Communist countries? Socialist Countries? Which countries are still socialist and are there any communist countries left in the world? We take an in depth look at the contemporary situation of left-wing countries, socialist countries and ask the big question: Are there any communist countries in the world?
Socialism may be something of a far-off concept for younger readers. The Soviet Bloc collapsed from the late 80s to the early 90s, the other socialist systems of the world fell with it. Many had to ask, has socialism ever worked? Socialism and communist countries loomed over the entire world. Then it simply… Disappeared. But did it really? It’s no secret that we here at YPT have some interest in socialist and communist countries (see also our logo). Still, it may be worth running through exactly what socialist systems (or potential future ones) exist in the world today. What countries are socialist? How many nations are socialist? Let’s find out.
Buckle up, and lets get into socialist countries.
Table of Contents
- Communist Countries (or those that claim to be)
- The Fallacy of Communist Countries
- What are Socialist nations?
- List of Communist countries/Existing Socialist Nations of the world
- Market/Revisionist Socialist/Communist Nations
- Reformist/Questionably Socialist Nations
- So, how many communist countries are there?
- Non-Socialist Nations: Socialist Parties
- Non-Socialist Governments: Revolutionary Movements
- Non Socialist Systems with a Constitutional Reference to Socialism
Communist Countries (or those that claim to be)
Which countries are communist in 2022? When it comes to socialist countries a lot of people probably have something on their mind already. “What about communist countries that are communist, not just socialist ones?” Here’s the thing, it’s often claimed that many claim to be communist countries and arguing that they aren’t is a ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy. This is not at all the case. Which countries are communist? In fact, no countries claim to be communist at all from what I can tell! I can understand this must be confusing, because the USSR was communist, right? Well… Yes and no, let me explain.
When the USSR claimed to be a ‘communist country’, this was not to say that they were living in communism. This simply meant that their goal was communism. They had a ‘communist party’, in that it was a party of communists, but in order to achieve that communism, they had to first undergo socialism – meaning being a socialist country before they could be a communist country. What is a communist party? Exactly that. It is a party that aspires to communism, but must first have socialism. There are no countries currently with communism, in fact going by this metric there has never been a communist country. What does this mean exactly and what are the differences between socialist countries and communist countries?
In Marx’s day, socialism and communism were used somewhat interchangeably, but there was still a clear delineation that became more pronounced as the years went on. What Marx referred to in his lifetime was the difference between the ‘lower stage of communism’ and the ‘higher stage of communism’. Countries that claim to be communist are at the biggest stretch referring to this lower stage, as they all fundamentally fail to fulfill the criteria for the higher stage. A better question is then which countries are socialist, not which countries are communist, but hey, we’ll get there soon! Marx’s writings on the differences are extensive, but a few sources could be handy.
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program (1875)
What Marx expresses here is that in the higher stage of communism, the individual is no longer subordinated to labor but is instead liberated to enjoy it in its full. This means being free in working as you please without the constrictive grasp of a bourgeois property owner who merely buys your labor. Labor is no longer something a worker does simply to receive a pittance to survive, but is rather something a worker does for their own satisfaction and to receive the full benefit from it, as is referred to when Marx speaks of the ‘springs of co-operative wealth’.
The difference between the lower and higher stages is most clearly marked by the statement ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ Which is to state that in higher stages of communism, wealth and goods are provided as a matter of what one needs rather than merely in return for the output of one’s work. In such a society, development is high enough and goods so abundant that wage labor has ended in its entirety.
Another important remark in here is the reference to ‘bourgeois right’. This is referring to the laws of the bourgeois state, which in the lower stage of communism are not crossed out in full due to the inability to jump straight to the higher stages. Lenin would go on to explain these differences in greater detail.
And so, in the first phase of communist society (usually called socialism) “bourgeois law” is not abolished in its entirety, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic revolution so far attained, i.e., only in respect of the means of production. “Bourgeois law” recognizes them as the private property of individuals. Socialism converts them into common property. To that extent–and to that extent alone–“bourgeois law” disappears.
However, it persists as far as its other part is concerned; it persists in the capacity of regulator (determining factor) in the distribution of products and the allotment of labor among the members of society. The socialist principle, “He who does not work shall not eat”, is already realized; the other socialist principle, “An equal amount of products for an equal amount of labor”, is also already realized. But this is not yet communism, and it does not yet abolish “bourgeois law”, which gives unequal individuals, in return for unequal (really unequal) amounts of labor, equal amounts of products.
This is a “defect”, says Marx, but it is unavoidable in the first phase of communism; for if we are not to indulge in utopianism, we must not think that having overthrown capitalism people will at once learn to work for society without any rules of law. Besides, the abolition of capitalism does not immediately create the economic prerequisites for such a change.
Now, there are no other rules than those of “bourgeois law”. To this extent, therefore, there still remains the need for a state, which, while safeguarding the common ownership of the means of production, would safeguard equality in labor and in the distribution of products.
The state withers away insofar as there are no longer any capitalists, any classes, and, consequently, no class can be suppressed.
But the state has not yet completely withered away, since the still remains the safeguarding of “bourgeois law”, which sanctifies actual inequality. For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary.Lenin, The State and Revolution, Chapter 5
What this rather long quote demonstrates is that the first phase, known as socialism, has a great many differences from communism itself. Bourgeois law remains in many senses, only being initially abolished in the sense of converting private property into common property, but it still greatly remains with regard to many other aspects of life. Lenin understands that there is a process of development here. That for socialism to emerge into communism, we must not indulge in utopianism and must instead look at material conditions practically.
Most importantly here is the reference to a state. This is where the biggest fallacy emerges.
The Fallacy of Communist Countries
There are no countries with communism right now, as in there are no communist countries, or countries that claim to be communist, merely ones run by communist parties, there are though socialist countries. As Lenin states, for communism to occur, the state must wither away. You might have noticed that the USSR was still absolutely a socialist state and any countries that claim to be communist are automatically lying by virtue of that. But of course, you may disagree with Lenin’s assertion. Some do in fact claim that Lenin was breaking away from Marx after all! Indeed, if one were to read the Communist Manifesto, there’s a great deal of talk about state control wielding state power, but it must be understood that the Communist Manifesto is primarily a call to action in the immediate, not a reference to long-term communist goals. Indeed, Marx considered this to be in line with the lower stage of communism.
Much of Marx and Engels later works are significantly longer, more detailed and harder to get into, so it’s a very easy mistake to make. A quote from Engels can help to clear the matter up.
