Democratic socialism

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy supporting political democracy within a socially owned economy,[1][2] with a particular emphasis on workers' self-management and democratic control of economic institutions within a market socialist economy or some form of a decentralised planned socialist economy.[3] Democratic socialists argue that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the values of freedom, equality and solidarity and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realisation of a socialist society.[4] Although most democratic socialists seek a gradual transition to socialism,[5] democratic socialism can support either revolutionary or reformist politics as means to establish socialism.[4][6] As a term, it was popularised by social democrats who were opposed to the authoritarian socialist development in Russia and elsewhere during the 20th century.[7][8][9][10]

The origins of democratic socialism can be traced to 19th-century utopian socialist thinkers and the British Chartist movement that somewhat differed in their goals 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 for.[11] In the late 19th century and early 20th century, democratic socialism was also influenced by social democracy. The gradualist form of socialism promoted by the British Fabian Society and Eduard Bernstein's evolutionary socialism in Germany influenced the development of democratic socialism.[12][13][14][15] Democratic socialism is what most socialists understand by the concept of socialism.[10] It may be a very broad or more limited concept,[16][17][18] referring to all forms of socialism that are democratic and reject an authoritarian Marxist–Leninist state,[10][19] including libertarian socialism,[20] market socialism,[3] reformist socialism[4] and revolutionary socialism[4][6][21][22] as well as ethical socialism,[23][24][25] liberal socialism,[24][26] social democracy[7][8][9][10][27] and some forms of democratic state socialism[28] and utopian socialism.[11]

Democratic socialism is contrasted to Marxism–Leninism which is viewed as being authoritarian or undemocratic in practice.[10][19][29] Democratic socialists oppose the Stalinist political system and the Soviet-type economic system, rejecting the perceived authoritarian form of governance and the centralised administrative command economy that took form in the Soviet Union and other Marxist–Leninist states during the 20th century.[19] Democratic socialism is also distinguished from Third Way social democracy[30] on the basis that democratic socialists are committed to systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism whereas social democratic supporters of the Third Way were more concerned about challenging the New Right and win social democracy back to power.[31] This has resulted in analysts and critics alike arguing that in effect it endorsed capitalism, even if it was due to recognising that outspoken opposition to capitalism in these circumstances was politically nonviable; and that it was not only anti-socialist and neoliberal, but anti-social democratic in practice.[32][33][34][35][36][37] Others have maintained this was the result of their type of reformism that caused them to administer the system according to capitalist, not socialist, logic[38] while some saw it as a modern form of socialism theoretically fitting with democratic, liberal market socialism, distinguishing it from classical socialism, especially within the United Kingdom.[39]

While having socialism as a long-term goal,[40][41][42][43][44] modern social democrats are more concerned to curb capitalism's excesses and are supportive of progressive reforms to humanise it in the present day.[4][29] In contrast, democratic socialists believe that economic interventionism and other policy reforms aimed at addressing social inequalities and suppressing the economic contradictions of capitalism would only exacerbate the contradictions, causing them to emerge elsewhere under a different guise.[35][45][46][47][48][49][50] Democratic socialists believe the fundamental issues with capitalism are systemic in nature and can only be resolved by replacing the capitalist mode of production with that of socialism, i.e. by replacing private ownership with collective ownership of the means of production and extending democracy to the economic sphere.[4][29][51]



Democratic socialism is defined as having a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled,[52] alongside a democratic political system of government.[1] Democratic socialism rejects self-described socialist states just as it rejects Marxism–Leninism.[4][10][19][29] 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 authoritarian socialism and state socialism.[53] For Hain, this authoritarian/democratic divide is more important than the reformist/revolutionary divide.[20] In democratic socialism, it is the active participation of the population as a whole and workers in particular in the self-management of the economy that characterises socialism while centralised economic planning[54][55] (whether coordinated by an elected government or not) and nationalisation do not represent socialism in itself.[4][10][19][29][56] A similar, more complex argument is made by Nicos Poulantzas.[57] Draper himself used the term revolutionary-democratic socialism as a type of socialism from below in The Two Souls of Socialism, writing that "the leading spokesman in the Second International of a revolutionary-democratic Socialism-from-Below [...] was Rosa Luxemburg, who so emphatically put her faith and hope in the spontaneous struggle of a free working class that the myth-makers invented for her a "theory of spontaneity".[21] Similarly, he wrote about Eugene V. Debs that "Debsian socialism" evoked a tremendous response from the heart of the people, but Debs had no successor as a tribune of revolutionary-democratic socialism".[58]

Democratic socialism has been described as the form of social democracy prior to the displacement of Keynesianism by neoliberalism and monetarism which caused many social democratic parties to adopt the Third Way ideology, accepting capitalism as the current status quo and powers that be, redefining socialism in a way that it maintained the capitalist structure intact.[32][34][35][36][37] As an example, the new version of Clause IV of the New Labour constitution uses the term democratic socialism to describe a modernised form of social democracy.[59][60][61] While affirming a commitment to democratic socialism,[62][63][64] 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".[62] Much like modern social democracy, democratic socialism tends to follow a gradual, reformist or evolutionary path to socialism rather than a revolutionary one,[5][65] a tendency that is captured in the statement of Labour Party revisionist Anthony Crosland, who argued that the socialism of the pre-war world was now becoming increasingly irrelevant.[66][67] 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,[68] Roy Hattersley's Choose Freedom: The Future of Democratic Socialism,[69] Jim Tomlinson's Democratic Socialism and Economic Policy: The Attlee Years, 1945–1951[70] and Donald F. Busky's Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey.[10] A variant of this set of definitions is Joseph Schumpeter's argument set out in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942)[71] that liberal democracies were evolving from liberal capitalism into some form of democratic socialism with the growth of industrial democracy, regulatory institutions and organisational self-management.[72]

Democratic socialism has some degree of significant overlaps on practical policy positions with social democracy,[65][73][74][75][76] although they are often distinguished from each other.[4][29][51][52][73][74][77] Policies commonly supported by democratic socialists are Keynesian in nature, including significant economic regulation alongside a mixed economy, extensive social insurance schemes, generous public pension programs and a gradual expansion of public ownership over strategic industries.[27] Policies such as free universal healthcare and education are described as "pure Socialism" because they are opposed to "the hedonism of capitalist society".[78] Partly because of this overlap, some political commentators occasionally use the terms interchangeably.[65][79][80] One difference is that modern social democrats tend to reject revolutionary means accepted by the more radical socialists.[6] Another difference is that they are mainly concerned with practical reforms within capitalism whereas democratic socialists ultimately want to go beyond mere meliorist reforms and advocate systemic transformation of the mode of production from capitalism to socialism.[4][29][51]

The section of social democracy that remained committed to the gradual abolition of capitalism as well as social democrats opposed to the centrist Third Way merged into democratic socialism.[36] During the late 20th century, these labels were embraced, contested and rejected due to the development within the European left of Eurocommunism between the 1970s and 1980s, the rise of neoliberalism in the mid- to late 1970s, the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and of Marxist–Leninist governments between 1989 and 1992, the rise and fall of the Third Way in the 1990s and 2000s 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, the causes of which were widely attributed to the neoliberal shift and deregulation economic policies. This latest development contributed to the rise of politicians that represent a return to the post-war consensus social democracy such as Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Bernie Sanders in the United States,[81] who assumed the label democratic socialist to describe their rejection of Third Way politicians that supported triangulation within the Labour and Democratic parties such as with New Labour and the New Democrats, respectively.[82][83]

Some Marxian socialists emphasise Karl Marx's belief in democracy[84][85][86] and call themselves democratic socialists.[11] The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the World Socialist Movement define socialism in its classical formulation as a "system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the community".[87] Additionally, they include classlessness, statelessness and the abolition of wage labour as characteristics of a socialist society, characterising it as a stateless, propertyless, post-monetary economy based on calculation in kind, a free association of producers, workplace democracy and free access to goods and services produced solely for use and not for exchange.[88][89][90] Although these characteristics are usually reserved to describe a communist society,[91] this is consistent with Marx, Friedrich Engels and others using the terms socialism and communism interchangeably.[92][93]

As a democratic socialist definition, the political scientist Lyman Tower Sargent proposes the following:

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.[27]

Another example is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), with the organisation defining socialism as a decentralised socially-owned economy and rejecting centralised, Soviet-type economic planning, stating:

Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favour as much decentralisation as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.

Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.[94]

The DSA has been critical of self-described socialist states, arguing that "[j]ust because their bureaucratic elites called them "socialist" did not make it so; they also called their regimes "democratic".[95] While ultimately committed to instituting socialism, the DSA focuses the bulk of its political activities on reforms within capitalism, arguing: "As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people".[96]

Labour Party politician Peter Hain, who identify with libertarian socialism,[20][97] 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.[98]

Tony Benn, another prominent left-wing Labour Party politician,[99][100] 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".[101]

Democratic socialism 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. Robert M. Page, a reader in Democratic Socialism and Social Policy at the University of Birmingham, wrote about transformative democratic socialism to refer to the politics of Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee and its government (a strong welfare state, fiscal redistribution and some degree of 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.[18]

Some tendencies of democratic socialism advocate for revolution in order to transition to socialism, distinguishing it from some forms of social democracy.[4][6][52][102] Democratic socialism can also refer to a version of the Soviet Union model that was reformed in a democratic way. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev described perestroika as building a "new, humane and democratic socialism".[103] Consequently, some former communist parties have rebranded themselves as being democratic socialists.[79][104] This include parties such as The Left in Germany,[105][106] a party succeeding the Party of Democratic Socialism which was itself the legal successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.[107]


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.[3][19]

Democratic socialism is also committed to a decentralised form of economic planning where productive units are integrated into a single organisation and organised on the basis of self-management.[19] Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, both of whom were United States presidential candidates for the Socialist Party of America, understood socialism to be an economic system structured upon production for use and social ownership in place of the for-profit system and private ownership of the means of production.[108][109]

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 hierarchical administrative allocation of resources and commodities and the lack of democracy in the political systems that the Soviet-type economies were combined with.[110]


Democratic socialism involves the entire population controlling the economy through some type of democratic system, with the idea that the means of production are owned and managed by the working class as a whole.[52] The interrelationship between democracy and socialism extends far back into the socialist movement to The Communist Manifesto's emphasis on winning as a first step the "battle of democracy", with Karl Marx writing that democracy is "the road to socialism".[111] Socialist thinkers as diverse as Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg also wrote that democracy is indispensable to the realisation of socialism.[112][113] 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 intersubjective communication between members of a society. Honneth criticises the liberal state and ideology because it assumes that principles of individual liberty and private property are ahistorical and abstract when in fact they evolved from a specific social discourse on human activity. In contrast to liberal individualism, Honneth has emphasised the intersubjective dependence between humans, namely that human well-being depends on recognising others and being recognised by them. With an emphasis on community and solidarity, democratic socialism can be seen as a way of safeguarding this dependency.[114]

Some proponents of market socialism see it as an economic system compatible with the political ideology of democratic socialism.[115] Advocates of market socialism such as Jaroslav Vaněk argue that genuinely free markets are impossible under conditions of private ownership of productive property. Instead, he contends that the class differences and unequal distribution of income and economic power that result from private ownership of industry enable the interests of the dominant class to skew the market in their favour, either in the form of monopoly and market power, or by utilising their wealth and resources to legislate government policies that benefit their specific business interests. Additionally, Vaněk states that workers in a socialist economy based on cooperative and self-managed enterprises have stronger incentives to maximise productivity because they would receive a share of the profits based on the overall performance of their enterprise, in addition to receiving their fixed wage or salary.[116] Many pre-Marxian and proto-socialists were fervent anti-capitalists just as they were supporters of the free market,[117] including the British philosopher Thomas Hodgskin, the French mutualist thinker and anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the American philosophers Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner, among others. Although capitalism has been commonly conflated with the free market, there is a similar laissez-faire economic theory and system associated with socialism called laissez-faire socialism[118][119] to distinguish it from laissez-faire capitalism.[120][121]

One example of this democratic market socialist tendency is mutualism, a democratic and libertarian socialist theory developed by Proudhon in the 18th century, from which individualist anarchism emerged. Benjamin Tucker is one eminent American individualist anarchist, who adopted a left-wing laissez-faire system he termed anarchistic socialism as opposed to state socialism.[122][123] This tradition has been recently associated with contemporary scholars such as Kevin Carson,[124][125] Gary Chartier,[126] Charles W. Johnson,[127] Samuel Edward Konkin III,[128][129] Roderick T. Long,[130][131] Sheldon Richman,[132][133][134] Chris Matthew Sciabarra[135] and Brad Spangler,[136] 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 bourgeois privileges.[137] Referred to as left-wing market anarchists[121] or market-oriented left-libertarians,[134] Proponents of this approach strongly affirm the classical liberal ideas of self-ownership and free markets while maintaining that taken to their logical conclusions these ideas support anti-capitalist, anti-corporatist, anti-hierarchical and pro-labour positions in economics, anti-imperialism in foreign policy and radically progressive views regarding sociocultural issues such as gender, sexuality and race.[121] Echoing the language of these market socialists, they maintain that radical market anarchism should be seen by its proponents and by others as part of the socialist tradition because of its heritage, emancipatory goals and potential and that market anarchists can and should call themselves socialists.[138][139][140] Critics of the free market and laissez-faire as commonly understood argue that socialism is fully compatible with a market economy and that a truly free-market or laissez-faire system would be anti-capitalist and socialist in practice.[118][118]

According to its supporters, this would result in the society as advocated by democratic socialists, when socialism is not understood as state socialism and conflated with self-described socialist states and the free market and laissez-faire are understood to mean as being free from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities.[120][121] This is consistent with the classical economics view that economic rents, i.e. profits generated from a lack of perfect competition, must be reduced or eliminated as much as possible through free competition rather than free from regulation.[141] David McNally, a professor at the University of Houston, has argued in the Marxist tradition that the logic of the market inherently produces inequitable outcomes and leads to unequal exchanges, writing that Adam Smith's moral intent and moral philosophy espousing equal exchange was undermined by the practice of the free market he championed as the development of the market economy involved coercion, exploitation and violence that Smith's moral philosophy could not counteract. McNally criticises market socialists for believing in the possibility of fair markets based on equal exchanges to be achieved by purging parasitical elements from the market economy such as private ownership of the means of production, arguing that market socialism is an oxymoron when socialism is defined as an end to wage labour.[142]


While the term socialism is frequently used to describe socialist states and Soviet-style economies, especially in the United States due to the First and Second Red Scares, democratic socialists use the term socialism to refer to their own tendency that rejects the ideas of authoritarian socialism and state socialism as socialism,[4][10][19][29] regarding them as a form of state capitalism in which the state undertakes commercial economic activity and where the means of production are organised and managed as state-owned enterprises, including the processes of capital accumulation, centralised management and wage labour.[143][144][145] As a result, democratic socialism generally refers to socialists that are opposed to Marxism–Leninism and to social democracy committed to the abolishment of capitalism in favour of socialism and the institution of a post-capitalist economy.[4][10][19][29]

Democratic socialism mainly refers to the anti-Leninist and anti-Stalinist left-wing,[4][10][19][29] especially anti-authoritarian socialism from below,[53] libertarian socialism,[20] market socialism,[3] Marxian socialism[19] and certain left communist and ultra-left tendencies such as councilism and communisation as well as classical and libertarian Marxism.[57][53] It also includes the orthodox Marxism[146] related to Eduard Bernstein,[12] Karl Kautsky[147][148][149] and Rosa Luxemburg.[21] In addition, democratic socialism is related to Eurocommunism, a trend originating between the 1950s and 1980s referring to communist parties that adopted democratic socialism after Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation in 1956, but also that of most communist parties since the 1990s.[79][80] Finally, social democracy is generally classified as a form of democratic socialism.[10][66][67][68][69][70][146]

Social democracy is distinguished between the early and classical trend that supported revolutionary socialism,[150] mainly related to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, but also that of important social democratic politicians and orthodox Marxist thinkers like Kautsky, Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin,[44] including more democratic and libertarian interpretations of Leninism,[151][152][153][154][155] the revisionist trend adopted by Bernstein and other reformist socialist leaders between the 1890s and 1940s,[21] the post-war trend that adopted or endorsed Keynesian welfare capitalism[156][157] as part of a compromise between capitalism and socialism[158] and those opposed to the Third Way.[32][33][34][35][36][37]


Although the term socialism is commonly used to describe Marxism–Leninism and affiliated states and governments, there have also been several anarchist and socialist societies that followed democratic socialist principles, encompassing anti-authoritarian, democratic anti-capitalism.[159] The most notable historical examples are the Paris Commune, the various soviet republics established in the post-World War I period, early Soviet Russia before the abolition of soviet councils by the Bolsheviks, Revolutionary Catalonia as noted by George Orwell[160] and more recently Rojava in northern Syria.[161] Other examples include the kibbutzim in modern-day Israel,[162] Marinaleda in Spain,[163] the Zapatistas of EZLN in Chiapas[164][165] and to some extent the workers' self-management policies within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Cuba.[166] However, the best known example is that of Chile under President Salvador Allende, who was violently overthrown in a military coup funded and backed by the CIA in 1973.[167][168][169][170]

When nationalisation of large industries was relatively widespread during the Keynesian post-war consensus, it was not uncommon for some commentators to describe several 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 and the architect of the National Health Service, disputed the claim that Britain was a socialist state.[171][172] 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.[78]

