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Party-State System

Written by Yigit Efe Nas


Political parties provide channels for political participation that enable citizens to work together to achieve a common goal. Based on the pluralist idea, which is the most widely accepted political participation idea, people need to work in groups, mostly in the form of political parties, to have an impact. Currently, there are 3 types of party systems in the world, that is for democratic countries obviously. The first one is the multi-party system, which is apparent mostly in western countries and a few others. Even if there are only 1 or 2 parties with a chance of winning an election, excluding realignment and dealignment elections, people still have the opportunity to choose, which is something many others do not have [Multi-party system, 2021]. The second system is the two-party system, in which, even if there are more than 2 parties, only 2 parties have a chance of winning an election [What is The Two-Party, 2021]. The difference between the multi-party system and the two-party system is the fact that, unlike the multi-party system, in the two-party system, the chance of a third party winning an election even during a realignment or critical election is closer to 0% than it is to 1%; for example, in the United States, during the critical elections of 1860, the minority parties, excluding the Democrat Party as it was connected to Southern Democrats, could only win 3 states, all won by the Constitutional Union [Presidential Election, 2022]. Lastly, the one-party system, or party-state, in this system, whether there is only 1 party or 1 party has a chance of winning an election. This system takes people’s right of electing or be elected from them via elections of which the results are already known before they even take place [One Party System, 2018]. Making the party the only controller of the country. While there is always a possibility for some other party to win, the ruling party mostly uses the power of the media to oppose the other party's ideas and supporters. This may give them the power to block other parties' growth and even close them. Throughout history, many kingdoms and empires were fallen or revolutionized because of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the way the country was ruled. Even though there are always other factors, still, examples of fallen or revolutionized countries because of dissatisfaction with the administration of a single body would include the United States of America’s independence from England, the fall of the Kingdom of France(1792) after the French Revolution, and the fall of the Qing Dynasty(1911) after the Xinhai revolution. The one-party system is not widely used in the world today; however, it is still current in a few countries, which are mostly former communists. Given this fact, our case study will focus on the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union, widely known as one of the biggest threats to the USA in the last century, was the first-ever communist country in the world. From the end of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) ruled the USSR until 1991 without leaving any dissidents to oppose them [T. Editors, 2022]. The aim of the party was to achieve the Communist Utopia that Karl Marx and Fredrich Engel talked about in their Communist Manifesto more than half a century ago [Soviet Political, 2016]. A peaceful life with capitalists while taking part in anti-imperialism to support the global proletariat and make the communist goals come true was the Soviet Union’s ideological purpose of achieving communism. As soon as they cut their bonds with the Menshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, officially in 1917, they became the ruler of the country and got their name changed to All-Russian Communist Party [T. Editors, 2022]. After the victory in the Russian Civil War, the communists implemented the policy of limited capitalism in the economic plan until the death of Lenin. Then Joseph Stalin and other leaders around him took over the leadership of the party and the country. Stalin initiated the Great Purge (1934–38), executing thousands of his real or presumed opponents, including within the party, by imprisoning or sending millions more to camps [T. Editors of Encyclopedia, 2022]. After the victory of the second world war, there were no other challengers to Stalin left. Later CPSU ruled the country until 1991 and possessed the biggest threat to the US until its collapse. The way they kept the power in their hands has resulted in remaining hatred and grudges in people’s hearts. This, gradually, decreased the happiness and support of citizens for the government, and fear took its place within people. The people who had been killed by the government were later called heroes, and over time people began to find the courage to oppose what the government was doing. Not being able to change the ruler of the country made people think that they didn’t have any other opportunity other than accepting the current situation as there were no other options. People were aware of the fact that their votes do not change the situation too much. Because parliamentary elections are corrupt processes that serve to legitimize the order of bourgeois political power, which is actually a covert dictatorship. However, since the public's perception of politics rises during election periods, it is necessary to use this lane to explain the facts to the workers. Since votes didn't actually change the way the country was ruling, people were thinking that their votes were not necessary at all. As a result, voter turnout in the elections decreased throughout the USSR's history. In the 1950 elections, which was Stalin’s last election, similar to previous ones, Stalin was the only option on the ballot when the election time had come, and he was elected one more time as Premier.111,090,010 of 111,116,378 million eligible voters came to vote. The results were pretty fine for the CPSU, as it received 678 votes from the Soviet Union and 638 votes from the Soviet Nationalities, the rest coming from independent candidates and Komsomol nominees.

