party, "argued that the socialism of the pre-war world (not just that of the Marxists, but of the democratic socialists too) were now increasingly irrelevant". This tendency is also often 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, 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 (1941) that liberal democracies were evolving from liberal capitalism into democratic socialism with the growth of workers' self-management, industrial democracy and regulatory institutions.
As a term, democratic socialism has some significant overlap on practical policy positions with social democracy, although they are often distinguished from each other. Policies commonly supported are Keynesian in nature, including significant of regulation over a mixed economy, social insurance schemes, public pension programs and a gradual expansion of public ownership over major industries. Policies such as free healthcare 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 use the terms interchangeably. The difference between the two is that modern social democrats support practical reforms to capitalism as an end in itself whereas democratic socialists ultimately want to go beyond social democratic reforms and advocate systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism. During the late 20th century, these labels were embraced, contested and rejected due to the emergence of developments within the European left such as Eurocommunism, the rise of neoliberalism, the fall of the Soviet Union and Marxist–Leninist governments, the Third Way and the rise of anti-austerity and Occupy movements in the late 2000s and early 2010s due to the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the Great Recession. This latest development contributed to the rise of politicians that represent the more traditional social democracy such as Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Bernie Sanders in the United States, who assumed the label democratic socialist to describe their rejection of centrist, Third Way politicians that supported triangulation within the Labour and Democratic parties.
The section of social democracy that remained committed to the gradual abolition of capitalism and anti-Third Way social democrats merged into democratic socialism. Certain democratic socialists who came from Marxism emphasised Karl Marx's belief in democracy and called themselves democratic socialists to highlight their rejection of authoritarian forms of socialism such as Marxist–Leninism. There is considerable controversy among scholars regarding Marx's attitude towards democracy and two lines of thought developed from Marx, namely one emphasising democracy (democratic socialism) and one rejecting it (Marxism–Leninism), leading other socialists to reject Marx. The orthodox Marxist 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, it includes statelessness, classlessness and the abolition of wage labour as characteristics of a socialist society—characteristics that are usually reserved to describe a communist society, but that both Marx and Friedrich Engels used to describe with the words socialism and communism interchangeably. Therefore, socialism can also be characterised 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. As a democratic socialist definition, the political scientist Lyman Tower Sargent proposes as follows:
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 socialism as a decentralised socially-owned economy, 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 so-called socialist states, arguing that "[j]ust because their bureaucratic elites called them "socialist" did not make it so; they also called their regimes "democratic". While ultimately committed to socialism, the DSA focuses their 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 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 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".
The term is sometimes used to refer to policies within capitalism as opposed to an ideology that aims to transcend and replace capitalism, although this is not always the case. For example, Robert M. Page, a reader in Democratic Socialism and Social Policy at the University of Birmingham, wrote about trans-formative democratic socialism to refer to the politics of Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee and its government (a strong welfare state, fiscal redistribution and some public ownership) 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.
Some tendencies of democratic socialism advocate for revolution in order to transition to socialism, distinguishing it from some forms of social democracy. The term democratic socialism can also be used to refer to a version of the Soviet Union model that was reformed in a democratic way. For example, Mikhail Gorbachev described perestroika as building a "new, humane and democratic socialism". Consequently, some former communist parties have re-branded themselves as democratic socialist such as The Left in Germany, a party succeeding the Party of Democratic Socialism, itself the legal successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
Democratic socialists have promoted a variety of different models of socialism 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.
Historically, democratic socialism has been 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 as opposed to Soviet-style economies in Marxist–Leninist states. For example, 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 profit system and private ownership.
Democratic socialists, especially contemporary proponents of market socialism, have argued that—rather than socialism itself—the major reason for the economic shortcomings of Soviet-type economies was their failure to create rules and operational criteria for the efficient operation of state enterprises in their administrative, command allocation of resources and commodities and the lack of democracy in the political systems that the Soviet-type economies were combined with. As a result, their form of socialism explciity rejects authoritarian allocation in favor of democracy.
