Authoritarian socialism

Authoritarian socialism, or socialism from above,[1] is an economic and political system supporting some form of socialist economics while rejecting political liberalism. As a term, it refers to a set of economic-political systems describing themselves as socialist and rejecting the liberal democratic concepts of multi-party politics, freedom of assembly, habeas corpus and freedom of expression, whether due to fear of the counter-revolution or as an end in itself. Several countries, most notably the Soviet Union, China and their allies, have been described by journalists and scholars as authoritarian socialist states.[2][3][4]

Opposed to the anti-authoritarian, anti-statist and libertarian wing of the socialist movement, authoritarian socialism also encompasses some forms of African,[5][6] Arab[7] and Latin American socialism. Although considered an authoritarian or illiberal form of state socialism, often referred to and conflated as socialism by right-wing critics and argued as a form of state capitalism by left-wing critics. these states were ideologically Marxist–Leninist and declared themselves to be workers' and peasants' or people's democracies.[8]

Political roots

Socialism from above

Authoritarian socialism is derived from the concept of socialism from above. Hal Draper defined socialism from above as the philosophy which employs an elite administration to run the socialist state. The other side of socialism is a more democratic socialism from below.[1] Draper viewed socialism from below as being the purer, more Marxist version of socialism.[9] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were devoutly opposed to any socialist institution that was "conducive to superstitious authoritarianism". Draper makes the argument that this division echoes the division between "reformist or revolutionary, peaceful or violent, democratic or authoritarian, etc."[1] and identifies elitism as being one of the six major varieties of socialism from above, arguing:

We have mentioned several cases of this conviction that socialism is the business of a new ruling minority, non-capitalist in nature and therefore guaranteed pure, imposing its own domination either temporarily (for a mere historical era) or even permanently. In either case, this new ruling class is likely to see its goal as an Education Dictatorship over the masses – to Do Them Good, of course – the dictatorship being exercised by an elite party which suppresses all control from below, or by benevolent despots or Savior-Leaders of some kind, or by Shaw's "Supermen," by eugenic manipulators, by Proudhon's "anarchist" managers or Saint-Simon's technocrats or their more modern equivalents – with up-to-date terms and new verbal screens which can be hailed as fresh social theory as against "nineteenth-century Marxism."[1]

The idea of socialism from above is much more frequently discussed in elite circles than socialism from below—even if that is the Marxist ideal—because it is more practical.[9]

Utopian socialism

The first advocates of socialism favoured social levelling in order to create a meritocratic or technocratic society based on individual talent. Henri de Saint-Simon is regarded as the first individual to coin the term socialism.[10] Saint-Simon was fascinated by the enormous potential of science and technology and advocated a socialist society that would eliminate the disorderly aspects of capitalism and would be based on equal opportunities.[11] He advocated the creation of a society in which each person was ranked according to his or her capacities and rewarded according to his or her work.[10] The key focus of Saint-Simon's socialism was on administrative efficiency and industrialism and a belief that science was the key to progress.[12] This was accompanied by a desire to implement a rationally organised economy based on planning and geared towards large-scale scientific progress and material progress.[10]

The first major fictional work that proposed an authoritarian socialist state was Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward which depicted a bureaucratic socialist utopia. Bellamy distanced himself from radical socialist values and in many ways his ideal society still imitated many of the systems in late 19th century United States. However, his book served as the inspiration for a mass political movement called nationalism within the United States in the late 1800s. These Nationalist Clubs, so called because of their desire to nationalize industry, were strong supporters of the populists, who wanted the nationalization of the railroad and telegraph systems. Despite their propaganda and involvement in politics, the nationalist movement began to decline in 1893 due to the financial difficulties of its main publications and Bellamy's failing health and essentially disappeared by the turn of the century.[9]

In the society depicted in the novel, private property has been abolished in favor of state ownership, social classes were eliminated and all work which was minimal and relatively easy was done voluntarily by all citizens between the ages of 21 and 45. Workers were rewarded and recognized via a ranking system based on the army.[13] Most importantly, the government is the most powerful and respected institution, necessary for providing and maintaining this utopia.[9] Arthur Lipow identifies the bureaucratic ruling of this ideal society as a quasi-military organization of both economic and social relations.[14] Bellamy elevated the modern military as a catalyst for national interest.[13]

The biggest critique of Bellamy's society is that it is based on the idea of socialism from above. The regime is imposed on the people by an expert elite and there is no democratic control or individual liberty. Lipow argues that this inherently leads to authoritarianism, stating: "If the workers and the vast majority were a brutish mass, there could be no question of forming a political movement out of them nor of giving them the task of creating a socialist society. The new institutions would not be created and shaped from below but would, of necessity, correspond to the plan laid down in advance by the utopian planner".[14]

Austrian and Chicago schools of economics

Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian-born economist, was one of the leading academic critics of collectivism in the 20th century. He recognized and was acutely critical of the trends of socialism from above in collectivism, including theories that were based in voluntary cooperation.[15][16] Unlike Bellamy who praised the idea of elites implementing policies, Hayek made the argument that socialism inherently leads to tyranny, claiming that "[i]n order to achieve their ends, the planners must create power – power over men wielded by other men – of a magnitude never before known. Democracy is an obstacle to this suppression of freedom which the centralized direction of economic activity requires. Hence arises the class between planning and democracy".[17] Despite fascism and its variants such as Nazism and Falangism, among others, being considerated by political scientists a far-right, anti-socialist ideology that largely adopted corporatist, liberal market economic policies and economic planning was relegated to war efforts, Hayek argued that both fascism and socialism are based in central economic planning and value the state over the individual. According to Hayek, it is in this way that becomes possible for totalitarian leaders to rise to power as happened in the years following World War I.[17] Austrian School economists such as Hayek and his mentor Ludwig Mises also continually used the word socialism as a synonym for authoritarian socialism, central planning and state socialism, conflating it with fascism,[18][19][20] with Hayek stating: "Although our modern socialists' promise of greater freedom is genuine and sincere, in recent years observer after observer has been impressed by the unforeseen consequences of socialism, the extraordinary similarity in many respects of the conditions under "communism" and "fascism".[21] Chicago School economists such as Milton Friedman also conflated socialism with centralized economic planning as well as authoritarian socialist states and their command economies, instead equating capitalism with the free market.[22]

Although Hayek wrote that the state can play a role in the economy, specifically in creating a social safety net,[23][24] criticizing the right and conservatism[25] and also inspiring some towards a form of market socialism or Hayekian socialism,[26][27] Mises went so far as to criticize and mischaracterize left-leaning, social liberal policies such as progressive taxation as socialism, getting up during a Mont Pelerin Society meeting and stating: "You're all a bunch of socialists".[28] Instead, Hayek advocated "some provision for those threatened by the extremes of indigence or starvation due to circumstances beyond their control". He argued that the "necessity of some such arrangement in an industrial society is unquestioned—be it only in the interest of those who require protection against acts of desperation on the part of the needy",[29] with some also nothing that "he advocated mandatory universal health care and unemployment insurance, enforced, if not directly provided, by the state"[30] and that "Hayek was adamant about this".[31] Mises also conflated central banking with socialism and central planning. According to Mises, central banks enable the commercial banks to fund loans at artificially low interest rates, thereby inducing an unsustainable expansion of bank credit and impeding any subsequent contraction.[32] However, Hayek disagreed and stated that the need for central banking control was inescapable.[33] Likewise, Friedman concluded that the government does have a role in the monetary system[34] and believed that the Federal Reserve System should ultimately be replaced with a computer program.[35] While critical of social welfare, especially Social Security, arguing that it had created welfare dependency,[36] Friedman was supportive of the state provision of some public goods that private businesses are not considered as being able to provide,[36] advocated a negative income tax in place of most welfare[35][36] and his views were grounded in a belief that while "market forces [...] accomplish wonderful things", they "cannot ensure a distribution of income that enables all citizens to meet basic economic needs.[37] Following Mises, other Austrian School economists such as Murray Rothbard and Walter Block argued that policies supported by Hayek and Friedman constitued a form of socialism.[38]