Retrieved from: YeniSafak, 2022, `Mind-blowing man: Josef Stalin`

The 1954 election was the USSR's first post-Stalin election. The total number of voters was 120,750,816, which helped the CPSU, winning 1080 to 297 (independents) and gaining full control of the Supreme Soviet [Nohlen & Stöver, 2010]. And in the 1991 elections, which decided the new fate of the country, this number decreased to 106,484,518 as people knew their votes were changing nothing, feeling the wasted-vote syndrome. The USSR was always ruled by a dictatorial system and banned some human rights in their country. For instance, by building the Berlin wall the Soviet Union’s purpose was to split West Berlin and East Berlin. Between 1949-1961, 2.5 million East Germans traveled from East to West Germany, including rapidly increasing numbers of talented workers, professionals, and intellectuals. This brain drain endangered the economy of East Germany. As a result, East Germany built a wall to abandon East Germans’ access to West Berlin [T. Editors of Encyclopedia, 2022]. People tried to flee. First, they fled from the houses near the Wall; later these houses were confiscated and turned into fortifications for Sur's soldiers. Others planned riskier escapes by tunnels, hot air balloons, and trains. Between 1961 and 1989, more than 5,000 people deserted. Not everyone was so lucky; At least 140 people died while crossing the wall. Over the years, the Wall has become a symbol of the Cold War. By 1989, many East Germans had had enough and they had organized a series of propaganda demanding democracy. Meanwhile, the Soviets were destabilized by economic hardships and political reforms [Blakemore, 2019].

Retrieved from: Albinko Hasic, 2019, `'The Gates in the Wall Stand Open Wide.' What Happened the Day the Berlin Wall Fell`

The wall remained people that they were not free as the country banned them from going abroad. Countries are not prisons where you cannot get outside, instead, they should provide you with good opportunities and give you some purpose to stay in your country. If most of the people in a country want to emigrate, it shows that either they’re treated badly or the other country they want to live in is serving better than their country. At nightfall on November 9, 1989, Günter Schabowski answered the protests, announcing the upcoming travel reforms, but spelled out the message so badly that it felt as if the GDR had declared the opening of the borders. Thousands of East Berliners made their way to the border crossings along the Wall, where confused guards opened their doors. As East Berliners crossed, tens of thousands of West Berliners greeted them in celebration. While the Berliners were celebrating this event, they began to tear down the wall with sledgehammers and chisels. A month later, the GDR completely collapsed and in 1990, Germany was reunified [Sarotte, 2018]. The Soviet Union also oppressed many countries to spread communism to the world, and they either imprisoned or executed many challengers openly or secretly [Library of Congress,1992]. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has been the president of Russia since 2000. Like the USSR, Russia is still like a one-party state as Putin has no notable challengers for now. Similar to All-Russian Communist Party, Vladimir Putin and United Russia, the ruler party, consolidate and stay in the power through an iron fist. The Russian Federation’s current Freedom House score is 19, with political rights at 5 and civil liberties at 14, classified as a not-free country [Countries, (n.d.)].


Our second case study is going to be the People’s Republic of China, the country that maybe got affected most by communism. Since the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949, led by the first chairperson of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, China has always been ruled by the CCP and the United Front [The Chinese, (n.d.)]. The United Front’s solemn goal is to work cooperatively and neutralize the potential defiance of the CCP [China’s overseas, 2018]. In fact, there are currently 8 minority political parties in the People’s Republic of China; however, they are all part of the United Front as the Chinese Communist Party does not want any opposition [Baptista, 2021]. Currently, 2.119 of the 2.980 seats in the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China are held by the CCP with the remaining 861 being held by the 8 minority political parties and independents. Given these facts, it can be inferred that the CCP has utter authority in China, and since its establishment, hampered the Chinese society from becoming a two-party or a multi-party system by banning political parties and the United Front. The one-party system carries some serious dangers within it for China. In newly established countries, the one-party system is needed as the nation cannot afford defiance; for example, South Korea and Taiwan had a one-party system in their first 2 decades, and when suitable political and economic stability was reached for a multi-party system, both countries converted to the multi-party system. However, now over a half of century, the People’s Republic of China still has one major party with sole power [China’s Flawed, 2011].