The first act by which the state really comes forward as the representative of the whole of society – the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society – is also its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies down of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’, it withers away.Engels, Anti-Dühring (1877)
Engels has here provided the basis of much of Lenin’s theories on the withering away of the state. In the lower stage, the state remains but has begun the process of withering as opposed to abolition. Gradually, the purpose of the state is to dissolve and what remains is merely the administration of production on a more direct democratic method. The question is then, why did this never actually happen? The countries that claim to be communist certainly never made it that far. Perhaps one would lay the blame on Stalin for the misunderstanding. After all, common practice by now is to criticize Stalin as betraying Lenin’s legacy.
It is sometimes asked “We have abolished the exploiting classes; there are no longer any hostile classes in the country; there is nobody to suppress; hence there is no more need for the state; it must die away. – Why then do we not help our Socialist state to die away? Why do we not strive to put an end to it? Is it not time to throw out all this rubbish of a state?”
Or further : “The exploiting classes have already been abolished in our country; Socialism has been built in the main; we are advancing towards Communism. Now, the Marxist doctrine of the state says that there is to be no state under Communism. – Why then do we not help our Socialist state to die away? Is it not time we relegated the state to the museum of antiquities?
These questions show that those who ask them have conscientiously memorized certain propositions contained in the doctrine of Marx and Engels about the state. But they also show that these comrades have failed to understand the essential meaning of this doctrine; that they have failed to realise in what historical conditions the various propositions of this doctrine were elaborated; and, what is more, that they do not understand present-day international conditions, have overlooked the capitalist encirclement and the dangers it entails for the Socialist country.
These questions not only betray an underestimation of the capitalist encirclement, but also an underestimation of the role and significance of the bourgeois states and their organs, which send spies, assassins and wreckers into our country and are waiting for a favourable opportunity to attack it by armed force.
They likewise betray an underestimation of the role and significance of our Socialist state and of its military, punitive and intelligence organs, which are essential for the defence of the Socialist land from foreign attack. It must be confessed that the comrades mentioned are not the only ones to sin in this underestimation. All the Bolsheviks, all of us without exception, sin to a certain extent in this respect.Stalin, Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the Eighteenth Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B.) (1939)
Well… As you can see here, Stalin was all too aware of this. His problem is therefore that, as capitalism internationally is too powerful, to begin the transition into communism would be suicide as it would relinquish too much power to adequately defend itself. Given this speech was given in 1939, history seems to have proved him right, with the biggest war in history right on his doorstep and over fifty subsequent years of Cold War. Often it is criticised that Stalin attempted ‘socialism in one country’, as if it would become possible to achieve communism in only one state. That was impossible and Stalin was aware of this. Socialist nations can exist individually, but the process towards communism must be on the global scale. One might argue that the formation of the Eastern Bloc and the adding of other socialist countries was thus a step in the right direction.
What are Socialist nations?
Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program (1875)
Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
What are socialist nations, or socialist countries? First of all, we need to lay some ground rules! Socialist countries are thin on the ground, so we need to understand this well. If we want to know which nations are socialist, we need to understand socialism in more detail. There are plenty of countries that claim to be communist or socialist. Many more what countries have been communist. But what are socialist countries exactly? From a Marxist-Leninist (the main Marxist movement) conception, the one we’ll use, a socialist state requires roughly three key aspects. Firstly, it must be led by a ‘vanguard party‘, this being a party of the proletariat operating under democratic centralism.
Secondly socialist countries must limit private property. Private property is distinct from personal property, I should note. Private property exists for the purpose of generating profit from its use for exchange. Meanwhile, personal property exists only for personal use. Under communism, all private property disappears, while socialism is the stage whereby this private property greatly diminishes. Particularly from the bourgeoisie (major capitalists) mainly through the collectivization of major industry and agriculture. Marxism often differs on whether limited enterprise among individuals or collectives, without capitalist property owners, continues in socialist systems. Still, to count among socialist societies, I’d say the strict limitation of private property (particularly the bourgeoisie) is a prerequisite for socialist countries.
Thirdly, production must primarily be for use, not exchange, essentially an end to commodity production. This links closely with the previous point, but it is possible to have ‘state capitalism’. The private property remains, held largely by state organs but using this to generate profit for its own sake. (and for the benefit of a bureaucratic class.) In Chapter 4 of Capital, Marx explained the difference between worker and capitalist exchange as ‘M-C-M versus C-M-C’. M is for ‘Money’ and C is for ‘Commodity.
Capitalists input money and generate a commodity which they sell for profit, which begins a cycle. (M-C-M) The worker produces a commodity or sells their labour AS a commodity. They then generate money from this transaction and use this to buy a commodity for their own personal use. (C-M-C). Socialism would limit the need for money, end M-C-M production and aim towards communism. A whole different topic for a whole different day.
If you want to learn how the governments of socialist countries work, I’d advise you to read the works of those who formulated it. There’s a truly ridiculous amount of material here, but if you want to get started, here’s a personal reading list. Start with the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, which is like dipping your toe in the proverbial water. From there, dissuade a few myths with the short Critique of the Gotha Programme. Then lean in a bit harder with Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, then Wage Labour & Capital. Read Capital itself some time later since it’s an absolute breeze-block of a book. Maybe explore a bit with State and Revolution by Lenin afterwards.
Anyway, let’s get started. Which nations are socialist? How many nations are socialist? Are there any socialist nations today at all!? Let’s get going and find out.
List of Communist countries/Existing Socialist Nations of the world
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea/North Korea
Here we list current communist countries, or more specifically current socialist countries on the road to being a communist country. No sense being coy about it, of course, ‘ol Koryo is up there as first on our list. It’s where we spend most of our time! It’s a big part of what makes it so fascinating! There’s a lot of debate over whether the DPRK is truly heading towards communism. Still, it’s hard to deny their credentials as socialist countries go.
So what is the DPRK exactly? We have discussed this matter before, but let’s address it again anyway. The DPRK abides by a philosophy known as Juche. Juche is variously described as Socialism with Korean characteristics, Confucian socialism and a few other names by foreign observers. These don’t really get into the nitty-gritty details, so I’ll have a stab at it. Juche differs from classical Marxism-Leninism (which it is originally derived from) by moving somewhat away from Marx’s historical materialism. The intent is to produce a ‘human centric’ view of socialism. To get an idea of this, we may have to look at the base/superstructure dialectic.
To unpack this difficult concept, the Marxist concept of ‘dialectics’ is drawn from the Hegelian dialectic. This is an idea that competing ideas can work to develop each-other through what’s called a ‘unity of opposites’. While Hegel applied this concept to ideas, Marx ‘turned Hegel on his head’ and developed historical materialism. This was synthesized as ‘dialectical materialism’, which explains history by applying concepts of dialectical relations to material conditions.
In this model, the ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ form a dialectical relationship of shaping and maintaining one-another. The base, however, remains dominant. This is the logic that socialist nations that worked need to have strong heavy industry to be successful. It’s a part of why the global socialist movement collapsed following the loss of the USSR. Their material conditions were theoretically not good enough for socialism anymore.
