In today's politically charged environment, there are many labels haphazardly thrown around: communist, conservative, liberal, centrist, fascist, etc. One of the most divisive and commonly misunderstood terms is democratic socialism, which is often lobbed into other categories like communism. The definition of a democratic socialist varies depending on who you ask, or even what country you're from, but if you take the Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A.) as an example, there are a set of basic tenets that most subscribe to: higher minimum wages, universal health care, free education, workers controlling the means of production, and an innate belief in democracy.
One of the trickier aspects of democratic socialism is in the name itself. For example, the U.S.S.R. stood for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but it was just a masked name for communism, which the D.S.A. strictly disavows. Today, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is run by the Communist Party of Vietnam, and Brazil's Social Liberal Party is a far-right-wing organization causing more confusion for democratic socialists around the world.
Democratic socialists can be defined more broadly by a set of policy goals and philosophies regarding work and standards of living. Using the D.S.A.'s definitions, Stacker analyzed numerous examples of democratic socialist policies and politicians in a variety of countries across the globe to help explain and hopefully alleviate the confusion around the terminology.
Here are some examples to help put things into perspective.
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As the new firebrand of the American Left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (referred by many as A.O.C.) identifies as a democratic socialist and has the full backing of the D.S.A. A.O.C. is the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress and follows in the footsteps of longtime democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who also calls for a higher minimum wage, universal health care, and free college tuition. A.O.C. has made waves early by introducing legislation for a Green New Deal, which proposes energy efficiency, better labor standards, free higher education, and health care for all.
One of the most hotly contested models of democratic socialism can be found in Sweden. If you're a right-wing conservative, you can look to Sweden as proof that democratic socialism doesn't work. If you're on the left, you can point to Sweden as a bastion of socialist ideals with universal health care, free education, and vast welfare programs. The truth might lay more in the middle where the Swedes toe the line between social democratic policies, democratic socialism, and capitalism.
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As the leader of the Labour party, the main opposition party in the United Kingdom (U.K.), Jeremy Corbyn is a self-identified democratic socialist who firmly believes in an end to “greed-is-good” capitalism. Corbyn is no stranger to controversy and has been accused of having a number of problematic stances (anti-Semitism for one), but he remains steadfast in his opposition to austerity and support of a national education program and nationalizing energy companies.
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With the 2020 U.S. presidential election around the corner, there is a lot of talk about Medicare for all and/or a single-payer health care system. This democratic socialist tenet is often compared with the single-payer system of America's neighbor to the north. In Canada, health care is mostly free, minus prescription drugs, glasses, and dental care. The health care system is publicly funded and provides care through socialized health insurance plans for every citizen.
One of the best examples of democratic socialist policies can be found in France's child care system. In what was originally created as a system to help draw women back into the workplace, France's child care is known worldwide as one of the best. Parents get cheap day care, tax breaks on in-home care, and free pre-school.
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One of the latest democratic socialist issues making headlines is the idea of a universal basic income (U.B.I.). The basic gist of U.B.I. is to give citizens a cash allowance to ensure they're living above the poverty line. Finland decided to test out U.B.I. with 2,000 citizens from 2016 to 2018, and though most of the results aren't in yet, some of the positives from the test include an uptick in health and well-being, and a lack of stress.
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When pro-democratic socialists want to point to a shining beacon on the hill, Norway is typically that beacon. The Labour Party is the freely democratically elected ruling political party in Norway and employs a number of socialist policies. In this Nordic oasis, workers average fewer hours than Americans, have a higher GDP per capita, and the country has a welfare system that covers health care and education for all its citizens.
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Often pointed to as the boogeyman of all socialist policies, Venezuela's recent political history definitely tells a cautionary tale in many respects. The country is run by the United Socialist Party and headed by Nicolás Maduro. Comparisons to democratic socialism fall apart quickly when you take into account voter suppression and election rigging, which make the country more of a dictatorship than socialist democracy. But the main cause of Venezuela's problems dates back to Maduro's predecessor's regime led by Hugo Chávez. When oil prices in the 2000s were high, Chávez nationalized everything from banking and farming to hospitality and supermarkets. When oil prices dropped, the government was forced to print money, causing inflation to skyrocket and creating the disaster in Venezuela that can be seen today.
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Nicaragua is run by Daniel Ortega, who is the chairman of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and considered to be a democratic socialist. The country has enacted some democratic socialist policies like their Literacy Campaign and their Zero Hunger Project. In spite of its efforts, the country has devolved of late into anti-democratic ways, which has caused it to lose support of the Democratic Socialists of America.
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This might come as a surprise to many people, but America is steeped in democratic socialist policies. Everywhere you look, you'll discover socialist programs in all facets of American life. Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, public schools, minimum wage, the New Deal, the Federal Housing Administration, and more have their roots in democratic socialist ideals.