Yesterday I learned of the (somewhat obscure) Centrocaspian Dictatorship, an unrecognised state that existed for less than 2 months in 1918.

Are there any other (less obscure) states that have called themselves a dictatorship? It seems more common dictatorships call themselves the free democratic people's worker's utopia and so on.

  • 24
    The usual terms used were closer to "Kingdom" or "Empire".
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 16 '17 at 14:21
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    At least they had some truth in advertising. Aug 18 '17 at 0:14
  • 5
    @T.E.D.: The usual terms used were closer to "Kingdom" or "Empire". I don't know how many of those were really that close to a modern dictatorship such as Stalin's. In a feudal European context, there were mutual bonds of obligation between a king and the members of the nobility, and power was shared with the Church.
    – user2848
    Aug 18 '17 at 3:16
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    The leader of Latveria is quite open about the fact that he is a dictator. Oops wrong stackexchange...
    – Nacht
    Aug 18 '17 at 5:00
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    The usual term used is generally "democratic" or "people's", monarch are just monarchs.
    – Greg
    Aug 19 '17 at 10:28

The Despotate of the Morea, which was a province of the Byzantine Empire, looks like one of these at first glance, but it isn't. The words "Despot", "Tyrant" and "Dictator" have all changed their meanings over time.

  • Despot was originally the highest rank of the court of the Byzantine Empire, bestowed on close relatives of the emperor (the modern concept of prince didn't exist at the time). These men were sent to rule major provinces; Despot acquired negative connotations as the people of those provinces felt they were miss-ruled.
  • Tyrant originally meant someone who came to power by gathering popular support from various factions in a Greek state. They were naturally, viewed as illegitimate by the kings and aristocrats of the time. The word acquired negative meaning because tyrants tended to resort to force to retain their power, and because of the influence of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.
  • Dictator was a constitutional office of the Roman Republic. Because the republic's methods of making policy weren't reliably fast, there was a provision for an executive to be appointed to take care of an emergency, and his title was "dictator". The word acquired negative connotations because other forms of absolute leadership borrowed the term.

I very much doubt that the original name of the "Centrocaspian Dictatorship" had the implications of modern English "dictatorship." Given that the title must be a translation, I'm suspicious that "dictatorship" is translating some word that was meant to imply government in an emergency, and that the English translation originated with someone with an excessively classical education, who assumed everyone would apply the ancient Roman meaning.

I'm still doubtful that "dictatorship" had all of the implications of the modern English term.

  • 11
    I'm not so sure — Marxists were (and are) not too shy to speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16 '17 at 11:54
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    The original title seems to be "Diktatura Tsentrokaspiya" (transliterated from Russian). "Dictatorship" is a direct translation of that.
    – svick
    Aug 16 '17 at 13:55
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    @svick "Das Kapital" was originally written in German language, so the russian term cannot be the original.
    – Bregalad
    Aug 16 '17 at 19:15
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    @Bregalad I think svick meant the original title of the Centrocaspian Dictatorship, not the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16 '17 at 20:28
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    "The word acquired negative connotations because other forms of absolute leadership borrowed the term." And also because one of those Roman dictators decided it would be fun to be dictator-for-life (which incidentally ended up meaning "for about a month.")
    – reirab
    Aug 16 '17 at 20:52

In the original sense of the term, Roman Dictators were magistrates of the Roman Republic, entrusted with the full authority of the state to deal with a military emergency or to undertake a specific duty for up to 6 months.

A few state heads used the title formally in the 19th century, before it got its negative connotation, and sometimes called their government a dictatorship or some variation of the term. For instance:

  • The Dictatorial Government of Sicily (27 May – 4 November 1860) was a provisional executive government appointed by Giuseppe Garibaldi to rule Sicily. The government ended when Sicily's annexation into the Kingdom of Italy was ratified by plebiscite.
  • Emilio Aguinaldo, the last President of the Supreme Government Council [of Philippines] 23 March 1897 – 16 December 1897 and chairman of the Revolutionary Government from 23 June to 1 November 1897, was president of the "Dictatorial Council" from 12 June 1898 – 23 January 1899.
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    That seems to be more about usage in the title of the head of state, rather than usage in the name of a country.
    – gerrit
    Aug 16 '17 at 11:52
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    @gerrit: updated for completeness. Aug 16 '17 at 11:54

The preamble to the constitution of the People's Republic of China describes the state as being a "people's democratic dictatorship".

Article 1 of the constitution repeats the claim.


The political system in the state which was created in 1917 on the place of the Russian empire was officially called "Dictatorship of proletariat" by its leaders. It did not recognize equal rights of its citizens, and openly, officially performed terror on the whole classes of society. This existed until 1936 when the new constitution was accepted. To be sure, the terror continued, but was not openly recognized as terror. According to the communist theory (Leninism), "dictatorship of proletariat" is a necessary stage in the transition from capitalism to communism. The later Soviet state (after 1936) did not call itself dictatorship of proletariat, but in fact it was a dictatorship of a party, before and after.

  • 3
    It is termed dictatorship because it retains the 'state apparatus' as such, with its implements of force and oppression. According to Marxist theory, the existence of any government implies the dictatorship of one social class over another.
    – liftarn
    Aug 18 '17 at 7:07

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