Juche (and to a degree some other ideologies like Maoism) would assert that the superstructure can override the base when creating socialist countries. The DPRK’s industry was harmed during the 90s after the loss of the Soviets, so ideological education was prioritized. This was to unify the country and ensure the socialist project continued. Albeit with some market compromises to try and prevent hardship during the arduous march. Not too dissimilar to say the NEP, which was used the early days of the Soviet Union being for the first of many socialist countries.
This was followed with Songun policy, attempting to advance the Marxist ideal that the proletariat was the most revolutionary class. Instead, the military was seen the most unified and ideologically capable element of the working class. Them being the most fit to carry the revolution forward. This was a way of leaning on the superstructure to circumvent the damage of the base, so to speak. The unity of the military was then used to develop industry and repair the base! This is the theory anyways.
But how does Korea line up with our three rules? Well, the Workers Party of Korea is unquestionably a vanguard party. It is loosely the sole party (it runs as the head of a patriotic front), it focuses on ideological education and there is at least, seemingly, democratic centralism. Property is massively controlled by the state or in collectives. While limited private enterprise exists, it’s largely on the individual level or through co-operatives. This makes it unlikely that there are actual capitalists in the traditional sense. (Outside of the Rason Special Economic Zone, which is part of where the lines become blurred.)
Lastly, what is their production? It’s hard to really view what’s going on within the country, but commodity production does seem to be in place. Trade with foreign countries is quite limited and is often more in the form of raw materials. As well as trading commodities for commodities, which can be considered for use. Currency within the country is non-transferable on the international market. It mostly exists to facilitate an internal flow of goods into the right hands. So not exactly generating massive profits for any capitalist. Production could be said to be, predominantly, for use and not for exchange, though not exclusively So that sums it all up nicely!
And again North Koreans themselves refer to the DPRK as a socialist country / socialist state on the road to be a communist country. Interestingly the DPRK managed to treat a fine line with both China and the USSR following the Sino-Soviet split. This has some parallels with Titoism in Yugoslavia, where they aimed to build a communist state without aid from the Socialist Bloc. When it comes to current socialist countries, therefore the DPRK could well be seen as our benchmark.
Republic of Cuba
Cuba is the other major one everyone tends to think of, being one of the most well known socialist countries. Having become already rather self-sufficient due to necessity, being so isolated from other socialist states and being embargoed by the US already, there was no need for a significant ideological change to justify the maintaining of socialism. Hardship ensued, but the country endured no major famine or other urgent need to begin reforms. All the same, reforms did begin on a certain scale into the latter years of Fidel Castro’s leadership.
Cuba maintains the old line of Marxism-Leninism, with its own particular Cuban flair of course. Unlike the DPRK, they were content to place their trust in the old ideology imported from the USSR. There’s less focus on ideological education (though it does exist) as the base of the model is still predominant. Albeit with government leaning on the superstructure to keep things in line.
How does Cuba fare in our model? Well, the Communist Party of Cuba is absolutely a vanguard party. Albeit there is a stronger degree of participatory democracy in Cuba which is outside of the vanguard party’s direct control. This is natural according to Lenin’s theories of the role of the vanguard party moving into latter-stages of socialism. Private property has returned, but only to a limited degree, which is another area where the lines are getting close. Individuals and families often run B&Bs or restaurants to draw in some more money. Meanwhile, a degree of private development from foreign countries also exists to help boost the tourist sector.
Despite this, outright capitalists in Cuba are largely nonexistent. The petty bourgeoisie maintains a presence, but the main bourgeoisie are marginal. Lastly, we have the question of production. Cuba trades extensively with other countries and people do produce certain commodities on an individual scale to generate a profit. On the whole, the means of production run by the state sector is still active for use, not commodities. Money in Cuba primarily exists only to circulate internally, much like Korea. Overall, Cuba maintains a primarily socialist economy, though some may say that it skirts the line on this matter.
So again whilst people refer to Cuba as a communist country, they refer to themselves as a socialist country working towards communism. Interestingly Cuba toyed with the idea of removing Marxism-Leninism from the new constitution, but in the end voted against its removal. Although with the recent change in the allow which allows much more private enterprise some have questioned where Cuba now falls within the bloc of socialist countries.
Market/Revisionist Socialist/Communist Nations
This is one that causes heated debate when it comes to communit countries and indeed socialist countries. Okay, so what the hell does this mean then? Given what we know of socialism and socialist countries, how can we tell which nations are socialist when these flagrantly break the rules? What’s a ‘Market Socialist’ or ‘Revisionist’ socialist country? In a lot of contexts, they mean the same thing depending on who you talk to. A ‘Market Socialist‘ country is an ostensibly socialist state that has done away with the strict planned economy of typical Marxism-Leninism to embrace a more market-based approach. Now, even socialist countries DPRK and Cuba have accepted this to some extent through limited private enterprise. This is, however, still rather strictly limited and is forced to conform to certain rules, typically limiting the existence of a traditional ‘capitalist’. You may be privately earning money, but you aren’t exploiting workers for it. As for other socialist countries, well not so much so.
Revisionism is a rather old concept when it comes to socialist countries and the old the communist bloc, who used to refer to other socialist governments or indeed strains of thought that are believed to have deviated from Marxism’s core principles. When the dominant mode of production is market-based, the system is still filtering into capitalist logic. Markets function off of competition and production for profit rather than for use. Therefore purest would see them not as socialist countries.
This of course can be necessary for socialist countries at times, particularly to boost trade with other countries and get more materials. Indeed, it also more organically can sort money to where it’s needed in times of crisis. This is why market restrictions were lifted during the NEP period of the USSR and the post-USSR era for the DPRK and Cuba. This however did not lead to a return of the capitalist class or an intended reduction in the socialist mode of production. (Though inevitably, the damage to infrastructure caused by the collapse of the USSR forced the socialist mode of production to weaken in both Cuba and the DPRK.)
Which of these are socialist countries? Well, you’ll have to read and decide. And then agree with me, because I’m right.
People’s Republic of China
Is the PRC one of the socialist countries going by our metric? Let’s get the big one out of the way quick. China, as led by Mao Zedong unquestionably (according to our metric) counted among socialist governments and socialist countries for a very long period. This changed when General Secretary of the Communist Party of China changed to Deng Xiaoping and China began to develop a model of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics‘. This theory is variously regarded as a progressive development in accordance with Chinese material conditions or a perverse rightist deviation from Marxism-Leninism as an attempt to return to capitalism under the cloak of socialism… Socialists have a flair for the dramatic, you may find.
