Democratic socialism combines the political philosophy of democracy with the economic philosophy of socialism. The term can refer to a range of political and economic organizational schemes. On one end, democratic socialism may combine a democratic national political system with a national economy based on socialist principles. On the other end, democratic socialism may refer to a system that uses democratic principles to organize workers in a firm or community (for example, in worker cooperatives).
The term is used by socialist movements and organizations to emphasize the democratic character of their political orientation. Democratic socialism contrasts with political movements that resort to authoritarian means to achieve a transition to socialism. Rather than focus on central planning, democratic socialism advocates the immediate creation of decentralized economic democracy from the grassroots level—undertaken by and for the working class itself. Specifically, it is a term used to distinguish between socialists who favor a grassroots-level, spontaneous revolution (referred to as gradualism) from those socialists who favor Leninism (organized revolution instigated and directed by an overarching vanguard party that operates on the basis of democratic centralism).
The term has also been used by various historians to describe the ideal of economic socialism in an established political democracy. Democratic socialism became a prominent movement at the end of the 19th century. In the United States, Eugene V. Debs, one of the most famous American socialists, led a movement centered around democratic socialism. Debs made five bids for president: once in 1900 as candidate of the Social Democratic Party and then four more times on the ticket of the Socialist Party of America. In Britain, the democratic socialist tradition was represented historically by William Morris's Socialist League and, in the 1880s, by the Fabian Society.