Democratic Socialists Or Just Plain Socialists? Here Is The Difference

difference between socialism and democratic socialism

2018 is proving to be the year of the rise of Democratic Socialists.

Since Donald Trump has entered office, upward of twenty-four thousand millennials have joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA.) DSA is currently the largest socialist organization in the United States, and with millennials self-identifying as democratic socialists, it is no wonder that so many of my generation are flocking to join DSA chapters across the nation. This combined with political figures running and winning on socialist platforms like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who is set to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, has a lot of people asking themselves, “What exactly is Democratic Socialism and is it the same as Socialism?”

In short, no it is not the same as socialism. A brief breakdown.


Socialism (not to be confused with democratic socialism) is an economic system where everyone in society equally owns the factors of production. This equates to everyone in society getting a portion of the production, based directly on how much they have contributed. To break that down further, socialism is essentially the belief that a group of people can work together for the benefit of all members of that society.

That being said, socialism seems to be a major trigger word for many as of late. In addition to this, a lot of you may have noticed that the term socialism is often being used interchangeably with the term communism. To be very clear, socialism is not the same as communism. Socialism is not about how much government controls, but rather the belief that its people should control and share its resources.

difference between socialism and democratic socialism

Democratic Socialism

So how is democratic socialism any different from plain ol’ socialism? For starters, democratic socialists do not want a society where the people control all factors of production (socialism) or even the government for that matter (communism). Democratic socialists still believe in capitalism, but want a more balanced economy that enacts socialist principles through the use of the democratic process.

This leads us to our next point. Why are so many millennial’s flocking to democratic socialism? Currently, in the United States, the top 1/10th of the top 1 percent wealthiest people own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The U.S has CEO’s that make three hundred times more than what their workers make yet are unable to provide their workers a living wage or offer adequate benefits. It is for this reason, along with the inability to afford healthcare, high student loan debt, and the lack of access to higher education that has so many millennials flocking to the principles of democratic socialism.

It is also important to point out that the United States does not have a purely capitalist society, but more of a mixed economy like most Western countries. Despite what a lot of people think,  we already have aspects of socialism in our country.  Medicare, free public education K-12, the postal service, the VA, and public infrastructure are all examples of socialist principles that we have adopted.

Despite all of this we have seen a lot of fear-mongering as of late regarding democratic socialism. Those on the right of the political spectrum would have a lot of people believe that democratic socialists are calling for a society that just wants free stuff for everyone. In more extreme examples, they would also have you believe that our society would look like Venezuela if we were to take up socialism, or that democratic socialists want to overthrow our capitalist society and impose a socialist one.

difference between socialism and democratic socialism

Generational Disconnect

What we have here is a generational disconnect. Most millennials hear socialism and think social security, healthcare, affordable college, affordable housing. All things that many believe to be a basic human right. On the flip side, the older generation hears the term socialist and thinks Cold War.

Recently Megan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain went on a tirade against democratic socialism. However, McCain gets a few things wrong while trying to steamroll her co-hosts. The first being, she asks to name one country where socialism has worked. For that, we can look at Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands to name a few.

Finland, for example, does not allow privatized schools and has a free higher education that has resulted in a 99 percent graduation rate as opposed to the U.S who has an 83 percent graduation rate. Just a little embarrassing for a country that claims to be number one in a lot of things including education.

These countries not only have higher graduation rates, they have a higher life expectancy than those in the U.S, as well as lower poverty rates. Denmark, for example, has a poverty rate of 5.5 percent. The U.S, on the other hand, has a poverty rate of 17.8 percent.

McCain also uses Venezuela as an example of failed socialism. What she forgets to mention is that Venezuela is a petro-state that is under economic duress due to a combination of foreign attacks, sanctions, and coups that all play a factor in the destabilization of their country.

Lastly, McCain says “If you think the government is good at spending money, look at the VA.” Here she fails to give the situation context and skips over the facts that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and many other socialist institutions in our country are currently struggling due to the same tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and hurt the middle class.

Whether you agree with the values of democratic socialism or not, the successes that other countries have had with enacting some of the same socialistic policies democratic socialists are calling for is undeniable. We have a new generation that is very politically active and wants to decide for themselves what the future of our government should look like.

If Ocasio-Cortez’ defeat over Rep. Joseph Crowley is a testament to anything, it is that millennials want to be heard. They want fully funded public schools and universities, Medicare, justice system reform, immigration justice, and affordable housing. The very first step to making these policies a reality is understanding the difference between socialism and democratic socialism and how the latter can help our country. Not harm it.

About Stephanie Vargas

Stephanie Vargas is a local activist based in Upstate NY. She graduated from Niagara University with a B.A in International Relations and Political Science. She is currently a foster parent and hopes to one day adopt and run her own nonprofit organization that helps those affected by human trafficking.
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