Philosophical support for democratic socialism can be found in the works of political philosophers such as Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth. Honneth has put forward the view that political and economic ideologies have a social basis, meaning they originate from inter-subjective communication between members of a society. Honneth criticises the liberal state 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. Contra liberal individualism, Honneth has emphasised the inter-subjective dependence between humans, namely our well-being depends on recognising others and being recognised by them. Democratic socialism with an emphasis on community and solidarity can be seen as a way of safeguarding this dependency.
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 Vanek argue that genuinely free markets are not possible under conditions of private ownership of productive property. Instead, he contends that the class differences and inequalities in income and power that result from private ownership enable the interests of the dominant class to skew the market to their favor, either in the form of monopoly and market power, or by utilizing their wealth and resources to legislate government policies that benefit their specific business interests. Additionally, Vanek 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) in addition to receiving their fixed wage or salary. Many early and proto-socialists were fervent anti-capitalists just as they were supporters of the free market, including the British Thomas Hodgskin, the French Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Americans 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 or socialist laissez-faire, or free-market anarchism, also known as free-market anti-capitalism and free-market socialism 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 emerged individualist anarchism. Benjamin Tucker is one eminent American individualist anarchist who adopted a laissez-faire system he termed anarchistic socialism in contraposition to state socialism. This tradition has been recently associated with contemporary scholars such as Kevin Carson, Roderick T. Long, Charles W. Johnson, Brad Spangler, Sheldon Richman, Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Gary Chartier, 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 statist and capitalist 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 thoroughly radical views regarding such cultural issues as gender, sexuality and race. As a result, 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. According to supporters, this would result in the socialist society as advocated by democratic and libertarian socialists alike when socialism is not understood as state socialism and conflated with self-described socialist states and the terms free market and laissez-faire are understood to mean being free from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities—implying 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 of the University of Houston argues in the Marxist tradition that the logic of the market inherently produces inequitable outcomes and leads to unequal exchanges, arguing that Adam Smith's moral intent and moral philosophy espousing equal exchange was undermined by the practice of the free market he championed—the development of the market economy involved coercion, exploitation and violence that Smith's moral philosophy could not countenance. 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 the word socialism has been commonly associated and conflated with self-declared socialist states, especially in the United States due to the First and Second Red Scares, democratic socialists likewise use the word socialism to refer to their own tendency that rejects authoritarian socialism and state socialism as forms of socialism, instead 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 business enterprises, including the processes of capital accumulation, centralised management and wage labour. As a result, democratic socialism generally mean some form of Marxian socialist opposed to Marxism–Leninism and a social democracy committed to the abolishment of capitalism in favour of socialism as a post-capitalist economy. Other tendencies include anti-Leninist and anti-Stalinist left Marxian socialism (anti-authoritarian socialism from below, classical Marxism, libertarian Marxism and certain ultra-left tendencies of left communism such as councilism or communisation, among others, also including certain orthodox Marxists such as Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg), market socialism, anti-Marxist–Leninist neo- and Eurocommunism (originating between the 1950s and 1980s, but also referring to communist parties that adopted democratic socialism in the 1990s) and social democracy tendencies, whose early and classical variants (mainly orthodox Marxism, including Bertseinism, Kautskyism and Luxemburghism, but also more democratic and libertarian interpretations of Leninism) until the 1930s (when many social democrats adopted or endorsed Keynesian welfare capitalism as part of a social democratic compromise between capitalism and socialism) as well as anti-Third Way, traditional social democrats merged into democratic socialism.
Although socialism is commonly conflated with Marxism–Leninism and its various variants such as Stalinism and Maoism, there have also been several anarchist and socialist societies that followed democratic socialist principles, encompassing anti-authoritarian, democratic anti-capitalism. The most notable examples are the Paris Commune, the various soviet republics in the post-World War I period and the early Soviet Russia before the abolition of soviets, Revolutionary Catalonia as noted by George Orwell and more recently Rojava. Other examples include the kibbutz in modern-day Israel, Marinaleda in Spain, the Zapatistas in Chiapas and to some extent the workers' self-management within Yugoslavia and modern Cuba.
During the post-war consensus when nationalisation of large industries was relatively widespread, it was not uncommon for commentators to describe some European countries as democratic socialist states seeking to move their countries toward a socialist economy. In 1956, leading British Labour Party politician and author 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, 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, arguing:
The National Health service and the Welfare State have come to be used as interchangeable terms, and in the mouths of some people as terms of reproach. Why this is so it is not difficult to understand, if you view everything from the angle of a strictly individualistic competitive society. A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.
When the Socialist Party was in power in France in the post-war period, some commentators claimed that France was a socialist country, although as in the rest of Europe the laws of capitalism still operated fully and private enterprises dominated the economy. In the 1980s, the François Mitterrand government aimed to expand dirigism and scheduled to nationalise all banks, but this attempt faced opposition of the European Economic Community. The same is now applied to Nordic countries with the Nordic model. Although 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 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 characterised by its rejection of nationalisation. Despite this, the party still claimed to be a socialist party, pointing out its regulation of the private sector, activist intervention in the economy and social policies as evidence of this. Furthermore, the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew also stated that he has been influenced by the democratic socialist British Labour Party. These confusions are caused not only by the socialist definition, but by the capitalist definition as well. While Christian democrats, social liberals and certain national and social conservatives, among others, tend to support social democratic policies and generally see capitalism compatible with a mixed economy, classical liberals, conservative liberals, neoliberals, liberal conservatives and right-libertarians define capitalism as the free market, supporting a small government, laissez-faire capitalism and a market economy and opposing social democratic policies as well as government regulation and economic interventionism, seeing actually existing capitalism as corporatism, corporatocracy, or crony capitalism. As a result, socialism has often been conflated with an administrative command economy, authoritarian socialism, big government, Marxist–Leninist states, social democracy, Soviet-type economic planning, state interventionism and state socialism. Austrian School economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises also continually used the word socialism as a synonym for central planning and state socialism, conflating it with fascism. This is especially true in the United States, where socialism has become a pejorative used by conservatives and libertarians to taint liberal and progressive policies, proposals and public figures.
Eduard Bernstein, socialist theorist within the German Social Democratic Party who proposed that socialism could be achieved by peaceful means through incremental legislative reform in democratic societies
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. West 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 of the Industrial Revolution. Especially in the case of the Owenites, they also overlapped with a number of other working-class movements like the Chartists in the United Kingdom. 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. 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 progress. 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, therefore it embodied a desire for a more directed or planned economy.
In the United Kingdom, the democratic socialist tradition was represented in particular 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 be 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. 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 as a progressive and modernising force. Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of 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. 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".
Reformism arose as an alternative to revolution. Eduard Bernstein was a leading social democrat in Germany who proposed the concept of evolutionary socialism. Revolutionary socialists quickly targeted reformism: Rosa Luxemburg condemned Bernstein's Evolutionary Socialism in her 1900 essay Social Reform or Revolution?. Revolutionary socialism encompasses multiple social and political movements that may define revolution differently from one another. In Germany, the Social Democratic Party became the largest and most powerful socialist party in Europe despite working illegally until the anti-socialist laws were dropped in 1890. According to Engels, in the 1893 elections the party gained 1,787,000 votes, a quarter of the total votes cast. 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 gradualism reformists and revolutionaries in the Marxist movement by declaring that he was in favour of short-term tactics of electoral politics that included gradualist and evolutionary socialist measures while maintaining his belief that revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat should remain a goal. 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 stated 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 said 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 that he predicted could bring "social democracy into power 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. 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 and that Engels was still committed to revolutionary socialism. As a result, 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 wrote to Kautsky as follows:
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 quand même [literally "come what may", but better translated as "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
Eugene V. Debs, leader and presidential candidate in the early 20th century for the Socialist Party of America
The socialist industrial unionism of Daniel DeLeon 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 which also sought to establish this government after winning at the ballot box. The tradition 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 by 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. Eugene V. Debs twice won over 900,000 votes in presidential elections (1912 and 1920) while the party also elected two Representatives (Victor L. Berger and Meyer London), dozens of state legislators, more than a hundred mayors and countless lesser officials. In Argentina, the Socialist Party of Argentina 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 a member of the Labour and Socialist International (LSI). In 1904, Australians elected Chris Watson as the first Australian Labor Party Prime Minister, becoming the first democratically elected democratic socialist. The British Labour Party first won seats in the House of Commons in 1902. 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. By 1917, the patriotism of World War I changed into political radicalism in most of Europe, the United States and Australia. 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 in the United States and the Chilean Socialist Workers' Party.
