NOTE: This is somewhat related (a "soft" version of) to this question (Do/did non-dictatorial Communist societies exist?)

According to Wikipedia, "Socialism with a human face" appeared in 1968 and it is historically connected to "Prague Spring":

(..) political programme announced by Alexander Dubček and his colleagues agreed at Presidium of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on April 1968

According to the same source this political's highlights were:

  • greater freedom of the press and of culture and
  • emphasized the need for personal initiative in economics.
  • no envisage the existence of independent political parties
  • no private ownership of companies

This political program did not manage to be implemented for a long time due to Prague Spring being crushed by the Warsaw Pact invasion.

I am thinking of a society very similar to what Czechoslovakia was in 1968 (a communist state under the Iron Curtain with very limited freedom of travel, expression etc.) + the political program principles.

Question: Did "socialism with a human face" actually existed in practice for a significant amount of time (at least 10 years)?

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    One can probably argue that post-Deng's China may fit the bill, somewhat? The definition seems incredibly vague and squishy so one can argue many ways
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 16:23
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    @user4012 - Yes, definition is indeed vague. I could not find any reference to the actual document. This would help me to provide more substantial characteristics of the "socialism with a human face" concept.
    – Alexei
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 16:42
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    Depends a lot on how you want to define "socialism". It's not uncommon to hear people derogatorily calling a large welfare state and regulated economy like those of Scandinavian countries "socialism" as if it proved that was bad and the first step on the road to serfdom. In actuality, those countries are pretty humane, with frequent peaceful handovers of powers, open dissent and strong respect for civil liberties, etc. so conflating them with Soviet-style "People's Republic" kind of undermines the criticism. But you could just as easily argue that social-democracy is not true socialism.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 21:20
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    In the last 10 years maybe Cuba or Vietnam? Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 9:04
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    @Trilarion - I am thinking of a society very similar to what Czechoslovakia was in 1968 + the political program principles. No pluripartidism, some freedom of the press and culture, private property, but not private ownership of companies (so only state owned companies which would mean a centralized economic control), limited freedom to travel. I wish I found the actual political program to see the changes in various life aspects.
    – Alexei
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 9:07

1 Answer 1


Short answer: No.

Longer answer: every attempt to reform socialism to give it "humane face" were undertaken when it was undoubtedly clear that system is not sustainable economically (as indicated by Ludvig von Mises in his critique of central economic planning). Dubcek formulated his program in response to civic unrest in Czechoslovakia, and it was an attempt to reform policies that failed. Similar situation happened earlier in Hungary and Poland, including civic unrest and attempts at economic reforms of a system that did not deliver as promised.

So, given that similar results of decades after implementing socialist/communist policies could be observed in various socialist/communist states at roughly similar time (worth noting that they arrived there by different paths), any attempts at minor reforms - because they were minor on the scale of the whole socialist state - should any meaningful results could be observed? Czechoslovakian revolt has been quashed by political-military means, same in Hungary and Poland.

Bottom line: no, there were no working examples of socialism reformed in the lines of Dubcek's proposals. Every attempt, being a response to social unrest was short-lived with end result being either return to policies which caused the economic difficulties or collapse of a socialist/communist system (Reforms of M. Rakowski in Poland are prime example of latter - in less than 2 years).

The only thing barely close to what you ask about would be NEP, but it's still just 6 years. And it was less an attempt at reform and more a temporary solution to specific situation.

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    that system is not sustainable could you elaborate on the definition of "sustainable" implied here? Ecologically? Or more like, "inherently unstable"? Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 12:33
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    @TobiaTesan - please see the changes I introduced. Thank you for your comment, it definitely improves my answer.
    – user10424
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 12:40
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    Could you link the keywords in your answer to their respective articles in wikipedia (socialism, communism, etc.)? As it stands I'm not really sure what you are referring to. Also you quote Von Mises, that although a great economist and defender of classical liberalism, he was also contemporary to the its decline in US (after a series of economic depressions). Finally you link the New Economic Policy which has almost 100 years (not 6) and make no mention whatsoever to Dubček program called "Socialism with a human face" which had very specific features (latter influencing Gorbachev).
    – armatita
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 13:20
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    "And no, I do not consider countries with social umbrella as with best quality of life." Neither did I say it was a necessary feature (although definitely statistically significant). Philosophy should not be like soccer. You don't get to chose a club and automatically claim your team to be the best just because. What you consider "stealing" might be constrained as "equity" by others (making you the robber). And names are important because they identify significant branches of knowledge. By calling communism to marxism you are essentially deleting the former. What does that make you?
    – armatita
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 13:52
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    It's meaningless from your perspective. From my perspective I was born in a western EU country where the parties that came after the fall of the dictatorship (and that still remain the biggest parties to this day) are named Social-Democracy Party, and Socialist Party. The names that for you represent an autocratic past, for me represent the fall of autocracy and the rise of democracy. I'm not "splitting hairs". The branch of "Socialism" (social democracy) I've experienced is quite different from the one you've experienced. That's one of the reasons why names and meanings are important.
    – armatita
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:10

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