A single party state occurs when only one political party has the right to form the government. This result usually occurs because of what the existing constitution or governing documents declare is possible, allowing for a one-party solution that does not allow the participation of others. All other parties are either outlawed entirely or allowed to have limited or controlled participation in an election.
A single party state can also occur in democratic multi-party elections when a dominant party continues a streak of domination at the ballot box. This version of governing usually occurs when the existing practices or balance of power effectively prevent political opponents from ever winning an election.
The Soviet Union used a single party state to argue that the existence of multiple parties was a representation of class struggle. Proponents often say that this form of governing encourages national unity because it gives everyone a place of common ground. It is a vanguard that protects the nation.
Since most single party states tend to be run as a communist, socialist, or dictatorship form of government, the pros and cons of this government must be given careful consideration.
List of the Pros of a Single Party State
1. It allows for the formation of a central economy.
Single party states have the power to mobilize whatever economic resources are available quickly and for large-scale responses whenever there is an emergency or project that needs their attention. New industrial production can occur with a single edict from the political party in power. This advantage makes it possible for this form of government to implement projects on a grand scale faster than other structures because there is no room for debate. The government has the power to over-ride the self-interest of any individual who might be in the way. The welfare of the people supports a successful implementation of the government.
2. The government can shape itself into the best possible version of itself.
When governments must go through an elective process on a regular cycle, then the economic foundation of the country changes when there are alterations to the power base. In the United States, you rarely see Democratic governments implementing Republican ideas or vice-versa when one party kicks the other out of power. A single party state doesn’t go through that process. Long-term economic plans, often 5-10 years in length, get implemented as a way to propel an economy toward bigger and better things.
It’s not just communist or socialist governments that focus on this advantage either. Monarchies can also complete long-term changes to an economy more effectively than a government that cycles through different parties every 2-8 years.
3. A single party state can offer more equality.
The goal of a single party state is to provide unity to the general electorate. The average person receives the same treatment as their neighbor with this government because everyone gets what they need to build a life for themselves. It is rare for this form of governing to become top-heavy at the top in wealth because there is a lack of classism present. Individuals receive an equal opportunity to pursue whatever they feel is essential to their happiness.
That’s not to say that there won’t be wealthy people outside of the “normal” class because there will be. Government officials, business leaders, and oligarchs continue to enjoy the privileges of wealth. The only difference is that there are fewer advantages with such an opportunity.
4. Everyone who wants a job can typically find one in a single party state.
When you live under an authoritative single-party state, then anyone who wants employment can find a job. If you don’t like the concept of working, then you must support your government in some other way. That means everyone works in some way because the government forces each person into a job through threats of supply reduction.
Karl Marx preferred the idea of hiring people to a particular job based on their skills and talents. Every person has a similar role in the production process, so there are fewer problems with classism and hierarchy in each industry.
5. Single party states can offer more educational opportunities.
Proponents of the single-party state believe that an instructed public is one that knows how to read and write. Some government officials might try to restrict the educated class, the “elitists,” from gaining too much power in this governing structure. There is also a general understanding that the population must know how to read and write if they can serve the public good in some way.
When China moved to a single-party state in 1949, one of their fundamental changes was to bring educative and vocational opportunities to the average person. That’s because the general population can only be as productive as the functional abilities they take into the workplace. If you recruit the average individual to fulfill a particular job, then the results may be inferior.
6. There are stronger social communities in a single party state.
Single-party systems try to build robust communities that can self-govern as needed. The goal is to be inclusive of different perspectives, including religion, as long as there isn’t a real or perceived threat against the leadership. That’s because this governing system focuses more on the element of togetherness than the idea that diversity is what makes people stronger. There are no “minorities” because everyone is treated in the same way.
The only problem with this particular advantage is that it only exists in the idealized form of this government structure. Because a single party state will usually place one person in charge (think Vladimir Putin), the individual preferences of the leader slowly override what the rest of society might want.
List of the Cons of a Single Party State
1. The government typically owns everything in a single-party state.
When you are living in a single-party state, then the government usually owns every element of society. That includes the home where you live, the business that provides you with a job, and every aspect of the market. There are no influences of supply or demand because the government declares what you need to have for your daily living activities. That makes it challenging to know what the production cycle should be, which means industries become exceptionally inefficient under this structure.
Governments operated by a single party usually produce too much of unnecessary items and too few of what they actually require. That’s why surpluses and shortages occur in opposite directions in socialist or communist governments.
2. There are fewer freedoms in a single party state.
The most dangerous right that someone can have in a single party state is the opportunity to freely express opinions. That is why you rarely see a free press in communist or socialist governments. Most systems that support this form of governing don’t allow people to have the freedom to speak their mind either. When people start to think that there could be a better way, then it threatens those who are in power. Once the party gets into a ruling position, their goal is to stay there indefinitely.
There are countless examples of people who are in prison because they spoke out against their government in some way. Six bloggers were recently sentenced to 66 years in prison because of the content of their blogs criticizing the government of Vietnam, with another 17 years under house arrest collectively. Judges in the country found them guilty of subversion in a trial that only lasted a few hours.