In February 1917, revolution exploded in Russia. Workers, soldiers and peasants established soviets (councils), the monarchy fell and a provisional government convoked pending the election of a constituent assembly. Alexander Kerensky was a Russian lawyer and revolutionary who was a key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the February Revolution, he 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 Trudoviks faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, he was also vice-chairman of the powerful Petrograd Soviet. On 7 November, his government was overthrown by the Vladimir Lenin-led Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. The Constituent Assembly elected Socialist-Revolutionary leader Victor Chernov 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, the Bolsheviks declared the next day that the assembly was elected on outdated party lists and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets dissolved it.
At a conference in Vienna, Austria on 27 February 1921, 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 in Hamburg, Germany. 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 Socialist Revolutionaries, Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and anarchists. Within this left-wing discontent, the most large-scale events were the worker's 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 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 caused by revolution and later the growing authoritarianism of the communist parties. When the Communist Party of Great Britain applied to affiliate to the Labour Party in 1920, it was turned down. On seeing the Soviet Union's growing coercive power in 1923, a dying Lenin said Russia had reverted to "a bourgeois tsarist machine [...] barely varnished with socialism". After Lenin's death in January 1924, the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik)—then increasingly 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.
Clement Attlee, Labour Party Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
After World War II, democratic socialist, 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 countries such as the Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and Norway. At one point, France claimed to be the world's most state-controlled capitalist country, starting the Trente Glorieuses. The nationalised public utilities included Air France, Bank of France, Charbonnages de France, Électricité de France, Gaz de France and Régie Nationale des Usines Renault.
In 1945, the British Labour Party led by Clement Attlee was elected to office based on a radical, democratic socialist programme. The Labour government nationalised major public utilities such as mines, gas, coal, electricity, rail, iron, steel and the Bank of England. British Petroleum was officially nationalised in 1951. In 1956, Anthony Crosland said 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 employed population. The Labour governments of 1964–1970 and 1974–1979 intervened further. It re-nationalised steel (1967, British Steel) after the Conservatives had privatised it and nationalised car production (1976, British Leyland). The National Health Service provided taxpayer-funded health care to everyone, free at the point of use. Working-class housing was provided in council housing estates and university education became available via a school grant system.
During most of the post-war era, democratic socialist, labour and social democratic parties dominated the political scene and laid the ground to universalistic welfare states in the Nordic countries. Sweden was governed by the Swedish Social Democratic Party largely in cooperation with trade unions and industry. In Sweden, the Social Democratic Party held power from 1936–1976, 1982–1991, 1994–2006 and 2014 to present. Tage Erlander was the leader of the Social Democratic Party and led the government from 1946–1969, an uninterrupted tenure of twenty-three years, one of the longest in any democracy. From 1945–1962, the Norwegian Labour Party held an absolute majority in the parliament led by Einar Gerhardsen, who was Prime Minister for seventeen years. The Danish Social Democrats governed Denmark for most of the 20th century and since the 1920s and through the 1940s and the 1970s a large majority of Prime Ministers were Social Democrats, the largest and most popular party. This particular adaptation of the mixed-market 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 countries like Sweden, where the Rehn–Meidner model allowed capitalists owning very productive and efficient firms to retain excess profits at the expense of the firms' workers, exacerbating inequality and causing workers in these firms to agitate for a share of the profits in the 1970s just as women working in the state sector began to assert pressure for better wages as well. Rudolf Meidner established a study committee that came up with a 1976 proposal that entailed transferring the excess profits into investment funds controlled by the workers in the efficient firms, with the intention that firms would create further employment and pay more workers higher wages rather than increasing the wealth of company owners and managers. Capitalists immediately distinguished this proposal as socialism and launched an unprecedented opposition—including calling off the class compromise established in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the Marxist–Leninist government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, 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. During India's freedom movement, many figures on the left-wing 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 revolutionary model. In the post-war years, socialism became increasingly influential throughout the so-called Third World. Embracing a new Third World socialism, countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America often nationalised industries held by foreign owners. The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gender roles and 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 questions of class. The New Left rejected involvement with the labour movement and Marxism's historical theory of class struggle. In the United States, it 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 Old Left of the Democratic Party, groups composing the New Left gradually became central players in the Democratic coalition.