Hayek, Mises and Friedman have been criticized for hypocrisy due to claiming to oppose authoritarianism yet supporting liberal dictatorships such as that of the military dictatorship of Chile under Augusto Pinochet. For instance, Mises comments about fascism[39] have been criticized,[40][41] although others have defended him.[42] Likewise, Hayek's involvement in dictatorships has been criticized.[43] For instance, he has stated: "As long term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. […] Personally I prefer a liberal dictatorship to democratic government devoid of liberalism. My personal impression – and this is valid for South America – is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government".[44] Hayek defended himself arguing that he had "not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under [Salvador] Allende",[45][46] the democratic socialist[47][48][49] Chilean President democratically elected in 1970 as the first ever Marxist to be elected president in a country with liberal democracy[50][51] and ousted in a CIA-backed military coup.[52] For Hayek, the distinction between authoritarianism and totalitarianism has much importance and he was at pains to emphasise his opposition to totalitarianism, noting that the concept of transitional dictatorship which he defended was characterised by authoritarianism, not totalitarianism. For example, when he visited Venezuela in May 1981, Hayek was asked to comment on the prevalence of totalitarian regimes in Latin America. In reply, Hayek warned against confusing "totalitarianism with authoritarianism" and said that he was unaware of "any totalitarian governments in Latin America. The only one was Chile under Allende". For Hayek, the word totalitarian signifies something very specific, namely the intention to "organize the whole of society" to attain a "definite social goal" which is stark in contrast to "liberalism and individualism".[43]

Friedman's involvement in the Chilean military dictatorship has also been criticized as he served as economic advisor.[53][54][55] Under Pinochet, Chile followed the economic policies of Friedmam and his Chicago Boys.[56][57][58] While Friedman did not criticize Pinochet's dictatorship at the time, nor the assassinations, illegal imprisonments, torture, or other atrocities that were well known by then,[59] he defended his unofficial adviser position, arguing: "I do not consider it as evil for an economist to render technical economic advice to the Chilean Government, any more than I would regard it as evil for a physician to give technical medical advice to the Chilean Government to help end a medical plague".[60] Although Friedman criticized Chile's political system,[54][61][62] he argued that "free markets would undermine [Pinochet's] political centralization and political control",[63][64] that criticism over his role in Chile missed his main contention that freer markets resulted in freer people and that Chile's unfree economy had caused the military government. Friedman advocated for free markets which undermined "political centralization and political control".[65] However, some economists have argued that the experience of Chile in this period indicated a failure of Friedman's policies, claiming that there was little net economic growth from 1975 to 1982 (during the so-called "pure Monetarist experiment"). After the crisis of 1982, the state controlled more of the economy than it had under the previous socialist regime and sustained economic growth only came after the later reforms that privatized the economy while social indicators remained poor. Pinochet's dictatorship made the unpopular economic reorientation possible by repressing opposition to it. Rather than a triumph of the free market, it has been described as "combining neo-liberal sutures and interventionist cures".[66] By the time of sustained growth, the Chilean government had "cooled its neo-liberal ideological fever" and "controlled its exposure to world financial markets and maintained its efficient copper company in public hands".[67]

In explaining why he is not an Austrian School economist, Bryan Caplan argues that while the economic calculation problem is a problem for socialism, he denies that Mises has shown it to be fatal, or that it is this particular problem that led to the collapse of authoritarian socialist states, arguing: "Austrians have overused the economic calculation argument. In the absence of detailed empirical evidence showing that this particular problem is the most important one, it is just another argument out of hundreds on the list of arguments against socialism. How do we know that the problem of work effort, or innovation, or the underground economy, or any number of other problems were not more important than the calculation problem?"[68]


Theory and rationale

Authoritarian socialism is a political-economic system that can be generally described as socialist, but one that rejects the liberal democratic concepts of multi-party politics, freedom of assembly, habeas corpus and freedom of expression. Other features that are common to modern authoritarian socialist states (starting in the 20th century) include an emphasis on heavy industry for development, a single-party system to propel the goals of the state forward, the extensive use of propaganda to do the same and more.[2][3][4] Soviet advocates and socialists responded to these criticisms by highlighting the ideological differences in the concept of freedom. For instance, it was noted that "Marxist–Leninist norms disparaged laissez-faire individualism (as when housing is determined by one's ability to pay), also [condemning] wide variations in personal wealth as the West has not. Instead, Soviet ideals emphasized equality—free education and medical care, little disparity in housing or salaries, and so forth".[69] When asked to comment on the claim that former citizens of socialist states now enjoy increased freedoms, Heinz Kessler, former East German Minister of National Defence, replied: "Millions of people in Eastern Europe are now free from employment, free from safe streets, free from health care, free from social security".[70]

Formation of industry

As authoritarian powers enforce socialist economics, the process often goes hand in hand with supporting the growth of heavy industry as a means of reaching industrialization (as can be seen with Joseph Stalin's control of the Soviet Union). Stalin's goals brought about a rapid industrialization of the Soviet economy that increased the urban population up by another 30 million people by 1930 and the production of automobiles to 200,000 per year by 1940.[71] Outside of the Soviet Union, two rising global participants of the early 20th century were the young states of Germany and Italy. Although many of the policies put in place by German fascist Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist Benito Mussolini, who also formed these cults of personality, were contradictory and poorly understood, there were a few centrally planned work projects under their states.[72] The Reichsautobahn in Nazi Germany was an example of this. The construction of the Autobahn and industries surrounding highway construction elevated the percentage of employed Germans throughout the construction.[73] In Fascist Italy, projects like the Battle for Grain or the Battle for Land are public work projects that socialist would traditionally support. However, the Axis powers, among other fascist regimes, favored corporatist market economic policies rather than socialism and were all radical anti-communists, anti-Marxists and anti-socialists. Rather, they have been described as an example of authoritarian and totalitarian capitalism.[74] For instance, Mussolini chose to link private businesses and the state to organize economic policies.[75] Another thing in common was autarky, but it was pursued for vastily different reasons. Authoritarian socialist states pursued autarky[76] to reach a post-scarcity economy to guarantee a communist society whereas fascist regimes pursued it for nationalist and imperialist goals (see Nazi Germany's living space), with fascist and far-right movements claiming to strive for autarky in platforms or in propaganda, but in practice they crushed existing movements towards self-sufficiency[77] and established extensive capital connections in efforts to ready for expansionist war and genocide[78] while allying with traditional business and commerce elites.[79] Authoritarian socialist states and fascist regimes also differed in that the latter shifts a focus on class conflict to a focus on conflict between nations and races.[80]

Aside from Russia and a number of former Eastern Bloc members, many post-Soviet states and other authoritarian socialist states are not categorized as industrialized countries. A Marxist societal analysis puts forth that the process of industrialization in the 19th century placed the current metropoles in their current positions of power. In theory, industrialization should allow the regime of non-metropoles to raise the standard of living and competitiveness of their populations to be on economic par with these metropoles.

Single-party system

Authoritarian socialist states often oppose the multi-party system to instill power of the government into a single party that could be led by a single head of state. The rationale behind this being that elites have the time and resources to enforce socialist theory because in this socialist state the interests of the people are represented by the party or head of the party. Hal Draper referred to this as socialism from above.[81] According to Draper, socialism from above comes in six strains or forms that rationalize and require an elite group at the top of a socialist system. This differs from a Marxist perspective that would advocate for socialism from below (a more pure and democratically run form of socialism).[81] Outside of Europe, Eritrea, Mozambique and Vietnam stand as examples of states that were socialist and ruled by a single-party at some point in the 20th century. In Eritrea, the ruling party emerging in 1970 was the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and with control of the state the EPLF began work on socialist ideals such as broadening women's rights and expanding education.[82] In Mozambique, the single-state rule of FRELIMO occurred while the state was still ideologically socialist right after Portuguese rule was ending in 1975.[83] In Vietnam, the Communist Party of Vietnam considers itself to be in transition to socialism and also the "vanguard of the working people and the whole nation".[84]


Departments of propaganda are not at all rare in these regimes. The extensive use of propaganda is spills into art, cinema, posters, newspapers, books. In the Soviet Union, a byproduct of strict censorship was the blossoming of Russian science fiction and fantasy as well as socialist realism.[85] In Latin America, Che Guevara represented and acted on the idea that socialism was an international struggle by operating Radio Rebelde and having his station transmitted from Cuba to as far north as Washington D.C.[86]


Socialist economics

Socialist economics refers to the economic theories, practices and norms of hypothetical and existing socialist economic systems. There are elemental characteristics of the authoritarian socialist economic system that distinguish it from the capitalist or market economy:

  • The communist party has a concentration of power in representation of the working class. The party's decisions are so integrated into public life that its economic and non-economic decisions are part of their overall actions.
  • State ownership of the means of production in which natural resources and capital belong to society.
  • Central economic planning, the main characteristic of an authoritarian, state socialist economy. The market is planned by a central government agency, generally a state planning commission.
  • Socially-equitable distribution of the national income in which goods and services are provided for free by the state that supplement private consumption.

