Authoritarian socialism

Authoritarian socialism refers to a collection of political-economic systems describing themselves as socialist and rejecting the liberal democratic concepts of multi-party politics, freedom of assembly, habeas corpus and freedom of expression.

Several countries, including the Soviet Union and Maoist China have been described by journalists and scholars as Authoritarian Socialist states. However, neither state used the term 'authoritarian socialist' to describe themselves — these states declared themselves to be Proletarian or People's Democracies.

Authoritarian socialism also encompassed ideologies like Arab and African Socialism.

Political Roots


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.[2] Marx and 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]

Draper identifies elitism as being one of the six major varieties of "socialism-from-above."

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.[2]

Edward Bellamy

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 distances himself from radical socialist values, and in many ways his ideal society still imitates many of the systems in late 19th century America. However, his book served as the inspiration for a mass political movement, called Nationalism, within the United States in the late 1800s.[2] 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.

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.[3] Most importantly, the government is the most powerful and respected institution, necessary for providing and maintaining this utopia.[2] Arthur Lipow identifies the bureaucratic ruling of this ideal society as a quasi-military organization of both economic and social relations.[4] Bellamy elevates the modern military as a catalyst for national interest.

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: “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.” [4]

Friedrich von Hayek

Friedrich von Hayek, an Austrian 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.[5][6] Unlike Bellamy who praised the idea of elites implementing policies, Hayek makes the argument that socialism inherently leads to tyranny, claiming that “In 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.”[7] He also argues that socialism and fascism both are based in central economic planning and valuing the state over the individual.[7] In this way, as happened in the years following World War I, it becomes possible for totalitarian or authoritarian leaders to rise to power.


Theory and Rationale

Authoritarian socialism is a political-economic system that can be generally described as socialist but 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.

Formation of Industry

Often, as authoritarian powers enforce socialist economics, the process 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.[8] 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 Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini (who formed these cults of personality but did not form authoritarian socialist regimes) were contradictory and poorly understood, there were a few centrally planned work projects under their states.[9] The Reichsautobahn in Germany was an example of this. The construction of the autobahns and industries surrounding highway construction elevated the percentage of employed Germans throughout the construction.[10] In Fascist Italy, projects like the Battle for Grain, Battle for Land are public work projects that Communists and Socialist would traditionally support. However, the Italian Fascist regime was not in favor of having the economy under full control of the state, rather, Benito Mussolini chose to link private businesses and the state to organize economic policies. This was more in line with corporatist economic policies.[11] Authoritarian socialist regimes and Fascist regimes differ in that the latter shifts a focus on class conflict to a focus on conflict between nations and races.[12]

Aside from Russia and a number of former Eastern Bloc members, many states with authoritarian socialist regimes are not categorized as industrialized. 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 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: 1) elites have the time and resources to enforce Socialist theory, because 2) 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".[13] Socialism from above, according to Hal Draper, 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).[13] Outside of Europe, Vietnam, Mozambique, and Eritrea stand as examples of states that were socialist and ruled by a single-party at some point in the 20th century. In Mozambique, the single-state rule of FRELIMO occurred while the state was still socialist right after Portuguese rule was ending in 1975.[14] Elsewhere in Africa, Eritrea is another example of single-party rule implementing a socialist agenda. The ruling party emerging in 1970 was the EPLF (Eritrean People's Liberation Front), and with control of the state, the EPLF began work on socialist ideals such as broadening women's rights and expanding education.[15] This, again, occurred without opposition voices being given the right to be heard. In Vietnam, the Communist party considers itself to be in transition to socialism and also the "vanguard of the working people and the whole nation.[16]"


Departments of propaganda are not at all rare in these regimes. The extensive use of propaganda is spills into art, cinema, posters, newspapers, books, etc. In the Soviet Union, a byproduct of strict censorship was the blossoming of Russian science fiction and fantasy as well as Socialist Realism.[17] 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..


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 socialist economic system that distinguish it from the capitalist or market economy:

The socialist economic model is greatly characterized by the government’s central planning.[18] As well as the social ownership of the means of production, ideally society would be the owner – but in practice the state is the owner of the means of production. If the state is the owner, the idea is that they would work for the benefit of society – of the working class.[19] In practice, the society is the owner only in theory and the political institutions governing society are completely set up by the people.[20]

Centrally Planned Economies

In a centrally planned economy there is a central planning authority, usually named the State Planning Commission, which is in charge of acting within the framework of social goals and the priorities designated by the party.[18] The planning was done under the idea that leaving market indicators would allow for social advancement.[21] The central planning authority is responsible for five specific tasks:

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, they 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.[18][22]

Soviet Economics

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 – these desires then were to be weighted into the decision making. The main goal of the Soviet Union according to article 11 of its constitution was to “raise the material and cultural standards of the working people”.[23]

Marxist thought and its interpretation by the Soviet Union dictated that private ownership was to be banned, the nationalization of all aspects of production was 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. As well, Soviet style economies use a larger proportion of their resources on investment than do free-market economies. The issue with this is that current consumption is undercut because of the over-investment. All these actions support the purposes of the state, not the people.