When the British Labour Party and the French Socialist Party were in power during the post-war period, some commentators claimed that Britain and France were socialist countries and the same claim is now applied to Nordic countries who apply the Nordic model, although the laws of capitalism still operated fully as in the rest of Europe and private enterprise dominated the economy. In the 1980s, the government of President François Mitterrand aimed to expand dirigisme by attempting to nationalise all French banks, but this attempt faced opposition from the European Economic Community which demanded a capitalist free-market economy among its members. Nevertheless, public ownership in France and the United Kingdom during the height of nationalisation in the 1960s and 1970s never accounted for more than 15–20% of capital formation.[173]

The form of socialism practised by parties such as the Singaporean People's Action Party during its first few decades in power was of a pragmatic kind as it was characterised by its rejection of 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 its social policies as evidence of this claim.[174] Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stated that he has been influenced by the democratic socialist British Labour Party.[175]

These confusions and disputes are caused not only by the socialist definition, but by the capitalist definition as well. Although Christian democrats, social liberals, national and social conservatives tend to support social democratic policies and generally see capitalism compatible with a mixed economy, classical liberals, conservative liberals, liberal conservatives, neoliberals and right-libertarians define capitalism as the free market, supporting a small government, laissez-faire capitalist market economy while opposing social democratic policies as well as government regulation and economic interventionism, claiming that actually existing capitalism is corporatism, corporatocracy or crony capitalism.[176][177][178][179]

Socialism has often been erroneously conflated with an administrative command economy, authoritarian socialism, a big government, Marxist–Leninist states, Soviet-type economic planning, state interventionism and state socialism. Austrian School economists such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises continually used the term socialism as a synonym for central planning and state socialism, falsely conflating it with fascism, opposing social democratic policies and the welfare state.[180][181][182] 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.[183][184][185]


19th century

Photograph of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London, 1848

Socialist models and ideas espousing common or public ownership have existed since antiquity, but the first self-conscious socialist movements developed in the 1820s and 1830s. Western European social critics, including Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Louis Blanc, Charles Hall and Henri de Saint-Simon were the first modern socialists who criticised the excessive poverty and inequality generated by the Industrial Revolution. The term was first used in English in the British Cooperative Magazine in 1827 and came to be associated with the followers of the Owen such as the Rochdale Pioneers, who founded the co-operative movement. Owen's followers stressed both participatory democracy and economic socialisation in the form of consumer co-operatives, credit unions and mutual aid societies. In the case of the Owenites, they also overlapped with a number of other working-class movements such as the Chartists in the United Kingdom.[186]

Fenner Brockway identified three early democratic socialist groups during the English Civil War in his book Britain's First Socialists, namely the Levellers, who were pioneers of political democracy and the sovereignty of the people; the Agitators, who were the pioneers of participatory control by the ranks at their workplace; and the Diggers, who were pioneers of communal ownership, cooperation and egalitarianism.[187] The philosophy and tradition of the Diggers and the Levellers was continued in the period described by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class by Jacobin groups like the London Corresponding Society and by polemicists such as Thomas Paine.[188] Their concern for both democracy and social justice marked them out as key precursors of democratic socialism.[189][190][191] Democratic socialism also has its origins in the Revolutions of 1848 and the French Democratic Socialists, although Karl Marx disliked the movement because he viewed it as a party dominated by the middle class and associated to them the word Sozialdemokrat, the first recorded use of the term social democracy.[192]

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.[193] The first advocates of socialism favoured social levelling in order to create a meritocratic or technocratic society based on individual talent as opposed to aristocratic privilege. Saint-Simon is regarded as the first individual to coin the term socialism.[194] 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.[195] 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.[194] The key focus of Saint-Simon's socialism was on administrative efficiency and industrialism and a belief that science was the key to the progress of human civilisation.[196] This was accompanied by a desire to implement a rationally organised economy based on planning and geared towards large-scale scientific progress and material progress, embodying a desire for a more directed or planned economy.[194] The British political philosopher John Stuart Mill also came to advocate a form of economic socialism within a liberal context. In later editions of Principles of Political Economy (1848), Mill would argue that "as far as economic theory was concerned, there is nothing in principle in economic theory that precludes an economic order based on socialist policies".[197][198] Likewise, the American social reformer Henry George[11] and his geoist movement influenced the development of democratic socialism,[199][200][201][202] especially in relation to British socialism[203] and Fabianism,[204] along with Mill and the German historical school of economics.[205] George himself converted George Bernard Shaw to socialism.[206]

James Keir Hardie, an early democratic socialist who founded the British Independent Labour Party

In the United Kingdom, the democratic socialist tradition was represented by William Morris's Socialist League and in the 1880s by the Fabian Society and later the Independent Labour Party founded by Keir Hardie in the 1890s, of which writer George Orwell would later become a prominent member.[207] 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.[208]

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.[209] The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonisation of the British Empire, most notably India and Singapore. Originally, the Fabian Society was committed to the establishment of a socialist economy, alongside a commitment to British imperialism and colonialism as a progressive and modernising force.[210] Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of the fifteen socialist societies affiliated with the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), in Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and the now disbanded League for Social Reconstruction) and in New Zealand. 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.[211] 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.[212] 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".[212]

Eduard Bernstein, a socialist theorist within the German Social Democratic Party who proposed that socialism could be achieved by peaceful means through incremental legislative reforms in democratic societies

In Germany, democratic socialism became a prominent movement at the end of the 19th century, when the Eisenach's Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany merged with Lassalle's General German Workers' Association in 1875 to form the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Reformism arose as an alternative to revolution, with leading social democrat Eduard Bernstein proposing the concept of evolutionary socialism. Revolutionary socialists, encompassing multiple social and political movements that may define revolution differently from one another, quickly targeted the nascent ideology of reformism and Rosa Luxemburg condemned Bernstein's Evolutionary Socialism in her 1900 essay titled Social Reform or Revolution? The Social Democratic Party of Germany became the largest and most powerful socialist party in Europe despite being an illegal organisation until the anti-socialist laws were officially repealed in 1890. In the 1893 federal elections, the party gained about 1,787,000 votes, a quarter of the total votes cast according to Engels. In 1895, the year of his death, Engels highlighted The Communist Manifesto's emphasis on winning as a first step the "battle of democracy".[213]

In his introduction to the 1895 edition of Karl Marx's The Class Struggles in France, Engels attempted to resolve the division between gradualist 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 policies while maintaining his belief that revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat should remain a key goal of the socialist movement. In spite of this attempt by Engels to merge gradualism and revolution, his effort only diluted the distinction of gradualism and revolution and had the effect of strengthening the position of the revisionists. Engels' statements in the French newspaper Le Figaro in which he argued that "revolution" and the "so-called socialist society" were not fixed concepts, but rather constantly changing social phenomena and said that this made "us [socialists] all evolutionists", increased the public perception that Engels was gravitating towards evolutionary socialism. Engels also wrote that it would be "suicidal" to talk about a revolutionary seizure of power at a time when the historical circumstances favoured a parliamentary road to power which he predicted could  happen "as early as 1898".[214]

Engels' stance of openly accepting gradualist, evolutionary and parliamentary tactics while claiming that the historical circumstances did not favour revolution caused confusion among political commentators and the public. Bernstein interpreted this as indicating that Engels was moving towards accepting parliamentary reformist and gradualist stances, but he ignored that Engels' stances were tactical as a response to the particular circumstances at that time and that Engels was still committed to revolutionary socialism. 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.[215] 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.[216]

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 it also sought to establish a socialist government after winning at the ballot box.[217] Democratic socialism continued to flourish in the Socialist Party of America, especially under the leadership of Norman Thomas.[218] The Socialist Party of America was formed in 1901 after a merger between the three-year-old Social Democratic Party of America and disaffected elements of the Socialist Labor Party of America which had split from the main organisation in 1899. The Socialist Party of America was also known at various times in its long history as the Socialist Party of the United States (as early as the 1910s) and Socialist Party USA (as early as 1935, most common in the 1960s), but the official party name remained Socialist Party of America.[219]

Eugene V. Debs twice won over 900,000 votes in the 1912 presidential elections and increased his portion of the popular vote to over 1,000,000 in the 1920 presidential election despite being imprisoned for alleged sedition. The party also elected two Representatives (Victor L. Berger and Meyer London), dozens of state legislators, more than hundred mayors and countless minor officials.[220] In Argentina, the Socialist Party was established in the 1890s, being led by Juan B. Justo and Nicolás Repetto, among others, becoming the first mass party in the country and in Latin America. The party affiliated itself with the Second International.[221] Between 1924 and 1940, it was one of the many socialist party members of the Labour and Socialist International (LSI), the forerunner of the present-day Socialist International.[222] In 1904, Australians elected Chris Watson as the first  Prime Minister from the Australian Labor Party, becoming the first democratic socialist elected into office. The British Labour Party first won seats in the House of Commons in 1902. 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.[223]