This economic model is greatly characterized by the government's central planning.[87] Ideally, society would be the owner as in the social ownership of the means of production, but in practice the state is the owner of the means of production. If the state is the owner, the idea is that it would work for the benefit of the working class and society as a whole.[88] In practice, society is the owner only in theory and the political institutions governing society are completely set up by the state.[89]

While Marxist–Leninists maintain that workers in the Soviet Union and other socialist states had genuine control over the means of production through institutions such as trade unions,[90] democratic and libertarian socialists argue that these states had only a limited number of socialist characteristics and in practice were state capitalists that followed the capitalist mode of production.[91][92][93] In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Friedrich Engels argued that state ownership does not do away with capitalism by itself, but rather it would be the final stage of capitalism, consisting of ownership and management of large-scale production and communication by the bourgeois state.[94] It has also been argued that authoritarian socialist states did not follow a planned economy, but were rather described as administrative command economies, a term that highlights the central role of hierarchical administration and public ownership of production in guiding the allocation of resources in these economic systems,[95][96][97] where important allocation decisions are made by government authorities rather than by the workers themselves and are imposed by law.[98] This goes against the Marxist understanding of conscious planning.[99][100]

Central planning

In a centrally planned economy, there is a central planning authority usually named the State Planning Commission that is in charge of acting within the framework of social goals and the priorities designated by the party.[87] The planning was done under the idea that leaving market indicators would allow for social advancement.[101] The central planning authority is responsible for five specific tasks:

  1. Determining the criteria for the economic calculations of the planning decisions.
  2. Determining and quantifying targets to be achieved within the a specified period.
  3. Coordinating targets to ensure the plan is consistent and reliable.
  4. Determining the methods to ensure the realization of the plan.
  5. Revising targets in accordance to changing economic calculations.[87]

The planning process involved the creation of one-year plans, five-year plans and long-term plans. The one-year plans contained schedules and details that addressed current production and market equilibrium issues. The five-year plans integrated the political, military and economic strategy that would be pursued in the next five years as well as changes in capacity and production rates. It was done by a team of around the fifty leading experts from all the departments, ministries, professional and scientific organizations. The long-term plans encompassed a global strategy development. This plan was about goals for the state and society, not about individual responsibilities. Structural changes were a main theme.[87][102] Nevertheless, it has been claimed that centrally-planned economies provided a better quality of life than market economies at the same level of economic development in nearly all cases.[103] It has also been argued that the major reason for the economic shortcomings of authoritarian socialist states which adopted Soviet-type planning was due to their authoritarian administrative, command nature rather than socialism or planning as a whole. For instance, economic planning and government direction of the economy through non-coercive means have been practiced with success during the post-war consensus. Furthermore, it has been argued that authoritarian socialist states failed because they did not create rules and operational criteria for the efficient operation of state enterprises in their administrative, command allocation of resources and commodities and the lack of democracy in the political systems that the authoritarian socialist economies were combined with. Therefore, a form of competitive socialism that rejects dictatorship and authoritarian allocation of resources in favor of economic democracy could work and prove superior to the market economy.[104] Others have argued that a central deficiency of such economic planning was that it was not premised on final consumer demand, but that such a system would be increasingly feasible with advances in information technology.[105][106]

Economy of the Soviet Union

The essence of Soviet economics is that the communist party is the sole authority of the national interest. The party makes all the decisions, but they should take into account the desires of the population and these desires were then to be weighted into the decision making. According to Article 11 of its 1977 Constitution, the main goal of the Soviet Union was to "raise the material and cultural standards of the working people". Marxist thought and its interpretation by the Soviet Union dictated that private ownership was to be banned and the nationalization of all aspects of production a necessity, yet some things were not nationalized for the sake of economic efficiency or production targets. There was an emphasis on rapid industrialization, the development of heavy industry, relegation of consumer production as non-essential and collectivization of agriculture. Soviet-type economies also used a larger proportion of their resources on investment than do market economies. The issue with this was that current consumption was undercut because of the over-investment. All these actions supported the purposes of the state, not the people.[107]

During the 1940s–1970s, the economy of the Soviet Union grew at a rate that outpaced that of Western European nations, but by the 1980s the Soviet economy was in shambles. This has been attributed to the Era of Stagnation, a more tolerant central government and increasing military spending caused by the nuclear arms race with the United States, especially under Ronald Reagan, whose administration pursued more aggressive relations with the Soviet Union instead of détente that was preferred in the 1970s. The end to the post-war consensus and Keynesianism in the 1970s and the rise of neoliberalism and economic globalization in the 1980s also caused problems as they forced the Soviet Union and other countries to adapt and reform themselves. Unlike China, the Soviet's failure to do so further contributed to its dissolution in December 1991. Despite the attempts of the Soviet Union to guarantee employment to all of its labor force, it did not satisfy the human desires of its laborers because "people want land, not collectivization. Consumers want goods, not gigantic industrial enterprise. Workers want better wages and higher living standards, not citations and medals. [And] an economy cannot be politically tailored to perfection".[107][108] A main problem of the Soviet Union was that it pushed agriculture to the bottom of its priorities and that its central planning scheme inhibited technological innovation.[107][109] The Soviet Union had a poor overall performance—although it had high growth rates in productions, many enterprises operated with losses.[110]

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union's growth in GDP per capita compared favorably with Western Europe. In 1913, prior to both World War I and the Russian Revolution, the former Soviet Union had a GDP per capita of $1,488 in 1990 international dollars which grew 461% to $6,871 by 1990. After its dissolution in December 1991, this figure fell to $3,893 by 1998. By comparison, Western Europe grew from a higher base of $3,688 international dollars by a comparable 457% to $16,872 in the same period and reached $17,921 by 1998.[111] From the Stalin era to the early Brezhnev era, the Soviet economy grew faster than the United States and maintained itself as the second largest economy in both nominal and purchasing power parity values for much of the Cold War until 1988, when Japan took the second place.[111] Furthermore, it is claimed that the Soviet model provided a better quality of life than market economies at the same level of economic development in nearly all cases.[103]

Economy of the Eastern Bloc

The initial move for socialism was in 1963 after a Central Committee meeting, these countries became the Comecon countries. There were countries that chose to introduce the new economic system gradually (Bulgaria, East Germany and Poland) and countries that decided to first prepare theoretically, then experimentation at different levels and then in a large scale (Hungary and Romania). Czechoslovakia was set apart because the first stage of its transition consisted of economic recovery and then socialism was gradually implemented. Yugoslavia differed from other Eastern European countries in that after 1950 it modified its economic system by making self-management the base of enterprise activity.[110] There were also a few differences between the economic model of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries such as East Germany and Poland. Czechoslovakia and East Germany were administered along regional lines. Poland retained a centralized system similar to the Stalinist centralization of the Soviet Union.[108] The Eastern European countries differed from the Soviet Union in that they had greater flexibility in the management of subordinate firms, the market was assigned a greater importance, accessible foreign trade and liberalization of the exchange of capital goods. There was also less bureaucracy than in the Soviet Union involved in the planning of the countries.[110]

The Eastern Bloc countries achieved high rates of economic and technical progress, promoted industrialization and ensured steady growth rates of labor productivity and rises in the standard of living[112] despite experiencing misdevelopment by central planners.[113] During the 1950s–1960s, growth rates were high,[114] progress was rapid by European standards and per capita growth within the Eastern European countries increased by 2.4 times the European average, accounting for 12.3 percent of European production in 1950 and 14.4 in 1970,[114] but most of their economies were stagnant by the late 1970s and 1980s as the system was resistant to change and did not easily adapt to new conditions.[114] For political reasons, old factories were rarely closed, even when new technologies became available.[114] As a result, growth rates within the Eastern Bloc experienced relative decline after the 1970s.[113] This has also been attributed to the 1970s energy crisis (see also the 1973 oil crisis, the 1979 energy crisis and the 1980s oil glut) the post-war displacement of Keynesianism and the rise of neoliberalism and economic globalization. Countries like China that did not isolate and instead reformed themselves thrived, but this did not happen in most Eastern Bloc countries as they depended upon the Soviet Union, especially for significant amounts of materials.[113] From the end of the World War II to the mid-1970s, the economy of the Eastern Bloc steadily increased at the same rate as the economy in Western Europe, with the least none-reforming Stalinist nations of the Eastern Bloc having a stronger economy then the reformist-Stalinist states.[115] While most Western European economies essentially began to approach the GDP per capita levels of the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Eastern Bloc countries did not,[113] with per capita GDPs trailing significantly behind their comparable Western European counterparts.[113]

Following the fall of the Eastern Bloc with the Revolutions of 1989, the economies of post-Soviet states quickly fell apart and took a long time to return to pre-1989 levels.[111] Not only growth plummeted following the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, but also living standards declined, drug use, homelessness and poverty skyrocketed and suicides increased dramatically. Growth did not begin to return to pre-reform-era levels for approximately fifteen years. As a result, many scholars have claimed that the Soviet model's industrialization and modernization laid the groundwork for their later economic growth, without which their current market-oriented economy may have not thrived or growth as much, or that it provided a better quality of life than market economies.[103] The 1991 Soviet Union referendum has also been cited to argue that a vast majority of people did not want the Soviet Union dissolved, but rather more autonomy for the states within the union instead of a separation and the massive privatizations which had disastrous effects including giving rise to powerful oligarchs, especially in Russia and Ukraine.[116] Mikhail Gorbachev himself, the last Soviet leader, supported Scandinavian social democracy, or the Nordic model.[117][118] As a result, post-Soviet states have seen a growing nostalgia. A certain number of people have expressed a longing for the Soviet period and its values since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The level of post-Soviet nostalgia varies across the former republics and certain groups of people may blend the Soviet and post-Soviet experience in their daily lives.[119] Polls have also showed that a majority of post-Soviet states viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union negatively[120] and felt that it could have been avoided and an even greater number would openly welcome a revival of the Soviet system. While most prominent in Russia[121][122][123][124][125][126] and with older people,[127][128][129][130] this nostalgia has appeared in the former Eastern Bloc as well.[131][132][133][134][135][136][137][138][139][140][141][142][143]

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was followed by a rapid increase in poverty,[144][145][146] crime,[147][148] corruption,[149][150] unemployment,[151] homelessness,[152][153] rates of disease[154][155][156] and income inequality,[157] along with decreases in calorie intake, life expectancy, adult literacy and income.[158] As a result, many people in post-Soviet states felt that their lives were worse off after 1989, when capitalist markets were made dominant.[159][160] Subsequent polls and qualitative research across post-Soviet states "confirmed these sentiments as popular discontent with the failed promises of free-market prosperity has grown, especially among older people".[161]

Economy of China

The Maoist economic model of China was designed after the Stalinist principles of a centrally administered, command economy.[162] Mao Zedong condemned Stalinism at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the flaws in the Marxist–Leninist movement that peaked with the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. This gave Mao space in which to experiment with departure from the Soviet socialist economy. The Maoist economic model was reliant on High Tide of Socialism in the Chinese Countryside, How to Handle Contradictions Among the People and Ten Great Relationships. Mao modeled the Chinese socialist economy in such a way that it led to the Great Leap Forward and the Commune Movement. In High Tide of Socialism in the Chinese Countryside, Mao focused on the industrialization and mechanization of the countryside; in How to Handle Contradictions Among the People wrote about his thoughts on the problems of socialist states as well as the conflicts of interest in the Chinese socialist society; and in Ten Great Relationships wrote about his vision of China's economy.[163]

The Maoist model had a dual economic goal, namely the industrialization of the countryside and the socialization of its people. It differed from the Soviet Union's goals in that Mao emphasized the class struggle against the bourgeois class while the Soviet Union started advocating peaceful coexistence. China also allowed for more flexibility and experimentation than the Soviet Union and the countryside was at the center of its policies.[164] Supporters argue that life expectancy greatly improved under Mao and that he rapidly industrialized China and laid the groundwork for the country's later rise to become an economic superpower[165][166][167][168] while critics see many of Maoist economic policies as impediments to industrialization and modernization that delayed economic development and claim that China's economy underwent its rapid growth only after Maoist policies had been widely abandoned. All in all, both supporters and critics alike generally agree that the human cost has been staggering.[169]

Systematic economic challenges

The problem with the central planning of authoritarian, statist socialist states is that as the state develops, it also grows in complexity and the possible errors grow and the possibilities of dis-allocations and waste of resources.[87] As commented by Karl Marx, capitalism works because it is a system of economic force, but in socialist economics this force is insufficient to provide enough incentive. Human needs should be taken into account to make a socialist society function, but there is no necessary connection between the accumulation of capital and human satisfaction.[170] Some of the issues that emerged during the socialist phase of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and Maoist China included:

  • Inflation: for example, Yugoslavia raised its industrial prices by 17% and its agricultural prices by 32% from 1964 to 1965 while Czechoslovakia raised the prices of foodstuffs and services by 20% in 1966 and by 1967 prices were up by 30%.
  • Lagged consumption: there was a lag between when products were fabricated and when they were accessed to by the population, goods tended to stockpile. The production of consumer products also diminished and in Yugoslavia the share of consumer products fell from 70% before World War II to 31% in 1965.
  • Fixing prices: prices were fixed under the premise that it would force producers to behave more efficiently and as such the price-controlled products were produced in lower quantities. In Yugoslavia, the market distortion caused by the price fixing was realized and led to the un-freezing of prices in 1967. Hungary also had frozen prices and slowly unfroze them over a period of ten to fifteen years because otherwise the structural disproportions of the Hungarian economy would spin prices out of control.
  • Production structure: many factories were kept running through government subsidies and protection despite any economic losses of the factories. This decreased overall efficiency of the socialist economies and also increased the financial losses of those economies.
  • Disproportionality: there was a disproportionate amount of available jobs and manpower. As written by Ljubo Sirc, the "Soviet Union and other communist countries have the worst of both worlds: some enterprises or operations are inefficient because they are too capital-intensive, other enterprises or operations because they are too labour-intensive".[101]

The Stalinist economic model in which the socialist economies were based did not allow for a decrease in growth rates. It did not allow for the flexibility needed to keep up with growing economies.[162] Despite these shortcomings, the Soviet Union's growth in GDP per capita compared favorably with Western Europe. In 1913, the former Soviet Union had a GDP per capita of $1,488 in 1990 international dollars, which grew 461% to $6,871 by 1990. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, this figure fell to $3,893 by 1998. By comparison, Western Europe grew from a higher base of $3,688 international dollars by a comparable 457% to $16,872 in the same period and reached $17,921 by 1998.[111] It is also claimed that such economies provided a better quality of life and human development than market economies at the same level of economic development in nearly all cases.[103] For instance, it has been noted that such states compared favorably with Western states in some health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy,[171] making some significant gains and that "one thought [...] bound to occur is that communism is good for poverty removal".[172] The dissolution of the Soviet Union was followed by a rapid increase in poverty,[144][145][146] crime,[147][148] corruption,[149][150] unemployment,[151] homelessness,[152][153] rates of disease[154][155][156] and income inequality,[157] along with decreases in calorie intake, life expectancy, adult literacy and income.[158] Furthermore, supporters have cited the 1991 Soviet Union referendum (77% on an 80% turnout voted to preserve the Soviet Union and all Soviet republics voters voted in favor, with the Turkmenia Republic showing the most support at 98% and the lowest in the Russian Republic at 73%)[173] that a majority of people did not want the Soviet Union dissolved and as a result a certain number of people have expressed a longing for the Soviet period and its values ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The level of post-Soviet nostalgia varies across the former republics and certain groups of people may blend the Soviet and post-Soviet experience in their daily lives.[119] Polls have showed that a majority of post-Soviet states viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union negatively[120] and felt that it could have been avoided and an even greater number would openly welcome a revival of the Soviet system. This is most prominent in Russia and with older people.[127][128][129][130] Nostalgia for the Soviet Union[121][122][123][124] or Soviet nostalgia[125][126] has also appeared in the former Eastern Bloc.[131][132][133][134][135][136][137][138][139][140][141][142][143]

Critics argue that neoliberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization "had catastrophic effects on former Soviet Bloc countries" and that the imposition of Washington Consensus-inspired "shock therapy" had little to do with future economic growth.[116] As a result, many people in post-Soviet states felt that their lives were worse off after 1989, when capitalist markets were made dominant.[159][160] Subsequent polls and qualitative research across post-Soviet states "confirmed these sentiments as popular discontent with the failed promises of free-market prosperity has grown, especially among older people".[161] Finally, it has been argued that the establishment of welfare states in the West in the early 20th century could be partly a reaction by elites to the Bolshevik Revolution and its violence against the bourgeoisie which feared violent revolution in its own backyard.[174] The welfare states gave rise to the post-war consensus and the post-war economic boom, where the United States, the Soviet Union and Western European and East Asian countries in particular experienced unusually high and sustained economic growth, together with full employment. Contrary to early predictions, this high growth also included many countries that had been devastated by the war such as Japan (Japanese post-war economic miracle), West Germany and Austria (Wirtschaftswunder), South Korea (Miracle of the Han River), France (Trente Glorieuses), Italy (Italian economic miracle) and Greece (Greek economic miracle).[175][176][177]


Authoritarian socialism is best understood through an examination of its developmental history, allowing for the analysis and comparison of its various global examples. Although authoritarian socialism was by no means restricted to the Soviet Union, its ideological development occurred in tandem with the Stalinist regimes.[178][179] As the Soviet Union was a developmental model for many socialist states in the post-World War II era, Soviet authoritarian socialism was adopted by a diverse range of states and continued to develop well into the 20th century in the Middle East and North African regions. These regions, characterized by authoritarian traits such as uncontested party leadership, restricted civil liberties and strong unelected officials with non-democratic influence on policy, share many commonalities with the Soviet Union.[180] Furthermore, most authoritarian socialist states were ideologically Marxist–Leninist (the state ideology of the Soviet Union that is often referred to as Communism, a specific form of communism that arose in Russia within the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) or one of its variants and revisions such as Maoism, among others. As a result, many that reference to the system of authoritarian socialism and its states may not call it as such, but nonetheless refer to the concept. Much like the Soviet Union, authoritarian socialist states feature external controls such as violent repression and forms of artificial socialization.[181] In other words, the implementation of these authoritarian forms of socialism traditionally is accomplished with a dogmatized ideology reinforced by terror and violence. Ultimately, the combination of these external controls serves to implement a normality within an authoritarian country that seems like illusion or madness to someone removed from its political atmosphere.[181] For many authoritarian socialist countries, regimes were a mix of this form of external-control based totalitarianism (for intellectually and ideologically active members of society) and traditional or cultural authoritarianism (for the majority of the population).[181]

Soviet Union

Despite the Marxian basis of Vladimir Lenin's socialism, the realities of his system were in fact in direct opposition to Karl Marx's belief in the emancipation and autonomy of the working class.[179] These contradictions stem primarily from Lenin's implementation of a vanguard or regimented party of committed revolutionaries "who knew exactly what history's mandate was and who were prepared to be its self-ordained custodians".[182] The function of this party was meant to be primarily transitional, given that Lenin believed that the working class was politically unprepared for rule and Russia was not yet industrially poised for socialism.[182] As such, Lenin adopted state capitalist policies.[183][184][185][186] However, on seeing the Soviet Union's growing coercive power in 1923, a dying Lenin said Russia had reverted to "a bourgeois tsarist machine [...] barely varnished with socialism".[187] Ironically, Marx himself coined the term barracks communism (German: Kasernenkommunismus) to refer to what is now known as authoritarian socialism in which all aspects of life are bureaucratically regimented and communal.[188][189][190] Originally, Marx used the expression to criticize the vision of Sergey Nechayev outlined in "The Fundamentals of the Future Social System"[190][191] which had a major influence on other Russian revolutionaries like Lenin and others like Pyotr Tkachev.[192][193][194][195][196][197] The term barracks here does not refer to military barracks, but to the workers' barracks-type primitive dormitories in which industrial workers lived in many places in the Russian Empire of the time.[198] Later, political theorists of the Soviet Union applied this term to China under Mao Zedong.[188] Still later during the Soviet perestroika period, the term was used to apply to the history of the Soviet Union itself.[198]

Vladimir Lenin

Marx chronicled a history of development through a capitalist age of industrialization that resulted in the manipulation of the working class. This development culminated in the empowerment of a proletariat which could benefit from the fruits of industrialization without being exploited. Although he meant his ideology to appeal to the disenfranchised working class of an industrialized society, it was widely accepted by developing countries that had yet to successfully industrialize.[178] This resulted in stagnant economies and socialist states without the necessary organization and structure to industrialize.[178] Seeing the failure of these models, Lenin concluded that socialism in Russia had to be constructed from above through the dictatorship of the proletariat.[182] Because the working class accounted for only 15% of the population, Lenin was forced to appeal to the much greater peasant class (accounting for nearly 80%) to propel the Bolshevik faction of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party that under Lenin eventually became the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) due to a split with social democracy.[178] The Bolsheviks promised "Bread, Peace, and Land" to the peasants and delivered, redistributing land from the landlords and increasing the number of farms in Russia from 427,000 in 1917 to 463,000 in 1919.[178]

Lenin's legacy was one of violent terror and concentration of power in the hands of few.[182] Lenin intentionally employed violence as a means to manipulate the population and tolerated absolutely no opposition, arguing that it was "a great deal better to 'discuss with rifles' than with the theses of the opposition".[182] He worked for the ideological destruction of society as a whole so that it could easily adopt the rhetoric and political ideals of the ruling party.[182] Lenin's use of terror (instilled by a secret police apparatus) to exact social obedience, mass murder and disappearance, censoring of communications and absence of justice was only reinforced by his successor Joseph Stalin.[182] Some support this thesis[199][200][201][202][203][204] whereas others have disputed this characterization and separated Lenin from Stalin and Leninism from Stalinism.[205][206][207][208] A controversial figure, Lenin remains both reviled and revered,[209] a figure who has been both idolised and demonised.[210] This has extended into academic studies of Lenin and Leninism which have often been polarised along political lines.[211] While there have been both sympathetic and expressly hostile Lenin's biographies,[210] some instead sought to avoid making either hostile or positive comments about Lenin, thereby evading politicized stereotypes.[209][212]

While various historians have characterized Lenin's administration as totalitarian,[213][214][215][216] a police state[215] and many have described it as a one-party dictatorship[209][212][217][218][219][220] with Lenin as its dictator[210][213][214][221][222] whilst noting differences between Lenin and Stalin in that under the first there was a dictatorship of the party and under the latter that of one man,[209][213][216] others argued against the view that Lenin's government was a dictatorship, viewing it instead as an imperfect way of preserving elements of democracy without some of the processes found in liberal democratic states,[209][212] further arguing that "the personal qualities that led Lenin to brutal policies were not necessarily any stronger than in some of the major Western leaders of the twentieth century".[209] While Stalin's colleagues described him as Asiatic and Stalin himself told a Japanese journalist that "I am not a European man, but an Asian, a Russified Georgian",[223] Lenin identified ethnically as Russian,[224] believed that other European countries, especially Germany, were culturally superior to Russia[219] which he described as "one of the most benighted, medieval and shamefully backward of Asian countries"[225] and from his youth had wanted Russia to become more culturally European and Western.[219][221]

Joseph Stalin

Stalin sought to rapidly industrialize the Soviet Union, but perhaps in a way that was unrealistic, given the aggregate skill level and capital of the population and Stalin's argument that the Soviet Union had to accomplish in a decade what England had taken centuries to do in terms of economic development in order to be prepared for an invasion from the West.[226] Acknowledging this inadequacy, Stalin ordered that resources slotted for consumption be redirected to production or exported as a temporary sacrifice on the part of the population for the sake of rapid growth.[178] The model was successful initially, with ideology and nationalism promoting morale despite shortages in resources such as food and construction materials for housing. Presumably, the exploited classes believed that once the rapid and successful industrialization of Russia had taken place, power would be relinquished by the vanguard party and communism would ensue.[182] However, Stalin continued to demand even more far-reaching sacrifices. Because of his control over both political and economic arenas which historians argue gave his vanguard party an amount of control surpassing that of Russia's tzars or emperors, citizens were unwilling to challenge his decrees, given that aspects of their lives such as medical care, housing and social freedoms could be restricted according to the discretion of the party.[178]

Despite failures, Stalin's expectations remained uncontested by the working class and the model was adopted by a multitude of emerging socialist states during that era. For example, the Soviet attempt to collectivize agriculture, transforming the Soviet Union from one of the world's largest exporters of grain to the world's largest importer of grain, was widely replicated despite its failure.[178] Many historians claim that extermination was the fate of a wide variety of people during Stalin's regime such as political opponents, ideological rivals, suspect party members, accused military officers, kulaks, lower-class families, former members of the societal elites, ethnic groups, religious groups and the relatives and sympathizers of these offenders.[178][179][182] These deaths occurred as a result of collectivization, famine, terror campaigns, disease, war and mortality rates in the Gulag. As the majority of excess deaths under Stalin were not direct killings, the exact number of victims of Stalinism is difficult to calculate due to lack of consensus among scholars on which deaths can be attributed to Stalin.[227][228][229][230][231][232] However, it is far lower than the estimates of 20 million or above which were made before access to the archives.[233] Regarding the Holodomor, part of the greater Soviet famine of 1932–1933,[234][235] the consensus argues that while Stalin's policies contributed significantly to the high mortality rate, it rejects the view that Stalin or the Soviet government consciously engineered the famine.[231][236][237][238]

Stalin's legacy is largely negative,[239] with the Soviet Union under him characterised as a totalitarian state[240][241] and Stalin its authoritarian leader.[242] Various biographers have described Stalin as a dictator,[240][241][242][243][244] an autocrat,[240][245][246] an Oriental despot,[239][245] or accused him of practicing Caesarism.[246] A man who "perhaps [...] determined the course of the twentieth century" more than any other individual,[245] described as "one of the most notorious figures in history"[240] and possessing "that rare combination: both 'intellectual' and killer", the "ultimate politician" and the "most elusive and fascinating of the twentieth-century titans"[243] and "one of the most powerful figures in human history",[246] Stalin initially ruled as part of the party oligarchy which he turned into a personal dictatorship in 1934 and became absolute dictator between March and June 1937.[247] As such, Stalin built a "personal dictatorship within the Bolshevik dictatorship",[242] concentrated an "unprecedented political authority in his hands"[239] and being described "closer to personal despotism than almost any monarch in history".[240] However, contemporary archival research shows that the motivation behind the purges was not Stalin attempting to establish his own personal dictatorship. Rather, evidence suggests he was committed to building the socialist state envisioned by Lenin. The real motivation for the terror was an exaggerated fear of counter-revolution.[248] Others also cautioned against "over-simplistic stereotypes" that portrayed Stalin as an omnipotent and omnipresent tyrant who controlled every aspect of Soviet life through repression and totalitarianism,[239] noting that "powerful though he was, his powers were not limitless" and that Stalin's rule depended on his willingness to conserve the Soviet structure he had inherited.[240] It has also been observed that Stalin's ability to remain in power relied on him having a majority in the Politburo at all times.[242] Furthermore, it was noted that at various points, especially in his later years, there were "periodic manifestations" in which the party oligarchy threatened his autocratic control.[241] Stalin denied to foreign visitors that he was a dictator, stating that those who labelled him as such did not understand the Soviet governance structure.[245] Several historians have criticized the totalitarian twins concept and comparisons between communism/socialism and fascism or Stalinism and Nazism as Cold War concepts that focus upon the upper levels of society and which use have obscured the reality of the system.[228][238][249][250][251][252][253][254][255][256]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the release of the archives, some of the heat has gone out of the debate and politicization has been reduced. For instance, it has been argued that the Soviet political system was not completely controlled from the center and that both Lenin and Stalin only responded to political events as they arose.[257] Some also questioned the previously published findings that Stalin organized himself the murder of Sergey Kirov to justify his campaign of Great Terror.[258] Others argued that mass deaths from famines are not a "uniquely Stalinist evil" and compared the behavior of the Stalinist regime vis-à-vis the Holodomor to that of the British Empire (towards Ireland and India) and even the G8 in contemporary times, arguing that the latter "are guilty of mass manslaughter or mass deaths from criminal negligence because of their not taking obvious measures to reduce mass deaths" and that a possible defense of Stalin and his associates is that "their behaviour was no worse than that of many rulers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries".[230] Despite the criticism, Stalin has been considered an outstanding and exceptional politician[240][246] as well as a great statesman and state-builder,[239] with some suggesting that without Stalin the Soviet Union might have collapsed long before 1991 as he strengthened and stabilized the country.[240] In under three decades, Stalin transformed the Soviet Union into a major industrial world power,[240][246] one which could "claim impressive achievements" in terms of urbanisation, military strength, education and Soviet pride.[240] Under his rule, the average Soviet life expectancy grew due to improved living conditions, nutrition and medical care[259] as mortality rates also declined.[260]

Although millions of Soviet citizens despised him, support for Stalin was nevertheless widespread throughout Soviet society.[240] Citing these achievements and highlighting crimes committed by the Western world and its leaders during the colonization and imperialist period as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the 20th century whilst arguing that Stalin's hatred came mainly from General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" read during the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956, some have attempted to rehabilitate Stalin and its legacy,[261] or otherwhise gave a more neutral and nuanced view,[262][263][264] but such attempts have been criticized and most of its authors labelled as neo-Stalinists.[265][266][267][268][269][270] In spite of this, more than half of Russians view Stalin positively and many support restoration of his monuments either dismantled by leaders or destroyed by rioting Russians during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.[271][272][273] Stalin's popularity has tripled among Russians in the last twenty years[274][275] and the trend accelerated since Vladimir Putin has come to power.[276][277]


Following the fall of the elite, land-owning class of the early 20th century, China began its Communist Revolution through the countryside. As relationships between agrarian masses and state-controlled programs splintered, the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong began seizing power.[278] In his 1949 essay On People's Democratic Dictatorship, Mao committed himself and the Chinese state to the creation of a strong state power with increased economic control.[278] He stressed the importance of an authoritarian state, where political order and unity could be established and maintained. Mao committed himself to unification in the vein of complete system overthrow.[278] As party chairman, Mao allowed himself complete control over the structure and execution of the party with his own cult of personality, an almost mythical position as a guardian of wisdom and charisma.[278]

With such power, Mao was able to influence popular opinions, allowing his agenda support without going through state-controlled measures. During the Great Leap Forward, an initiative to develop China from an agrarian sector a major industrial powerhouse, Mao relied greatly on his prestige to influence the people.[278] However, the Great Leap Forward proved a failure as widespread crop and irrigation failures led to the 1959–1961 Great Chinese Famine. There was no suggested end to the revolution—it was meant to be a continuing process of empowerment of the peasant class.[279] With the aggressive failure of his Cultural Revolution, Chinese support for the party and for Mao waned. Continuing struggles after his death would undermine his socialist system, allowing a more democratic yet still one-party ruled system to continue into today. As result, Mao is a controversial figure as there is little agreement over his legacy both in China and abroad, but who is regarded as one of the most important and influential individuals in modern world history.[280][281]

Supporters credit Mao with driving imperialism out of China,[282] modernizing the nation and building it into a world power, promoting the status of women and improving education and health care as well as increasing life expectancy as China's population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million under his leadership,[165][167] among other achievements.[166][168] Conversely, his regime has been called autocratic and totalitarian and condemned for bringing about mass repression and destroying religious and cultural artifacts and sites. It was additionally responsible for vast numbers of deaths, with estimates ranging from 30 to 70 million victims through starvation, prison labour and mass executions.[283][284] While some critics argue that Mao was dismissive of the suffering and death caused by his policies, or that he was well aware that his policies would be responsible for the deaths of millions,[284][285][286][287][288][289][290][291] others have disputed this.[283][289][292]

Praised as a political intellect, theorist, military strategist, poet and visionary,[283] Mao has been variously described as a "great historical criminal", "both monster and a genius", who was also "a great force for good",[169] a "great leader in history" and a "great criminal"[289] as well as "one of the great tyrants of the twentieth century", comparable to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin,[286][293] with a death toll surpassing both.[283][284] However, others reject such comparisons, arguing that whereas the deaths caused by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were largely systematic and deliberate, the overwhelming majority of the deaths under Mao were unintended consequences of famine, noting that the landlord class was not exterminated as a people due to his belief in redemption through thought reform. Instead, Mao has been compared to 19th-century Chinese reformers who challenged China's traditional beliefs in the era of China's clashes with Western colonial powers[283] as well as to United States President Andrew Jackson.[294] Maoist economics polices are likewise controversial, with supporters arguing that life expectancy greatly improved under Mao and that such policies rapidly industrialized China and laid the groundwork for the country's later rise to become an economic superpower[165][166][167][168] while critics argue that policies such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution were impediments to industrialization and modernization that delayed economic development and claim that China's economy underwent its rapid growth only after Maoist policies had been widely abandoned. All in all, both supporters and critics alike generally agree that the human cost has been staggering.[169]


Maoism is largely an adapted, Sino-centric version of Marxism–Leninism.[295] While believing in democratic centralism, where party decisions are brought about by scrutiny and debate and then are binding upon all members of the party once implemented, Mao did not accept dissenters to the party's decisions.[279] Through the Cultural Revolution and the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, Mao attempted to purge any subversive idea—especially capitalist or Western threat—with heavy force, justifying his actions as the necessary way for the central authority to keep power.[279] At the same time, Mao emphasized the importance of cultural heritage and individual choice as a way of creating this national unity. He described his ideal system as "a political situation in which there is both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of purpose and personal ease of mind and liveliness to facilitate the socialist revolution".[279] While the system advocates contradiction, Mao believed the state above all could provide the masses with the tools for their own expression, but his own brand of self-expression was wholly manufactured, built largely on replacing traditional practices and artifacts with his own. Through this, transformation of the people towards an internal party collectiveness was possible.[279]

