Social Democracy vs. Socialism

If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past… well, year, really, then you have probably seen the word “socialism” (and maybe even “communism”) come up a lot, especially leading up to the 2020 Presidential election this past November. Maybe you don’t know what exactly it means, or why it’s being used to label politicians like President Joe Biden, which… if you’re familiar with his political history, then that confusion is 100% warranted, to be honest. 

The truth is a lot of people mix up social democracy and socialism. Whether it’s deliberate, in order to manipulate people who are ill-informed on political matters into blindly agreeing with them, or completely accidental because they themselves are ill-informed, I really don’t know at this point. All I can do is tell you a little bit about the two philosophies and why they are very much different from each other. 

Social democracy is literally just democracy, and capitalism, with an emphasis on social issues and curbing inequality. Socialism, on the other hand, is a lack of capitalism entirely. No, money doesn’t just not exist in a capitalism-free society. The workers who make the products just make the money earned from said products.

To put it simply, social democracy may be viewed as a “stepping stone” to socialism, with the transition to socialism acting as a long-term but not the immediate goal to some, but not the same thing as socialism. Similarly, socialism may be viewed as a “stepping stone” to communism, but not the same thing as communism. 

graffiti Photo by Mike Erskine from Unsplash

Now, maybe you don’t personally agree with any of these philosophies. Maybe you are firmly on the side of capitalism. That’s up to you, and I’m not interested in changing your opinion. You have to admit, though, that these two specific ideologies, social democracy and socialism, are very different from each other. They’re viewed as “devil terms.” I tend to think they’re just woefully misunderstood concepts. 

Wait, but then why are people like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who refer to themselves as democratic socialists, commonly called socialists and communists, you may ask? 

Also… hold up now! Does the United States not engage in some of what a specific group of people likes to call “socialism” from time to time? I mean, social security? Socialism. Those stimulus checks many of us have received during this pandemic, two of which were distributed during Donald Trump’s presidency? Socialism!

Why is it okay when people like Donald Trump call for “socialism” but not AOC? Why isn’t he called a socialist? Could it be that a lot of the people who bring up socialism don’t actually know what they’re talking about? Nooo, that’s preposterous. 

people in front of white concrete building holding Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona from Unsplash

The fact of the matter is you can’t bring social issues into politics and then get mad when people use the word “social” in reference to their political beliefs. That’s not how it works. 

Some people spend their whole lives studying these concepts, so it’s understandable if you’re still confused, or even more confused than you were before you started reading this. I still have a lot of learning to do myself. If you’re interested in learning more, though, there is so much information I could attach below, but here is just one video you can watch as a starting point.