A single-party state or one-party system is a form of government where only a single political party dominates the government and no opposition parties are allowed. This is generally as creating a dictatorship, and many (though not all) actual dictatorships represent themselves as one-party states. Examples of dictatorships which are not one-party states include military dictatorships which often attempt to ban all party politics during their rule. A one-party system can be contrasted to one party dominant system in which an opposition is not official prohibited, but it is largely ineffective. Where the one-party subscribes to Marxism-Leninism, the one party system is known as a communist state.
Single-party states often pay lip service to democracy, but without a choice of ruling party, elections in single party states are usually largely symbolic. Although other political parties are sometimes allowed by the government, these other parties must subordinate themselves to the dominant party and cannot function as an opposition. The existence of other parties is sometimes justified by appeals to a united front. Also some one party states may allow non-party members the ability to run for legislative seats, as was the case with Taiwan's Tang wai movement in the 1970s and 1980s.
In most cases single-party states have arisen from fascist, communist or nationalist ideologies, particularly in the wake of independence from colonial rule. One party systems often arise from decolonization, in which one party has had an overwhelming dominant role in liberation or independence struggles.
The justification for one party states is that multi-party systems introduce too much division and are unsuitable for economic and political development. This argument was particular popular during the mid 20th century, as many developing nations sought to emulate the Soviet Union which appeared to have transformed itself from a backward agarian nation into a superpower. The counter-argument is that one party systems do no better have a tendency to produce economic and political disasters. This counter-argument became more widely held as the 20th century drew to a close and the Soviet Union collapsed and as the tremendous human cost of Stalinism and Maoism became more widely noticed.
The following countries are single-party states as of 2003:
- Burma (the opposition parties are prevented from taking office)
- People's Republic of China (Communist party, 8 registered minor parties)
- Cuba (Communist party)
- North Korea (Korean Workers' Party)
- Laos (Communist party)
- Syria (Ba'ath Party)
- Vietnam (Communist party)
- many African governments after independence, although most have now converted to multi-party government
- many Arab governments such as
- the former Soviet Union and the governments of the countries of the Warsaw Pact at that time, which were ruled by Communist parties.
- Germany under the Nazi Party
- Spain under Franco
- Portugal under Salazar and Marcello Caetano
- Taiwan under the Kuomintang