The protests of 1968 represented a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, predominantly characterised by popular rebellions against military, capitalist and bureaucratic elites who responded with an escalation of political repression. 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 justice while personally showing sympathy with democratic socialism. 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 were the May 1968 protests in France in which students linked up with strikes of up to ten million workers and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government. 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, a socialist tendency within the Roman Catholic Church, emerged in the 1960s. In Chile, Salvador Allende, a physician and candidate for the Socialist Party of Chile, was elected President through democratic elections in 1970. In 1973, his government was ousted by the United States-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet which lasted until the late 1980s. Michael Manley 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 was a trend in the 1970s and 1980s in various Western European communist parties to develop a 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 Western Europe, it is sometimes called neocommunism. Some communist parties with strong popular support, notably the Italian Communist Party and the Communist Party of Spain, adopted Eurocommunism most enthusiastically 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 discussion with the two powers of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union, about East–West relations and 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 Democratic Party of the Left of Italy and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique. The Socialist International aided social democratic parties in re-establishing themselves when dictatorship gave way to democracy in Portugal and Spain, resoectively in 1974 and 1975. Until its 1976 Geneva Congress, the Socialist International had few members outside Europe and no formal involvement with Latin America.
The Democratic Socialists of America was founded in 1983. The democratic socialist Michael Harrington and the socialist-feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich were elected as co-chairs of the organisation. The organisation does not stand its own candidates in elections, but it instead "fights for reforms [...] that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people".
The Panhellenic Socialist Movement, better known as PASOK, was a social democratic party in Greece. PASOK was founded in Greece on 3 September 1974 by Andreas Papandreou as a democratic socialist and left-wing nationalist party following the collapse of the military junta 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.
Mikhail Gorbachev wished to move the Soviet Union towards 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. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic integration of the Soviet republics was dissolved and overall industrial activity declined substantially. A lasting legacy remains in the physical infrastructure created during decades of combined industrial production practices and widespread environmental destruction. The transition to capitalism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc was accompanied by a steep fall in the standard of living as poverty, unemployment, inequality and excess mortality rose sharply which was accompanied by the entrenchment of a newly established business oligarchy in the former. The average post-communist country had returned to 1989 levels of per-capita GDP only by 2005.
Many social democratic parties, particularly after the Cold War, adopted neoliberal market policies including privatisation, deregulation and financialisation. They abandoned their pursuit of moderate socialism in favour of market liberalism. In the United Kingdom, 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 Mine workers blamed for the strike's eventual defeat. In 1989, it adopted a new Declaration of Principles at the 18th Congress of the Socialist International in Stockholm, Sweden, saying: "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".
In the late-1990s, the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair enacted policies based on the liberal market economy to deliver public services via the private finance initiative. Influential in these policies was the idea of a Third Way which called for a re-evaluation of welfare state policies. In 1995, the Labour Party re-defined its position on socialism by re-wording Clause IV of their Constitution, effectively rejecting socialism by removing all references to public, direct worker or municipal ownership of the means of production. The Constitution now stated: "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".
The Progressive Alliance is a political international founded on 22 May 2013 by political parties, the majority of whom are current or former members of the Socialist International. The organisation states the aim of becoming the global network of "the progressive, democratic, social-democratic, socialist and labour movement". As a term, democratic socialism became a synonym in American politics more recently for social democracy due to social democratic policies being adopted by progressives and reform liberals like Democratic Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt leading to the New Deal coalition to reform capitalism rather than socialists like in Western Europe and has remained despite being a misnomer. On 30 November 2018, Bernie Sanders' The Sanders Institute and Yanis Varoufakis' Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 founded the Progressive International, an international political organisation which unites democratic socialists with other labour, left-wing, progressive and social democratic activists.