Despite the attempts of the Soviet Union to guarantee employment to all of its labor force, communist theory 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.”[23][24] A main problem of the Soviet Union was it pushed agriculture to the bottom of its priorities, and that its central planning scheme inhibited technological innovation.[23][25] The Soviet Union had a poor overall performance, even though it had high growth rates in productions, many enterprises operated with losses.[26]

Eastern Europe Economics

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, those were Bulgaria, Poland, and East Germany. There were countries that decided to first prepare theoretically, then experimentation at different levels, and then in a large scale, those were Hungary and Romania. Czechoslovakia is 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.[26]

There are few differences between the economic model of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries such as Poland and East Germany. Czechoslovakia and East Germany were administered along regional lines. Poland retained a centralized system similar to the Stalinist centralization of the Soviet Union.[24] 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”. As well, there was less bureaucracy than in the Soviet Union involved in the planning of the countries.[26]

Maoist China Economics

The Maoist China economic model was designed after the Stalinist principles of a centrally administered socialist economy.[27]

Mao condemned Stalinism at the Twentieth Congress and the flaws in the communist movement that peaked with the Hungarian rising. 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 1958 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 he wrote about his thoughts on the problems of socialist states, as well as the conflicts of interest in the Chinese socialist society. In Ten Great Relationships he wrote about his vision of China’s economy.[28]

Maoist China had a dual economic goal, 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. China allowed for more flexibility and experimentation that the Soviet Union, as well, the countryside is at the center of its policies.[29]

Systematic Challenges of Socialist Economics

The problem with the central planning of socialist economies is that as the state develops it grows in complexity and the possible errors grow and the possibilities of dis-allocations and waste of resources.[18] As commented by 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.[30] Some of the issues that emerged during the Socialist phase of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and Maoist China, were:

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.[27]


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 Leninist and Stalinist regimes.[31][32] However, as the USSR 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 twentieth 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 USSR.[33]

Much like the Soviet Union, they feature external controls such as violent repression and forms of “artificial” socialization.[34] 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.[34] 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).[34]

Authoritarianism in the USSR

Despite the Marxian basis of Vladimir Lenin’s socialism, the realities of his regime were, in fact, in direct opposition to Marx’s belief in the emancipation and autonomy of the working class.[32] These contradictions stem primarily from Lenin’s implementation of a ‘vanguard’ party, or a regimented party of committed revolutionaries “who knew exactly what history’s mandate was and who were prepared to be its self-ordained custodians.”[35] 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.[35]

Vladimir Lenin's Soviet Union

Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, 1919

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.[31] This resulted in stagnant economies and socialist states without the necessary organization and structure to industrialize.[31] Lenin, seeing the failure of these models, concluded that socialism in Russia had to be constructed “from above,” through the dictatorship of the proletariat.[35]

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 party.[31] They 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.[31]

Lenin’s legacy was one of violent terror and concentration of power in the hands of few.[35] 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’ that with the theses of the opposition.”[35] 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.[35] 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.[35]

Joseph Stalin


Stalin, too, sought to rapidly industrialize the USSR in a way that was perhaps unrealistic given the aggregate skill level and capital of the population. 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.[31] 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.[35]

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 czars 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.[31] Indeed, 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.[31][32][35]

It is little wonder, therefore, that his expectations remained uncontested by the working class. Despite this and the various economic failures of his regime, the regime model was adopted by a multitude of emerging socialist states during that era. For example, the catastrophic Soviet attempt to collectivize agriculture, which transformed the Soviet Union from one of the world’s largest exporters of grain to the world’s largest importer of grain, widely replicated despite its failure.[31]

Maoist Socialism

Chairman Mao Zedong

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 began seizing power, led by Mao Zedong.[36] In his 1949 essay On People's Democratic Dictatorship, Zedong committed himself and the Chinese State to the creation of a strong state power with increased economic control.[36] He stressed the importance of an authoritarian state, where political order and unity could be established and maintained. Zedong committed himself to unification in the vein of complete system overthrow.[36] As Party Chairman, Zedong allowed himself complete control over the structure and execution of his Communist Party. While in control, Mao had created his own Cult of Personality: an almost mythical position as a guardian of wisdom and charisma.[36]