The justification for this shift from the CPC itself is that the ‘base’ of China was not sufficiently developed for it to become a truly socialist country. China emerged out of semi-feudalism to advance towards socialism, largely skipping an intermediate capitalist stage which is something Marx considered inadvisable. Deng and other likeminded Chinese leaders felt it was necessary to guide a capitalist process under the vanguard party with intentions of ‘developing productive forces‘ until such a time as socialism can be practically returned to. They call this the ‘preliminary stage of socialism.’ China therefore sees itself still as one of the socialist countries, but where fo we see it?
Under our model, we can see where this places China. They absolutely have a vanguard party, the structure of the CPC is largely unchanged from the early socialist days. Private property however is quite a major stumbling block. Much of the property in China is in private hands, as well as being owned by foreign companies and used for the purpose of commodity production. Further, capitalists are abound in China, with many of the world’s billionaires residing within its borders. While it’s true that the Chinese government often cracks down on such figures if they break the laws set forth by the government, this does not fundamentally change their position as capitalists under CPC control.
As for the nature of production in China, profit is absolutely the goal. The rich/poor divide grows larger all the time and private enterprises are enriched at the expense of non-profit state bodies, albeit often with more funneled towards those bodies. This would put China more towards a ‘social democratic’ structure, with high government spending and some control of private enterprise, but they largely have not interfered with the capitalist institution. By this metric, China does not qualify as a socialist state in full.
So again, whilst people like to call China a communist country (usually in a disparaging light), the PRC does not claim to be communist (yet). The CPC claims to be one of many socialist countries / socialist states that is striving for communism. When China will finally be ready for communism evokes differing opinions among the Chinese – I even had one party member saying it may take thousands of years!
Socialist Republic of Vietnam/Lao People’s Democratic Republic
We have thrown these two socialist countries toegther because they fall under the same kind of banner really. Influence was primarily drawn from the Chinese development of a kind of ‘market socialism’ for lack of a better term. Collectivization was gradually disbanded and capitalists set up shop within their borders. Albeit with heavy state interference and the guiding hand of a vanguard party ever-present.
Both countries maintain their vanguard parties. The Communist Party of Vietnam and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. They are the sole leading parties of their respective socialist nations and they hold considerable sway. Meanwhile capitalist enterprise operates heavily within their borders and production for exchange is the dominant mode, under the ideal of developing productive forces. These ideals were additionally stemmed from the policy of Mikhail Gorbachev known as ‘perestroika‘ or ‘restructuring’, which many would argue was the prerequisite for the former socialist nations returning to capitalism.
While perestroika facilitated economic reform away from socialism, Vietnam and Laos never followed the policy of ‘glasnost‘ or ‘openness’ which greatly facilitated the rise of anti-party movements in Soviet bloc states. This maintained the vanguard structure while still retaining economic reform.
In most respects, the economic structures of these economies is more closely comparable to China. Laos has a lower industrial level but still allows heavy privatization and works with China in developing its economic model. Vietnam is much the same, with a stronger industrial core to back it up. Whether they return to socialism and continue Marxist-Leninist ideals is up for debate outside the scope of this blog post. These are nations with socialist parties perhaps, but not states with existing socialism.
Ironically Cambodia while having very much officially gotten rid of all vestiges of communism has much more in common with Vietnam than it would like to exist, even if it is a Kingdom. In case of ambiguity Pol Pot was not a communist.
Reformist/Questionably Socialist Nations
Here’s where things get even more grey. A revisionist country still adheres to Marxist-Leninism in ways outside of the economy. There’s a vanguard party, there’s a lot of lip-service paid to socialism, often a promise to return to the previous way of things. The understanding that socialism is a revolutionary movement and that socialist governments can only be formed by a revolutionary movement remains. Reformist countries are not like that. The trick is right there in the name, reformist! The belief that one can reform from a capitalist mode of production to a socialist one.
Many question the legitimacy of such things, believing that while a vanguard party in China for instance could theoretically return to the socialist path, a reformist state cannot do such a thing. By their very nature, the contradictions between a capitalist country and a socialist movement are too great to be resolved democratically, hence the often militant collapse of such reformist attempts. Still, some remain! And while they may lack socialism in practice, some argue that it remains in spirit. Which countries are socialist? Well… None, but you’ll still get some claiming anyway.
So, how many communist countries are there?
Obviously we have given quite the in-depth answer to this question! But in the pure simplest terms of “how many countries are ruled by a communist party”, then the answer is 5. There are five currently communist countries, namely North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and China. Kinda of in that order too by degrees of “communism”.
These communist countries all mutually recognize each other, and have good relations at least from a party to party level. That being said there really isn’t anything resembling a bloc of communist countries anymore. The days of the Warsaw Pact are very much over. But what about other so-called socialist countries? Are there other socialist states in various forms?
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Where does Venezuela fit into the group of socialist countries? Is Venezuela communist as is often portrayed? No, is the quick answer, but that’s not particularly thorough. There’s a lot to get into when it comes to Venezuela. They are often the posterchild of socialist countries (and their failure) from the American camp, a way of showing alleged poverty it brings. For this, we’ll have to dig into some history.
Venezuela does not have a vanguard party, which should be made clear. Rather than having a party that seizes control of the state and guides it on the socialist path, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela is an electoral party that lives or dies on the people’s vote, although there have been claims of election rigging. Even if this is true, it does not meet the criteria of a true vanguard party and has a legitimate opposition movement within the country. This is strike one.
Property in Venezuela is quite a mixture. The government has collectives and ‘communes‘ of a sort, where they orient production towards use and where infrastructure is out of private hands. On the other hand, there is a massive amount of private property in Venezuela as well, with a wealthy capitalist class that controls a great deal of production and distribution. Some have said that it’s the conflict between socialist aims of the Venezuelan government and their inability, as a non-vanguard party, to bring the hammer down on such capitalist groupings that has resulted in a disrupted resource supply chain.
Because of course, capitalists do not work without being paid, this is the simple law of M-C-M. This can lead to Venezuelan capitalists hoarding merchandise from government stores to sell on the black market instead, or simply refusing to deliver out of protest for low state-mandated prices. This contradiction fuels many of the issues in Venezuela. There’s a strong argument to be made that this is the PSUV’s fault ultimately, while still others would accuse CIA meddling as being a major part of it, making the PSUV simply a victim of foreign intervention and unfair sanctions. The debate on this matter is long and seemingly unending, though it does not change the fact that this is unquestionably strike two.
As for production itself… Well, with capitalists overwhelmingly influential within the country, the lack of a vanguard party and other such things, it’s hard to deny that the primary mode of production is capitalist in nature. The PSUV has perhaps pushed for an alternative, but it fails to be the dominant system. Certain things have seen amazing successes, such as the public housing missions, but most consumer products exist as commodities produced under M-C-M and obtained under C-M-C. This is strike three, ultimately disqualifying Venezuela from being a socialist country.
