In general, a label for any person or group who advocates the pursuit of socialism by democratic means. Used especially by parliamentary socialists who put parliamentarism ahead of socialism, and therefore oppose revolutionary action against democratically elected governments. Less ambiguous than social democracy, which has had, historically, the opposite meanings of factions of Marxism, and groupings on the right of socialist parties.
Some early 1800 century radicals such as Thomas Paine influenced early Socialist Democratic works. The term "socialist" was first used in English in the British Cooperative Magazine in 1827 and came to be associated with the followers of Robert Owen, such as the Rochdale Pioneers who founded the co-operative movement. Owen's followers again stressed both participatory democracy and economic socialisation, in the form of consumer co-operatives, credit unions and mutual aid societies. The Chartists similarly combined a working class politics with a call for greater democracy.
Democratic socialism became a prominent movement at the end of the nineteenth century. In the US, Eugene V Debs he is one of the most famous American socialists, and led a movement centered around democratic socialism and made five bids for President.
In Britain, the democratic socialist tradition was represented in particular by the William Morris' Socialist League in the 1880s and by the Independent Labour Party.
Today Democratic Socialists and Social Democrats coexist in the same party in many nations. Democratic Socialists tend to be even more left wing than Social Democrats. The international forum for both is the Socialist International. This seems to be changing however and many Democratic Socialists in the EU Paraliment are in a different group than the Social Democrats, instead they join with reform Communists in the Party of European Left.
Clement Attlee is often described as a Democratic Socialist, along with Eugene Debs. Some Democratic Socialists are now leaving some Social Democratic parties such as the British labour party due to a shift towards the center in the party.
Notable Democratic Socialists
Most democratic socialists typically advocate a mixed economy with generous welfare provision, and re-distribution of wealth. People or groups who describe themselves as democratic socialists, are generally further to the left and more radical than the more moderate social democrats.
Many people see Scandinavian countries such as Sweden as a model of democratic socialism.
In contrast, other definitions of democratic socialism sharply distinguish it from social democracy. Peter Hain, for example, classes democratic socialism, along with libertarian socialism, as a form of anti-authoritarian "socialism from below" (using the term popularized by Hal Draper), in contrast to Stalinism and Social Democracy, variants of authoritarian state socialism. For Hain, this democratic/authoritarian divide is more important than the revolutionary/reformist divide. In this definition, it is the active participation of the population as a whole, and workers in particular, in the management of economy that characterises democratic socialism, while nationalisation and economic planning (whether controlled by an elected government or not) are characteristic of state socialism.