With such power, he was able to influence popular opinions, allowing his agenda support without going through state-controlled measures. During his Great Leap Forward—an initiative to develop China from an agrarian sector a major industrial powerhouse—he relied greatly on his prestige to influence the people.[36] The Leap, however, proved a failure as widespread crop and irrigation failures led to the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-1961. There was no suggested end to the Revolution—it was meant to be a continuing process of empowerment of the peasant class.[37] However, with the aggressive failure of his Cultural Revolution, Chinese support for the party and for Zedong waned. Continuing struggles after his death would undermine his communist system, allowing a more democratic, yet still one-party ruled, system to continue into today.

Evolution from Marxism

Maoist socialism is largely an adapted, Sino-centric version of Marxism, as Zedong relies heavily on Leninist influence.[38] Zedong believed in a democratic centralism, where party decisions are brought about by scrutiny and debate but infallible once implemented.[37] He did not, however, accept dissenters to the party's decisions. Through the Cultural Revolution, especially 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.[37] At the same time, however, 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".[37] While the system advocates contradiction, Mao believed the state, above all, could provide the masses with the tools for their own expression. Ironically, 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.[37]

Notably, Zedong's authoritarianism, unlike Marx's, was rooted 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.[38] 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.[38] Once this unity was established, Mao argued that the people were the ones who could control the state. His government's intense control over the citizenry, however, emphasizes the contradiction in his theory—a contradiction, he maintained, was a necessary reality of their specialized system [38]

Venezuelan authoritarianism

Hugo Chávez wearing standard military fatigues in 2010.

Under Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela moved toward authoritarian socialism.[39][40] 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.[41]

Arab Authoritarian Socialism

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 regimes 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.[42]

These regimes 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.[42]

However, with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the push for democratization, many Arab states have moved toward a model of fiscal discipline proposed by the Washington Consensus.[42] Although authoritarian leaders of these socialist states implemented democratic institutions during the 1980s and 1990s, ultimately their multiparty elections created an arena in which business elites could lobby for personal interests, while largely silencing the lower class.[42] Furthermore, economic liberalization in these regions yielded economies (and therefore regimes) built on the support of rent-seeking urban elites.[42] However, political opposition invites the prospect of political marginalization and even retaliation.

Resistance to Democratization

Arab Region

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 in Authoritarianism in the Middle East 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.[43] 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”.[44] 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.[44] 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.[43][44][45]

Oliver Schlumberger, in his book Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes, 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.[45]

African Socialism

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.[46] While there were few Marxist movements into the continent, USSR 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.[46] They did not, however, establish clear social or political parameters for this new liberation.

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, some democratic—into tailored ideologies specific to each country.[46] 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".[47]

Senegalese Authoritarianism

Leopold Senghor

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.[48] The measure shortly failed, keeping autonomy from the colonies until the independence movements of the 1960s.

After Senegalese Independence, Senghor's Union Progresiste Senegalaise, a derivative of the French Socialist Party, grew massive support throughout the continent.[47] Much of his party's success hinged on his 'revisionist' version of Marxism, where he advocates: "the major contradiction of Marxism is that it presents itself as a science, whereas, despite its denials, it is based on an ethic".[47] 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- he calls on a national movement from and for his one-party-ruled government: "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".[47]

Ghanian Authoritarianism

Kwame Nkrumah

Socialist leader Kwame Nkrumah, in the same vein as Senghor, 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".[49] To accomplish this, Nkrumah emphasized the importance of discipline and obedience towards the single Socialist party. If people submitted, he said, and accepted the singular party's program, political independence would be possible.[49] By 1965, his one-party rule had produced an Assembly entirely made up of his own party members [50]

Nkrumah saw law as a malleable weapon of political power, not as a product of a complex system of political institutions.[50] As such, Ghanaian power structures were dominated and controlled by his hand. Elite landowners, however, questioned the legitimacy of Nkrumah's power. These elites were only afforded one choice: 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.[51] The Asante, for example, 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.[51]

Tanzanian Authoritarianism

Julius Nyerere attempted to socialist reform for Tanzania following those in Ghana and Senegal. The tenets of his initiatives were four-fold:[52]

  1. Promote the Tanzanian Economy
  2. Secure State control over development
  3. Create a sole political party called the Tanzanian 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.[52] 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.[53]

The first wave of elections in the Tanzanian General Election, produced a 100% voting rate for TANU officials.


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