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I know that in USSR, even during the most totalitarian times, there used to be elections and a representative legislative body (Supreme Soviet) - leaving aside the actual competitiveness of the elections or the practical functionality of the Soviet to do anything other than rubber-stamp CPSU decisions.

The question is:

We re there any countries (in recent history - say, after 500 AD) that can unambiguously be considered Socialist, but which did NOT have a real or pretend representative elected legislative body (where voting is open to a large proportion of the population)? If so, what was the earliest one?

  • I don't think any countries have existed that "can unambiguously be considered socialist". You might want to rephrase as "countries that self-identify as socialist". Most of countries self-identifying as socialist also self-identify as democratic. I find it odd that people do challenge claims from e.g. North Korea to be democratic, but are much less likely to challenge claims from the same countries to be socialist. – gerrit Dec 9 '12 at 11:10
  • @gerrit - It's a Catch-22. If I do what your suggested, I miss out on countries that operate on socialist principles, yet either predate Marx (see the accepted answer) or refuse to use the term "socialist" because it may be politically inadvisable. If I go with my original interpretation (which is closer to what I actually want to know), I have a risk of "No true scotsman" arguments. Unless such argments are produced, I'll stick with status quo for now, but may go with your suggestion if they start happening. – user4012 Dec 9 '12 at 13:27
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    For any country you'll find somebody who does not consider it Socialist (or Capitalist or whatever). – Anixx Aug 4 '13 at 13:44
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Many socialists would argue that a non-democratic state is by definition not socialist, whether it chooses to describe itself as such or not, but moving beyond what could be criticized as a "No true Scotsman" argument, we face a serious problem in the definition of the word "socialist".

The word has been used to describe a broad enough range of political and economic models that it's pretty much impossible to declare any one of them "unambiguously socialist" without finding someone who'll vigorously disagree with that classification.

However, the Inca Empire (15th-16th century CE), which never had anything approaching an elected legislature, had an economic system which was centrally planned (a common feature of economies laying claim to the name "socialist"), and in some respects recognizably redistributive.

In particular, the concept of Ayni, roughly translated as "right (or proper) relationship", can be seen as analagous to the socialist dictum "from each according to their ability; to each according to their need", and was a cornerstone of Inca society, just as it remains an intrinsic part of indigenous Andean culture today.

Indeed, the current governing party in Bolivia, the Movimiento al Socialismo (or MAS), while committed to maintaining power by purely democratic means (and, in fact, responsible for an aggressive campaign to increase voter registration throughout the country) has stated that indigenous Andean (and by implication, Inca) culture is inherently socialistic.

On a somewhat related note, the current leader of MAS (and Bolivia's current President), Evo Morales, took the unprecedented step of having himself declared Apu Mallku (effectively, "King") at Tiwanaku, the seat of the Tiwanaku Empire (which preceded the Inca Empire, and was a strong influence on its culture) on his inauguration as president in 2006, although this is considered a purely symbolic title.

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I think it is quite difficult to find a non-monarchic state without elections at all. By what process the governing bodies of such state would form?

Even the least democratic regimes in the world who were not monarchies had to resort to elections or some sort of voting.

Even hereditary, absolute monarchies like Russia in 17th century had to conduct election of a new tzar when the dynasty ended. Similarly, the churches such as Orthodox Church and Catholic Church elect their heads because the positions are not hereditary, even though the churches do not consider themselves "democratic" bodies.

As such, there is no practical way to form government other than by inheritance or by voting.

The voting of course can be suspended for a while if the current leadership fears of being challenged, but there are no immortal people and sooner or later the leadership has to be replaced either by inheritance or voting.

  • "I think it is quite difficult to find a non-monarchic state without elections at all. By what process the governing bodies of such state would form?" - anything resulting from a military Junta, for example, is just as likely to not have elections, at least in the short term. – user4012 Aug 4 '13 at 14:51
  • Also, you raise a good point re: Russia; I didn't make it clear enough in the question but IMHO elections of a tzar don't count - by "elections" I meant popular elections (e.g. majority of population is eligible to vote), not "10 boyars electing someone". Edited the question to clarify that. – user4012 Aug 4 '13 at 14:52
  • @DVK your first point is addressed in my last paragraph. You can suspend elections for a while, but there are no immortal people. – Anixx Aug 4 '13 at 15:58
  • there are juntas that are multi-generational but not monarchies – user4012 Aug 4 '13 at 17:52
  • @DVK anyway they conduct elections in a closed circle of "military council" or the like. I see that you changed your question, but I was answering the first version. – Anixx Aug 4 '13 at 17:55
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According to Lenin, socialism is essentially Soviet rule.

As such, there can be no state which is socialist in Lenin's sense but having no elections.

Moreover, the legislature in Leninist Socialist states is much more powerful than in typical state of the Western model: the Supreme Council at least in the USSR had power to adopt any law or regulation by a simple majority and there was no veto power invested in anybody like a president. The council directly appointed the cabinet, the judges and other higher offices, awarded state decorations and prizes and so on, which powers currently invested solely in president.

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    Leninism is only one of many interpretations of socialism. – gerrit Jul 10 '15 at 15:37

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