When today’s most prominent democratic socialists are asked to explain their ideology, they tend to skimp on the substantial structural questions and lean on paeans to dignity, generosity, and equality. Sanders has defined democratic socialism as “the understanding that all of our people live in security and dignity” and “a government and an economy and a society which works for all.” Ocasio-Cortez defines it as “democratic participation in our economic dignity.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that democratic socialism, reduced to a set of pleasant-sounding buzzwords and some proposals to give more people free stuff, is having a moment.
And what a moment it is. “When Harrington died in 1989,” The Nation observes, “his organization hadn’t grown much beyond the 6,000 aging members it had had at its founding.” After a quarter-century, the members were even more aged and little else had changed. The DSA’s official magazine, Democratic Left, had 6,700 subscribers in 2016.
A year later, in the wake of Sanders’ first presidential campaign, the magazine had more than 28,000 paid subscribers. By 2018, it had 46,000. The organization now claims about 50,000 members. Many of them are concentrated in New York City, but DSA chapters can be found in 180 towns across the country.