The one-party system is that political system in which there is only one party with options to reach power. This does not mean that it is the only existing party, but that, even when there are several, it has occupied all the public and state administrations in such a way that it makes it impossible for another to win in the elections.
In fact, there are cases in which it is the rulers themselves who have the last word on who can stand in those elections. Unlike what happens in dictatorships, in countries where there has been a one-party system, elections are held and there are usually opposition representatives in parliaments.
In many of these cases, the opposition was testimonial or served as an excuse for the regime to declare itself fully democratic. In this context, there are various types of one-partyism: from the fascist that appeared in Italy in the 20th century, to the Marxists of Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
The theoretical justifications for the need for this to be the chosen political system vary depending on the ideologies that sustain it. In any case, many one-party regimes are one step away from being considered authentic dictatorships.
In the same way, other regimes of this type directly became dictatorships. An example of this is the aforementioned Italian case; this happened when the party changed the rules as a result of its large parliamentary majorities.
Although dictatorships are as old as the human being himself, the one-party system did not appear until the 20th century, or at least it was not theorized about it.
The cause of this late appearance is due to the fact that the existence of political parties is necessary for a one-party system to take place, and these are quite recent in history.
Although for some historians some small-scale examples existed before, the National Fascist Party of Italy is often cited as the initiator of this system.
This party came to power in 1921 and soon took all political and social control; it ended up leading to a Hitler-allied dictatorship in World War II .
Frequently, revolutions or the independence of colonial powers have been the origin of one-party systems. In the first case, the victors of the revolution formed the party that would later govern and either did not allow other opponents, or they became so powerful that no one could overshadow them.
In the case of independences, something similar happens. Their leaders tend to perpetuate themselves in power later. Recent examples are found in some Eurasian republics that, after becoming independent from the USSR, have given way to one-party regimes, such as Uzbekistan.
Characteristics of the one-party system
There are several types of one-party systems, although they share certain common characteristics. The first is the one that gives the regime its name: there is only one party that can govern.
Unlike dictatorships, elections are held regularly but with no chance of another party winning. In principle, they do not have to mean a loss of citizens’ rights either, but in practice this is very common.
Sometimes the loop is broken, and after several decades the single party is defeated; such was the case of the Mexican PRI, after 75 years in power.
In other cases, only violence breaks the system, as happened after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Europe and the loss of power of the communist parties in the area.
Total control of the institutions
Another common characteristic is that the single parties come to control all the social, political and economic spheres of the nation, getting one thing mixed up with the other. Mussolini tried to reinvent Italy after coming to power, and Franco tried the same in Spain.
This total control of the institutions is one of the keys that explains the resistance of these parties in the countries where elections are held.
Controlling from the agency that offers grants and aid, to the public media, gives them a great comparative advantage with their rivals.
And that’s not counting those cases in which the electoral authority (also in their hands) can veto those candidates they consider dangerous.
Types of one-party systems
It has possibly been the type of one-party regime that has spread the most throughout the world since the second decade of the 20th century.
In those states the only party allowed is the communist party, although it was sometimes part of broader leftist coalitions. Even today you can find five countries that follow this pattern: China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam.
There are small differences depending on the place. In some – the majority – there was only one legal party, while in others there may be more.
For example, in China there are up to 8 legal parties, but they have to accept the authority of the Communist Party in order to stand for election.
Classical Leninism’s theoretical justification for defending one-partyism is the belief that political parties do not really represent the people, but only defend their own interests and those of the economic elites. That being the case, and once there is no class difference, they are not necessary for the country.
The Communist Party is only maintained due to the need for some kind of structure to organize and coordinate the different areas of the state. Furthermore, as a representative of the single class, it was supposed to represent all citizens.
Fascist one-party system
There are three cases of fascist one-partyism that stand out in history. The first is the already mentioned Fascist Party in Italy, which as soon as it came to power began to change the laws, diminishing the rights enjoyed by its compatriots.
The second case is that of the Nazis in Germany. Hitler had reached parliament thanks to the elections and took advantage of the weakness of the other parties and the laws of the time to seize power, despite not having been the winner.
He soon began to outlaw some leftist opponents, eventually getting the rest of the formations to voluntarily disband. As of 1933 the creation of new parties was prohibited.
In Spain the situation was different. Despite the fact that Falange had supported Franco during the Civil War and that the idea of creating a one-party system came from his ideas, it was an almost totally personalist regime and without elections.
The three cases have in common that they led very quickly into authoritarian dictatorships, thus ceasing to be one-party systems.
Their justifications were similar: from the nationalist justification and having to face an external and internal enemy (pointing to the other parties as part of that “enemy”), to the intention of creating a new State, in the image and likeness of his ideology, without leaving room for different thoughts.
Nationalist one-party system
Nationalist one-partyism, an ideology also present in the fascists, is typical of many newly independent nations or those with struggles against foreign enemies.
The most common example may be that of Arab socialism, which ruled Iraq alone for many years.
One-party system by dominance
As has been commented, it is not necessary for the rest of the parties to be prohibited for there to be talk of a one-party system.
In countries where there are several political formations, what is called one-party dominance can exist. In other words, one of the parties has so much influence that in practice it becomes the only party with the possibility of governing.
Apart from the example of the PRI, present-day Russia can be seen as heading towards such a regime.
Without becoming a pure one-party system, it does have many of its characteristics that respond to this regime, especially the ability to unite the training structure to the entire national scope.
Advantages and disadvantages
The defenders of the one-party system point out that it is a system that better organizes the country without internal dissent. In addition, they believe that the people are not prepared to choose certain aspects, and that it is best to let other more experts do it.
Those who do obtain clear advantages are those related to the ruling party, who become a layer of privileged people compared to the rest.
As for the disadvantages, the clearest is that these systems can very easily slide towards a complete dictatorship.
In the same way, it is quite common to fall into the cult of the personality of the leader of the moment, since it is a way to maintain a certain social support.
Finally, these systems end up suffering from some isolation from the real problems of the population.
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