Sunday, February 14, 2016

Communist Imperialism

One of the most absurd aspects of the Marxist and communist mentality is the militant unwillingness to recognise that the Soviet Union practised its own form of imperialism, and that there is no special reason to imagine that powerful communist states – if they existed – would avoid imperialist behaviour, given that, no matter whether a state is communist or capitalist, it will almost inevitably be drawn onto the world stage to protect its interests and access to resources and markets.

(Another issue, as I have argued here, is that a communist state engaged in mass industrialisation, under current technological constraints, would also inevitably produce huge greenhouse gas emissions, just like a capitalist state, but I digress.)

To return to my main point, take the history of the Soviet Union: the Soviet Union was simply the successor state of the Russian empire, a European state whose whole history was one of imperial and colonial expansion from its centres in the West into central and east Asia.

When the Bolsheviks came to power, they reconquered most of this empire in the Caucasus, central Asia and east Asia, and in the process brought millions of non-Western people under authoritarian communist rule and maintained the colonialist Russian ethnic minority presence in these regions. Their history of dealing with their non-Western subjects was just as brutal as their treatment of everybody else.

How was that not imperialism?

Very similar observations can be made about China under communist rule. Communist China inherited the multi-ethnic empire of the Manchu emperors, which was the product of centuries of imperialism, not only of the Manchu dynasty but also previous dynasties of Chinese emperors. Moreover, have Western Marxists forgotten the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet?

And then of course we could mention Stalin’s brutal treaty with Hitler to carve up Poland, or Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe, or the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

An effective end to hard or soft imperialism – whether in a communist or capitalist state – would require either (1) an enlightened ruling elite who refused to engage in this behaviour or, more likely, (2) a majority of people in any given country to oppose imperialist behaviour and capable of enforcing its will on the government.


  1. If you consider Stalinists and Maoists to be Marxists, then yeah: Marxist doctrine has had some very, VERY imperialist outcomes.

    But if you exclude Stalinism/Maoism from the Marxist canon then the argument becomes much more flimsy.

    And whether you or I like it or not, many Marxists DO do this. For example, council communists, libertarian Marxists, left Marxists, Luxemburgists, autonomist Marxists, and Leninists and Trotskyists all reject Stalinism and Maoism as representing fundamental breaks with what the Marxist tradition had been until that time. To them, Stalinism and Maoism were not just modifications of preceding ideas: they represented fundamental irreconcilable fissures that had to be plastered over with propaganda and misinformation to give the subjective illusion of continuity.

    The vast majority of Trotsykists today are extremely anti-imperialist. If you point to anything that the Soviet Union did after Lenin's death, or imperialist atrocities committed by the Maoist countries during the 20th century, then you will find those same Trotskyists nodding their heads along in agreement with you.

    1. If you exclude the Catholic Church from Christianity then most Christians reject transsubtantiation. Many Christians do exclude it.

    2. Unknown, the lenin-stalin camp has simply taken over Marxism. Not with arguments, but with the force of violence, disinformation and above all economic corruption. Right now we see the history repeating with the events in Ukraine. I think you should simply admit to yourself that your camp (the "moderate/western" Marxists) didn't have the intellectual and moral strength to withstand this.

    3. Aren't we playing a "No True Scotsman" game by claiming Mao and Stalin aren't Marxists? Weren't a decent chunk of neoconservatives ex-Trotskyists? Did not most of the oppressive Soviet state apparatus predate Stalin (as LK points out, the USSR was the successor of the Russian Empire)? When did any of those various factions you listed off have enough state power to engage in imperialism in the first place?