Question about communists

Not sure if a “factual answer” can be given for this, so please move this to an appropriate forum if necessary.

Why do socialists/communists (more frequently communists, I guess) frequently refer to capitalist nations as “imperialist?” Oftentimes, these communists look at Russia and the Soviet Union as a model collective of nations. However, wouldn’t the Soviet Union also be classified as “imperialist,” considering it was for years actively trying to extend its own reach and influence into its “satellite nations?”

In this context ‘Imperialism’ has little to do with it’s formal meaning of extending into and/or controlling other nations, but more to do with Lenin’s extension of marxist theology to affirm that imperialism is the last culminating stage of capitalism. In that Capital, having reached the boundaries of exploiting the workers in one country and market saturation, has to find new workers to exploit and new markets to create in order to survive.
The New Left’s conversion to anti-racism and anti-colonialism in place of promotion and protection of one’s own working classes and poor, confused the issue; but even they would have acknowledged that the CCCP was completely justified in extending and maintaining control over an ever wider yet group of neighbouring subjugated countries since a/ it was the ‘only socialist worker’s state’ and b/ little Russia was in danger of being invaded by fascists again, or imperialistic capitalist countries. Or Sweden.
Oddly enough, even trotskyists adhered to this. ( They believed in both permanent revolution as opposed to the CCCP’s co-existence policies and international revolution as opposed to Stalin’s ‘Socialism in One Country’; and regarded the leadership of the Soviet Union as wicked traitors. )

Because extreme regimes have two different yardsticks to measure actions with?

Country A invades country C in the name of protecting the rights of the workers against a rebellion manipulated by foreign agents, but country B calls the invasion “occupation”.

Country B invades country D in the name of democracy and freedom, but country A calls the invasion “imperialism”.

(Filling in the approriate names with USA, USSR, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Poland, Chile, etc. is left as exercise for the reader :)).

You know, there were Socialists who opposed Stalin/The Soviet Union at the time; George Orwell being my favourite example.

There’s a whole world of difference between being a socialist and supporting totalitarianism, however much right-wingers try to equate the two.

There is no particular link between capitalism and imperialism. Ancient Rome, and, indeed, all other ancient empires were imperialistic without being capitalist. Most nations today are capitalist without being imperialist. On the other hand, there is no contradiction involved in being both. The British Empire, for example, was certainly both, and it is highly arguable that the United States (quite apart from its forcible annexation of large parts of Mexico in the 19th century) acted, to all practical intents, as an imperialistic power during the 20th century (and still does today). There was no irrationality or contradiction involved in Communist spokespeople criticizing the U.S. and other major capitalist powers for their imperialism.

The claim that the Soviet Union itself acted imperialistically (which it clearly did) is another matter, and I think you are right to imply that the way Soviet imperialism played out in practice showed a large degree of hypocrisy. However, within the context of Marxist-Leninist theory, Soviet expansionism was justified on the grounds that they were doing no more than bringing the benefits of communism to peoples who had previously been prevented from having their own, spontaneous communist revolution against the oppressive regime of their country’s ruling class. The idea is that nearly everybody (except for the small ruling class) wants to live in a communistic economic system (or would want to, if only they understood properly what it would mean), so that Soviet control over their country was beneficial in that it neutralized the power of the old ruling class, and allowed a communist system to emerge.

Of course, this was almost entirely self-deception, and the actual regimes that emerged were horrible, and largely served the interest of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, it was sincere (or largely sincere) self-deception rather than straightforward dishonesty. They thought of themselves as bringing the benefits of communism to people who would otherwise be prevented from achieving them (or rather the expected future benefits - Soviet Communists were well aware that achieving the expected benefits of a communist economic system was going to take some time, and would involve sacrifice). In fact, in this regard they were little different from the European imperialists who justified their expansionism on the grounds of bringing Christianity to benighted heathens, or modern America that justifies its invasion and/or control of other countries on the grounds that it is bringing them them the benefits of “democracy” (which is always, in practice, offered only as part of a bundle along with free-market with capitalism). If you think your ruling system and ideology is good, then you can think of yourself as the good guy when you impose it on others, even if they manifestly do not want it, and it can only be imposed by force of arms. From the Soviet point of view, Soviet imperialism was good, and thus not really imperialism in any real, pejorative sense (they were just bringing the opportunity of obtaining the benefits of communism to the proletariat of foreign countries). America generally has just the same attitude to its own imperialistic efforts: we are told (and many believe) that invading Iraq (or Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Afghanistan, etc.) mainly for the benefit of the Iraqi (etc.) people. The people being invaded, tend to think otherwise. Somehow, the regimes that get established when these invasions (or less less drastic types of U.S. intervention) are successful always seem to be more than willing to serve American interests.

