Why does the U.S. left-wing party hate being called "socialist", but in France the left-wing party proudly calls itself "the Socialist Party"?

  • Why does the main left-wing party in the United States (the Democratic Party) hate being called "socialist", but in France the main left-wing party proudly calls itself "the Socialist Party"?

    I'm not aware that the 'left wing' as a whole 'hates' being called 'socialist' in the US...though many would point out that the word is being used incorrectly much of the time when used in the US.

    @DA. you are correct there are a few small parties with socialism in their name, but they are very much a tiny minority. With that said, parties aren't people, and people aren't parties. But political parties, particularly successful ones, are pragmatic.

    Probably because the word "socialist" has gotten a bad connotation in the states. For example if you hate affordable health care you call it "socialized medicine".

    There's also the issue that the Democratic Party isn't socialist. It's at best aligned with social democracy, but I'd hardly call it leftwing socialism, especially compared to European socialist parties.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    Please note everybody: I'm being merciless with the "nuke the chatter in comments." That's why we have chat rooms!

    There is at least one US political party claiming to be socialist, Socialist Action: http://socialistaction.org/ It's a far-left trotskyst party similar to the French NPA (New Anticapitalist Party).

    Even aside from cultural differences between countries, this question makes it sound like all left wing parties have the same policies. But "left" and "right" aren't doors into two rooms, one with all left wing people and the other with the right wing people. People can be a little bit left/right or a lot left/right, or have left views on one issue but right views on another issue.

    By the way, in France the Socialist Party is by no means left-wing.

    This question should be rewritten to clarify what is meant by "left wing" because that term, and the supposed opposite "right wing" have taken on so many meanings. The questioner and the current top answer can't even agree on whether the Democrats are "left wing".

    Funny how I answered the question, and now I cannot :)

    They don't ....

  • There are many in the United States who lack a basic understanding of Socialism in even a few of its many forms. The most damning indictment is when a person uses Communism, Nazism, and Socialism as though they are synonyms. It would be lost on them to attempt to explain nuances between Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism.

    There are numerous programs in place here in the United States that are clearly Socialist. Most will probably object to something, if only to opine that the program isn't structured properly, but only the most ardent proponents of Objectivism, Minarchism, and Anarcho-capitalism would object to Socialism in all forms.

    I've listed but a few programs below.

    CDC, FDA, Farm Subsidies, Fire Departments, Infrastructure, Libraries, Medicaid, Medicare, National Weather Service, OSHA, Public Museums, Public Parks, Public Schools, Public Transit, Public Utilities, Public Zoos, Unemployment Insurance, Vaccines


    Many parties of all political stripes probably could be chided for a lack of clarity in their names. The two predominate parties in the U.S.--the Democratic Party and the Republican Party--specific two components of our system of government, which is a constitutional republic with democratically elected representatives. It isn't very intuitive to one that the Democratic Party is center left and the Republican Party is center right.

    On the matter of parties bearing the name socialist, in France and other European democracies, one could observe the inconsistency over the issue of healthcare. 33 out of 34 OECD nations, most of which are in Europe, have some form of universal or single payer healthcare. This is derided as socialist here in the U.S. The Swiss system bears some resemblance to some aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka ObamaCare; however, it is true universal healthcare, unlike ACA here in the U.S.

    Mainstream center right parties in European parliaments are in support of their respective universal healthcare systems, but most would eschew the term socialist.

    There is good discussion here that would be preserved much better if done in chat!

    Ruined by a failure to even mention federalism (whether by name or not). When you say no one objects to socialism in all forms, you give examples which are primarily local, which is disingenuous considering most opposition is specifically to socialism implemented at a national level.

    @BenVoigt most of the programs I cited were federal. Some are locally managed but federally funded with federal guidelines.

    Social-democratic programs are not socialist programs.

    Alleges Americans do not understand socialism. Subsequently fails to make a distinction between socialism, social-democracy, welfare (which unemployment INSURANCE isn't even), and simply public offices for specific functions like the Centre for Disease Control. Well... you're right, they don't get it. Since when were zoos the means of production, exactly?

    @inappropriateCode regarding unemployment insurance, for example Germany has a model where you primarily insure against temporary job loss. That gives you 1 year of your wage in case you lose a job. But it also insures you (and everyone else) for a longer term unemployment called Hartz IV, which _is_ welfare state.