African socialism has been and continues to be a major ideology around the continent. The African National Congress in South Africa abandoned its socialist allegiances after gaining power in 1994 and followed a neoliberal route, although it remains affiliated to the Socialist International. From 2005–2007, the country was wracked by many thousands of protests from poor communities. One of these gave rise to a mass movement of shack dwellers called Abahlali baseMjondolo which continues to work for popular people's planning and against the creation of a market economy in land and housing despite major police suppression. In 2013, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country's biggest trade union, voted to withdraw support from the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party and form a socialist party to protect the interests of the working-class. The resulting party created was 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 part in the Arab Spring of 2011, especially in Egypt and Tunisia.
In Canada, the democratic socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), had significant success in provincial politics. In 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first socialist government in North America. At the federal level, the NDP was the Official Opposition from 2011 to 2015.
In the United States, Milwaukee has been led by a series of democratic socialist mayors, namely Frank Zeidler, Emil Seidel and Daniel Hoan. In 2016, Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders made a bid for the Democratic Party presidential candidate, thereby gaining considerable popular support, particularly among the younger generation, but he ultimately lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton. Sanders described himself as a democratic socialist. Since his praise of the Nordic model indicated focus on social democracy as opposed to views involving social ownership, the Cato Institute's Marian Tupy has argued that the term democratic socialism has become a misnomer for social democracy in American politics. However, Sanders has explicitly advocated for some form of public ownership and today nonetheless advocates for workplace democracy, an expansion of worker cooperatives and more democratic control of the economy. In a 2018 poll conducted by Gallup, a majority of people under 30 in the United States said they approve of socialism. 57% of Democratic leaning individuals viewed socialism positively and 47% saw capitalism positively. 71% of Republican leaning individuals who were polled saw capitalism under a positive light and 16% viewed socialism in a positive light.
Presidents Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in World Social Forum for Latin America
For 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 said: "Now more than ever, I am obliged to move Venezuela's path towards socialism". Chávez was also reelected in October 2012 for his third six-year term as President, but he died in March 2013 from cancer. After Chávez's death on 5 March 2013, Vice President from Chavez's party Nicolás Maduro assumed the powers and responsibilities of the President. A special election was held on 14 April of the same year to elect a new President which Maduro won by a tight margin as the candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He was formally inaugurated on 19 April. However, most democratic socialist intellectuals have been sceptical of Latin America's examples. While citing their progressive role, they argue that due to their authoritarian qualities and occasional cults of personality the appropriate label for these governments is populism rather than socialism.
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 increasingly influential in Latin America. Foro de São Paulo is a conference of leftist political parties and other organisations from Latin America and the Caribbean. It was launched by the Workers' Party in 1990 in the city of São Paulo. The Forum of São Paulo was constituted 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, the stated main objective of the conference being to argue for alternatives to neoliberalism. Among its member include current socialist and social democratic parties currently in government 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 Salvadorean Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.
In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement was elected in the 2018 presidential election. Many of his policy proposals include traditionally labour based and decentralised democratically socialist reforms such as increases in financial aid for students and the elderly, universal access to public colleges, a referendum on energy reforms that ended Pemex's monopoly in the oil industry, stimulus of the country's agricultural sector, delay of the renegotiation of NAFTA until after the elections, increased social spending, slashing politicians' salaries and perks and the decentralisation of the executive cabinet by moving government departments and agencies from the capital to the states.
In Japan, the Japanese Communist Party does not advocate violent revolution, instead proposing a democratic revolution to achieve "democratic change in politics and the economy". There has been a resurgent interest in the Japanese Communist Party among workers and youth due to the financial crisis of the late-2000s.
After the 2008 general election, the Socialist Party of Malaysia got its first Member of Parliament, Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj.
In the Philippines, the main party campaigning for democratic socialism is the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party, founded by Joel Rocamora in January 1998 as a democratic socialist and progressive party which has consistently won seats in the House of Representatives, with Etta Rosales as its first representation. 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, Samajwadi Party, the Samta Party and 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.