If something sounds good, there is no reason to let facts stand in the way.

Well, out of the many people I have known who called themselves socialists, pretty much all of them would call Soviet Russia ‘imperialist’ to some extent.

There might have been some discussion and differences of opinion about whether Soviet imperialism was better in some ways than U.S./European imperialism, but nobody would seriously deny the fact of Soviet imperialism.

Now, most of them would probably also concentrate on U.S./European imperialism a lot more, on the theory that one should get one’s own house in order before criticizing others too much.

Incidentally, I think you would be very hard pressed today to get any socialist or even Marxist (except, perhaps, for a few nostalgic Russians) to agree that the Soviet Union was any sort of “model” socialist society. They will tell you that it was an attempt to build a socialist society that, for a variety of reasons, was probably misconceived, and certainly badly screwed up. (Up until about the 1950s, of course, many Western socialists still had high hopes of the Soviet Union, but disillusionment set in with events like the suppression of the Hungarian uprising and of the “Czech Spring”, and as knowledge of Stalin’s crimes became more widespread.)

Imperialism is a very messy concept nowadays. The Marxist spin was adequately summarized by Claverhouse. Non-marxist socialists, anarchists (right or left) denounce imperialism as it is seen as creating client states and spheres of dependency which deny those areas the same rights of determination that the core industrialized countries claim for themselves. As long as capitalist countries continue to support and interfere with those client states, they will be stuck with the imperialist label also.

These days most do not support the overthrow of regimes and the establishment of client states regardless of whether the cause is capitalist, socialist or any other ideology. Outside interventions to support popular revolutions against dictators such as Gaddafi are generally accepted (provided they are invited). Any temporary turmoil considered worth the long term gains and the establishment of democratic governments, which has been the more common outcome over the last generation.

Reviewing census data for a project I was a bit surprised to see a couple thousand people still list their origin as the Soviet Union, and not Russia or another successor state. I mean, come on, it’s been almost 20 years now. Let it go!

You have to understand that the verb To Imperialist has no first person form. For example, “You Imperialist”, “He Imperialist”, and “They Imperialist” are all correct, but “I Imperialist” and “They Imperialist” are incorrect forms of usage.

For First Person, you have to use a different verb such as “I Manifest Destiny” or “We Ancient Homeland” or “I Natural Boundaries”.

Old Soviet joke told around the time of Gorbachev:

Question: Where were you born?
Answer: Petrograd.

Question: Were do you now live?
Answer: Leningrad.

Question: Where would you like to live?
Answer: St. Petersburg.

Um, when you say “origin”, do you mean place of birth? Because anybody who was born in the Soviet Union before 1989 to list Russia or successor state as place of birth would be wrong! Your birth certificate lists the name of the city and country/state at that time, and that’s how it continues therefore on following records, no matter how many times the name of the city or country (or even area of the country) changes meanwhile.


By way of further example, it was a socialist British government that was initially involved with the UN forces in the Korean War.

And what if someone has never returned since the break-up of the USSR? They may feel themselves to have no real connection with a post-Soviet state that they’ve never even lived in.

Claverhouse, you raise some good points and you seem to know what you’re talking about, BUT—“marxist theology”? I suppose you meant “theory” or perhaps “ideology”…?

Origins are self-selected on the census questionnaire, which does not require documentation to prove their selection. One of the largest ‘ancestries’ is other, and several others are non-national groupings such as Northern European, Eastern European, etc.