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 and the Chilean Socialist Workers' Party. In February 1917, revolution broke out in Russia in which workers, soldiers and peasants established soviets, the monarchy was forced into exile fell and a provisional government was formed until the election of a constituent assembly. Alexander Kerensky, a Russian lawyer and revolutionary, became a key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the February Revolution, 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 Trudovik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, he was also the vice-chairman of the powerful Petrograd Soviet. After failing to sign a peace treaty with the German Empire which led to massive popular unrest against Kerensky's cabinet, his government was overthrown on 7 November by the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin in the October Revolution. Soon after the October Revolution, the Constituent Assembly elected Socialist-Revolutionary leader Victor Chernov as President of a Russian Republic, but it rejected the Bolshevik proposal that endorsed the Soviet decrees on land, peace and workers' control and acknowledged the power of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. As a result, the Bolsheviks declared on the next day that the assembly was elected based on outdated party lists[224] and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets promptly dissolved it.[225][226]

At a conference held on 27 February 1921 in Vienna, parties which did not want to be a part of the Communist International or the resurrected Second International formed the International Working Union of Socialist Parties (IWUSP).[227] The ISC and the IWUSP eventually joined to form the LSI in May 1923 at a meeting held Hamburg.[228] 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-Revolutionary Party,[229] Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and anarchists.[230] Amidst this left-wing discontent, the most large-scale events were the workers' Kronstadt rebellion[231][232][233] and the anarchist led Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine uprising which controlled an area known as the Free Territory.[234][235][236]

In 1922, the 4th World Congress of the Communist International took up the policy of the united front, urging communists to work with rank and file social democrats while remaining critical of their party leaders, whom they criticised for betraying the working class by supporting the war efforts of their respective capitalist classes. For their part, the social democrats pointed to the dislocation and chaos caused by revolution and later the growing authoritarianism of the communist parties after they achieved power. When the Communist Party of Great Britain applied to affiliate with the Labour Party in 1920, it was turned down. On seeing the Soviet Union's growing coercive power in 1923, a dying Lenin stated that Russia had reverted to a "bourgeois tsarist machine [...] barely varnished with socialism".[237] After Lenin's death in January 1924, the communist party, increasingly falling under the control of Joseph Stalin, rejected the theory that socialism could not be built solely in the Soviet Union in favour of the concept of socialism in one country.[238]

In other parts of Europe, many democratic socialist parties were united in the IWUSP in the early 1920s and in the London Bureau in the 1930s, along with many other socialists of different tendencies and ideologies. These socialist internationals sought to steer a centrist course between the revolutionaries and the social democrats of the Second International and the perceived anti-democratic Communist International. In contrast, the social democrats of the Second International were seen as insufficiently socialist and had been compromised by their support for World War I. The key movements within the IWUSP were the Austromarxists and the British Independent Labour Party while the main forces in the London Bureau were the Independent Labour Party and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification.[239][240]

Mid-20th century

After World War II, democratic socialist, labourist 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, the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom. At one point, France claimed the world's most state-controlled capitalist country, starting a period of unprecedented economic growth known as the Trente Glorieuses, part of the post-war economic boom set in motion by the Keynesian consensus. The public utilities and industries nationalised by the French government included Air France, the Bank of France, Charbonnages de France, Électricité de France, Gaz de France and Régie Nationale des Usines Renault.[241]

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 and industries such as mining, gas, coal, electricity, rail, iron, steel and the Bank of England. British Petroleum was officially nationalised in 1951.[242] In 1956, Anthony Crosland stated that at least 25% of British industry was nationalised and that public employees, including those in nationalised industries, constituted a similar proportion of the country's total workforce.[243] The 1964–1970 and 1974–1979 Labour governments strengthened the policy of nationalisation.[244] These Labour governments renationalised steel (British Steel) in 1967 after the Conservatives had privatised it and nationalised car production (British Leyland) in 1976.[245] The 1945–1951 Labour government aso established National Health Service which provided taxpayer-funded health care to Every British citizen, free at the point of use.[246] High-quality housing for the working class was provided in council housing estates and university education became available to every citizen via a school grant system.[247]

During most of the post-war era, democratic socialist, labourist and social democratic parties dominated the political scene and laid the ground to universalistic welfare states in the Nordic countries. For much of the mid- and late 20th century. Sweden was governed by the Swedish Social Democratic Party largely in cooperation with trade unions and industry.[248]

Tage Erlander was the leader of the Social Democratic Party and led the government from 1946 until 1969, an uninterrupted tenure of twenty-three years, one of the longest in any democracy. From 1945 until 1962, the Norwegian Labour Party held an absolute majority in the parliament led by Einar Gerhardsen, who served 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 members of the Social Democrats, the largest and most popular political party in Denmark. 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.[249]

Earlier in the 1950s, popular socialism emerged as a vital current of the left in Nordic countries could be characterised as a democratic socialism in the same vein as it placed itself between communism and social democracy.[250]

In countries like Sweden, the Rehn–Meidner model was adopted by the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the 1940s. This economic model allowed capitalists who owned very productive and efficient firms to retain excess profits at the expense of the firm's workers, exacerbating income inequality and causing workers in these firms to agitate for a better share of the profits in the 1970s. Women working in the state sector also began to assert pressure for better and equal wages.[251][252] In 1976, economist Rudolf Meidner established a study committee that came up with a proposal called the Meidner Plan which entailed the transferring of the excess profits into investment funds controlled by the workers in said efficient firms, with the goal that firms would create further employment and pay workers higher wages in return rather than unduly increasing the wealth of company owners and managers.[253] Capitalists immediately denounced the proposal as socialism and launched an unprecedented opposition and smear campaign against it, threatening to terminate the class compromise established in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement.[254] Prominent Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme identified himself as a democratic socialist.[255]

During India's freedom movement and fight for independence, many figures in the leftist faction of the Indian National Congress organised themselves as the Congress Socialist Party. Their politics and those of the early and intermediate periods of Jayaprakash Narayan's career combined a commitment to the socialist transformation of society with a principled opposition to the one-party authoritarianism they perceived in the Stalinist model.[256][257]

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt by democratic socialists against the Marxist–Leninist government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its dictatorial Stalinist policies of repression, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956.[258][259] 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[260] as well as the revolt in Hungary produced ideological fractures and disagreements within the communist and socialist parties of Western Europe. A split ensued within the Italian Communist Party (PCI), with most ordinary members and the PCI leadership, including Giorgio Napolitano and Palmiro Togliatti, regarding the Hungarian insurgents as counter-revolutionaries as reported in l'Unità, the official PCI newspaper.[261] Giuseppe Di Vittorio (chief of the PCI trade union CGIL) repudiated the leadership position as did the prominent party members Loris Fortuna, Antonio Giolitti and many other influential communist intellectuals who later were expelled or left the party.[262][263] Pietro Nenni, the national secretary of the Italian Socialist Party, a close ally of the PCI, opposed the Soviet intervention as well.[264] Napolitano, elected in 2006 as President of the Italian Republic, wrote in his 2005 political autobiography that he regretted his justification of Soviet action in Hungary and that at the time he believed in party unity and the international leadership of Soviet communism.[265] Within the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), dissent that began with the repudiation of Stalin by John Saville and E. P. Thompson, influential historians and members of the Communist Party Historians Group, culminated in a loss of thousands of party members as events unfolded in Hungary. Peter Fryer, correspondent for the CPGB newspaper The Daily Worker, reported accurately on the violent suppression of the uprising, but his dispatches were heavily censored. Fryer resigned from the paper upon his return and was later expelled from the party.[266] In France, moderates such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie resigned, questioning the policy of supporting Soviet actions by the French Communist Party. The French anarchist philosopher and writer Albert Camus wrote an open letter titled The Blood of the Hungarians, criticising the West's lack of action. Even Jean-Paul Sartre, still a determined party member, criticised the Soviets.[267][268]

In the post-war years, socialism became increasingly influential throughout the so-called Third World after decolonisation. Embracing a new ideology called Third World socialism, countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America often nationalised industries held by foreign owners. In addition, the New Left, a movement composed of activists, educators, agitators and others who sought to implement a broad range of social reforms on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gender roles and drugs,[269] in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on labour unionisation and issues related to class, became prominent in the 1960s and 1970s.[270][271][272] The New Left rejected involvement with the labour movement and Marxism's historical theory of class struggle.[273] In the United States, the New Left was associated with the anti-war and hippie movements as well as the black liberation movements such as the Black Panther Party.[274] While initially formed in opposition to the so-called Old Left of the Democratic Party, groups composing the New Left gradually became central players in the Democratic coalition, culminating in the nomination of the outspoken anti-Vietnam War George McGovern at the Democratic Party primaries[275] for the 1972 United States presidential election.[269]

