Misconceptions of Democratic Socialism


One of the most referenced moments from President Trump’s 2019 State of The Union Address was his statement on socialism (often accompanied by the reaction of Bernie Sanders). Trump said:

“We are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence – not government coercion, domination, and control.”

He then followed with, “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

Socialism, as defined by both advocates and critics alike, is the collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. Democratic socialists, according to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), believe that “both the economy and society should be run democratically — to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.”

What’s interesting is that the DSA, at least on their website, is unapologetically socialist. They advocate for socialism, but believe that a lack of democracy is the reason socialism failed in the past. The DSA are fully committed to the “not real socialism” excuse for failed nations like the USSR and today’s Venezuela. They see the obvious problem with corruption and dictatorship, and think that democracy is the solution.

Rather than attempting to separate democratic socialism from regular socialism, organizations like the DSA fully embrace socialism as a core component of their ideology, merely adding democracy alongside it.

This goes against the more “mainstream” view of democratic socialism pushed by left-leaning media networks and politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Mainstream democratic socialists argue that what they advocate for is less like Venezuela and more like Scandinavia, often referring to it as “Nordic socialism.”

There are issues with this mainstream view. For one, Scandinavian socialism is a myth. These countries are capitalist with large welfare states and government regulation. Granted, many of the government policies in countries like Norway and Denmark operate using the same underlying logic as socialism. And the countless number of economic regulations prevents anyone of sound mind from saying they have a free market.

But even with all of the government (mis)management, Scandinavian countries still operate with an economy that is, at its very core, capitalist. Companies are still run privately for profit, and still compete with one another within the market. And according to the Prime Minister of Denmark, “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.” While it may not be a laissez faire libertarian paradise, it is not a socialist system. And this is something that democratic socialists too often ignore.

Secondly, as has already been pointed out, organizations like the DSA aren’t for regulated capitalism. They are strongly anti-capitalist, and proud of it.

So no, despite what lefty college students might claim, democratic socialism is not some kind of socialism-lite.

Why has this misconception of democratic socialism become so popular? In any other circumstance, we would never fall for such a scheme. “No, that’s not what we’re about at all. We’re not fascists, we’re democratic fascists. It’s not bad because people can vote for it.”

What’s worrisome is that the rise of democratic socialism has been somewhat successful. Democrats in the United States now view socialism more favorably than capitalism. According to Gallup, 57% of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, while only 47% have a positive view of capitalism. The former statistic has slightly increased from 53% in 2010, while the latter has dropped from 53% since 2010. Republican views of capitalism and socialism are relatively unchanged. Even though that’s only a slight change among one of the major U.S. parties over eight years, it’s still a trend in the wrong direction.

As people warm to the idea of democratic socialism, the desire for socialism and opposition to capitalism will grow. Socialism, democratic or otherwise, remains an increasing threat to all free and peace-loving people of the world.

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Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. He also publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]

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