Did "socialism with a human face" actually exist in practice?


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)?


Posted 2018-02-08T15:59:58.033

Reputation: 43 325

4One 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 – 2018-02-08T16:23:22.903

2@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 – 2018-02-08T16:42:50.340

As a side note, the concept also appears in this article from Washington Post (GORBACHEV CALLS FOR SOCIALISM WITH A 'HUMAN FACE')

– Alexei – 2018-02-08T16:45:52.923

Perestroyka didn't last 10 years though. – user4012 – 2018-02-08T17:22:08.487

4Depends 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 – 2018-02-08T21:20:37.683

"socialism with a human face" Could you maybe specify more, what this human face would include and what it would not include for you? Private economy? Freedom to travel? Freedom of speech? Rule of law? Which laws?... Otherwise it's a bit unclear what exactly is meant here. – Trilarion – 2018-02-09T09:01:55.550

2In the last 10 years maybe Cuba or Vietnam? – Trilarion – 2018-02-09T09:04:03.890

1@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 – 2018-02-09T09:07:47.297

I'm not very familiar with how Czechoslovakia was in 1968, but thanks for the clarification. I think this is valuable information and should be added to the question. – Trilarion – 2018-02-09T09:09:38.333

No more than Capitalism with a human face has ever existed. – David Rice – 2018-12-19T19:24:00.503

Chile from 1970 to 1973. – Bernard Massé – 2018-12-19T19:56:53.780

Yugoslavia was notably more liberal than the other eastern European communist countries, with one-party system but an increasingly greater focus on economic prosperity via employee-managed but state-owned corporations that gave their employees benefits, and less jailing of political dissidents or artists (although there was still some censorship). But the question seems too vague to say if it is an answer. – Stuart F – 2018-12-20T12:20:50.447

@StuartF - based on your comment, it seems to resemble what I am looking for, so you can develop it into an answer. Unfortunately, I am familiar with Yugoslavia's recent history to say more about it. – Alexei – 2018-12-20T12:23:18.913



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.


Posted 2018-02-08T15:59:58.033


2that system is not sustainable could you elaborate on the definition of "sustainable" implied here? Ecologically? Or more like, "inherently unstable"? – Tobia Tesan – 2018-03-09T12:33:50.077

1@TobiaTesan - please see the changes I introduced. Thank you for your comment, it definitely improves my answer. – None – 2018-03-09T12:40:19.220

1Could 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 – 2018-03-09T13:20:42.493

1@armatita - by definition something needs reform when it's not performing as designed. Thus my mentioning the specific critique of socialism by LvM, not sure what else you require. Also not sure what you imply with [laissez-faire] decline in US... Or, more specifically, what is has to do with the topic? Also, NEP was abolished in 1928 and it was - basically and oversimplified - loosening the rules of communism on private business. So it actually qualifies as a something barely close to Dubček's SwHF – None – 2018-03-12T09:29:37.553

1"... or whatever - sorry I do not think ..." But you should, thus my request for sources. You write Communism but link to Marxism and latter comment specifically on a reform proposed by Lenin. Without context, sources or proper naming what you have is a piece of propaganda. Also you use Von Mises critique as proof that "...the tenets of the system failed" without explaining why or how. Even stranger when you consider that some of the nations with best quality of life today have mixed economies with things as welfare, healthcare, education, etc. under the Social umbrella. – armatita – 2018-03-12T11:20:53.430

1Further you fail to address, even at the bare minimum, the Dubček program called "Socialism with a human face" (a form of State Socialism) and if it ever happened anywhere in practice. Considering this just so happens to be the OP question what you have is not an answer. Arguments are only good when adequately supported by facts and context. Anything else just promotes stagnation and insularity. – armatita – 2018-03-12T11:28:08.987

1@armatita - I see your point. I shall edit accordingly. And no, I do not consider countries with social umbrella as with best quality of life. At least not for me, as I do not consider stealing from one to give to another a quality of life, since it is me who's robbed. LvM wrote specific critique of socialism as a system that is inherently unstable. From perspective of economic viability socialism, communism or social umbrella system all operate from same premise. That it is total in communism (marxism) and partial in social umbrella system is immaterial. Logic stands. – None – 2018-03-12T13:12:57.587

2"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 – 2018-03-12T13:52:44.600

@armatita - Agreed, thus I never placed in the answer anything like my feelings. But your requirement on differentiating between marxism, socialism, communism and such is literally meaningless in the broader sense of the question. Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were all ruled by communist party (arriving at it via different routes), yet none of them were communist. And yet all of them implemented majority of marxist manifesto. This is splitting hair on an issue which is basically a non-issue in the light of the question. If you want we can go there, but it will be a mess. – None – 2018-03-12T14:32:51.617

@armatita - from my growing up in communist Poland I can share with you some jokes on that: "Q:What's the difference between capitalism and communism? A. Capitalism is exploitation of one human being by another. Q: Ok, but what's the difference? A: Communism is exactly the opposite." And. "Q: What is the difference between socialist and communist? A: Communist shoots on sight, socialist first torments you your whole life." – None – 2018-03-12T14:36:48.327

4It'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 – 2018-03-12T15:10:35.503

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– None – 2018-03-12T15:16:55.783