    @antipattern That's interesting! Insurance isn't essentially the same as welfare though, if you see my point; though insurance can be provided as welfare. I think that's a fairly obvious distinctions which is often missed because of the work of ideologues to simplify complexity to fit their narrative. Americans politics especially has become a bit too language-as-politics.

  • Because US Democratic party is not left wing, it's just slightly more to the left than extremely right wing Republican party.

    This is an important point, one that is worth expanding. The ideology of the Democratic Party is closer to that of European Centre-Right parties like the UK Conservative Party and the German CDU than it is to the European Centre-Left, like the UK Labour Party and the French Parti Socialiste.

    In fact, on many issues the UK Conservative Party is to the LEFT of the Democratic Party; think, at random, of gun-control, national health service, and campaign financing.

    Others have raised a related hypothetical: with whom would the US parties caucus if they were in the European Parliament? If the Democratic Party linked with the Conservative Party and the CDU in the EPP,where they belong ideologically, then the Republicans would find themselves with the HARD-right nationalsts in the ECR (not the FAR-right extremists in the EFD.) I apologize for the flurry of acronyms; I'm just trying to keep it short.

    All a matter of perspective, this answer would be improved by comparing what "left" and "right" mean in USA vs Europe without using words such as "extremely". It would be equally correct to point out that European "centrist" and "conservative" parties are barely to the right of extremely left-wing socialist parties in the same countries... and equally unhelpful.

    I agree with most of this except that the Republicans would be left alone here in Europe. The Hard right nationalists here do not have a similar sort of agenda as the Republican party has.

    @CountIblis, Yup the Republicans are super hardcore neo-liberalists, pre-Trump populism (we don't know the complete program so clearly this cycle) basically unacceptable to almost every voter. The Democrats are now so neo-liberal, the Republicans swerved left to grab all the furious voters, so they are becoming more like the European nationalists. The more they do, the more they just might win. Otherwise if they revert to pre 16 form, they will unquestioningly lose, being neo-liberalism with a scowl... vs neo-liberalism with a smile.

    @CountIblis You are correct. A problem with both the question and the answer is that "left" and "right" have such different meanings between Europe and America. Even within America the words are not well defined.

    The Republican Party is simply one, two or three decades less "progressive" (if you want to call it that) than the Democratic Party. Just look at modern history. Changes proposed by Democrats were often later implemented by Republicans. Much later. Both are not left at all. Given the "definitions" I'd state that a lot of words seem to have acquired meanings in the US which are wildly different from their original meaning, be it communism (which has "lost" despite having never been implemented in the first place) or football. The world and the US: divided by a common language.

  • Other answers have commented on the US side of the question but I am not sure that France's Parti Socialiste “proudly” calls itself socialist. In fact, the prime minister (who presently comes from this party) floated the idea of changing its name less than a month ago.

    In any case, most European centre-left parties have kept their traditional name (“Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands”, “Parti Socialiste”…) independently of any ideological changes or their position on a left-right axis. So in Switzerland or Belgium you have a “parti du travail”, which is a small far-left party and a “party socialiste” which is a mainstream centre-left party. In the Netherlands, it's the opposite, the Partij van de Arbeid (“Labour party”) is a mainstream social-democratic party and the Socialistische Partij is a far-left protest party (it used to be a fringe group but recently had some electoral success).

    In fact, in many cases, the changes have been so thorough that the name is basically all that's left. Whether you welcome those changes or not, the name really does not matter so much. In France, the Socialist Party has been in power several times, its platform is decidedly moderate, the party big-whigs are all career politicians coming from the same schools than other politicians. The voters know that and nobody would make the mistake of thinking that this party aims at upsetting the current regime in any way (by contrast, when Mitterrand came to power in 1981, the party had some radical proposals, the Soviet Union still existed and some people had a genuine fear of some sort of revolution).

    It also seems that the main dividing line between left and right in France is now based on social issues like gay marriage and not so much on economic policy. Both main parties basically manage the economy in a centrist and EU-agreeable way while trying to please special interests or not to annoy their main constituencies too much. Recently, right-wing politicians seem loath to debate the economy in detail because they don't really have any concrete plan on how to do things differently than the current nominally “socialist” government.

