Russian imperialism

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at
Fri Aug 2 14:08:13 MDT 1996

>>>>> Richard Bos gave the following comments to my summary of
the Marxistische Gruppe analysis:

>> (a) the Soviet Union did not need imperialism for economic reasons.
>> Their economic system was not even very good at exploiting their
>> own people, and it did not have the need nor the means to tap into
>> and benefit from foreign resources the same way capitalism does.

Richard> This is not scientific at all. Check out the economic growth
Richard> figures posted by Doug the other day. Did you ever go to the
Richard> GDR, Czechoslokakia,etc.? I thought the standard of living
Richard> was pretty high compared with most people in this country.

You apparently think I underestimate how well these people lived.  I
don't think I do.  Their economically secure and even comfortable
(unhurried) life style makes my point: the people over there were not
that exploited.  They lived in a system which was not good at
extracting wealth from them.  The ruling elites had to resort to moral
exhortation to make them work, and did not have the powerful sanctions
of unemployment and homelessness which the capitalists have.

Point (a) uses this laxness in exploitation as an argument against
the thesis that the Soviet Union was imperialistic---in the sense
of being driven by its economic structure not only to exploit
its domestic land and labor but the whole world.  Had they been
so driven, they would have tightened the screws on their own
work force first.

Is this what you call unscientific?  Is it "shallow" (as you wrote in
the same posting) and "unscientific" to say a certain system was not
very successful at extracting wealth from its population, and even
less successful at extracting wealth from the populations of other
countries?  These are legitimate and meaningful theses which,
if correct, allow us to understand what is going on.  This would
explain for instance why even the ruling elites in these systems were
so eager to abandon them.

>> (b) But they still sought friends and influence in the imperialist
>> camp.  This was their misguided policy of peaceful coexistence, a
>> response to the aggression by the Western camp.  It was misguided
>> because it was an attempt to defend themselves against imperialism
>> with the means of imperialism.

Richard> Peaceful coexistance was a way to avoid imminant war, due as
Richard> you say to "aggression from the Western camp". The last
Richard> sentence doesn't mean anything: it certainly contradicts the
Richard> former.

I agree: it *was* a way to avoid imminent war.  But it was not a very
good way.  Let me put it this way: the Soviet system was challenged by
the aggression of the West.  And they did not master this challenge
very well.  This was not due to their stupidity, but due to the flaws
in their inner structure, due to the fact that they were an oppressive
society.  The elite tried to use this conflict for its own

>> (c) They did not have any leverage in their diplomatic dealings
>> with the West.  It was not profitable to deal with them, since they
>> strictly controlled exports and imports.  Therefore they resorted
>> to military power as a means to be recognized by the West.

Richard> Every increase in military power came first from the
Richard> West. The Soviet Union was always coming from behind in that
Richard> race. It could well be argued that it was a mistake to get
Richard> into the race in the first place,and the opposite could be
Richard> equally well argued. Neither would make a case for
Richard> "imperialism".

After the devastating onslaught of Hitler and my fellow German
countrymen (sorry, Dad), they finally emerged victorious with a safety
belt of "buffer states" in Eastern Europe.  Then they said: we have
this military power and nuclear capability, let us put it to good use,
let us become the "World Peace Power" as they called themselves.  This
was their error.  The MG rightly mocked the contradictory concept of a
"World Peace Power".  It was a sorry necessity and an unadulterated
Bad that they needed military power to defend themselves.  They should
not have tried to turn it into a Good and benefit from military power.

>> (d) This was a mistake on the propagandistic front, since you
>> cannot convince the populations in the West of the benefits of
>> communism by aiming missiles at them.  It was also a mistake
>> economically because in order to be able to benefit politically
>> from their armed threats, they needed to build a full arsenal and
>> thus opened themselves to the challenge of the arms race.  And it
>> was unnecessary militarily since they could have had a so-called
>> "minimal deterrence" which does not need arms equality but only a
>> believable second-strike capability.

Richard> The Soviet Union was not trying to convince the populace of
Richard> the benifits of Communism by pointing missiles at them. It
Richard> was trying to deter people who were pointing missiles at it
Richard> from actually using them. The Warsaw Treaty were never an
Richard> armed threat to the West. I thought that this was generally
Richard> accepted by the Left, but obviously not.

They did have their missiles pointed at the Urban Centers of the USA
and Europe.  It was not an act of aggression but, as you say, an act
of deterrence *against* aggression.  I took some rhetorical liberties
when I wrote that they tried to convince the population "by" pointing
missiles at them.  They hoped that their exemplary behavior in
international relations would be recognized by the people in the West.
This was thwarted by the Western media, which never told the truth
about arms negotiations etc.  I assumed, somewhat speculatively, that
the undeniable fact that these missiles were pointed at the population
made it easier for Western propaganda lies to prevail.

Richard> Best wishes,

Same to you, Richard.


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