The protest wave of 1968 represented a worldwide escalation of social conflicts, predominantly characterised by popular rebellions against military dicatorships, capitalists and bureaucratic elites, who responded with an escalation of political repression and authoritarianism. These protests marked a turning point for the civil rights movement in the United States which produced revolutionary movements like the Black Panther Party. The prominent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. organised the Poor People's Campaign to address issues of economic and social justice[276] while personally showing sympathy with democratic socialism.[277] The classic Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society combined a stringent critique of the Stalinist model with calls for a democratic socialist reconstruction of society.[278][279][280][281][282]

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.[283] 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.[284]

Late 20th century

Salvador Allende, President of Chile and member of the Socialist Party of Chile, whose presidency and life were ended by a CIA-backed military coup[285]

In Latin America, liberation theology is a socialist tendency within the Roman Catholic Church that emerged in the 1960s.[286][287] In Chile, Salvador Allende, a physician and candidate for the Socialist Party of Chile, became the first democratically elected Marxist President after presidential elections were held in 1970. However, his government was ousted three years later in a military coup backed by the CIA and the United States government, instituting the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet which lasted until the late 1980s.[288] In addition, Michael Manley, a self-described democratic socialist, served as the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972 to 1980 and from 1989 to 1992. According to opinion polls, he remains one of Jamaica's most popular Prime Ministers since independence.[289]

Eurocommunism became a trend in the 1970s and 1980s in various Western European communist parties which intended to develop a modernised theory and practice of social transformation that was more relevant for a Western European country and less aligned to the influence or control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Outside of Western Europe, it is sometimes referred to as neocommunism.[290] Some communist parties with strong popular support, notably the Italian Communist Party and the Communist Party of Spain, enthusiastically adopted Eurocommunism and the Communist Party of Finland was dominated by Eurocommunists.[291]

In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, the Socialist International had extensive contacts and held discussion with the two powers of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union, regarding the relations between the East and West, along with arms control. Since then, the Socialist International has admitted as member parties the Nicaraguan Sandinista National Liberation Front and the left-wing Puerto Rican Independence Party as well as former communist parties such as the Italian Democratic Party of the Left and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique. The Socialist International aided social democratic parties in re-establishing themselves after right-wing dictatorships were toppled in Portugal and Spain, respectively in 1974 and 1975. Until its 1976 congress in Geneva, the Socialist International had few members outside Europe and no formal involvement with Latin America.[292]

In Greece, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, better known as PASOK, was founded on 3 September 1974 by Andreas Papandreou as a democratic socialist, left-wing nationalist, Venizelist and social democratic[293][294][295] party following the collapse of the military dictatorship of 1967–1974.[296] As a result of the 1981 legislative election, PASOK became Greece's first centre-left party to win a majority in the Hellenic Parliament and the party would later pass several important economic and social reforms that would reshape Greece in the years ahead until its collapse in the 2010s.[297] In the United States, the Social Democrats, USA, an association of reformist social democrats and democratic socialists, was founded in 1972. The Socialist Party of America had stopped running independent presidential candidates and begun reforming itself towards democratic socialism. Consequently, the party's name was changed because it had confused the public. With the name change in place, the Social Democrats, USA clarified its vision to Americans who confused democratic socialism with Marxism–Leninism, harsly opposed by the organisation.[298][299] In 1983, the Democratic Socialists of America was founded as a merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee[300][301][302][303] with the New American Movement,[304] an organization of New Left veterans.[305][306][307] Earlier in 1973, Michael Harrington and Irving Howe formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee which articulated a democratic socialist message[308][309] while a smaller faction associated with peace activist David McReynolds formed the Socialist Party USA.[310] Harrington and the socialist-feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich were elected as the first co-chairs of the organisation[311] which does not stand its own candidates in elections and instead "fights for reforms [...] that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people".[96]

During the 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev intended to move the Soviet Union towards democratic socialism[103] in the form of Nordic-style social democracy, calling it a "socialist beacon for all mankind".[312][313] Prior to its dissolution in 1991, the Soviet Union had the second largest economy in the world after the United States.[314] After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic integration of the Soviet republics was dissolved and industrial activity suffered a substantial decline.[315] The lasting legacy of the Soviet Union remains physical infrastructure created during decades of policies geared towards the construction of heavy industry and widespread environmental destruction.[316] The rapid transition to neoliberal capitalism and privatisation in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc was accompanied by a steep fall in standards of living as poverty, unemployment, income inequality and excess mortality rose sharply. This was further accompanied by the entrenchment of a newly established business oligarchy in the former countries of the Soviet Union.[317][318][319][320][321] The average post-communist country returned to 1989 levels of per-capita GDP only by 2005.[322]

Many social democratic parties, particularly after the Cold War, adopted neoliberal economic policies,[323][324] including austerity, deregulation, financialisation, free trade, privatisation and welfare reforms such as workfare, experiencing a drastic decline in the 2010s after their successes in the 1990s and 2000s[325][326][327][328] in a phenomenon known as Pasokification.[297] They abandoned their pursuit of moderate socialism in favour of economic liberalism.[30][31] This resulted in the rise of more left-wing and democratic socialist parties that rejected neoliberalism and the Third Way.[329][330][331][332] In the United Kingdom, prominent democratic socialists within the Labour Party such as Michael Foot and Tony Benn put forward democratic socialism into an actionable manifesto during the 1970s and 1980s, but this was voted overwhelmingly against in the 1983 general election after Margaret Thatcher's victory in the Falklands War and the Labour Party's manifesto was referred to as "the longest suicide note in history" ever since.[333]

As a result of this shift,[334][335][336] Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock made a public attack against the entryist group Militant[337][338] at the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.[339][340][341] The Labour Party ruled that Militant was ineligible for affiliation with the Labour Party and the party gradually expelled Militant supporters.[342] The Kinnock leadership had refused to support the 1984–1985 miner's strike over pit closures,[343] a decision that the party's left-wing and the National Union of Mineworkers blamed for the strike's eventual defeat.[344] In 1989, the Socialist International adopted a new Declaration of Principles at its 18th congress in Stockholm, Sweden, stating: "Democratic socialism is an international movement for freedom, social justice, and solidarity. Its goal is to achieve a peaceful world where these basic values can be enhanced and where each individual can live a meaningful life with the full development of his or her personality and talents, and with the guarantee of human and civil rights in a democratic framework of society".[345]

In the Labour Party, the term democratic socialist was used historically by those who identified with the tradition represented by the Independent Labour Party, the soft left of non-Marxist socialists such as Michael Foot around the Tribune magazine and some of the hard left in the Campaign Group around Tony Benn.[346][347] The Campaign Group, along with the extra-party Socialist Society (led by Raymond Williams and others) formed the Socialist Movement in 1987 which now produces the magazine Red Pepper.[348][349][350] In the late 1990s, the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair enacted policies based on the liberal market economy with the intention of delivering public services via the private finance initiative. Influential in these policies was the idea of a Third Way which called for a re-evaluation and reduction of welfare state policies.[351] In 1995, the Labour Party re-defined its position on socialism by re-wording Clause IV of their Constitution, effectively removing all references to public, direct worker or municipal ownership of the means of production and now stating: "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".[352]

21st century

In the 21st century, democratic socialism became a synonym in American politics for social democracy due to social democratic policies being adopted by progressive intellectuals such as Herbert Croly[353][354][355] and John Dewey[356][357] as well as liberal politicians such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, causing the New Deal coalition to be the main entity spearheading left-wing reforms of capitalism, rather than by socialists like elsewhere.[358] Despite the long history of overlap between the two, with social democracy considered a form of democratic or parliamentary socialism and social democrats calling themselves democratic socialists,[7][8][9][10] this is considered a misnomer in the United States.[359][360][361][362][363][364] One issue is that social democracy is equated with wealthy countries in the Western world, especially in Northern and Western Europe, while democratic socialism is conflated either with the pink tide in Latin America, especially with Venezuela,[365][366][367][368][369] or with Marxist–Leninist socialism as practised in the Soviet Union and other self-declared socialist states.[370][371][372][373][374][375][376] Democratic socialism has been described as the left-wing[364] or socialist tradition of the New Deal.[377][378]

The Progressive Alliance is a political international organisation founded on 22 May 2013 by left-wing political parties, the majority of which are current or former members of the Socialist International. The organisation states that its aim is becoming the global network of "the progressive, democratic, social-democratic, socialist and labour movement".[379][380]

On 30 November 2018, The Sanders Institute[381] and the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025[382] founded the Progressive International, an international political organisation which unites democratic socialists with labour unionists, progressives and social democrats.[383]