Granted, Venezuela themselves have not called their country socialist. Venezuela often claims to be take inspiration from socialism or is on the path to socialism, but they use reformism rather than revolution. Much as China has stepped back towards capitalism with intents of obtaining socialism, Venezuela sees it as necessary to transition away from capitalism rather than seizing the reins of power by force of arms. Within the ranks of socialist governments Venezuela is not.
With the sheer number of groups vying for influence in Venezuela, it’s hard to get a good picture of what exactly is going on there. Thankfully there are some good sources.
Therefore one might argue that due to outside forces Venezuela has struggled to even achieve some form of socialism, let alone become a communist country.
Republic of Nicaragua
Nicaragua followed a rather similar trend to China, Vietnam and Laos but ultimately took a few steps further in reformism. After the Sandinista movement took power in Nicaragua as a Marxist-Leninist party along the lines of Cuba, there was ultimately a desire to begin a gradual reform towards socialism rather than pursuing the immediate collectivization of other socialist governments. This soon transitioned into a move towards multi-party democracy, relinquishing vanguard status but still acquiring overwhelming control of the Nicaraguan government through democratic vote for a significant part of their post-revolution history, with some periods spent as opposition.
So how does Nicaragua fare in our earlier model? Well, they had a vanguard and lost it, so there’s our first strike. The reformist model saw great success in developing education, housing and healthcare as rights rather than commodities, but significant amounts of all three remain in for-profit private hands, while even more besides is developed entirely as part of commodity production. That covers strikes two and three quite neatly. While the Sandinista movement may be heading towards socialism, there are arguments even against this, with riots in the streets of Nicaragua over Sandinista government attempts to increase taxes while decreasing benefits, a seemingly rather state-capitalist move. Unquestionably, Nicaragua is not in of itself a socialist country. Although during its one-party state phase it was undoubtedly a socialist state aiming to become a communist country.
Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal
Many overlook Nepal as a country ostensibly aiming towards socialism, which is strange when seeing just how big of a deal it’s been for their recent history. Nepalese Maoists began a protracted people’s war in 1996, long after the fall of socialism in much of the rest of the world, managing to nearly reach total victory before agreeing to peace accords in 2006. After a period in a transitional government, Nepal became a secular republic with a parliament almost overwhelmingly led by various communist parties, particularly Maoists under the banner of ‘Prachanda Path‘, with even more still existing outside the government and wanting to continue people’s war until final military victory.
Ultimately, a series of party mergers led to the Nepal Communist Party becoming by far the largest party in Nepal’s government, holding an eclectic range of ideals which attempt to reconcile a Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) ideal and democratic centralism with multi-party democracy and a general respect for private property. The unique conditions of Nepal are naturally controversial in the Marxist sphere and constantly changing. There have been many schisms and mergers in the Nepali communist movement, attempting to find common ground between disappointment with their limited outcome and wishing to make the most of what they do have.
For our model of what makes a socialist country, despite having a Maoist party in power, arguably one of the most far-left communist ideologies there is, the Communist Party of Nepal is not a vanguard party, private property has not been relinquished and production has not shifted to being for use rather than for exchange. It thus fulfills none of the criteria and largely would fit alongside the China/Vietnam/Laos camp in terms of ideology, were it not for the lack of a vanguard party status. Though this is less to do with inherent ideology and more to do with the failure of the people’s war to achieve complete control of the country, instead reaching compromise through peace accord.
Syrian Arab Republic
A curious feature of Arab politics during the 20th century was the rise of the ‘non-aligned‘ socialist movement. Many Arab nations were unwilling to align themselves with the likes of the USSR, but they took some socialist influence. This could be seen in Libya’s Jamahiriya system, Egypt’s Nasserist politics and indeed, in the ‘Arab Socialism’ espoused by the Ba’athist movement throughout the region. Out of all these movements, including the rather different ‘Saddamist‘ Ba’athism of pre-2003 Iraq, only Syrian Ba’athism remains.
Emphasizing secularism, something of a vanguard party status and indeed some aspects of socialism itself, the Syrian Ba’ath party exists in coalition with many other far-left Syrian parties (there are a number of Syrian communist parties that take part in the National Progressive Front). and could certainly be regarded as a reformist socialist movement. Granted, there’s a strong argument that the party has changed greatly since its inception. Hafez al-Assad is a very different man from his son Bashar al-Assad, the current (at time of writing) president.
Going by our model, it’s fairly unquestionable that Syria does not stand among the socialist nations. There may perhaps be some potential, but much of the earlier Arab Socialist rhetoric of Ba’athism has been lost in ruthless pragmatism to reconcile Islamic extremism, religious pluralism and strong Arab nationalism.
Ironically when it come to socialist countries probably the most socialist part of Syria is Rojava which you can read about here! Rojava actually runs on a form of leftist-anarchism, but it is certainly a place being watched by the leftist world.
Non-Socialist Nations: Socialist Parties
Let’s face it, socialist nations are uncommon these days. Actual socialist nations, revisionist ones and even reformist ones barely exist! The collapse of the USSR caused most to collapse and even many reformist ones to officially discard their socialist affiliation. What hasn’t gone away are the parties! What is a communist party? The political movements that wish to establish, by ballot or by bullet, a new socialist state. Now, these exist in just about every country on Earth, so we definitely can’t list them all. Let’s simply… List off a series of the most influential of these.
Russian Federation – Communist Party of the Russian Federation
Being the second largest party in all of Russia, it’s hard to discount the CPRF as a significant force. Founded two years after the banning of the CPSU, the CPRF very nearly swept the first post-Soviet presidential election. Party leader Gennady Zyuganov getting a solid 40.7% of the votes. This is also with significant anti-Zyuganov media bias, significant financial aid from western countries for the Yeltsin campaign, foreign meddling and outright allegations of vote-rigging in favour of Boris Yeltsin, the ultimate victor.
The CPRF has fallen somewhat but maintains a strong core following, consistently getting over 10% of the Russian electorate’s support. This certainly sounds like a candidate for a brand new Soviet Union somewhere down the line! Well… That’s if you don’t believe the significant criticism the party has received from the Russian left. It has been pointed out that the CPRF were neither the first, nor necessarily the largest post-Soviet communist movement. What is rather unique is that they faced no opposition from the post-Yeltsin status quo and remained defiant public life. Some allege that the CPRF is merely a controlled opposition in the pocket of Putin. This is something many rank-and-file party members vehemently reject. The question certainly begs an answer though.
To get a better idea ‘straight from the horses mouth’, you may want to check out the English language section of their website. Again they do not claim that the USSR was ever a communist state and they also have an alarmingly close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.
Republic of Belarus – Communist Party of Belarus
Following the collapse of the USSR, Belarus was in a rather unique position. Russia and most other ex-socialist began ‘shock therapy’. They reintroduced capitalism so suddenly and fiercely that living standards plummeted through the floor, while Belarus slammed the breaks and returned a certain degree of economic control in 1994. President Aleksander Lukashenko went so far as to refer to his policy as ‘market socialism’ at a time when European ex-socialist nations were denouncing the legacy entirely.
