Difference between Socialism and Democratic Socialism


Difference between Socialism and Democratic Socialism

As with most things differences comes down to a matter of perspective, behaviors and who is defining the idea. It will be important first to look at what is considered “Socialism” and a more modern “Democratic Socialism.”


If we look at the definition of socialism, that is the dictionary definition:

A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community.

If you ask a conservative they would say “Socialism” is another form of “Communism.”  Conservatives would say it is out dated. Conservatism consider capitalism to be the modernized and best way for societies to prosper and people to flourish.

When we look at Socialism these are some key points:

General Concept:

Individuals should have access to what they need but are also rewarded based on their contribution to society. Large scale industry and public services should be communally or government owned and managed to ensure the benefits flow to society.

Ownership of Property

Individuals own their personal goods like clothes or homes, but means of production and most land would be public and communal ownership.

Freedom of Choice

Individuals have freedom to make decisions that impact them alone, but wide scale issues like health care and education are collectively are driven by communal consensus and what is best for society.

Economic Principles

Collective decision making in the market place will ensure that everyone has what they need and that decisions are made in the best interests of society.

Individuals who work harder and smarter can benefit more, but those that do not will still have their basic needs addressed.

When we look at Democratic Socialism these are some key points:

Again, perspective and who is defining Democratic Socialism will determine how people might understand this relatively modern ideology. 

When we say modern, the term Social Democracy or Democratic Socialism has been recently popularized by the recent election in the US and Bernie Sanders referring to himself as a “Democratic Socialist.”  So what is “Democratic Socialism.” 

Some would argue, primarily Bernie Sanders that one of the more famous Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Democratic Socialist and points to the “New Deal” as well as the ideas of Martin Luther King.

In very simplistic terms, paraphrasing from A. J. Elwood, Democratic Socialism:

  • Work together to ensure social equality and to improve one another’s lives.
  • Reject the exploitation of all peoples and uphold the principles of equality.
  • Value the environment and use our natural resources in a sustainable manner.
  • Ensure free and open elections, where each citizen has a voice and a vested interest in his or her government.
  • Provide free education to all to ensure equal opportunity and the free flow of ideas, opinions, and information.
  • Protect and assist the disadvantaged using surplus from both public and privately owned enterprise.
  • Deliver quality health care to all citizens, regardless of their needs or socio-economic status.

When we look at Bernie Sanders, FDR and MLK’s version of socialism is it very different than that of that of Latin-American Socialism (Venezuela) where business and utilities are seized and nationalized. 

It is also very different than the Chinese of Soviet-style socialism (Ok- Communism) where much of the economy is centrally controlled and the rights of individuals not respected and various human rights abuses.

Many point to the governments of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Canada as models of Democratic Socialist forms of governments, yet the inclusion of a market economy. 

This, by many today, is the more modern and successful version of Democratic Socialism: A balance between the traditional socialist and the eccentric philanthropic capitalist.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments