One-party states, or single-party states, are nation-states where only one specific political party has the monopoly of political power. One-party states are autocratic and nondemocratic political regimes. Examples of one-party nation-states are North Korea, Cuba, and China. In these countries the Communist Party has the legal monopoly of representing the whole of society in politics on the basis of a Communist constitution. Non-Communist one-party states can be found mainly in Africa, but these political systems are mostly linked with weak or failing states, whereas Communist single-party states are combined with a strong state apparatus and a highly centralized bureaucracy.
The main difference between a one-party state and a dominant party state is that one party has the monopoly of political representation of society in the former and a strong party is dominating within a multiparty system in the latter. A single-party nation-state is always a non-democratic political regime. A dominant party state can be either a democratic regime or a hybrid regime, combining elements of democratic and autocratic political systems. In a dominant party state there is one strong, major political party, which dominates several small and minor political parties. Historical examples of democratic dominant party states are Italy and Japan after 1945 and India after gaining independence from the British Empire in 1947. An example of a hybrid dominant party state with democratic as well as autocratic elements is the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin (2000–2007), with “United Russia” as the dominant political party.
One-party states are characterized by one single party representing the whole of society, assuming that there are no particular social interests, only a general and unified political will, representing a dominant and supposedly superior social class, the working class. Communist one-party states like North Korea, Cuba, or China are characterized by long-term autocratic and charismatic leaders such as Kim Il Sung (1912–1994) in North Korea, Fidel Castro (1926–) in Cuba, and Mao Zedong (Tse-tung) (1893–1976) in China. For many decades the one-party regime in all three countries had leaders with a cult of personality, and the nations displayed gigantic portraits and statues to create a larger-than-life public image for their rulers. In the mid-2000s North Korea and Cuba were examples of unchanged Communist regimes with a centrally planned economy. China represents a Communist one-party state, which is changing the economic system from a Communist command economy to a capitalist market economy. One positive aspect of one-party states is the centralization of political power, which facilitates structural changes of the economy toward a free market economy, like in contemporary China. Negative aspects of single-party states are the lack of democratic and human rights as well as the absence of social liberties and political freedom. One-party states can be—due to the lack of democratic checks and balances—irrational actors in international politics, when their autocratic leaders decide a certain course of foreign policy. The end of the rule of the current dictators in Cuba and North Korea might be a chance for social forces and social movements in these remaining Communist states to commence a transformation toward democracy and a free market economy. China is already on a long march toward a capitalist economy with an uncertain future of its current one-party state.
SEE ALSO Autocracy; Castro, Fidel; Mao Zedong; Nation-State; Party Systems, Competitive; Personality, Cult of; Totalitarianism
Brooker, Paul. 2000. Non-Democratic Regimes: Theory, Government, and Politics. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Christian W. Haerpfer