Notably, Mao's authoritarianism was rooted in a collective bottom-up style of empowerment. In his system, the proletariat and peasantry were responsible for rising up against the bureaucracy and capital of the state.[295] Joining the peasant class with the bourgeoisie of the countryside (the land-holding, local farmers), the group was able to stifle the claims to power by the wealthier, urban landowners through the banner of communism. Only when this collection of peasants and petty bourgeoisie existed could Mao grow his own, custom bureaucracy.[295] Once this unity was established, Mao argued that the people were the ones who could control the state, but his government's intense control over the citizenry emphasizes the contradiction in his theory—a contradiction, he maintained, was a necessary reality of their specialized system [295]

Arab world

Socialism was introduced into the Middle East in the form of populist policies designed to galvanize the working class into overthrowing colonial powers and their domestic allies. These policies were held by authoritarian states interested in the rapid industrialization and social equalization of Arab nations and often were characterized by redistributive or protectionist economic policies, lower class mobilization, charismatic leaders and promises to improve national living standards.[296] These states were progressive in terms of the colonial development that had occurred thus far. They allowed important political and economic gains to be made by workers, encouraged land redistribution, unseated oligarchical political powers and implemented import-substituting industrialization development strategies.[296]

With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc following the Revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 as well as the push for democratization, many Arab states have moved toward a model of fiscal discipline proposed by the Washington Consensus.[296] Although authoritarian leaders of these states implemented democratic institutions during the 1980s and 1990s, their multi-party elections ultimately created an arena in which business elites could lobby for personal interests while largely silencing the lower class.[296] Furthermore, economic liberalization in these regions yielded economies and therefore led to regimes built on the support of rent-seeking urban elites. However, political opposition invites the prospect of political marginalization and even retaliation.[296]

Resistance to democratization

A great deal of debate has been paid by the field of comparative politics to how the Arab region was able to avoid the third wave of democratization. A number of arguments have been offered by professionals in the field, ranging from a discussion of prerequisites not supported by the Arab culture to a lack of democratic actors initiating the necessary democratic transition.

Marsha Pripstein Posusney argues that the "patriarchal and tribal mentality of the culture is an impediment to the development of pluralist values", rendering Arab citizens prone to accept patriarchal leaders and lacking the national unity that many argue is necessary for democratization to be successful.[7] Eva Bellin concedes that the prevalence of Islam is a distinguishing factor of the region and therefore must contribute to the region's exceptionalism, "given Islam's presumed inhospitality to democracy".[7] Posusney argues that this "intrinsic incompatibility between democracy and Islam" remains unproven given that efforts to test this association quantitatively have failed to produce conclusive results.[7] Ethnic divisions in the area have also been cited as a factor as well as a weak civil society, a state-controlled economy, poverty, low literacy rates and inequality.[7][297]

In his book Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes, Oliver Schlumberger has argued that there is in fact an international ambivalence toward authoritarianism in the Middle East given that stability is preferred over the uncertainty of democratization due to the region's oil and gas supplies and the strategic importance of its geopolitical location.[297]


During the 1945 Pan-African Conference, calls for increased organization, development and self-determination in the poverty stricken African continent put the impetus on colonial powers to negotiate national sovereignty.[5] While there were few Marxist movements into the continent, Soviet Union activity spurred anti-imperialist and globalization movements from African countries. The congress established national liberation as the main topic of their sessions, emphasizing the elimination and exploitation by the imperialist powers over authentic national sovereignty. However, they did not establish clear social or political parameters for this new liberation.[5]

African leaders consistently viewed socialism as a direct rejection of the colonial system and in turn dismissed the notion of creating independent capitalist systems throughout the continent. Instead, the leaders attempted to infuse various forms of socialism—some Marxist–Leninist, others democratic—into tailored ideologies specific to each country.[5] Once these systems were in place, countries developed towards a "focal institutional" society, per sociologist William Friedland. In other words, societies adopted a totalitarian vision of rule, allowing one-party systems and institutions to "penetrate every sphere of private or public activity".[6]


Senegalese President Leopold Sedar Senghor was among the first and most vocal African advocates for socialism. Before elected President, Senghor served as one of nine African delegates to the 1945 French Constituent Assembly, negotiating for the transfer of self-governing and policy-making power through locally elected councils.[298] The measure shortly failed, keeping autonomy from the colonies until the independence movements of the 1960s.

After Senegalese independence in 1960, Senghor's Union Progresiste Senegalaise, a derivative of the French Socialist Party, grew massive support throughout the continent.[6] Much of his party's success hinged on his revisionist version of Marxism–Leninism, where he argyed that "the major contradiction of Marxism is that it presents itself as a science, whereas, despite its denials, it is based on an ethic".[6] By framing it as an ethic, Senghor was able to remove the strict determinism from the ideology, allowing it to be molded towards an Afro-centric model. His revision proved similar to that of Benito Mussolini as he called on a national movement from and for his one-party-ruled government, arguing: "In a word, we must awaken the National Consciousness. [...] But the government cannot and must not do it all. It must be helped by the party. [...] Our party must be the consciousness of the masses".[6]


In the same vein as Senghor, socialist leader Kwame Nkrumah sought to advance this one-party, nationalized form of socialist obedience. Nkrumah stressed the importance of government-owned property and resources. He maintained that "production for private profit deprives a large section of the people of the goods and services produced", advocating public ownership to fit the "people's needs".[299] To accomplish this, Nkrumah emphasized the importance of discipline and obedience towards the single socialist party. If people submitted and accepted the singular party's program, he said, political independence would be possible.[299] By 1965, his one-party rule had produced an Assembly entirely made up of his own party members [300]

Nkrumah saw law as a malleable weapon of political power, not as a product of a complex system of political institutions.[300] As such, Ghanaian power structures were dominated and controlled by his hand. However, elite landowners questioned the legitimacy of Nkrumah's power. These elites were only afforded one choice, namely to align with their government if they wanted access to the state. Gradually, those who were not granted or did not desire entrance into the party created regions blocs.[301] For example, the Asante emerged as a regional force capable political sway. With the power to set the agenda, the authoritarian party often clashed with these emerging regional groups, ultimately undermining the one-party system.[301]


Julius Nyerere attempted to socialist reform for Tanzania following those in Ghana and Senegal. The tenets of his initiatives were four-fold:[302]

  1. Promote the Tanzanian economy.
  2. Secure state control over development.
  3. Create a sole political party called the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which would be under his control.
  4. Share the benefits of all gathered income.

The system—called ujaama—became a tool for nationalization of the Tanzanian people. In the system, all Tanzanains were encouraged to run for office, with no campaign funding allowed. Speeches in the election would not focus on the national issues, but rather the quality of the individual, each of whom would be closely controlled by TANU.[302] Structurally, the power was shared along regional boundaries, giving increased policy making power and resource allocation to these regions. Local institutions were downplayed, with leadership organizations often facing subversion from higher governmental structures.[303] The first wave of elections in the Tanzanian general election produced a 100% voting rate for TANU officials.[304][305]

Latin America

Socialism of the 21st century is an interpretation of socialist principles first advocated by German sociologist and political analyst Heinz Dieterich and taken up by a number of Latin American leaders. Dieterich argued in 1996 that both free-market industrial capitalism and 20th-century authoritarian socialism have failed to solve urgent problems of humanity like poverty, hunger, exploitation, economic oppression, sexism, racism, the destruction of natural resources and the absence of a truly participative democracy.[306] While having democratic socialist elements, it primarily resembles Marxist revisionism.[307] Leaders who have advocated for this form of socialism include Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil.[308] Because of the local unique historical conditions, it is often contrasted with previous applications of socialism in other countries, with a major difference being the effort towards a more decentralised and participatory planning process.[307]

Critics claim that this form of socialism in Latin America acts as a façade for authoritarianism. The charisma of figures like Hugo Chávez and mottoes like "Country, Socialism, or Death!" have drawn comparisons to the Latin American dictators and caudillos of the past.[309] According to Steven Levitsky, only under "the dictatorships of the past [...] were presidents reelected for life", with Levitsky further stating that while Latin America experienced democracy, citizens opposed "indefinite reelection, because of the dictatorships of the past".[310] Levitsky then noted how in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Ecuador "reelection is associated with the same problems of 100 years ago".[310] The Washington Post also stated in 2014 that "Bolivia's Evo Morales, David Ortega of Nicaragua and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez [...] used the ballot box to weaken or eliminate term limits".[311] The sustainability and stability of economic reforms associated with governments adhering to such socialism have also been questioned. Latin American countries have primarily financed their social programs with extractive exports like petroleum, natural gas and minerals, creating a dependency that some economists claim has caused inflation and slowed growth.[312] Although socialists have welcomed a socialism of the 21st century, they have been skeptical of Latin America's examples and criticized their authoritarian qualities and occasional cults of personality. While citing their progressive role, they argue that the appropriate label for these governments is populism rather than socialism.[313][314]