    Incidentally, the proposal to change the name was met with a backlash. The left-wing of the party had to swallow a lot but they would not contemplate that.

    To complement this excellent answer, we could say that, in France, there is also a Communist Party (left-wing reformist, currently in bad condition), an Anti-Capitalist Party (far left-wing, more or less revolutionary, quite small but active in medias), and a party called "Left-wing party" (mostly composed of former member of the left-wing of the Socialist Party).

    @Taladris - to summarize this excellent answer AND your comment, one must quote Monty Python. Popular Front of Judea and all that

    Socialist movements in France have contributed to establish fundamental workers rights such as unions, paid leaves, pensions etc... thus increasing quality of life for the people. The French are generally proud of this legacy and the modern socialist party has done well to reuse this branding to its advantage, even though it is mostly socialist in name.

    @Taladris It's rather the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA = Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste): http://npa2009.org/

    "-that the name is basically all that's left" ... Clever. Very clever.

  • This could be traced back to the Cold War era, when socialism and the USSR was the mortal enemy of the US. Any party nowadays wouldn't want to associate themselves with the old enemy.

    Also for most people, 'socialism' strongly recalls in their memory the crimes committed by the various socialist proclaimed regimes around the world.

    The same countries proclaimed being "Democratic", i.e. th. German Democatric Republic, yet the word Democracy has not taken the same stain. It seems people understand that the "Democracy" was a clear lie, but are not willing to understand the same for the "Socialism".

    @gerrit because the German Democatric Republic wasn't democratic but it WAS quite socialist.

    @ColinZwanziger That depends on how one defines socialism and who one asks. Some communists hold that it was "state capitalist" rather than socialist.

    @gerrit "state capitalist" hahahaha. Socialism was not a lie, eastern block countries were implementing socialism.

    @Tlen Not sure what is amusing here. It would be reasonable to argue the means of production in the Soviet Union and other nominally "socialist" states were controlled by the state (through the new ruling class, the nomenklatura), rather than by the workers. Perhaps Yugoslavia came closest to socialism with its worker cooperatives. Would you really argue it is *not* a lie to say the workers controlled the means of production in the Soviet Union?

    Officially workers through communist party did control means of productions. In reality socialism is a big lie and is impossible to implement in practice.

    @Tlen 4 hours you ago you said it was not a lie, and now you say it is. Which one is it?

    Socialism was an official system in those countries and officially all the means of productions were controlled by the people though democratically elected representative and workers party. That's true. However saying that one person in 300 millions citizens have any influence on the way the means of productions are controlled in nonsense. Someone is always making decisions on behalf of the so called workers.

    @gerrit good one! Your remark seems to suggest that Germany's current _repräsentative Demokratie_ (representative democracy) is any less of a lie. But it's neither representative nor particularly democratic. Besides, in the US one hears the term communism used much more than socialism to discredit opponents and there seems to be no awareness about the distinction. However, when properly used as "realexistierender Sozialismus" this becomes a whole different matter. Because this term has been coined to distinguish theory (the promise) from practice (the lie). So in that sense you're right.

  • In early 20th century America, communism was viewed as a threat to the "American way of life." Socialism was viewed as simply a variation of communism.

    At the time, there were Communist and Socialist Parties. Many of the members of these groups were what many Americans viewed as undesirables (i.e. immigrants, Jews and the poor). Many Americans began equating Socialism (in it's many forms) with Undesirables. A good example is the case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Two Italian immigrants accused of being members of a group who robbed the pay role of a shoe factory and killed several guards. Even though the case offered no evidence that they were involved and the defense had witnesses that they were far removed from the crime scene at the time they were both convicted simply because they were members of the American Socialist Party and handed out flyers.


    This anti-socialist propaganda came to a head during the McCarthy hearings of 1954. Although the hearings were directed against the American Communist Party, Americans tended to group all the differing ideologies into a generality. To be socialist/communist became equivalent to being "anti-American."


    Today, if a politician mentions the word Socialism in a positive light, they run a high risk of losing their next election or being thrown out of office.

    Glenn's book Dreamers & Deceivers covers this story. A rare book collector bought a lot that contained a letters from Upton Sinclair who had conversations with Sacco & Vanzetti's attorney, "They were guilty."

    @user1873 - Glenn Beck? If that's the best source you can find....