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, who won the Labour Party leadership on a campaign of a rejection opposed to austerity and a rejection of Third Way Blairite politics within the Labour Party itself
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, then through the 1930s and 1940s until 1947, then again from 1953 until 1966, in 1971, from 1975 until 1981, from 1994 to 2001, from 2011 to 2015 and finally since 2019. This is at times attributed to the success of the Nordic model in the region, where similar democratic socialist, labour and social democratic parties dominated the political scene and laid the ground to their universalistic welfare states in the 20th century. 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, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity and human development. Likewise, countries adopting similar policies have ranked high on indicators such as civil liberties, democracy, press, labour and economic freedoms, peace and freedom from corruption.
The objectives of the Party of European Socialists, the European Parliament's democratic socialist and 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, also commonly abbreviated as the European Left, a political party at the European level and an association of democratic socialist, 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, Italy.
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 due to dissatisfaction with the increasingly neoliberal policies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, becoming the fourth biggest party in parliament in the general election on 27 September 2009. 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 while the Communist Party of Greece won 15 seats in parliament. Syriza has been characterised as an anti-establishment party, whose success has sent "shock-waves across the EU".
In the United Kingdom, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, commonly known as the 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 an alternative to the anti-immigration and pro-business policies of the UK Independence Party. At the following 2010 general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, launched in January 2010 and backed by Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT, 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.
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 communist candidate. The party abolished itself in 2009 to initiate a broad anti-capitalist party, the New Anticapitalist Party, whose stated aim is to "build a new socialist, democratic perspective for the twenty-first century".
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 polled 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.
The current government of Portugal was established on 26 November 2015 as a Socialist Party minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa. Costa succeeded in securing support for a Socialist Party minority government by the Left Bloc, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Ecologist Party "The Greens".
Australia has seen a recent increase in interest of socialism in recent years, especially among young adults. It is strongest in Victoria, where three socialist parties have merged into the Victorian Socialists which aim to address problems in housing and public transportation. New Zealand also has a socialist scene, but it is mainly dominated by Trotskyist groups. In Melanesia, Melanesian socialism developed in the 1980s, inspired by African socialism. 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.
Parliamentary democratic socialist parties
The following is a list of parties which are democratic socialist or partly democratic socialist currently having representation in the legislature of their country.
indicates a governing party (including as junior coalition partner)
|Party||Country||Date established||% of popular vote|
in the latest election
|Seats in the legislature|
(lower chamber if bicameral)
|Sandinista National Liberation Front||Nicaragua||1961||65.86% (2016)|
71 / 92 (77%)
|Movement for Socialism||Bolivia||1998||61.36% (2014)|
88 / 130 (68%)
|Broad Front||Uruguay||1971||49.45% (2014)|
50 / 99 (51%)
|United Socialist Party||Venezuela||2007||40.92% (2015)|
52 / 165 (32%)
|PAIS Alliance1||Ecuador||2006||39.07% (2017)|
74 / 137 (54%)
|Party of Socialists||Moldova||1997||31.15% (2019)|
35 / 101 (35%)
|Democratic Socialist Left||San Marino||2016||12.11% (2016)|
14 / 60 (23%)
|Labour Party1||United Kingdom||1900||39.99% (2017)|
262 / 650 (40%)
86 / 300 (29%)
|Sinn Féin||Northern Ireland||1905||27.90% (2017)|
27 / 90 (30%)
|Inuit Ataqatigiit||Greenland||1976||25.78% (2018)|
8 / 31 (26%)
|Plaid Cymru1||Wales||1925||20.80% (2016)|
10 / 60 (17%)
|Left-Green Movement||Iceland||1999||16.89% (2017)|
