Democratic socialism is a left-wing political philosophy that supports 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 an alternative 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 reformist transition to socialism, democratic socialism can support revolutionary politics as means to establish socialism. As a term, democratic socialism was popularised by socialists who were opposed to the authoritarian backsliding towards a one party state in the Soviet Union and other nations during the 20th century.
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The origins of democratic socialism can be traced back to 19th-century utopian socialist thinkers and the British Chartist movement, which somewhat differed in their goals, but shared a common demand of democratic decision making and public ownership of the means of production, and viewed these as fundamental characteristics of the society they advocated for. In the late 19th to the early 20th century, democratic socialism was also heavily influenced by the gradualist form of socialism promoted by the British Fabian Society and Eduard Bernstein's evolutionary socialism. Democratic socialism is a broad label and movement, which includes forms of libertarian socialism, market socialism, reformist socialism and revolutionary socialism as well as ethical socialism and several forms of state socialism and utopian socialism.
Democratic socialism is contrasted with Marxism–Leninism, which is often perceived as being authoritarian and undemocratic in practice. Democratic socialists oppose the Stalinist political system and the Soviet-type economic system, rejecting the 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 social democracy on the basis that democratic socialists are committed to a systemic transformation of the economy from capitalism to socialism, whereas social democrats are concerned with reforming and humanizing capitalism through the framework of a welfare state. This has resulted in analysts and democratic socialist critics alike arguing that in effect, social democracy has endorsed capitalism. Many commentators have stated that this was the result of their type of reformism that caused them to administer the system according to capitalist logic.
While having socialism as a long-term goal, some moderate democratic socialists are more concerned about curbing capitalism's excesses, and are supportive of progressive reforms to humanise it in the present day, while 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 through the replacement of 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 is focused on 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, Sweden, et al.