While elections won by Hugo Chávez were certified as being free and legitimate by Organization of American States and the Carter Center,[315] the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under Chávez and his Bolivarianism moved toward authoritarian socialism.[316][317] Although Chávez began openly proclaiming by January 2005 the ideology of socialism of the 21st century (a new term that was used to contrast the democratic socialism which he wanted to promote in Latin America from the authoritarian socialism that had been spread by socialist states like the Soviet Union and China during the 20th century, arguing that the latter had not been truly democratic, suffering from a lack of participatory democracy and an excessively authoritarian governmental structure),[315] something that was distinct from his earlier forms of Bolivarianism which had been social democratic in nature, merging elements of capitalism and socialism, the Bolivarian government used "[c]entralized decision-making and a top-down approach to policy formation, the erosion of vertical power-sharing and concentration of power in the presidency, the progressive deinstitutionalization at all levels, and an increasingly paternalist relationship between state and society" in order to hasten changes in Venezuela.[318] The various attempts, including the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt and the Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003, at overthrowing the Bolivarian government from power and end his Bolivarian Revolution may explain Chávez's radicalization.[315]

Using record-high oil revenues of the 2000s, his government nationalized key industries, created participatory democratic Communal Councils and implemented social programs known as the Bolivarian missions to expand access to food, housing, healthcare and education.[319][320][321][322][323][324][325][326][327] Venezuela received high oil profits in the mid-2000s,[328] resulting in improvements in areas such as poverty, literacy, income equality and quality of life occurring primarily between 2003 and 2007.[320][328][329] However, these gains started to reverse after 2012 and it has been argued that government policies did not address structural inequalities.[330]

On 2 June 2010, Chávez declared an economic war due to shortages in Venezuela, beginning the crisis in Bolivarian Venezuela.[331] By the end of Chávez's presidency in the early 2010s, economic actions performed by his government during the preceding decade such as deficit spending[332][333][334][335][336] and price controls[337][338][339][340][341] proved to be unsustainable, with Venezuela's economy faltering while poverty,[320][328][342] inflation[343] and shortages increased. His use of enabling acts[344][345] and his government's use of Bolivarian propaganda were also controversial.[346][347][348][349] In 2015, The Economist stated that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela—now under Nicolás Maduro after Chávez's death in 2013—was devolving from authoritarianism to dictatorship as opposition politicians were jailed for plotting to undermine the government, violence was widespread and opposition media shut down.[350] Chávez and Maduro's economic policies led to shortages, a high inflation rate and a dysfunctional economy.[351] However, the Chávez and Maduro governments have attributed Venezuela's economic problems to the decline in oil prices, sanctions imposed by the United States and economic sabotage by the opposition.[352] Western media coverage of Chávez and other Latin American leaders from the 21st-century socialist movement has been criticized as unfair by their supporters and left-leaning media critics.[353][354]


Left-wing criticism

Left-wing critics argue that authoritarian socialism is a form of state capitalism that followed anti-imperialism, populism, nationalism and social democracy rather than socialism.

Anarchist and Marxist criticism

Many democratic and libertarian socialists, including anarchists, mutualists and syndicalists, deride it as state socialism for its support of a workers' state instead of abolishing the bourgeois state apparatus outright. They use the term in contrast with their own form of socialism which involves either collective ownership (in the form of worker cooperatives) or common ownership of the means of production without centralized state planning. Those libertarian socialists believe there is no need for a state in a socialist system because there would be no class to suppress and no need for an institution based on coercion and therefore regard the state being a remnant of capitalism. Most also hold that statism is itself antithetical to true socialism, the goal of which is the eyes of libertarian socialists such as William Morris, who wrote as follows in a Commonweal article: "State Socialism? — I don't agree with it; in fact I think the two words contradict one another, and that it is the business of Socialism to destroy the State and put Free Society in its place".[355]

Classical and orthodox Marxists also view state socialism as an oxymoron, arguing that while an association for managing production and economic affairs would exist in socialism, it would no longer be a state in the Marxist definition which is based on domination by one class. Preceding the Bolshevik-led revolution in Russia, many socialist groups—including reformists, orthodox Marxist currents such as council communism and the Mensheviks as well as anarchists and other libertarian socialists—criticized the idea of using the state to conduct planning and nationalization of the means of production as a way to establish socialism.[356] Lenin himself acknowledged his policies as state capitalism[183][184][185][186] and on seeing the Soviet Union's growing coercive power said that Russia had reverted to "a bourgeois tsarist machine [...] barely varnished with socialism".[187]

Critical of the economy and government of socialist states, left communists such as the Italian Amadeo Bordiga said that their socialism was a form of political opportunism which preserved rather than destroyed capitalism because of the claim that the exchange of commodities would occur under socialism; the use of popular front organisations by the Communist International;[357] and that a political vanguard organised by organic centralism was more effective than a vanguard organised by democratic centralism.[358] The American Marxist Raya Dunayevskaya also dismissed it as a type of state capitalism[359] because (i) state ownership of the means of production is a form of state capitalism;[360] (ii) the dictatorship of the proletariat is a form of democracy and single-party rule is undemocratic[361] and (iii) Marxism–Leninism is neither Marxism nor Leninism, but a composite ideology which socialist leaders like Joseph Stalin used to expediently determine what is communism and what is not communism among the Eastern Bloc countries.[362]

Libertarian socialist criticism

A variety of non-state, libertarian communist and socialist positions reject the concept of a socialist state altogether, believing that the modern state is a byproduct of capitalism and cannot be used for the establishment of a socialist system. They reason that a socialist state is antithetical to socialism and that socialism will emerge spontaneously from the grassroots level in an evolutionary manner, developing its own unique political and economic institutions for a highly organized stateless society. Libertarian communists, including anarchists, councillists, leftists and Marxists, also reject the concept of a socialist state for being antithetical to socialism, but they believe that socialism and communism can only be established through revolution and dissolving the existence of the state. Within the socialist movement, there is criticism towards the use of the term socialist states in relation to countries such as China and previously of Soviet Union and Eastern and Central European states before what some term the "collapse of Stalinism" in 1989.[363][364][365][366]

Anti-authoritarian communists and socialists such as anarchists, other democratic and libertarian socialists as well as revolutionary syndicalists and left communists[367] claim that the so-called socialist states actually presided over state capitalist economies and cannot be called socialist. Those socialists who oppose any system of state control whatsoever believe in a more decentralized approach which puts the means of production directly into the hands of the workers rather than indirectly through state bureaucracies—which they claim represent a new elite or class. This leads them to consider state socialism a form of state capitalism (an economy based on centralized management, capital accumulation and wage labor, but with the state owning the means of production) which Engels stated would be the final form of capitalism rather than socialism.[94]

Trotskyist criticism

Some Trotskyists following on from Tony Cliff deny that it even is socialism, calling it instead state capitalism.[368] Other Trotskyists agree that these states could not be described as socialist,[369] but deny that they were state capitalist.[370] They support Leon Trotsky's analysis of pre-restoration Soviet Union as a workers' state that had degenerated into a bureaucratic dictatorship which rested on a largely nationalized industry run according to a plan of production [371][372][373] and claimed that the former Stalinist states of Central and Eastern Europe were deformed workers' states based on the same relations of production as the Soviet Union.[374] Trotsky himself believed that regardless of their intellectual capacity, central planners operate without the input and participation of the millions of people who participate in the economy that can understand and respond to local conditions and changes in the economy. Because of this, Trostky and some of his followers criticized central state planning as being unable to effectively coordinate all economic activity.[375]

Right-wing criticism

Right-wing criticism is mainly related to communist party rule as well as anti-communism, anti-Marxism and anti-socialism.[376] Authoritarian socialist states and state socialism are often conflated to and referred to by detractors simply as socialism. For example, Austrian School economists such as Ludwig Mises and Friedrich Hayek continually used the word socialism as a synonym for authoritarian socialism and its command economy. The attributive state is usually added by socialists with a non-state based method for achieving socialism to criticize state socialism. Another criticism is the economic calculation problem,[377][378] followed by the socialist calculation debate.[379][380][381]

See also


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