African socialism has been a major ideology around the continent and remains so in the present day.[384] Although affiliated with the Socialist International, the African National Congress (AFC) in South Africa abandoned its socialist ideology after gaining power in 1994 and followed a neoliberal route.[385][386][387][388][389] From 2005 until 2007, the country was wracked by thousands of protests from poor working-class communities. One of these gave rise to a mass democratic socialist movement of shack dwellers called Abahlali baseMjondolo which continues to work for popular people's planning and against the proliferation of capitalism in land and housing[390][391][392] despite experiencing repression at the hands of the police.[393][394][395] In 2013, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country's biggest trade union, voted to withdraw support from the AFC and the South African Communist Party and to form an idnependent socialist party to protect the interests of the working class, resulting in the creation of the United Front.[396]

Other democratic socialist parties in Africa include the Movement of Socialist Democrats, the Congress for the Republic, the Movement of Socialist Democrats and the Democratic Patriots' Unified Party in Tunisia, the Berber Socialism and Revolution Party in Algeria, the Congress of Democrats in Namibia, the National Progressive Unionist Party, the Socialist Party of Egypt, the Workers and Peasants Party, the Workers Democratic Party, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in Egypt and the Socialist Democratic Vanguard Party in Morocco. Democratic socialists played a major role in the Arab Spring of 2011, especially in Egypt and Tunisia.[397][398][399]


North America

In North America, Canada and the United States represent an unusual case in the Western world in that they were not governed by a socialist party at the federal level.[400][401][402] However, the democratic socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), had significant success in provincial Canadian politics.[403][404] In 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first socialist government in North America and its leader Tommy Douglas is known for having spearheaded the adoption of Canada's nationwide system of universal healthcare called Medicare.[405] At the federal level, the NDP was the Official Opposition (2011–2015).[406]

Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, whose presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 has attracted significant support from youth and working class groups while realigning the Democratic Party further to the left

In the United States, Milwaukee has been led by a series of democratic socialist mayors in the early 20th century, namely Frank Zeidler, Emil Seidel and Daniel Hoan.[407][408] In 2016, Bernie Sanders, who was the 37th Mayor of Burlington[409][410][411] and became the first self-described democratic socialist to be elected to the Senate from Vermont in 2006,[412] made a bid for the Democratic Party presidential candidate, thereby gaining considerable popular support, particularly among the younger generation and the working class,[413][414][415] but he ultimately lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, a centrist candidate who was later defeated by Donald Trump.[416] Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist,[417][418][419] announced his intention to run again for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[420]

Since his praise of the Nordic model indicated focus on social democracy as opposed to views involving social ownership,[421][422][423] it has been argued that the term democratic socialism has become a misnomer for social democracy in American politics.[359][360][361][362][363][364] Nonetheless, Sanders has explicitly advocated for some form of public ownership[424] as well as workplace democracy,[425][426][427] an expansion of worker cooperatives[428][429][430][431][432][433][434][435] and the democratisation of the economy.[436][437][438][439][440] Sanders' proposed legislation include worker-owned business,[441] the Workplace Democracy Act,[442] employee ownership as alternative to corporations[443] and a package to encourage employee-owned companies.[444] Called a "decent, honest New Dealer",[445][446][447] Sanders associates Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society as part of the democratic socialist tradition[448][449] and claimed the New Deal's legacy to "take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion".[450][451]

In a 2018 poll conducted by Gallup, a majority of people under the age of 30 in the United States stated that they approve of socialism. 57% of Democratic-leaning voters viewed socialism positively and 47% saw capitalism positively while 71% of Republican-leaning voters who were polled saw capitalism under a positive light and 16% viewed socialism in a positive light.[452] A 2019 YouGov poll found that 7 out of 10 millennials in the United States would vote for a socialist presidential candidate and 36% had a favorable view of communism.[453] An earlier 2019 Harris Poll found that socialism is more popular with women than men, with 55% of women between the ages of 18 and 54 preferring to live in a socialist society while a majority of men surveyed in the poll chose capitalism over socialism.[454]

Although there is no agreement on the meaning of socialism in those polls,[185] there has been a steadily increase of support for progressive reforms such as the United States National Health Care Act[455] to enact universal single-payer healthcare and the Green New Deal.[456][457][458][459] In November 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a democratic socialist organization which advocates progressive reforms that "will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people",[96] were elected to the House of Representatives while eleven DSA candidates were elected to state legislatures.[460]

Latin America
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 attending the World Social Forum for Latin America

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "the attempt by Salvador Allende to unite Marxists and other reformers in a socialist reconstruction of Chile is most representative of the direction that Latin American socialists have taken since the late 20th century. [...] Several socialist (or socialist-leaning) leaders have followed Allende's example in winning election to office in Latin American countries".[461] Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa refer to their political programmes as socialist and Chávez adopted the term socialism of the 21st century. After winning re-election in December 2006, Chávez stated: "Now more than ever, I am obliged to move Venezuela's path towards socialism".[462]

Chávez was re-elected in October 2012 for his third six-year term as President, but he suddenly died in March 2013 from advanced cancer. After Chávez's death, Nicolás Maduro, the Vice President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, assumed the powers and responsibilities of the President on 5 March 2013. A special election was held on 14 April 2013 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 2013.[463] Most democratic socialist scholars and analysts have been sceptical of Latin America's examples. While citing their progressive role, they argue that the appropriate label for these governments is populism rather than socialism due to their authoritarian characteristics and occasional cults of personality.[464][465] On the socialist development in Venezuela, Chávez argued with the second government plan (Plan de la Patria [es]) that "socialism has just begun to implant its internal dynamism among us" whilst acknowledging that "the socio-economic formation that still prevails in Venezuela is capitalist and rentier".[466] This same thesis is defended by Maduro,[467] who acknowledges that he has failed in the development of the productive forces while admitting that "the old model of corrupt and inefficient state capitalism" typical of traditional Venezuelan oil rentism has contradictorily combined with a statist model that "pretends to be a socialist".[468]

The pink tide is a term being used in contemporary 21st-century political analysis in the media and elsewhere to describe the perception that left-wing politics are becoming increasingly influential in Latin America.[469][470][471] The Foro de São Paulo is a conference of leftist political parties and other organisations from Latin America and the Caribbean. It was launched in 1990 by the Brazilian Workers' Party in São Paulo. The Forum of São Paulo was founded in 1990, when the Workers' Party approached other parties and social movements of Latin America and the Caribbean with the objective of debating the new international scenario after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequences of the implementation of what were taken as neoliberal policies adopted at the time by contemporary right-leaning governments in the region, with the stated main objective of the conference being to argue for genuine alternatives to neoliberalism.[472] Among its members, it includes democratic socialist and social democratic parties in the region such as Bolivia's Movement for Socialism, Brazil's Workers' Party, the Ecuadorian PAIS Alliance, the Venezuelan United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the Socialist Party of Chile, the Uruguayan Broad Front, the Nicaraguan Sandinista National Liberation Front and the Salvadoran Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. Former members included the Brazilian Socialist Party and the Popular Socialist Party.[473]

In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement was elected in a landslide victory in the 2018 presidential election.[474] Many of his policy proposals include traditionally labour based and decentralised democratic socialist reforms such as increased social spending, increases in financial aid for students and doubling the pension for the elderly as well as the minimum wage, construction of 100 universities and universal access to public colleges,[475] an amnesty for non-violent drug criminals[476] with the end of the war on drugs and the legalization of some drugs like marijuana,[477] cancellation of the Mexico City New International Airport project surrounded with scandals and environmental irregularities,[478][479] the construction of more oil refineries and a referendum on past energy reforms implemented in 2013 that ended Pemex's 75 year state-own control of the oil company the profits of which represented 18% of the total budget revenues of the public sector,[480] extensive stimulation of the country's agricultural sector, delay of the renegotiation of NAFTA until after the elections[476][481] and slashing politicians' exorbitant salaries and perks[482][483][484] as well as the decentralisation of the executive cabinet by moving some key government departments and agencies from the capital to the states.[485]


In Japan, the Japanese Communist Party (JPC) does not advocate for a violent revolution, instead proposing a parliamentary democratic revolution to achieve "democratic change in politics and the economy".[486] There has been a resurgent interest in the JPC among workers and the Japanese youth due to the financial crises of the late 2000s.[487][488]

After the 2008 general election, the Socialist Party of Malaysia got Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj as its first Member of Parliament.[489]

In the Philippines, the main political party campaigning for democratic socialism is the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party which was founded by Joel Rocamora in January 1998 as a democratic socialist[490] and progressive political party.[491] The Akbayan Citizens' Action Party has consistently won seats in the House of Representatives, with Etta Rosales becoming its first representative. It won its first Senate seat in 2016, when its chairwoman, senator and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Risa Hontiveros was elected.[492]

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.[493] 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.[494]

Other democratic socialist parties in Asia include the National United Party of Afghanistan in Afghanistan, the April Fifth Action in Hong Kong, the All India Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Samta Party and the Sikkim Democratic Front in India, the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon, the Federal Socialist Forum and the Naya Shakti Party in Nepal, the Labor Party in South Korea and the Syrian Democratic People's Party and the Democratic Arab Socialist Union in Syria.[495][496]


