A common argument against organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America and their tactics is that the concept of “democratic socialism” is redundant because “true socialism is inherently democratic.”
Emphasizing the democratic elements of socialism is not redundant when we are at a phase in the dialectic where we do not have true socialism, nor is the left and working class even in agreement about what “true socialism” is.
We live in a late capitalist phase of what Marx called, “the March of History,” where we see the inevitable power struggle for what socialism means. We live in an era that is still hungover from human rights violations being attached to the word socialism.
First we must address what is “true socialism.” Usually those who argue for what is and is not “true socialism” are arguing that countries such as China or the USSR are not actually socialist, or at least have not been socialist since a certain period of time.
I will state here that while I disagree with the model of socialism birthed by Stalin and Mao, I am not going to split hairs over what is and is not socialism. The socialism of China or the USSR was socialism, but it cannot be denied that democratic centralist models of socialism are authoritarian. It is vital to differentiate authoritarian socialism from socialism that is truly democratic, therefore emphasizing the democratic element of socialism is a must.
Democratic Socialism is not redundant, it is merely a term to emphasize the key component of “true socialism,” and that is democracy.
Some will counter that the term “Democratic Socialism” placates liberals and make them more comfortable with associating with our socialist platforms. This is not the case because liberals have already committed to an ideology and the goal of socialists and especially of democratic socialists is not to reach liberals but to reach the unreached. Groups like Democratic Socialists for Bernie are not trying to reach liberals they are trying to radicalize non voter and the unengaged. A liberal has made up their mind about socialism, a non voting independent has not and those are the people who are the most effected by the tyranny of capitalism, and they are the most ignored by both liberal and conservative capitalist politicians.
So no, Democratic Socialism is not redundant, arguing for what is and is not “true socialism” while doing nothing to activate the disillusioned masses, is.