Lukashenko is not, however, part of the Communist Party of Belarus. In fact, he is an independent. As is the vast majority of the parliament of Belarus! While only 11 of 120 seats in the House of Representatives and 17 of 64 in the Council of the Republic, the Communist Party of Belarus is de facto the largest party in the entire country. They are, however, loyal to Lukashenko and have faced much of the same criticism as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation for allegedly being a controlled opposition. And although Belarus is often called “the last Soviet state”. Belarus is far from being a communist country.
Republic of South Africa – Economic Freedom Fighters
With a hardline Marxist-Leninist and anti-imperialist stance, the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) present one of the largest Marxist movements in Africa. Polling over 10% with nearly 2 million votes in the most recent South African election, their strength only seems to be growing with time, though they certainly haven’t been strangers to controversy. With allegations of high-level misogyny and bigotry within its ranks, they limit their ability to reach higher ranks and form stronger relations with the international communist movement. Should the party be able to move past these problems, they seem poised to become a force in African socialism.
The EFF too have an English language website that may be worth checking out for more info.
Hellenic Republic (Greece) – Communist Party of Greece
Founded in 1918, the Communist Party of Greece has long been a force in the Greek political scene. They rose to an incredible peak during the second world war when membership inflated to around 200,000. The Greek People’s Liberation Army led much of the anti-fascist resistance in the country. Alas, problems became clear when the war was finally over.
When the British moved into Greece to assist in the removal of fascism, arms swiftly turned on the communists to prevent the creation of yet another socialist state encroaching into Europe. Very quickly, the British were shooting down communist protesters in the streets. The KKE’s (Communist Party of Greece’s Greek acronym) initial refusal to go to war with western allies crippled faith in the party and once they finally mobilised resistance, it was too little, too late.
After becoming illegal for several decades, the KKE returned in the 70s and became a strong support-base for working class politics. After the collapse of the USSR, they almost uniquely for western Europe managed to retain some significant strength and ideological cohesion. At time of writing, the KKE represent around 5% of the electorate, though they are much stronger in ground-level community activism. Perhaps most interesting is their gradual push to spearhead a wider European communist coalition movement, hoping to revitalise traditional Marxism-Leninism.
Once again, the party has an English language website to provide more info.
Plurinational State of Bolivia – Movement for Socialism
Bolivia would have been on the list of reformist states were it not for the America-backed 2019 military coup, ousting the ruling Movement for Socialism party led by president Evo Morales. The party spent a long period as the leading party in Bolivia, albeit not as a vanguard party and with a focus more on government expenditure for social services and protection of indigenous rights as opposed to a concerted effort towards a socialist economy. All the same, the MAS (Movement for Socialism) party was quite a significant force in its heyday and warrants particular mention.
Non-Socialist Governments: Revolutionary Movements
As I said before, there are the parties that wish to do things by ballot and there are those who wish to do so by bullet. That was the ballot, this is the bullet. Marxist-Leninists and affiliated ideological tendencies like Maoism typically espouse that revolution can only be carried out militantly. Some will amend things to say that they only do so when material conditions are ripe. Some participate in electoral politics to build up a support base while dancing around the need for revolution that must surely come later. Other parties are actively fighting right now! While certainly not at their peak as it was during the Cold War, such movements assuredly do still exist and continue fighting in the hopes of developing which countries are communist oriented.
Republic of Colombia – FARC
While the conflict in Colombia has largely petered out at the time of writing, mass discontent within the ranks of decommissioned FARC members makes the possibility of return to civil war likely. Assassinations on Marxist leaders in the country have led to fears that FARC’s decision to enter into democratic elections was a mistake and that rather than channeling the ‘will of the people’, they will instead be wiped out. The guerrilla war waged by the Marxist-Leninist movement lasted decades and caused deaths in the hundreds of thousands. While it’s unclear if they have the potential to return to war again, the precedent has already been set.
To learn about the history of the civil war in Colombia check the following link
Republic of India – Naxalite Movement AND Kerala
People often overlook India when discussing socialism in the modern day, despite holding not one but two of the most significant socialist movements in the world today. Kerala is a state within India which has, for decades, been primarily led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which, while not making this state a socialist one in the formula we described so very long ago, has achieved higher living standards than the majority of the rest of India.
On the other hand, there’s the Communist Party of India (Maoist), otherwise known as the Naxalites, along with a group of other Maoist movements without formal connection. The CPI (Maoist) is an overtly revolutionary group with aims on overthrowing the Indian state through protracted people’s war and creating a socialist republic. There are preliminary stages such as ‘New Democracy‘ which is unique to Maoist theory, but it is likely safe to say that what the Naxals intend is approximate to what our model would describe as a socialist country. The exact specifics and the success of their implementation is, however, a question for a whether or not they ever succeed. With their revolutionary bases seemingly in decline, it does not seem particularly likely.
Republic of the Philippines – Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army
Much like with India, there is a protracted people’s war ongoing in the Philippines and there has been one ongoing for many, many decades now. Filipino communists haven’t made major gains in quite a while, though there are revolutionary bases in the jungles and war is ongoing. Again, much like the Indian communists, the CPP is Maoist, seeing a need to fight by means of protracted people’s war, choke off the state and seize control. According to their ideology at the very least, their success would mean a fulfillment of our socialist criteria. Granted… It’s hard to say how well they would do with this. After all, the fulfillment of a certain criteria does not mean the fulfillment of a utopia.
Interestingly, the CPP has a partially English language website! Definitely worth checking out for more info.
Republic of Peru – Communist Party of Peru (Shining Path)
Last but not least, we have the Shining Path. Much diminished now, they are nonetheless vital to mention due to their near-success. Once again, we have a Maoist party, though the PCP (Partido Comunista del Perú, so as to differentiate from the Filipino CPP which would share an acronym in English) would describe itself as Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Gonzalo-Thought. Much like Nepal with their ideological leader Prachanda, the Peruvian communists had a leader in Abimael Guzman, otherwise known as Presidente Gonzalo, an ideological figurehead intended to place alongside Lenin and Mao.
Unlike the Naxalites and the Filipino Maoists, the PCP came very close to winning their people’s war, while unlike the Nepali Maoists, there was no intention to ever capitulate to government peace talks. Maoist guerrillas controlled the countryside by 1992 and the party had moved into the shantytowns of the capital of Lima, Peru. They were ready to begin the final offensive and create a new socialist state right as the old ones were disappearing to nothing behind them! The Peruvian state ultimately captured Gonzalo and the war fizzled out, the guerrillas retreating to jungle hotspots.
The Communist Party of Peru represents a new stage in the revolutionary Marxist movement. They regarded just about every existing socialist movement at the time as revisionist, unworthy of the socialist label and essentially an enemy, yet nearly managing to secure victory in their home country. Of course, they failed. Their legacy however seems to live on, with the majority of militant Marxist movements having picked up the banner of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism that was first theorized by the PCP in the mid-1980s. Will this mean a new Cold War stage is on the cusp of appearing? …Maybe not. But you can never be quite sure, can you?
While the PCP no longer has a website of its own and has largely retreated to the jungle, there is a news website affiliated with them that publishes statements semi-regularly on their behalf. Certainly worth checking out.
Non Socialist Systems with a Constitutional Reference to Socialism
I would say these are the next step down while still technically counting. Many countries exist which are not socialist in their mode of production, do not have significant socialist parties and yet still declare it in their constitutions! This has often been a quirk of their political history. The Cold War saw the growth of many brand new countries after all, while even more would alter their official position to improve diplomatic relations with the USSR, China or whoever else. Some have remained to this day and depending on who you ask, they’re maybe on the path right now!
People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
Algeria is a country that was significantly inspired by the socialist revolutions that swept much of the third world at the time of its independence. At the same time, they were reluctant to follow too close to that socialist path. A popular element of socialism particularly during the post-WW2 collapse of empires era was anti-imperialism. Having been subject to the whims of France for such a long time, the primary promise of socialism was independence from exploitation. In this sense, much of the socialist movements in Africa and the Middle-East in particular found themselves more focused on anti-imperialism rather than any Marxist understanding of socialism as an attempt to achieve communism.
When Algeria gained independence in 1962 under the National Liberation Front (FLN) led by Ahmed Ben Bella, it appeared that Algeria was following a Yugoslavian-styled socialist experiment. Not complete end to markets, but mass land collectivisation and state-controlled expansion of industry. What markets remained were inspired by the worker’s self-management models present in Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito at the time, the main pioneer of the ‘non-aligned movement’ of neither Soviet or American influence. While initially more politically plural, the FLN soon seized complete one-party control of Algeria.
As time went on, Ahmed Ben Bella was deposed in a coup and the government became more Soviet in model, with the state and military taking a primary lead. When this coup leader died in 1979, it was the next Algerian leader who emerged as a ‘moderate’. The economic plan for the following years liberalised the economy and broke apart many state run organs. In 1987, further reforms were announced and at last in 1989, ‘socialist’ was dropped from the country’s constitution. Power was given to conservative Islamists and multi-party democracy was restored, effectively ending their status as even a revisionist or reformist socialist state. As Islamists won the elections, the government annulled them in a panic and civil war ensued.
So anyway, there’s the context. What about now? Well, the FLN have largely maintained a powerful force in Algerian politics, either leading the government or being part of coalitions that led it. Socialist rhetoric has largely disappeared. What about the constitution? Much of the overt socialist references have been removed, but elements remain. “Gathered in the national movement and later within the National Front of Liberation, the Algerian people have made great sacrifices in order to assume their collective destiny in the framework of recovered freedom and cultural identity and to build authentic people’s democratic constitutional institutions.” This is one such example.
Referring to ‘people’s democratic constitutional institutions’ is evidence of the socialist system that remained before and the constitution even has passing reference to communes! This is however largely gone in practice, albeit with a strong state sector as a legacy.
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Let’s look at what the constitution says. “Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process, a socialist society free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedoms, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens.” Now I’m sure it’s not just me, but that sounds pretty damn socialist. You may be confused to know then that socialism is pretty much nonexistent in Bangladesh and most major parties are vehemently opposed to it. So what the hell’s going on?
At the time of the drafting of Bangladesh’s constitution in 1972, both India and Pakistan had strong references to socialism in their own constitutions. (We’ll get to that.) It was a natural fit for Bangladesh to follow suit, especially in light of how much of a stranglehold socialism seemed to have on the region. It served for better trade purposes and foreign relations. While initially politically moderate while aligned with the USSR and Cuba, growing discontent and harsh conditions in Bangladesh led to the formation of the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League in 1975. Or BaKSAL for short. This served as the one-party ruling state of Bangladesh for the next few years.
Some socialists were content with this and rushed to join the party while many others refused to accept the role of BaKSAL as a true socialist movement. Either way, the leader of BaKSAL was soon assassinated, along with many other prominent leaders leading to a military junta. At last, in 1977, multi-party democracy was restored with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party soon winning elections. Bangladesh was largely socialist from 1972 to 1977 before capitalism was reintroduced, with economic liberalisation exploding by 1991. With that, what remained of the socialist rhetoric in Bangladesh’s constitution was but a vague memory.
Co-Operative Republic of Guyana
Okay, read this. “Guyana is an indivisible, secular, democratic sovereign state in the course of transition from capitalism to socialism and shall be known as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana”. Now, that doesn’t exactly leave room for interpretation, does it? Once again though… Guyana is a capitalist country and has very little in the way of socialist production at all. Hardly sounds like any of the socialist nations. So… What’s going on?
Guyana’s first elections following (partial) independence from Britain were scheduled for 1953. Strongly leading in these first elections were the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) founded by Cheddi Jagan. Being Indo-Guyanese, there was a need to improve the Afro-Guyanese representation in the party, leading to the help of Forbes Burnham who also joined the party. The PPP soundly won the election but within months, Britain became displeased by the increasingly left-wing authority, usurped the constitution and sent in troops. Until 1957, the country was led by a largely British-controlled group of conservatives and businessmen, though the PPP was not banned as a party.
During this time, the PPP was beginning to fragment. Jagan had become the ‘left wing’ of the party and Burnham had moved to the ‘right wing’ of the party, something that the British soon picked up on and played to their advantage. In time, the Burnham faction broke away from the PPP entirely, merging with a separate, predominantly Afro-Guyanese party to form the People’s National Congress.
In 1961, Jagan and the PPP won the next set of elections and moved the country leftwards once more, aligning closely with Cuba and the German Democratic Republic in particular. Intervention by the PNC and elements of the CIA were frequent, severely disrupting Guyana in this period and damaging the credibility of the PPP. By 1964, the British once again intervened directly and changed the constitution without the PPP’s consent. In the next election, the PPP gained 46% of the vote while the PNC gained 40%. Meanwhile, the overtly capitalist United Front (UF) gained 11% of the vote and formed a coalition with the PNC to keep the PPP out of power.
The PNC broke relations with Cuba and raised foreign trade, eventually leading to full independence being granted from Britain in 1966. At last in 1968, the PNC gained the power needed to rule without the UF in coalition, suddenly announcing an unexpected leftward shift. By 1970, Guyana was declared a ‘co-operative republic’, relations with Cuba were restored, capitalism was being reduced and the country took its place among the non-aligned movement. Soon, by 1974, the party and the state had become essentially synonymous. Opposition parties remained, but were stifled and elections were arguably heavily tampered with. By 1979, the private sector accounted for 10% of Guyana’s economy.
