What You Need To Know About Democratic Socialism

Democratic socialism is having a moment. From electing open socialists to ending capitalism, here’s what the movement is all about.

Marianela D’Aprile August 3, 2018

Democratic socialism, 101. (Metro Atlanta DSA)

In the month since Alexan­dria Ocasio-Cortez’s shock­ing pri­ma­ry vic­to­ry in New York’s 14th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, the term demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism” is every­where. While Stephen Col­bert declares that God’s a social­ist on late-night tele­vi­sion, Bret Stephens warns from the New York Times that demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism is Dem doom.” In the same pub­li­ca­tion, Michelle Gold­berg insists that the Mil­len­ni­al social­ists are com­ing,” and that cen­trism won’t win, while on The View, Meghan McCain screams that she doesn’t want social­ism to become nor­mal­ized,” shout­ing Mar­garet Thatch­er quotes at Joy Behar.

Simply put, socialists believe that the economy should be run for people, not for profit.

Media spec­ta­cle aside, there are many ques­tions float­ing around. What’s going on with these social­ists in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty? How is social­ism dif­fer­ent from cap­i­tal­ism? And just what do demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists actu­al­ly believe?

With so many ques­tions and so much atten­tion, it’s worth tak­ing a beat to revis­it the basic prin­ci­ples of the grow­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist move­ment in the Unit­ed States. Sim­ply put, social­ists believe that the econ­o­my should be run for peo­ple, not for prof­it. We believe that all work­ing peo­ple — no mat­ter their gen­der, race, nation­al­i­ty or reli­gion — deserve to reap the fruits of their labor.

Our insis­tence on this basic premise comes from our under­stand­ing that all of the wealth in this coun­try, and in the world, is pro­duced by work­ers. But right now in the Unit­ed States, the vast major­i­ty of this wealth goes to a very small seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, not to the mil­lions of peo­ple that pro­duce it. While cap­i­tal­ists prof­it off what work­ers make, work­ers them­selves get just bare­ly enough to survive.

Many pro­gres­sives say that this sys­tem is bro­ken, that we need small fix­es here and there to make it work bet­ter for every­one. Social­ists under­stand that this sys­tem isn’t bro­ken at all, that it works just as it is intend­ed: to enrich an elite few at the very top — giv­ing them ever-more con­trol over the econ­o­my and pol­i­tics — off the backs of the many. And, because we are demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists, we believe that we must replace cap­i­tal­ism with a sys­tem that puts both the econ­o­my and polit­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing under demo­c­ra­t­ic control.

Cap­i­tal­ist log­ic per­vades seem­ing­ly every aspect of Amer­i­can life.

Health­care pol­i­cy is dri­ven by pri­vate prof­it: approx­i­mate­ly 30 per­cent of all insur­ance pre­mi­ums goes not toward pro­vid­ing health­care, but to CEO salaries, adver­tis­ing and lobbying.

Many major cities in this coun­try are suf­fer­ing hous­ing crises, not because there’s a short­age of places to live, but because under-taxed giant cor­po­ra­tions move in, dri­ve up the price of land, and open the door to for-prof­it devel­op­ers to charge up to five times the rent.

Our planet’s health and cli­mate are under con­stant assault because pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions use the polit­i­cal sys­tem to evade reg­u­la­tions and main­tain their profits.

U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy is based almost entire­ly in pro­tect­ing cap­i­tal­ist inter­ests, which has result­ed in the Unit­ed States engag­ing in vio­lent con­flict and wars through­out Latin Amer­i­ca, the Mid­dle East and much of the rest of the world.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists want to do away with the sys­tem that makes all of this pos­si­ble. We want a polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sys­tem in which peo­ple are free — not depen­dent on their job for health insur­ance, not work­ing 80 hours a week just to cov­er food and rent — but tru­ly lib­er­at­ed to thrive and flourish.

So, how will we get there? And — the ques­tion that every­one keeps ask­ing — how will we pay for all this?

The wealth we need to build the world we want is already here. The prob­lem is that it’s con­trolled from the top down, by very few peo­ple, and not demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly by those who pro­duce it. In order to build the pow­er we need to take this wealth back, we have to orga­nize work­ing class peo­ple into a mass social­ist move­ment. That means rec­og­niz­ing that we, the work­ing class, have more in com­mon with one anoth­er than we do with the wealthy elite, and that we must fight togeth­er for racial and gen­der jus­tice and against oth­er oppres­sions used to divide us.

Right now, the largest social­ist orga­ni­za­tion in this coun­try, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA), has about 48,000 mem­bers, most of whom joined the orga­ni­za­tion after being ener­gized and inspired by the cam­paigns of Bernie Sanders and Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez. In order to har­ness this ener­gy and con­tin­ue build­ing the social­ist move­ment, the DSA takes up trans­for­ma­tion­al cam­paigns and projects decid­ed on demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly by its mem­bers through debates and voting.

These cam­paigns include: Medicare for All, which would guar­an­tee com­pre­hen­sive, free-at-the-point-of-use health­care to every sin­gle res­i­dent of this coun­try; abol­ish­ing ICE, an agency which impris­ons work­ing-class peo­ple who seek a bet­ter life for them­selves and their chil­dren while giant cor­po­ra­tions cross bor­ders as if they didn’t exist at all; and uni­ver­sal rent con­trol, which would lim­it the prof­its wealthy devel­op­ers make from charg­ing exor­bi­tant rents to work­ing-class people.

The DSA is also com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing and build­ing a robust and fight­ing labor move­ment, help­ing work­ers find pow­er through demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­niz­ing in their work­places and show­ing them that when we orga­nize, we win. Demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists have also embraced selec­tive­ly involv­ing our­selves in elec­toral races, not because we believe a sin­gle politi­cian can bring about social­ism, but because by cam­paign­ing for social­ist can­di­dates, we can help advance inde­pen­dent pol­i­tics free of cor­po­rate mon­ey and achieve reforms that ben­e­fit work­ing-class peo­ple, all while broad­cast­ing social­ist ideas to the mass pub­lic. And, in dis­tinc­tion to many of self-described social­ist gov­ern­ments through­out his­to­ry, we know that the only way to win a tru­ly lib­er­a­to­ry soci­ety is to orga­nize from below.

As demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists, we are aware that we have a long road ahead. We also know that it is only by build­ing a social­ist move­ment through orga­niz­ing demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly that we will win the just world we deserve. 

Mar­i­anela D’Aprile is a mem­ber of the Nation­al Polit­i­cal Com­mit­tee of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca and lives in Chica­go, Illinois.
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