3. Central planning makes it a challenge to anticipate future needs.
Although a single party state does an excellent job of distributing resources, it rarely knows what it should be producing in the first place. There are no free markets in this system, so it is impossible to understand what the general population requires. That’s why almost every governing system like this in history survives because of the underground markets that exist. It is the only way to create a bartering system that keeps productivity levels high, which is why some government officials tolerate or encourage its formation.
Because the government theoretically supplies everything, individuals are seen as a resource. That’s why people are often treated as being expendable when this form of governing is allowed to come to power.
4. Motivation is non-existent in a single party state.
The government is responsible for all industries in a single party state, so the idea of entrepreneurism is tantamount to blasphemy under this governing system. Production cycles operate to the extent that it can meet the estimated domestic needs of the country. That limits the number of export opportunities that become available, creating restrictions on the amount of innovation and efficiency that exist in the system. There is no motivation to be creative or hard-working in this system either. The goal is to do only enough to stay out of trouble and maintain one’s existence.
5. Consumers are based on those with wealth instead of the average person.
Although there is a push for equality in the single party system, that perspective is based on those with the most wealth and influence in society. Theoretically, anyone could get themselves into that position, but the practical application of this governing system tells us that it doesn’t happen. It is the ruling party and those with wealth who dictate what happens and the distribution needs – usually after they take the first cut of what is available. That’s why even communist governments tend to move toward mixed economies instead of staying with the true centralized structure.
6. It is impossible to achieve an internal balance of supply and demand.
A single party state struggles to understand supply and demand domestically because there is no motivation to obtain this data. The government can decide what it believes is the most efficient method of maintaining the households it oversees. If there are sanctions in place to restrict access to the export market, as is the case with North Korea in 2019, then the government turns to illicit activities like methamphetamine manufacturing. This disadvantage gives officials hard currency that can be used to purchase whatever they want while maintaining production levels through the stimulating effects of the drugs.
7. Everyone receives the same reward in a single party system.
A society without any class structures to it requires that every worker, regardless of their responsibility, to receive the same reward for serves rendered. If one industry requires more physical labor than another, then high levels of discontent form because the extra responsibilities go unrecognized by the government.
It also means that everyone might receive the same consequences if the government feels like there is a community, state, or region trying to defy their control. We see this disadvantage play out in Russia still today with the crackdown on the LGBTQIA+ community in Chechnya. Police are detaining men unlawfully, performing beatings, and humiliating anyone they think might be bisexual or gay.
8. Families lose the ability to save money or resource for themselves.
A single party system usually caps the amount of money that the average family can earn or save as a way to limit their influence. Those wealth caps may not apply to the leadership of the political party. If you were to reach the cap and still have resources available to you, then the rest of your earnings would go back to the government. Your guaranteed income level is the only amount allowed. If you have more hard currency or tradable goods than your work should allow, then you could be subject fines, prison time, or worse. This disadvantage is the reason why workers have little motivation to remain active beyond the bare minimum.
9. Only the government authorizes a different opinion.
When there is a single party system in place, then it is the government who authorizes any dissenting opinion. That is why there is usually no other party permitted in the constitution of this structure. Even when limited opposition is permitted, the terms of protest are strictly dictated to avoid any negative pressure forming against those in charge. Even historical protests are wiped from memory over time by governments following this system.
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 are an excellent example of this disadvantage. Caused by a wave of democracy, reactions to nepotism, political corruption, and the death of Hu Yaobang, thousands of students came to declare their displeasure. China’s government moved the military into the square on June 4, killing anyone who got in their way. Estimates of the death toll varies from several hundred to tens of thousands of people.
10. It reduces industrial innovation.
There is no need to innovate in a single party system because domestic production doesn’t require efficiencies. The government knows that there is a specific number of items that must be made, so it makes them. Looking for better ways to proceed or improving the quality of the goods is rarely taken into consideration. Over time, this causes the country to lag behind those who embrace at least some free market principles. It also creates stagnancy in the local economy, reducing the ability of people to use their talents to better themselves and their community.
The government takes the perspective that it is the only one who knows what is best for everyone. If you run counter to that opinion, then you could be exiled, jailed, or worse.
11. Single party systems often lead to structures that are abusive to the average person.
Because the government is in charge of production, then there is a higher risk of abuse to the average person for a variety of reasons. Those in charge might want more money, power, or control. There could be a desire to pursue a specific personal agenda. Since it is always those at the top of the party’s hierarchy that get to make societal-level decisions, the temptation to increase one’s wealth at the expense of everyone else can be a temptation that’s too difficult to counter for some officials.
Verdict of the Pros and Cons of a Single Party State
A single party system seems like it could solve some of the common problems that multi-party governments encounter, but it is usually a poorer outcome that occurs. Instead of focusing on community ownership, the government takes over everything. Free markets are replaced with dictated production, inefficient work, and fewer workplace protections for those who still try to do their part to support their families.
Although the idea of this governing structure is to create more equality, it does so by creating a race to see who can hit the bottom first. People become equal in a single party state because everyone has nothing.
That’s why the pros and cons of a single party state prove that it can be one of the most dangerous forms of governments operating today. The only way it is successful for everyone is when there is a generous and benevolent ruler in charge of the structure. It can be used for tremendous good, but the single party is usually reserved for oppressive regimes instead.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.