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Democratic socialism is a political philosophy supporting political democracy within a socially owned economy, with a particular emphasis on economic democracy, workplace democracy and workers' self-management within a market socialist economy or some form of a decentralised planned socialist economy. Democratic socialists argue that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the values of freedom, equality and solidarity and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realisation of a socialist society. Although most democratic socialists seek a gradual transition to socialism, democratic socialism can support either revolutionary or reformist politics as means to establish socialism. As a term, democratic socialism was popularised by social democrats and other socialists who were opposed to the authoritarian socialist development in Russia and elsewhere during the 20th century.
The origins of democratic socialism can be traced to 19th-century utopian socialist thinkers and the British Chartist movement that somewhat differed in their goals yet all shared the essence of democratic decision making and public ownership of the means of production as positive characteristics of the society they advocated for. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, democratic socialism was also influenced by social democracy. The gradualist form of socialism promoted by the British Fabian Society and Eduard Bernstein's evolutionary socialism in Germany influenced the development of democratic socialism. Democratic socialism is what most socialists understand by the concept of socialism. It may be a very broad or more limited concept, referring to all forms of socialism that are democratic and reject an authoritarian Marxist–Leninist state. Democratic socialism is a broad label and movement that includes forms of libertarian socialism, market socialism, reformist socialism and revolutionary socialism as well as ethical socialism, liberal socialism, social democracy and some forms of state socialism and utopian socialism.
Democratic socialism is contrasted to Marxism–Leninism which those socialists perceive as being authoritarian or undemocratic in practice. Democratic socialists oppose the Stalinist political system and the Soviet-type economic system, rejecting the perceived authoritarian form of governance and the centralised administrative-command system that formed in the Soviet Union and other Marxist–Leninist states during the 20th century. Democratic socialism is also distinguished from Third Way social democracy on the basis that democratic socialists are committed to systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism whereas social-democratic supporters of the Third Way were more concerned about challenging the New Right to win social democracy back to power. This has resulted in analysts and democratic socialist critics alike arguing that in effect it endorsed capitalism, even if it was due to recognising that outspoken anti-capitalism in these circumstances was politically nonviable, or that it was not only anti-socialist and neoliberal, but anti-social democratic in practice. Some maintain this was the result of their type of reformism that caused them to administer the system according to capitalist logic while others saw it as a liberal and modern form of democratic socialism theoretically fitting within market socialism, distinguishing it from classical democratic socialism, especially in the United Kingdom.
While having socialism as a long-term goal, some democratic socialists who follow social democracy are more concerned to curb capitalism's excesses and supportive of progressive reforms to humanise it in the present day. In contrast, other democratic socialists believe that economic interventionism and similar policy reforms aimed at addressing social inequalities and suppressing the economic contradictions of capitalism would only exacerbate the contradictions, causing them to emerge elsewhere under a different guise. Those democratic socialists believe that the fundamental issues with capitalism are systemic in nature and can only be resolved by replacing the capitalist mode of production with the socialist mode of production, i.e. replacing private ownership with collective ownership of the means of production and extending democracy to the economic sphere in the form of industrial democracy. The main criticism of democratic socialism concerns the compatibility of democracy and socialism. Academics, political commentators and other scholars tend to distinguish between authoritarian socialism and democratic socialism as a political ideology, with the first representing the Soviet Bloc and the latter representing the democratic socialist parties in the Western Bloc countries that have been democratically elected in countries such as Britain, France and Sweden, among others.
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