  • While perhaps diminished largely in practice since the 1930s, the notion of individual freedom has played an enormous role in the American psyche ever since the American Revolution. This tradition in American history can not be easily overstated. Anything that they view as autocratic in nature will immediately be met with suspicion by most Americans. Since socialism necessarily involves less personal freedom, it is immediately met with distrust. This distrust for socialism increased dramatically after WWII as the U.S. entered the Cold War against Communism in general and fought Communism in actual wars in Korea and Vietnam. Thus, the word 'socialism' gets associated with two things that are viewed very negatively in the U.S.: lack of individual freedom and Communism.

    In a roundabout way, this is a pretty good answer: because Americans confuse Socialism and Communism.

    Some do. Others know the difference but associate them anyway, since socialism is an integral part of Communism.

    But anyone that knows the latter should understand the association is distant enough not to confuse the two. I don't think those folks are as big of an issue as the former (those that don't understand the difference)

    "and fought Communism in actual wars in Korea and Vietnam" Last I recall, America's problem in Vietnam was to mistake nationalism for communism. A mistake which it often made, and is often repeated, but is no less of a mistake.

    @Reirab and some *deliberately* associate them because it suits their purposes to pretend socialism and communism are identical, because nothing riles up their back base so well as implying that the socialist commie democrats are coming for their paychecks and guns...

  • Very simple: socialism suffers from an advertising deficiency that it does not have in France. Years of concentrated Conservative smear tactics have poisoned the word socialism in America, even at a time when the general ideas of socialism are gaining more and more traction.

    The term socialism means so many different things depending on who you ask. North Korea and Cuba are not socialist countries. Venezuela honestly aspires to be, imo, but it fails miserably at it and ends up being the same boring brand of autocratic dictatorship you have in Cuba and North Korea.

    The Democratic Party is a left wing organisation that was opposed to socialism entirely on it's own for reasons that had little to do with "conservative smear tactics." LBJ and JFK were not conservatives but still opposed various forms of socialism, even to the point of waging a land war in Vietnam

  • The word "socialism" has a negative connotation in the U.S., whereas it does not (or to a much lesser extent) in France. Even though they are quite different concepts, socialism invokes a lot of negative feelings from the Cold War just because of the similarity in pronunciation.

    I don't think the association has anything to do with their pronunciation. I think it's much more due to the fact that they are related concepts. Specifically, socialism is an integral part of communism. Communism is the most extreme example of socialism that has been implemented on a large scale.

  • American public opinion has different focus than French. In France so called 'French Revolutions' is still being celebrated, even though number of atrocities were committed, including the first modern genocide (war in Vandee). French were always looking at the crimes committed by socialists in Eastern Europe from Sartre'a perspective. According to him, all crimes were justified, because socialists were fighting for a better world.

    It seems that people in Europe are not able to associate the failures of India and China economies prior to 1990s with their socialists politics. They would even deny that socialists ever ruled India (vide Nehruvian socialism).

    In America socialism is more closely associated with its true meaning (means of production owned or control by the whole society), while in Europe it is associated with social security.

    "It seems that the people of Europe are not able to associate the failures of completely different countries with completely different policies with their own policies".

    Nehru was attracted by Fabianism of George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Web. Attending the lectures of John Maynard Keynes and Bertrand Russell oin Cambridge. In 1936 Nehru said "I am convinced that the only key to the solution of the world’s problems and of India’s problems lies in socialism". India is a poor country because of socialism and people in Europe don't understand it.

    So someone once attended a lecture therefore *conclusions*? Seems awfully tenuous to me.

    Nehru was implementing Fabianism in India. He was influence by socialists, he said that the socialism was the solution for India. He was a head of socialist party. "I know nothing about history of India or Nehru, but he was not a socialist" - it is your approach. It proofs the point I was making in the answer. People in Europe don't realize that socialism was a failure everywhere. India was always a great civilization, for the most of the history on pair with Europe. Indians in USA are the highest earning minority group. They are not inferior, socialism is.

  • I will keep it short since most people answered the semantics.

    Just because they are both considered "left-wing" parties, doesn't mean they aren't different. By assuming they both would be the same, would be to assume that both are the same in every way. Even by saying left/right wing would indicate that there are only 2 (main) parties and must think a certain way.

    It's just a mix of cultures, histories, and stigma.

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