Eventually, in 1985, Burnham died of a throat illness and the suffering economy was overtaken by a new leader. Liberalisation began, the economy began to loosen and in 1993, of all people, Jagan of the PPP became the country’s leader. Contrary to the British fears of his alleged Marxism-Leninism, Jagan and the PPP oversaw further liberalisation of the Guyanese economy, including International Monetary Fund restructuring which led to a collapse in real wages. Since then, the PNC and PPP have jointly vied for power in a liberal democratic Guyana, having largely abandoned socialism but not having discarded the past. The PNC’s website still lauds Burnham and Guyana under the PNC but its present constitution makes no further reference to socialism. The maintenance of socialism in the constitution is merely a quirk of a legacy unwilling to be either forgotten or upheld.
Interestingly Guyana during its brief dalliance with socialism they worked with the DPRK on their own version of the Mass Games. Yep, little Guyana had their version of Arirang.
Republic of India
I’ll make this one shorter because the history is honestly a lot less interesting. Unlike the previous examples, Indian socialism was pretty much never on the table. There was a long period where state planning existed and a stringent bureaucracy prevented private businesses, but the aim for this was more state capitalism in nature. Not even lip service had been paid to socialism in this period. The reference to socialism in the Indian constitution is as follows. “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens”. That is quite literally it. It is not brought up again. It is so little that as far as the constitution applies for the regions of Jammu and Kashmir, it is explicitly stated that the terms ‘Socialist Secular’ should be omitted from the preamble of the constitution.
So why did this happen if there’s no care at all? Well, there was an 18 month period between 1975 and 1977 when India, led by Indira Gandhi, went through ‘The Emergency‘. This is a period in which India was officially in a ‘state of emergency’ and heavy restrictions on civil liberties occurred. Strikes had rocked the country and a conflict with Pakistan had just concluded. The President’s base of support was very much among the Indian poor, with lip service to socialism proving extremely popular, to the point that some of those cracked down on were actually supporters of the president who hoped for the socialist aspect to go further.
As it happened, this never occurred. The state of emergency eventually ended and with it, these two little words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ were left behind in the constitution as a neat little memento that nobody has quite gotten around to discarding.
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Yeah, you read that right. A country with ‘Socialist’ in its damn name! How can you argue against that? Well, what’s on paper is often quite different to the reality. For example, once again, the constitution. “[…] to constitute Sri Lanka into a democratic socialist republic whilst ratifying the immutable republican principles of representative democracy, and assuring to all peoples freedom, equality, justice, fundamental human rights and the independence of the judiciary”. Guess what? That is the ONLY reference to socialism in the whole constitution aside from repeated reiterations of the country’s name. So what’s going on here?
Well, like many of the countries mentioned up until now, socialism was popular in Sri Lanka in its mid-20th century history. Between 1948 and 1977, it could be argued that a reformist socialist state existed, with much of industry nationalised and a strong welfare state put in place. From 1977 onwards however, free market capitalism strongly took hold in the country and never quite let go, though Marxist movements are far from extinct in the country. From 1962 onwards especially, the country became close to both the USSR and China while taking its place in the nonaligned movement. This did not stop Sri Lanka from cracking down harshly on an attempted Marxist insurrection in 1971 and again in 1987. Once again, this is largely a case of a non-socialist country with useful socialist allegiances simply altering its image to appeal. Then never bothering to change after the fact.
So whilst it did spend time as a Socialist leaning state, Sri Lanka never got to joining the communist countries club. Ironically as of 2022 and the mass protests this could be the closest the country has come to actual revolution in its history.
United Republic of Tanzania
Now depending on who you ask, Tanzania is either incidentally maintaining socialism in its constitution or is simply a reformist socialist country. Unlike many of the above, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, translated as Party of the Revolution) still claim to be socialist and are members of the Socialist International. But at the same time, they are neither a vanguard party, nor do they discourage capitalism in any way. They go as far as to directly promote the private sector as the ‘engine’ of the economy, having diverted strongly from their earlier ideals. Despite this, the constitution still states: “The United Republic is a democratic, secular and socialist state which adheres to multi-party democracy.”
Tanzania was once at the forefront of African socialism. Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere pioneered a philosophy known as ‘Ujamaa‘, seen as an African model of socialism that saw village co-operatives as better than mass-scale collectivisation programs that had resulted in civil wars in ex-socialist Ethiopia. Nyerere opposed scientific Marxism and largely viewed socialism in Africa as needing an entirely different basis, relating it more to the ideals of an egalitarian society with influence drawn from traditional African ways of living. Nyerere was also inspired by his Christianity and despite there having been one-party rule in Tanzania, it is often argued that civil liberties were not infringed and Tanzania remained a rather open and liberal state.
Since the death of Nyerere, much of the infrastructure established has since collapsed or at least reduced, although things like the public, compulsory education system remain at least largely in place. In 1992, the one-party system officially ended and with it, capitalism largely returned as well. Due to Julius Nyerere’s immense popularity within the country, references to socialism (as understood by Nyerere) remain, while much of his actual legacy has since been removed and replaced. There may be lip service, but Tanzania does not stand among the ranks of socialist nations.
What, really? Portugal? The country right next to Spain? How the hell would that refer to socialism? Well, as it turns out, it does! “The Constituent Assembly affirms the Portuguese people’s decision to […] open up a path towards a socialist society.” This constitution was drafted in 1976, one year after the Carnation Revolution in which a bloodless military coup unseated the right-wing colonialist government that previously ran Portugal. From here, there had been a struggle between leftist and rightist factions vying for power, having culminated in a failed leftist coup at the end of 1975 which attempted to turn the country to a socialist society.
The period between the Carnation Revolution and this attempted coup was known as the Processo Revolucionário Em Curso, or the ‘Ongoing Revolutionary Process’. At this time, vast sections of the Portuguese economy came under government control and it truly appeared as though Portugal would join the socialist nations under the direction of this oddly leftist military junta. Alas, it was not to be. Almost immediately, a large amount of the nationalised properties were ruled illegally seized and returned.
In the 1976 legislative elections, the victorious (rather moderate) Portuguese Socialist Party began to return large amounts of the remaining seized land and continued to pay lip service to socialism, pleasing the demands of a great segment of the populace, while also pushing for integration with the European Economic Community from 1977 onwards. In 1982, the weakness of the Socialist Party ultimately resulted in a coalition of right-wing parties securing enough control to enact constitutional reforms, followed again with further reforms in 1989 which re-privatised much of the nationalised industry in the country. From here, what remained in the constitution that referred to socialism was merely a remnant of that now long-ago near-revolution.