What Is Democratic Socialism? Whose Version Are We Talking About?

Ultimately, though, Sweden isn’t what democratic socialists like Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine, a quarterly socialist journal, are looking for. “We come from the same tradition,” he said of democratic socialists and social democrats. But generally, he added, social democrats see a role for private capital in their ideal system, and democratic socialists do not.

In countries that have multiple leftist parties, these distinctions are commonly understood. In the United States, they aren’t.

Because a binary view of “liberals” and “conservatives” dominates American politics, ideologies to the left of mainstream Democrats tend to get lumped together — which often means the left conflates democratic socialism and social democracy, and the right casts all of it as socialism or communism.

“Here in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” President Trump said in his State of the Union address this year. “Tonight, we resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

Mr. Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist, but when asked on Tuesday how he defined that, he described something closer to social democracy.

“What democratic socialism essentially means to me is completing the vision that Franklin Delano Roosevelt started some 85 years ago, and that is to go forward in the wealthiest country in the history of the world and guarantee a decent economic standard of living in life for all of our people,” he said. “And to do that, obviously we have to combat oligarchy and the incredibly unfair and unequal distribution of wealth and income, and to take on the incredible political power that the 1 percent have.”

The policies Mr. Sanders supports — like single-payer health care, free public college, and higher taxes on the wealthy to fund safety-net programs — are also standard in social democracies.

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