11 / 63 (17%)
|Broad Front||Peru||2013||13.94% (2016)|
20 / 130 (15%)
|Sinn Féin||Ireland||1905||13.82% (2016)|
21 / 158 (13%)
|New Democratic Party1||Canada||1961||19.71% (2015)|
41 / 338 (12%)
|Unidas Podemos||Spain||2016||14.32% (2019)|
42 / 350 (12%)
|Peoples' Democratic Party||Turkey||2012||11.70% (2018)|
67 / 550 (12%)
|Workers' Party||Brazil||1980||10.30% (2018)|
56 / 513 (11%)
|The Left||Slovenia||2014||9.33% (2018)|
9 / 90 (10%)
|The Left||Germany||2007||9.24% (2017)|
69 / 709 (10%)
|Socialist Party1||Netherlands||1971||9.09% (2017)|
14 / 150 (9%)
|Socialist Party1||Serbia||1990||10.95% (2016)|
20 / 250 (8%)
|Left Alliance||Finland||1990||8.17% (2019)|
16 / 200 (8%)
|Left Party||Sweden||1917||8.02% (2018)|
28 / 349 (8%)
|Red–Green Alliance||Denmark||1989||7.80% (2015)|
14 / 179 (8%)
|A Just Russia1||Russia||2006||6.34% (2016)|
16 / 225 (7%)
|Socialist Left||Norway||1975||6.02% (2017)|
11 / 169 (7%)
|Party of Socialists and Democrats1||San Marino||2005||7.17% (2016)|
3 / 60 (5%)
|La France insoumise||France||2016||11.03% (2017)|
17 / 577 (3%)
|The Left||Luxembourg||1999||5.48% (2018)|
2 / 60 (3%)
9 / 300 (3%)
|Free and Equal1||Italy||2017||3.39% (2018)|
14 / 630 (2%)
|Movement of Socialist Democrats||Tunisia||1978||0.17% (2014)|
1 / 217 (0.5%)
|Armenian Revolutionary Federation||Armenia||1890||3.89% (2018)|
0 / 132 (0%)
|Labourists – Labour Party1||Croatia||2010||0.26% (2016)|
0 / 151 (0%)
Notable democratic socialists
Heads of government
Jacobo Árbenz, President of Guatemala (1951–1954)
Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile (2006–2010; 2014–2018)
Álvaro Colom, President of Guatemala (2008–2012)
Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1940–1949)
Mauricio Funes, President of El Salvador (2009–2014)
Cheddi Jagan, President of Guyana (1992–1997)
Norman Kirk, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1972–1974)
Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay (2008–2012)
Michael Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica (1972–1980)
José Mujica, President of Uruguay (2010–2015)
Walter Nash, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1957–1960)
Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua (1985–1990; 2007–present)
José Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor (2007–2012)
Michael Joseph Savage, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1935–1940)
Sutan Sjahrir, Prime Minister of Indonesia (1945–1947)
Kalevi Sorsa, Prime Minister of Finland (1972–1975; 1977–1979; 1982–1987)
Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece (2015–2019)
Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay (2005–2010; 2015–present)
Obafemi Awolowo, founder of Action Group and first Premier of the Western State of Nigeria
Aneurin Bevan, father of the National Health Service
Lee Carter, elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition (2015–present)
Tommy Douglas, Canadian politician and father of Medicare
Michael Harrington, founder of Democratic Socialists of America
Neil Kinnock, self-described democratic socialist in opposition to Social Democratic Party defectors)
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London 2000–2008
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, American politician and political activist
Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council member
Rashida Tlaib, American politician, lawyer and political activist
Intellectuals and activists
Richard D. Wolff
Views on compatibility of socialism and democracy
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 (first published in 1942), Schumpeter "emphasize[s] that political democracy was thoroughly compatible with socialism in its fullest sense", noting that he did not believe that democracy was a good political system, but rather 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".
Political historian Theodore Draper wrote: "I know of no political group which has resisted totalitarianism in all its guises more steadfastly than democratic socialists".
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 creativities.
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" [referring to The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek].
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 find themselves clamping down on such freedoms as they end up being viewed as inconvenient or contrary towards their political or economic goals. For instance, Chicago School economist Milton Friedman stated 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 [sic; created, "whipped up" like soap lather] 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'". Anti-communist academic Richard Pipes similarly wrote:
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.
List of democratic socialist parties and organizations