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The difference between a ‘socialist’ and a ‘Democratic socialist’

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Mark
Lennihan/AP


  • After 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning
    upset against Rep. Joe Crowley in the New York Democratic
    congressional primary in June, the word “socialist” was
    repeatedly used to describe her.
  • “Socialist” remains a dirty, and often misunderstood,
    term in the realm of US politics.

  • In general, socialists believe the government
    should provide a range of basic services to the public, such as
    health care and education, for free or at a significant
    discount.


  • Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected
    to Congress in US history in the 2018 midterms on November
    6. 


After 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s
stunning upset
against Rep. Joe Crowley in the New York
Democratic congressional primary in June, the word “socialist”
was repeatedly used to describe her.

Ocasio-Cortez became the
youngest woman elected to Congress in US history
in the 2018
midterms on November 6. 

She’s a registered member of the Democratic Socialists of America
(DSA) and is a self-described socialist. 


Read more:
Diversity wins: All the people who made history in the 2018
midterm elections

“Socialist” remains a dirty, and often misunderstood, term in the
realm of US politics. The Cold War, in which animosity and
paranoia toward the Soviet Union was pervasive in the US, is
largely to thank for that. 

But what does it mean to be a socialist versus a Democratic
socialist, and is there even a difference? 

What is socialism? It depends on who you’re talking to. 

A socialist, in the traditional sense, is an adherent of
socialism. 

Socialism can be defined
as
a system of social organization in which private
property and the distribution of income are subject to social
control.” 

In other words, it’s a state-controlled economy in which
the state controls the means of production (factories, offices,
resources, and firms). There are also forms of socialism in which
the means of production are controlled and owned by
workers. 

From an academic standpoint, there’s an ongoing debate
about what socialism really is.

“The academic debates about socialism’s ‘meaning’ are huge
and arcane and rife with disagreements, but what all definitions
have in common is either the elimination of the market or its
strict containment,” Frances Fox Piven, a political scientist at
the City University of New York and a former DSA board member,

told Vox
.

What do socialists believe in? 

In general, socialists believe the government should
provide a range of basic services to the public, such as health
care and education,
for free or at a significant discount
.

In the present day, “Democratic socialist” and “socialist”
are often treated as interchangeable terms, which can be
confusing given Democratic socialists don’t necessarily think the
government should immediately take control of all aspects of the
economy.

They do, however, generally believe the government should
help provide for people’s most basic needs and help all people
have an equal chance at achieving success. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s
platform
, for example, calls for Medicare for all,
tuition-free college, and treats housing as a right.

Democratic socialists are committed to democracy

Democratic socialists also believe strongly in democracy and
democratic principles. They are by no means proponents of
authoritarian government systems many Americans associate
socialism with. 

As the DSA’s website
states
: “At the root of our socialism is a profound
commitment to democracy, as means and end. 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.”

To put it another way, they don’t feel socialism should be
forced on people, but they are fundamentally anti-capitalist and
believe the government should urge privately owned businesses
toward granting workers as much control as possible. 

The DSA and Democratic socialists like Ocasio-Cortez place
a great deal of emphasis on social justice in conjunction with
pushing for an economy that’s largely controlled by
workers. 

The DSA supports reforms that would decrease the influence
of money in politics, empower ordinary people in workplaces and
the economy, and restructure gender and cultural relationships to
be more equitable, according to its website.

To put this into context, Ocasio-Cortez’s platform calls
for an end to the 
war on drugs, the demilitarization
of police departments, and the abolishment of for-profit
prisons. 

Here’s how Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared Democratic
socialist, defined it
in a 2006 interview
: “I think [democratic socialism] means
the government has got to play a very important role in making
sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have
healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of
income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without
going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large
corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment;
that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big
money interest.”

“I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly,” Sanders added.
“That’s all it means.” 

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