Can a small oppressed country defeat imperialism? Was: Re: replying to Ivonaldo was Re: Hobsbawm and the Analitic History

Lou Paulsen wwchi at
Sat Aug 5 09:20:48 MDT 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky <Gorojovsky at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>;
leninist-international at
<leninist-international at>

In responding to Cahill, Nestor writes:

>Please answer the basic question:  can an oppressed people
>defeat its oppressors, even if against its "full panoply of
>oppression", or it must wait for the oppressed classes within the
>opressing nation to revolt against their masters?

I am not writing to address any of the previous discussion either about
Hobsbawm or about Ireland.  I am taking this question out of context because
I think it's a very important question, which has been much on my mind.

Very often we have seen revolutions in small oppressed countries which have
been very inspiring examples, but which have (for now) been crushed by
imperialism.  Of course a revolution never really ends.

Actually, when Nestor thinks about it, he will agree that there are two
questions here, not one: (a) can the oppressed (unaided) defeat their
oppressors?  and (b) "must they wait?"  It might be that (a) they can NOT
defeat their oppressors unaided, but certainly (b) they should not just
"wait," and certainly we in other countries have no right to impose on them
a "duty" to wait, or to say that we don't have to support them because they
"should have waited."

But in fact it IS very very very hard for a small oppressed nation to defeat
imperialism unaided, no matter how much heart and organization and
dedication they have.  I think we all realize that.  Too often I run into
people who don't realize that, and blame all defeats on the oppressed, as if
it was merely a case of them having chosen the wrong strategy.  Thus, they
blame the Sandinistas for developments in Nicaragua: "if they hadn't made
this mistake, or that mistake, they would be in power today, it's all their
own fault that they lost the election to the contras."  They think that it's
like a video game: there's always a way to beat the "boss monster" if you're
smart enough.  But in real life the boss monster is very damn hard to beat.

Some people learned the wrong lesson from the Viet Nam War.  They learned
that "a little country can defeat a big country," and they stopped there.
This is just romanticism.  In fact Viet Nam is not a small country
population-wise.  And Viet Nam was not unaided either: it had aid from the
socialist camp.   But some people became convinced that all you needed was
"revolutionary spirit", and that nothing else was really necessary, either
guns or money or numbers or technology or infrastructure.  Some of these
people became leaders in Kampuchea, and this was one of the problems there.

I think a little country has "a chance" of defeating imperialism, but the
chance varies a lot depending on what allies it has, how important it is to
imperialism, the concrete political situation in the imperialist country,
and so on, and it depends a very great deal on how much solidarity we can
mobilize.  The less central the nation is to imperialist strategy, and the
less integrated it is with the imperialist world system, the better chances
it has.  (This can mean that smaller and poorer nations have better chances,
because imperialism has fewer assets on the scene and doesn't care so much
what they do.)

But as to what the oppressed nation should actually do - that's a very
difficult one!  Suppose they determine that their chances of unaided success
are very low: what do they do then?  There's no question of "waiting",
really - oppression IS a struggle; the imperialists are always struggling to
oppress you more, to take more of what you have, regardless of whether you
want to struggle or not.  Waiting isn't an option - it's a question of HOW
to struggle.  But do you wage armed struggle?  Do you go on the defensive?
Do you sign a truce?  These aren't easy questions.  This, by the way, is why
I don't join in with people who criticize the IRA or the PLO or other groups
for signing "peace deals" with the imperialists.  Yes, I know they ratify
the oppression.  Yes, I know they are foully unjust "peaces."  But I can see
their reasons, and to impose a 'duty to struggle' on them is just as bad as
imposing a 'duty to wait'.

Lou Paulsen

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