Retrieved from: Iris Zhao & Kai Feng, 2022, `This political meeting will seal China's fate for the foreseeable future`

Unlike other one-party countries, the People’s Republic of China is, indeed, not a one-party country, but a party-state in which the party equals the country itself after a century of ruling. When the People’s Republic of China was first established, people were primarily conservative and, thus, did not have much problem with the CCP’s absolute control over the nation as the majority of the citizens supported the CCP during the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949. However, with a globalized world and increasing interrelatedness with other nations, generation X and the millennials, born after 1965, expected ballots to have more options [The generation, 2018]. Throughout its rule, the CCP, took such actions to give Chinese citizens more voting rights. For the sake of example, in 1979, a new election law got passed by the National People’s Congress, direct elections were introduced to the Chinese community for the township and county level people's congresses, and secret ballot and more candidates than deputy seats were required, all by the new election law [Gang, 1999]. Even though this alteration was not fully satisfactory for liberals, who wanted change, it was the start of such change. Still, the impact of this law should not be taken to a low opinion as after the passage of the law, officials elected to the township and county level people’s congresses began to hold real power in executing policies and exerting political and economic influence [Fu, 2020]. Due to the fact that regional rulers began to hold real power by the means of direct elections, in 2001, President Jiang Zemin pointed out that regional direct elections must not be extended to higher levels [Stromseth, 2017]. On the contrary, even though the local elections are the only ones in that citizens have a real choice, it is not always fully provided; for instance, in the Hunan province, in 2013, 56 representatives of the 763-strong Hunan People's Congress got dismissed by the local authorities on account of bribery [China, 2013]. A similar event also happened in the northeast province of Liaoning, in 2016, 45 national lawmakers got dismissed based on vote-buying fraud [Choi, 2016]. It is no eye-opener that such electoral frauds limit Chinese citizens' right to elect and be elected.

Survey data shows that there is a silent liberal majority in China, challenging the choices of the government. Chinese citizens have a range of opinions about political freedoms and individual rights that do not always match existing policies or state propaganda. For example, a majority of respondents in the 2018 and 2019 surveys believe that the government should not interfere with whether people have children or how many children they have, which is clearly a negative judgment on the decades-long “one-child policy” [Mazzocco, 2022].

Retrieved from: Ilaria Mazzocco & Scott Kennedy, 2022, `Public opinion in China: A liberal silent majority?`

The People’s Republic of China is classified as a “not-free” country, with a score of 9 at Freedom House [Countries, (n.d.)]. Beijing’s information control has become pervasive: the government censors punish dissent, propagates disinformation, and tightens the reins on tech giants. Authorities in Tibetan areas continue to restrict freedoms of religion, expression, movement, and assembly, which are all referred to as essential rights. In addition, they fail to address popular concerns about mining and land grabs by local officials, which often involve intimidation and unlawful use of force by security forces. Academic freedom also deteriorated with university administrations being hostile towards student unions throughout 2021. A number of academics were fired, or their contracts were not renewed, because of their pro-democracy views [Roth, 2022]. In 2020, the Chinese government enacted Hong Kong’s National Security Law (NSL) without consultation with Hong Kong residents. Via this law, since its enactment, more than 200 people got arrested, including 12 children. Furthermore, an excessive number of civil society organizations have been relocated or ceased to operate since the enactment of the NSL [UN Human Rights, 2022].

North Korea

The third case of our study will be North Korea, known for its strict rules. After defeating Japan in WW2, the Soviets occupied the north of the 38th parallel and the USA occupied the south. The reunification of Korea was intended, but while the Soviets established a communist regime in their area of ​​domination, in 1947 the United Nations assumed control of the southern region and established a democratic pan-Korean state. In the midst of the war in the south, the Republic of Korea was established in 1948. In 1950, devastation convinced North Korean leader Kim Sung that war under Soviet protection was necessary for reunification [Millett, 2022]. In 1950, North Korea declared war on South Korea. The war mostly happened in the 38th parallel and both sides were once about to conquer all of Korea but both failed. In 1953, Eisenhower agreed to the conclusion of a ceasefire, recognizing the front line as the border between the 2 Korean states. The war resulted in the deaths of 2,000,000 Koreans, 600,000 Chinese, 37,000 Americans, and 3,000 UN soldiers [T. Editors of Encyclopedia, 2021]. After the Korean War, Kim purged the so-called "native faction" by scapegoating a communist group that remained in Korea during the colonial years. He carried out a purge against the Yenan faction in 1956-1958 and removed a pro-Soviet faction from the KWP Central Committee. In 1966 Kim announced the independent party line in North Korea, which underlined the principles of “complete equality, sovereignty, mutual respect, and noninterference among the communist and workers’ parties.” From this line, the Workers' Party of Korea’s theoreticians developed four principles: “autonomy in ideology, independence in politics, self-sufficiency in the economy, and self-reliance in defense” [Yu,2022]. Since then North Korea’s ruling party hasn't changed.