So like I said, those who are still selecting Soviet Union are living in a past that ain’t likely to ever return.

Nope, marxism, as distinct from socialism and communism ( communism is a variant of socialism and leninist-marxism is a form of communism ) is a messianic eschatological religion, based on faith and upon holy texts. God is not necessary to a religion.

The last keeper of interpreting the sacred beliefs, interceding between God = The People, The Old Testament = Marx & Engels, Christ = Lenin, The Party = The Church of the Faithful on Earth was Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov, a singularly delightful old gent.

Marxism unambiguously is a religion only according to definitions of religion specifically gerrymandered to fit it. Otherwise, yes there are some interesting and significant analogies between Marxism and actual religions, but there are also many important disanalogies. To pretend that it is a plain fact that it is a religion is no more than a hackneyed tic of a certain type of anti-Marxist rhetoric, presumably intended to annoy Marxists, who, of course, are actually atheists and who (justifiably or not) hold Marxist theory to be a form of science. It is roughly at the level of Republicans who insist on referring to the Democratic Party as the Democrat Party, just to get the Democrats’ goat.

Not really. As an all-encompassing belief-system which eschews God, you would be pushed to point out those disanalogies in detail.
Even lapsed communists [ The God Who Failed was a prominent ex-communist meme of the 1950s ] and practising communists alike agreed on the anology. An introduction to Kim Philby’s Autobiography explained that the purges and mass-murders in Lenin’s and Stalin’s period could not shake the faith of a believer any more than the murders of the Inquisition should shake the faith of Catholic believers.
As for atheists, it is a stock reply by people such as Dawkins, on their discussing the deaths caused by religion ( which occupies a good deal of their time ) to claim that no atheist regimes have been guilty of similar atrocities since communism and naziism were both religions. They are sensible enough to realise they can’t have it both ways.
As to Old Karl himself — born Lutharan — Murry N. Rothbard has a brilliant exposition of his religous anti-God motivations [ disclaimers: I have referenced this marvellous writing elsewhere; I am utterly anti-libertarian ] in **Karl Marx as Religious Eschatologis**t.
Communism was the great goal, the vision, the desideratum, the ultimate end that would make the sufferings of mankind throughout history worthwhile. History was the history of suffering, of class struggle, of the exploitation of man by man. In the same way as the return of the Messiah, in Christian theology, will put an end to history and establish a new heaven and a new earth, so the establishment of communism would put an end to human history.

Marxism is a religious creed. *This statement has been common among critics of Marx, and since Marxism is an explicit enemy of religion, such a seeming paradox would offend many Marxists, since it clearly challenged the allegedly hard-headed scientific materialism on which Marxism rested. In the present day, oddly enough, an age of liberation theology and other flirtations between Marxism and the Church, Marxists themselves are often quick to make this same proclamation.
*Certainly, one obvious way in which Marxism functions as a religion is the lengths to which Marxists will go to preserve their system against obvious errors or fallacies. Thus, when Marxian predictions fail even though they are allegedly derived from scientific laws of history, Marxists go to great lengths to ***change **the terms of the original prediction.

But the nature of Marxism as religion cuts deeper than the follies and evasions of Marxists or the cryptic and often unintelligible nature of Marxian writings. For it is the contention of this article that the crucial goal – communism – is an atheized version of a certain type of religious eschatology; that the alleged inevitable process of getting there – the dialectic – is an atheistic form of the same religious laws of history; and that the supposedly central problem of capitalism as perceived by “humanist” Marxists, the problem of “alienation,” is an atheistic version of the selfsame religion’s metaphysical grievance at the entire created universe.

Socialism, and 19th century communism developed by others, can avoid this religious aspect; but even more than Marx, the Saviour Lenin was responsible for putting this cast on marxist-leninism.
Communism is a science just as psychology is a science. Parts could be true, but they rely on unprovable belief.
Why don’t the Democrats glory in the title Democrat ? They love the damned system so much. And a barb turned around by acceptance would disarm those who use it.

Dawkins is an individual. He does not speak for “atheists”!