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On “Democratic Socialism”

Summary:
1.0 Introduction This post is about some usages of the phrase "democratic socialism". 2.0 Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) In the context of current American politics, I think the most salient usage today of this phrase is associated with Bernie Sanders' campaign and with the Democratic Socialists of America. DSA was founded in 1982 when the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) merged with the New American Movement (NAM). The DSOC was established with Michael Harrington leading others out of the Socialist Party (SP) (Gorman 1995: p. 144-145). Apparently, 500 people attended the DSOC founding convention in 1973 (Harrington 1988: 17). Michael Harrington will forever be known for The Other America. In this book, he deliberately did not use the word "socialism". And

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1.0 Introduction

This post is about some usages of the phrase "democratic socialism".

2.0 Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)

In the context of current American politics, I think the most salient usage today of this phrase is associated with Bernie Sanders' campaign and with the Democratic Socialists of America.

DSA was founded in 1982 when the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) merged with the New American Movement (NAM). The DSOC was established with Michael Harrington leading others out of the Socialist Party (SP) (Gorman 1995: p. 144-145). Apparently, 500 people attended the DSOC founding convention in 1973 (Harrington 1988: 17).

Michael Harrington will forever be known for The Other America. In this book, he deliberately did not use the word "socialism". And this book had some influence on the policies of Kennedy and Johnson and the latter's war on poverty. He also was something of a theorist. The Twilight of Capitalist is an attempt to apply a tradition of an "underground" Marxism to the conjuncture of 1970s "late capitalism". Harrington mentions Rosa Luxemburg, George Lukacs, Karl Korsch, the Frankfurt school, and Antonio Gramsci, for example, as well as more current thinkers. Hegel and dialectics are important to how Harrington understood Marx.

Some of the left want to establish a political party for the working class and saw that the Democratic party is not such a party. So they think they should have their own party. DSA is and DSOC was the opposite of that. DSA can be said to be openly pursuing a strategy of entryism. The goal is to influence the Democrats from within.

3.0 An Older Usage

But the term goes back much further than these movements in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. "Democratic socialism" was used in English, in the United States, in the 1950s and early 1960s, by scholars discussing the "revisionism" of Eduard Bernstein.

I turn to the Second International shortly before 1900. As I understand it, a literal translation of the leading socialist party was something like the "Social Democratic Party of Germany" (SPD). I do not want to read much into the phrase "social democratic" here. At the time, Georgi Plekhanov and Vladimir Lenin were in the Russian Social Democratic Party.

In 1899, Engel's literary heir, Eduard Bernstein published a book. The Preconditions of Socialism and the Task of Social Democracy is a literal translation of its title, I guess. The book built on articles he published earlier in Die Neue Zeit. "The final goal is nothing to me, the movement is everything" is a well-known pithy statement from Berstein. He argued for pursuing reforms, supporting trade unions, and a parliamentary party on the foundation of universal suffrage.

Rosa Luxemburg saw a chance here to raise her profile in the socialist movement. Her response, Reform or Revolution, is another classic.

I have always thought of Karl Kautsky as a politician trying to keep advocates of all these tendencies within a single party. His grandson (Kautsky 1994) argues he was consistent, from the time that Lenin hailed him as the leader of the orthodoxy to the time Lenin called him a renegade. Here is a quote from the later time:

"For us... Socialism without democracy is unthinkable. We understand by modern Socialism not merely social organisation of production, but democratic organisation of society as well. Accordingly, Socialism is for us inseparably connected with democracy. No Socialism without democracy." -- Karl Kautsky, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1918), as quoted in Kautsky (1994).

By the way, John Kautsky tells of running into college students who were surprised that his granddad's first name was Karl; they thought somehow or other it was "Renegade"

Around 1900, splits and disagreements between more and less radical factions in socialist parties were an international phenomenon. In France, the syndicalist Georges Sorel was a radical and Jean Jaurès was more reformist. The Russians split in 1903, between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. I gather a large part of the Menshevik faction walked out of the party congress, leaving the Bolsheviks the ability to call themselves the "majority", even though they were a minority of the party.

I skip forward any number of years. Maybe half of Sidney Hook's 1955 book is short selections from others. His reading number 54 is excerpted from a statement "adopted by the Socialist International at Frankfurt-on-Main, Germany, 1951." And it is entitled, "The aims and tasks of democratic socialism".

I think of Sidney Hook as an exemplar of an advocate of social democracy. I guess this section argues that the distinction between social democracy and democratic socialism was, at one time, not clear.

References
  • Eduard Bernstein. 1961. Evolutionary Socialism: The Classic Statement of Democratic Socialism (trans. by Edith C. Harvey). Schocken.
  • Peter Gay. 1952. The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism. Columbia University Press.
  • Robert A. Gorman. 1995. Michael Harrington: Speaking American. Routledge.
  • Michael Harrington. 1962. The Other America: Poverty in the United States.
  • Michael Harrington. 1976. The Twilight of Capitalism. Simon and Schuster.
  • Michael Harrington. 1988. The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography. Henry Holt.
  • Sidney Hook. 1955. Marx and the Marxists. D. Van Nostrand.
  • Maurice Isserman. 2001. The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington.
  • John H. Kautsky. 1994. Karl Kautsky: Marxism, Revolution & Democracy. Transaction Publishers.

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