The Difference Between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy

Many people do not understand the difference between Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism, so let me explain:

The difference is that Democratic Socialism ultimately aims at transcending capitalism, and their methodology of doing so is by implementing social democracy to build up the momentum and coalitions in the populace necessary to make that ultimate jump.

Social Democrats are exactly the same EXCEPT they don’t have any desire to make that last jump to socialism. They are fine with letting capitalism be the economic engine, and just redistributing wealth via progressive taxation. The problem with social democracy, though, is that they hitch their wagon to the capitalist system, and when it fails, social democracy fails.

In practice, though, they have historically amounted to the same exact thing. The moment a social democracy makes the jump to socialism, then we can talk about the efficacy of Democratic Socialism, until then, Democratic Socialists have the burden of trying to explain why they haven’t achieved socialism throughout history.

In the same way that Marxism-Leninism tends to devolve into various forms of authoritarianism and stay there, Democratic Socialism tends to devolve into social democracy and stay there.

I am not opposed to building up social democracy in the U.S., to do so would represent a huge material gain for working people within the country. But radicals must always keep in mind that social democracy depends on capitalism, and capitalism in America inevitably takes the form of imperialism. Therefore, any social democracy that we build here will be invariably tied to the violent domination and exploitation of our brothers and sisters in poorer countries, mostly in the global south. Additionally, capitalism, in its rabidly endless pursuit of profits and growth, will always end up harming the environment, polluting the oceans, and perpetuating Climate Change.

Social democracy (and Democratic Socialism insofar as it virtually always means social democracy in practice) depends on capitalism, imperialism, and environmental degradation. Therefore it is, at best, a step in the right direction; but never an end-point in and of itself. Democratic Socialists would do themselves a favor by realizing this and taking a more radical stance against capitalism itself, which entails pointed criticism of social democracy. Social democrats would do themselves a favor by realizing that capitalism is not sustainable, and any gains made under the capitalist system can always be rolled back when they become inconvenient for the plutocratic ruling class.

The clock is ticking, our oceans are dying, human beings are suffering, and the global ruling elite are hoarding more and more of the wealth and resources for themselves.

We need Leftists, not liberals.
We need anti-capitalists, not compromises.
We need radicals, not reformists.

The future depends on it.


2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy

  1. Mckenneth says:

    There is one thing i dont understand about supporters of any kind of socialism, especially here in the USA. They are against big business, large corporations that run monopolies and create vast amounts of income by taking advantage of their shareholders, clients, and environment. This makes sense and is fairly agreeable on by everyone. However, any kind of socialism calls for government owned or regulated private business sectors. Everything from education to healthcare is a business. What I dont understand is, since the government, especially the US governemnt, is the currently the largest and most powerful corporation in the world, how can people trust the government over smaller companies??? Isnt it fair to say that as the larger a copany becomes, the more prone to corruption, fraud, and poor management it is?. Look at what precentage of employees actually contribute to the well being of a company in a startup vs a large corporation. I believe socialism works pretty well on a small scale. Most businesses are in fact internally socialist. They distribute the income among employees fairly and provide them with equal benefits. However, this works because they can hire and fire empployees based on their contribution to the company. However, when the company gets larger, it becomes harder to monitor each person’s contribution. If you look at the US government as a company, and each citizen as a contributing employee, it becomes impossible to hire or fire anyone on the basis of their contribution. And as we know, this is what usually causes large business collapse and go bankrupt.

    • Mckenneth, fair questions, and important ones.

      I would start off by asserting that what most Americans are taught about socialism is false, and stems from the Cold War era, where socialism was defined soley in terms of government tyranny.

      IN reality, socialism is an umbrella term encompassing many ideologies. There are some that favor a big government, like Marxist-leninism, and that is what happened in the Soviet Union, for example. There were gains and there were mistakes, but very few socialists want to use that model today.

      On the other end of the socialist spectrum, where I tend to be, are anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, where instead of the State owning the means of production and all the companies, they are instead run democratically by the workers themselves. Additionally, community resources like banks, water and electrical utilities, and energy corporations would be owned democratically by the local community, as opposed the a highly centralized State apparatus.

      In capitalist America, the government and the big banks and multinational corporations all collude together, and therefore our government is run in the interest of the ruling class; the owning class.

      In a socialist system, the government would no longer operate in that context, and with some new constitutional drafts, amendments, corruption laws, and decentralized federations of democratic power, we can alter the context to such an extent that many of the problems we see today with large states would cease to exist.

      Again, this is a very very large conversation, with tons of nuance and differing opinions. Ive tried to sketch the vague outline of what form of socialism I advocate here. I hope it sheds some light on your concerns.

      I run a political page on Facebook called “Socialism, Anarchism, and Communism”. You can always check that page out for more discussion. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

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