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)[497] is employed, with the list being topped by Denmark, where the Social Democrats led their first government in 1924 and governed Denmark for most of the 20th century. The Norwegian Labour Party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party of Finland also led the majority of governments and were the most popular political parties in their respective countries during the 20th century. While not as popular like its counterparts, the Icelandic Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Alliance have also led several governments and have been part of numerous coalitions. This success is at times attributed to the Nordic model in the region, where the aforementioned democratic socialist, labourist and social democratic political parties have dominated the political scene and laid the ground to universalistic welfare states in the 20th century.[498][499] The Nordic countries, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as Greenland and the Faroe Islands, also ranked highest on the metrics of real GDP per capita, economic equality, healthy life expectancy, public health, having someone to count on, education, perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity and human development.[500][501] Countries adopting similar policies have ranked high on indicators such as civil liberties,[502] democracy,[503] press,[504] labour and economic freedoms,[505][506] peace[507] and freedom from corruption.[508] Numerous studies and surveys have indicated that people tend to live happier lives in social democracies and welfare states as opposed to neoliberal and free-market economies.[509][510][511][512]

The objectives of the Party of European Socialists, the European Parliament's social democratic bloc, are now "to pursue international aims in respect of the principles on which the European Union is based, namely principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy, respect of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and respect for the Rule of Law". As a result, today the rallying cry of the French RevolutionLiberté, égalité, fraternité—is promoted as essential socialist values.[513] To the left of the European Socialists at the European level is the Party of the European Left, a political party at the European level and an association of democratic socialist[293] and communist[293] 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.[514]

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[515] popular dissatisfaction with the increasingly neoliberal policies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany after Gerhard Schröder's tenure as Chancellor, becoming the fourth biggest party in parliament in the general election on 27 September 2009.[516] 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%.[517] 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.[518] 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,[519] whose success sent "shock-waves across the EU".[520]

Jeremy Corbyn, 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

In the United Kingdom, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) put forward a slate of candidates in the 2009 European Parliament election under the banner of No to EU – Yes to Democracy, a broad left-wing Eurosceptic, alter-globalisation coalition involving socialist groups such as the Socialist Party, aiming to offer a leftist alternative among Eurosceptics to the anti-immigration and pro-business policies of the UK Independence Party.[521][522][523] In the subsequent 2010 general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, launched in January 2010[524] and backed by Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT, along with other union leaders and the Socialist Party among other socialist groups, stood against the Labour Party in forty constituencies.[525][526] 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.[527] 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.[528][529][530][531] 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.[532] This led some to comment that New Labour is "dead and buried".[533][534][535] In the 2017 general election, Labour increased its share of the vote to 40%, with Labour's 9.6% vote swing being its largest since the 1945 general election. Under Corbyn, Labour achieved a net gain of 30 seats and a hung parliament, but the party remained in Opposition.[536][537][538] In the 2019 general election, Labour's vote share of 32% fell by 7.8% compared with 2017, although it was higher than for the two previous elections,[539] leading to a net loss of 60 seats and leaving it with 202, its fewest since 1935.[540][541][542][543]

In France, Olivier Besancenot, the Revolutionary Communist League candidate in the 2007 presidential election, received 1,498,581 votes (4.08%), double that of the candidate from the French Communist Party candidate.[544] The party abolished itself in 2009 to initiate a broad anti-capitalist movement within a new party called the New Anticapitalist Party, whose stated aim is to "build a new socialist, democratic perspective for the twenty-first century".[545]

In Germany, The Left was founded in 2007 out of a merger of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and the Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG), a breakaway faction from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) which rejected then-SPD leader and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for his Third Way policies.[32][546] These parties adopted policies to appeal to democratic socialists, greens, feminists and pacifists.[547] Former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine has noted that the founding of The Left in Germany has resulted in emulation in other countries, with several Left parties being founded in Greece, Portugal, Netherlands and Syria. Lafontaine claims that a de facto British Left movement exists, identifying the Green Party of England and Wales as holding similar values.[548] Nonetheless, a democratic socialist faction remains within the SPD.[549] The SPD's latest Hamburg Programme (2007) describes democratic socialism as "an order of economy, state and society in which the civil, political, social and economic fundamental rights are guaranteed for all people, all people live a life without exploitation, oppression and violence, that is in social and human security" and as a "vision of a free, just and solidary society", the realisation of which is emphasized as a "permanent task". Social democracy serves as the "principle of action".[550]

On 25 May 2014, the Spanish left-wing party Podemos entered candidates for the 2014 European parliamentary election, some of which were unemployed. In a surprise result, it won 7.98% of the vote and was awarded five seats out of 54[551][552] while the older United Left was the third largest overall force, obtaining 10.03% and five seats, four more than the previous elections.[553] Although losing seats in both the April 2019 and November 2019 general elections, the result of the latter being a failure of negotiations with the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), Podemos reached an agreement with the PSOE for a full four-year coalition government, the first such government since the country's transition to democracy in 1976.[554] Although failing to get the necessary 176 out of 350 majority investiture vote on 5 January 2020,[555] the PSOE–Unidas Podemos coalition government was able to get a simple majority (167–165) on 7 January 2020[556] and the new cabinet was sworn into office the following day.[557]

The government of Portugal established on 26 November 2015 was a left-wing minority government led by Prime Minister António Costa Socialist Party, who succeeded in securing support for the government by the Left Bloc, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Ecologist Party "The Greens".[558] This was largely confirmed in the 2019 legislative election, where the Socialist Party returned to first place, forming another left-wing minority government, this time led only the Socialist Party. Nonetheless, Costa said he would look to continue the confidence-and-supply agreement with the Left Bloc and the Unitary Democratic Coalition.[559]


In Australia, the labourist and socialist movements were gaining traction and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was formed in Barcaldine, Queensland in 1891 by striking pastoral workers. In 1889, a minority government led by the party was formed in Queensland, with Anderson Dawson as the Premier of Queensland, where it was founded and was in power for one week, becoming the world's first government led by democratic socialists. The ALP has been the main driving force for workers' rights and the welfare state in Australia, backed by Australian trade unions, in particular the Australian Workers' Union. Since the end of the Whitlam government, the ALP has moved towards centrist policies and Third Way ideals which are supported by the ALP's Right Faction members while the supporters of democratic socialism and social democracy lie within the ALP's Left Faction. There has been an increase in interest for socialism in recent years, especially among young adults.[560] Interest is strongest in Victoria, where the Victorian Socialists party was founded.[561]

Current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of the democratic socialist[562][563][564] New Zealand Labour Party, who has called capitalism a "blatant failure" due to the extent of homelessness in New Zealand,[565] has been described and identified herself as democratic socialist,[566] although others have disputed this.[567]

In Melanesia, Melanesian socialism was inspired by African socialism and developed in the 1980s. It aims to achieve full independence from Britain and France in Melanesian territories and creation of a Melanesian federal union. It is very popular with the New Caledonia independence movement.[568][569][570]

Parliamentary democratic socialist parties

The following is a list of democratic socialist or partially democratic socialist parties which are currently being represented in the legislature of their country. It does not include democratic socialist parties that are mainly social democratic and are considered to their right within the centre-left.