Retrieved from: Hindustan Times, 2022, `North Korea's Kim Jong Un says will respond to US threats with nuclear weapons`

The SPA, the most powerful part of the constitutional state power and the legislative body, consists of a 687-member assembly elected by the lama every five years; there is also a 15-member SPA Presidium, or Standing Committee, made up of elected members from the Special Provincial Administration, which meets when the assembly is not in session. The SPA's sessions last approximately one week and are convened by the SPA Presidium several times a year. The Presidency handles most of the legislative work and therefore has a lot of power. The Constitution states that even though the SPA Presidency is responsible to the SPA, it is the highest authority in the intervals between SPA sessions [Yu,2022]. Unlike legislative power, political power is in the hands of the Workers' Party of Korea (KWP), which is the Party Congress led by an elected Committee. KWP prepares the lists of candidates for the elections. The policy is administered by the political bureau of the KWP. So in all elections, the choices are always in the hands of the KWP. There are also several political parties and social organizations that exist to support the KWP. However, all political activities are done by the KWP or its approval is mandatory and must follow the party line and policies. Elections ensure the approval of the party's policies and programs. In each election, there is rarely more than one candidate at the ballot box and the electoral system is completely under the control of the party [Yu,2022].

Retrieved from: Argonomi, 2019, `North Korea: closed box country`

Similar to previous cases of our study, in North Korea people’s votes are not changing anything. Elections are a means by which the party gains approval for its policies and programs. Voting for A or B does not matter as the ruling party chooses both A candidate and B candidate. People are voting because it is mandatory not because they can change the government of the country through elections. In the last election of North Korea (2019), the Central Election Board reported that the turnout was 99.99% and the voters all voted in favor of the registered candidates [Sinmun, (n.d)]. Kim II-Sung, the founder of North Korea, stated that he does not accept the civil rights of people who oppose the regime [Song, (n.d)]. North Korea has an extensive whistleblower system that monitors Koreans for violations without reference to civil rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has officially acknowledged the human rights violations that have taken place in North Korea. United Nations Human Rights Resolution 2005/11 referred to the types of abuse in North Korea. North Korea is classified in the “Not-Free” class at Freedom House similar to China, but with a score of 3 [Countries,(n.d)]. The government does not forgive pluralism, bans independent media, non-governmental organizations, and trade unions, and denies all fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, public assembly, association, and religion. Fear of collective punishment is used to destroy the opposition. Authorities in North Korea are sending dissidents to secret political prison camps (kwalliso) where they face torture, starvation, and forced labor by guards. The government takes unpaid forced labor from its citizens to build infrastructure and run other campaigns and projects it orders. The government also fails to protect the rights of many at-risk groups such as women, children, and the disabled [Human Rights Watch,2022]. Women and girls are marginalized, the government forces people to work, freedom of expression and information is limited, approval is required to move from state to state, and going to China "illegally" is a crime. The border buffer zones, established in 2020 and stretching two kilometers from the northern border, operated continuously in 2021, with the guards being ordered to "unconditionally shoot" anyone intruding on sight. There are reports of border guards shooting those trying to cross the border [Sifton, 2020].


Throughout the paper, we have pointed out some basic characteristics of the party states. These countries generally have a stronger central authority, which comes in really handy in crises. These governments are more successful in controlling the country due to being the only entity with such power over the land. The economic successes of these countries differ; for instance, China is currently the second biggest economy in the world with a nominal GDP of $17.73 trillion in 2021 [GDP, (n.d.)]. From a social aspect, even though party-state entities have support to a certain extent in their countries, the extent to which this support stretches out is not very definable as the freedom of speech is not fully provided for everyone in these countries, which can also be supported with the Freedom House scores. Still, in a globalizing world, it is relatively easier for people to get their voices heard than before. For example, the existence of 8 minority parties in China, although they are under the United Front, can lead to the change in Chinese politics which the silent liberal majority hopes for [Mazzocco, 2022].

Currently, there are only 8 one-party countries and the increasing unpopularity is evident. The power and fear these governments have on their citizens shall not be taken as unimportant. Even if the citizens are delighted with the way things are, their right to elect and get elected should not be taken from them.

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