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The Facts

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The Facts

The Socialist Spectrum
Friends and foes of socialism alike tend to see it as one fixed system. But in fact it comes in many different varieties. Here's a New Internationalist summary of just six of them.

Women s equality is a strong platform of socialist governments. Legal equality is reflected in education and reproductive rights policies but statistics do not show women’s continued responsibility for domestic tasks nor the extent of violence against women. Legal equality appears not to result in women holding top political jobs.

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Health indicators in socialist countries vary as widely as anywhere else. Differences reflect a country’s history in terms of resources, political struggles, foreign aid and rate of development.

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SWEDEN pop: 8.3 million

POLITICS - The Swedish Social Democratic Party has been in powerfor6l of the last 65 years. Olaf Palme is currently president of their multi-party democracy. Opposition from Left to Right.

THE ECONOMY - Relatively prosperous with a per capita income of nearly 12 thousand US dollars and low unemployment rate (3.5%). Combination of private ownership with very advanced health and welfare programs. Slow growth rate (zero by 1 981) is endangering funding of social programs. Industry is dependent on over 400,000 guest workers - mostly Finns and Yugoslavs. Highest 10% gets 28.1% of income.

THE MILITARY - Sweden follows a neutral foreign policy. Sixty-six per cent more is spent on education than on defense although there is conscription.

HUMAN RIGHTS - No capital punishment. Full political rights and no political prisoners or censorship.


NICARAGUA pop: 3 million

POLITICS - Multiparty system with the Sandinista National Liberation Front playing the leading role. In 1 979 the Sandinista’s lead the overthrow of the 40-year old Somoza family dictatorship. In 1 984 the Sandinista’s took 61 seats in the National Assembly elections. The opposition took 29 seats in an election judged by independent observers to have been free and fair. The Sandinista President is Daniel Ortega.

THE ECONOMY - Under Somoza, 41% of the land was controlled by big landowners; after the Sandinista land reform program it is down to 11%. They have tripled the health and education funds that Somoza made available. The economy is mixed with 40% still in private hands. A recent US trade and credit embargo has aggravated shortages and black market activity.

THE MILITARY - CIA support for the Reagan-sponsored contra guerrillas has forced the Sandinistas to dramatically increase defense spending, from 7% in 1 980-81 to 40% of spending in 1985.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Mixed picture. Some censorship although the anti-government daily La Prensa continues to publish. Amnesty International reports political prisoners, many ex-Somoza National Guards. Tensions with the Miskito Indians on the Atlantic coast. Capital punishment abolished by Sandinistas.


U.S.S.R. pop: 272.5 million

POLITICS - The Communist Party (CPSU), the only legal party, has been in power since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1 91 7. Current President is the reform-minded Michael Gorbachev. All citizens over 18 can vote - but in practice for only one official candidate.

THE ECONOMY - Remains highly centrally-planned despite reform efforts. Full employment and free health services but economic problems include poor quality goods, stagnating agriculture and shortages of basic goods like meat and housing. Meat consumption per capita was a lowly 56kg in 1980.

THE MILITARY - Superpower status. Military spending is 47% of total spending more than twice the amount spent on education. Over 700,000 troops stationed in 24 countries outside its own borders. Conscription and priority to defense industries. Major arms trader in 1 982 - 22.4 billion dollars worth to highly repressive regimes.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Amnesty Intemational reports thousands of political prisoners. Use of psychiatric and labour camps to control dissidents. Government control of press and capital punishment. Opposition includes an independent peace movement and the circulation of underground publications.


[image, unknown] HUNGARY pop: 10.7 million

POLITICS - Janos Kadar is the First Secretary of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. Despite being put in power by the Soviets after the failed revolution in 1956, Kadar has implemented a program of cautious reforms popular in the country. For the first time in 1985 Hungarians could vote for non-party candidates running against official candidates for the 387-seat advisory parliament.

THE ECONOMY - Kadar’s ‘goulash communism’ approach combines overall planning with a New Economic Mechanism (1968) allowing limited initiative by individua Is and co-operatives. Despite some shortages, the standard of living is the most prosperous in Eastern Europe. Market does skew income however, lowest 20% earn only 6.9% of total income.

THE MILITARY - In foreign policy Hungary follows the Soviet line. There are four Soviet divisions stationed in the country. The military budget is only 8.9% of all spending. Conscription.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Few political prisoners. Dissidents are altematively harassed and tolerated. Lively opposition; independent peace and ecology groups and underground publications. Capital punishment.


[image, unknown] YUGOSLAVIA pop: 22.8 million

POLITICS - The ruling League of Communists was lead to power by Tito in the partisan struggle against the German occupatiQn in World War II. Yugoslavia is a federal republic with much power remaining in the hands of six individual republics. The rotating President of the Federal Executive Council is currently Mika Spiljak.

THE ECONOMY - In 1 958 the League laid out the framework for a program of worker’s self-management in economic decisions. While the economy is more democratic it is beset with problems - regional disparities, income disparities (22.9% of income controlled by the top 10%). a million unemployed and a serious inflation problem.

THE MILITARY - After the second World War Tito broke with the USSR and Yugoslavia now has an independent foreign policy. High military spending (20.8% of the budget) is the result of continued uncertainty about Russian intentions. Conscription.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Opposition groupsare illegal. They are often harassed and impnsoned. The government is particularly nervous about regional nationalism. Capital punishment There is a tradition of Marxist humanism in the opposition.


ETHIOPIA pop: 40.9 million

POLITICS - Lieutenta nt-Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam is President and leader of the military ‘Dergue’ that overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. The Dergue rules Ethiopia on its own after having systematically eliminated the civilian parts of the revolution in the ‘Red Terror’ of 1977-78.

THE ECONOMY - The largely agricultural economy is in very bad shape. Over 100,000 have died in the current African famine that has hit Ethiopia very hard. Despite extensive land reform in the South over 60% of foreign exchange earnings come from exporting one cash crop: coffee. Mixed economy, some foreign ownership.

THE MILITARY - Aligned with the Soviet Union. Continuing to fight wars against liberation movements in Eritrea and Tigray provinces. Military gets the lion’s share of the budget - 42% in 1 982. There is a large conscripted army of 250,000 with some 1 2,500 foreign advisors mostly Soviet and Cuban. There are also 1 50.000 police.

HUMAN RIGHTS - Amnesty reports several thousand political prisoners and the widespread use of torture. Effective opposition groups are the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, both in the North of the country.

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New Internationalist issue 153 magazine cover This article is from the November 1985 issue of New Internationalist.
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