  •   indicates a governing party, including as junior coalition partner or providing parliamentary support
Party Country Date established % of popular vote
in the latest election
Seats in the legislature
(lower chamber if bicameral)
Sandinista National Liberation Front[571]  Nicaragua 1961 65.86% (2016)
71 / 92 (77%)
PAIS Alliance1[571]  Ecuador 2006 39.07% (2017)
74 / 137 (54%)
Movement for Socialism[571]  Bolivia 1998 47.08 (2019)
67 / 130 (52%)
Broad Front1[572]  Uruguay 1971 40.49% (2019)
42 / 99 (42%)
Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova[573]  Moldova 1997 31.15% (2019)
35 / 101 (35%)
National Unity of Hope1[571]  Guatemala 2002 17.92% (2019)
54 / 160 (34%)
United Socialist Party of Venezuela[571][574][575]  Venezuela 2007 40.92% (2015)
52 / 165 (32%)
Labour Party1[576]  United Kingdom 1900 32.20% (2019)
202 / 650 (31%)
Sinn Féin[577][578]  Northern Ireland 1905 27.90% (2017)
27 / 90 (30%)
Syriza1[579]  Greece 2004 31.53% (2019)
86 / 300 (29%)
Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front[571]  El Salvador 1980 24.54% (2018)
23 / 84 (27%)
Inuit Ataqatigiit[580]  Greenland 1976 25.78% (2018)
8 / 31 (26%)
Sinn Féin[577]  Ireland 1905 24.53% (2020)
37 / 158 (23%)
RETE Movement[581]  San Marino 2012 18.23% (2019)
11 / 60 (18%)
Plaid Cymru1[582][583][584][585]  Wales 1925 20.80% (2016)
10 / 60 (17%)
Left-Green Movement[586]  Iceland 1999 16.89% (2017)
11 / 63 (17%)
Democratic Socialist Left[581]  San Marino 2017 16.49% (2019)
10 / 60 (17%)
Party of Socialists and Democrats1[581]  San Marino 2005 13.13% (2019)
8 / 60 (13%)
Guasú Front[571]  Paraguay 2010 11.83% (2018)
6 / 45 (13%)
Peoples' Democratic Party[587][588]  Turkey 2012 11.70% (2018)
67 / 550 (12%)
Workers' Party1[589][590][591][592][593][594][595]  Brazil 1980 10.30% (2018)
56 / 513 (11%)
Unidas Podemos[596]  Spain 2016 12.86% (2019)
35 / 350 (10%)
The Left[597]  Slovenia 2014 9.33% (2018)
9 / 90 (10%)
The Left[598]  Germany 2007 9.24% (2017)
69 / 709 (10%)
Socialist Party1[599]  Netherlands 1971 9.09% (2017)
14 / 150 (9%)
Socialist Party of Serbia1[600][601]  Serbia 1990 10.95% (2016)
20 / 250 (8%)
Left Alliance[602]  Finland 1990 8.17% (2019)
16 / 200 (8%)
Left Party[603]  Sweden 1917 8.02% (2018)
28 / 349 (8%)
Socialist People's Party[604]  Denmark 1959 7.71% (2019)
14 / 179 (8%)
New Democratic Party1[605]  Canada 1961 15.98% (2019)
24 / 338 (7%)
Red–Green Alliance[604]  Denmark 1989 6.93% (2019)
13 / 179 (7%)
A Just Russia1[606]  Russia 2006 6.34% (2016)
16 / 225 (7%)
Broad Front[607][608]  Peru 2013 6.18% (2020)
9 / 130 (7%)
Socialist Left[609]  Norway 1975 6.02% (2017)
11 / 169 (7%)
La France insoumise[610]  France 2016 11.03% (2017)
17 / 577 (3%)
The Left[611]  Luxembourg 1999 5.48% (2018)
2 / 60 (3%)
MeRA25[579]  Greece 2018 3.44% (2019)
9 / 300 (3%)
Free and Equal1[612]  Italy 2017 3.39% (2018)
14 / 630 (2%)
Movement of Socialist Democrats[613]  Tunisia 1978 1.04% (2019)
1 / 217 (0.5%)
Armenian Revolutionary Federation1[614][615]  Armenia 1890 3.89% (2018)
0 / 132 (0%)
Labourists – Labour Party1[616]  Croatia 2010 0.26% (2016)
0 / 151 (0%)

Notable democratic socialists


Heads of government

Other politicians

Intellectuals and activists

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.[707] In his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), Schumpeter emphasised 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.[708]

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".[709]

Political historian Theodore Draper wrote: "I know of no political group which has resisted totalitarianism in all its guises more steadfastly than democratic socialists".[708]

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.[708]

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.[708]

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].[708]

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".[708]


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.[708] 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".[708] 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".[708]

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'".[708] 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.[708]

See also


  1. ^ a b Busky, Donald F. (20 July 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 7. ISBN 978-0275968861. "Democratic socialism is the wing of the socialist movement that combines a belief in a socially owned economy with that of political democracy."
  2. ^ Abjorensen, Norman (15 June 2019). Historical Dictionary of Democracy. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-5381-2074-3. "Democratic socialism is a broad political ideology that advocates political democray alongside social ownership of the means of production."
  3. ^ a b c d Anderson, Gary L.; Herr, Kathryn G. (2007). Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. SAGE Publications. p. 448. ISBN 978-1-4129-1812-1. "Some have endorsed the concept of market socialism, a post-capitalist economy that retains market competition but socialises the means of production, and in some versions, extends democracy to the workplace. Some hold out for a non-market, participatory economy. All democratic socialists agree on the need for a democratic alternative to capitalism."
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Kurian, George Thomas; Alt, James E.; Chambers, Simone; Garrett, Geoffrey; Levi, Margaret; McClain Paula D. (12 October 2010). The Encyclopedia of Political Science Set. CQ Press. p. 401. ISBN 978-1-9331-1644-0. "Though some democratic socialists reject the revolutionary model and advocate a peaceful transformation to socialism carried out by democratic means, they also reject the social democratic view that capitalist societies can be successfully reformed through extensive state intervention within capitalism. In the view of democratic socialists, capitalism, based on the primacy of private property, generates inherent inequalities of wealth and power and a dominant egoism that are incompatible with the democratic values of freedom, equality, and solidarity. Only a socialist society can fully realise democratic practices. The internal conflicts within capitalism require a transition to socialism. Private property must be superseded by a form of collective ownership."
  5. ^ a b Busky, Donald F. (20 July 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 10. ISBN 978-0275968861. "The majority of democratic socialists are evolutionary socialists—seeking a very gradual transition to socialism, leaving most industries for the time being in the hands of private capitalists."
  6. ^ a b c d Abjorensenp, Norman (15 June 2019). Historical Dictionary of Democracy. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-5381-2074-3. "Democratic socialism can be supportive of either revolutionary or reformist politics as a means to establish socialism, and is distinguished from social democracy by the latter's renounciation of revolution."
  7. ^ a b c Williams, Raymond (1985) [1976]. "Socialism". Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (revised ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 289. ISBN 978-0-1952-0469-8. OCLC 1035920683. The decisive distinction between socialist and communist, as in one sense these terms are now ordinarily used, came with the renaming, in 1918, of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) as the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). From that time on, a distinction of socialist from communist, often with supporting definitions such as social democrat or democratic socialist, became widely current, although it is significant that all communist parties, in line with earlier usage, continued to describe themselves as socialist and dedicated to socialism.
  8. ^ a b c Foley, Michael (1 October 1994). Ideas that Shape Politics. Manchester University Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-7190-3825-9. "The virtual demise of communism [as represented by the Soviet Union and other communist states] has opened up the way for democratic socialism or social democracy as the major alternative to laissez-faire, free market policies."
  9. ^ a b c Eatwell, Roger; Wright, Anthony (1 March 1999). Contemporary Political Ideologies (2nd ed.). Bloomsbury Academic. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-8264-5173-6. "So too with 'democratic socialism', a term coined by its adherents as an act of disassociation from the twentieth-century realities of undemocratic socialism [...]."
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Busky, Donald F. (20 July 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-2759-6886-1. "Sometimes simply called socialism, more often than not, the adjective democratic is added by democratic socialists to attempt to distinguish themselves from Communists who also call themselves socialists. All but communists, or more accurately, Marxist-Leninists, believe that modern-day communism is highly undemocratic and totalitarian in practice, and democratic socialists wish to emphasise by their name that they disagree strongly with the Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism."
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Sargent, Lyman Tower (2008). "The Principles of Democratic Socialism". Contemporary Political Ideologies: A Comparative Analysis (14th ed.). Wadsworth Publishing. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-4955-6939-8.
  12. ^ a b c Bernstein, Eduard (1899). "Evolutionary Socialism". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  13. ^ Cole, Margaret (1961). The Story of Fabian Socialism. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-0091-7.
  14. ^ Thomson, George (1 March 1976). "The Tindemans Report and the European Future" (PDF). Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  15. ^ Steger, Manfred B. (27 March 1997). The Quest for Evolutionary Socialism: Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy. Cambridge, United Kingdom; New York City, United States; Melbourne, Australia: Press Syndicate of the Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-5215-8200-1.
  16. ^ Hamilton, Malcolm (1989). Democratic Socialism in Britain and Sweden. St Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-349-09234-5.
  17. ^ Pierson, Chris (June 2005–August 2006). "Lost property: What the Third Way lacks". Journal of Political Ideologies. 10 (2): 145–163. doi:10.1080/13569310500097265.
  18. ^ a b c d e Page, Robert M. (2007). "Without a Song in their Heart: New Labour, the Welfare State and the Retreat from Democratic Socialism". Journal of Social Policy. 36: 19–37. doi:10.1017/S0047279406000353.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Prychito, David L. (31 July 2002). Markets, Planning, and Democracy: Essays After the Collapse of Communism. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 72. ISBN 978-1840645194. "It is perhaps less clearly understood that advocates of democratic socialism (who are committed to socialism in the above sense but opposed to Stalinist-style command planning) advocate a decentralised socialism, whereby the planning process itself (the integration of all productive units into one huge organisation) would follow the workers' self-management principle."
  20. ^ a b c d e Hain, Peter (1995). Ayes to the Left. Lawrence and Wishart.
  21. ^ a b c d e Draper 1966, "Chapter 7: The "Revisionist" Facade".
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    • 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
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