Friday, March 6, 2009

Imperialism: British, Russian, French, etc.

One forgets that Liberal Democracy was seriously challenged by the two isms, Communism and Fascism in the 20th century. We have heard critics of the American Foreign Policy, i.e., “Containment,” asserting that everyone knew the Soviet Union was not going to be able to compete with Liberal Democracy, but that’s another case of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.” It wasn’t known at the time. Also, the major democracies had problems with a major hypocrisy. At home they were democratic, but abroad they were Imperialistic. On page 51 of No Simple Victory, Davies writes, “One has only to look at the career of Winston Churchill. A famous parliamentarian, and the author of the finest rhetoric about freedom in the English language, he was a totally committed imperialist. He had ridden in the charge of the imperial cavalry at Omdurman, and he had served with distinction as Colonial Secretary. By the time of the Second World War, in late middle age, he had lost none of the fervor of his Victorian childhood. ‘I have not become the King’s First Minister,’ he declared in May 1940, ‘in order to preside over the demise of the British Empire.’ But he did.”

We all know about the British Empire but what about the Russians? We have read Lenin’s Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism, so we know that Lenin associated Imperialism with Capitalism, but did Stalin agree with Lenin on that? Was the USSR able to take the moral high-ground on this issue and assert that the Capitalistic contries were Imperialistic but they were not? On page 52, Davies writes, “Having overthrown the Russian empire, and butchered the Tsar, the Bolsheviks were loud in their denunciation of imperialism. Yet they had not hesitated to invade and re-annexe fourteen independent countries, from Ukraine to Uzbekistan, and to incorporate them as union republics. Whenever the Soviets absorbed a new territory, a delegation would be formed to tell the Supreme Soviet that the nation concerned was begging for admission to the USSR of its own free will. All this meant is that hand-picked delegates with no independent standing had been rounded up at gunpoint to do what they were told. The dual-party state, which controlled the affairs of fraternal parties abroad, was an ideal vehicle for expanding the Soviet Empire and for giving it a semblance of spontaneity.”


This matter is a bit complicated; so it is good to begin with what is not imperialism. Throughout recorded history, and archeologists and geneticists have evidence that even before recorded history, peoples have migrated from one place to another. Weaker people were regularly supplanted by stronger. There is no point in deploring this fact, we have always done it. There is no place on this planet where a people can say “we and only we have lived here since our ancestors climbed down out of trees and began to walk upright.” China can claim a long history as can the Egyptians and the Indians, but archeologists have found movement even in those regions. And what of Russia? Some can claim to be 100% Russian, but what does that mean and how far back do Russians go?

The Afontova culture existed in Siberia, about 22,000-14,000 years ago, but archeologist see Mongoloid features in their skeletons? Were relatives of the Mongols ancestors of Russians? From the photos Michael Kuznetzov shows on his web site, I gather that he favors the European look over the Mongol, but the Afontovoa probably were first in the region of present-day Russia. And It is interesting to read about the Scythians who lived on the Russian Steppes and had a clever fighting technique whereby they would pretend to retreat and draw their enemy further and further on until he was tired and running out of supplies. Then they would turn and attack. Did the Russians learn that from Scythians. I mention these matters only as examples. The migration of people is not Imperialism and to call it Imperialism dilutes the term. What Britain did in India was clearly Imperialism, but what about the annexing of the “fourteen independent countries” that had been “Imperialistically owned” by Tsarist Russia? Well, we know what Ukraine and Georgia think about that matter.

And I would add that there is “hard-Imperialism” and “soft-imperialism.” Scotland, Wales and Ireland were once “independent countries,” but they were conquered by England. Setting aside Ireland from this consideration, Wales and Scotland were given adequate rights and privileges such that they came to consider themselves part of the kingdom. No doubt this imperialism was not at first soft, and it was to some extent caused by trouble on the border that had to be “put down,” but it became “soft.” Ask Scotland and Wales if they want to become “independent,” and while the vote won’t be unanimous, it won’t go for independence.

But now consider Algeria. As Alistair Horne tells us in A Savage War of Peace, Algeria 1954-1962, Algeria loved the French and after World War II wanted to be given equal rights with the French. They wanted to be for France what Scotland and Wales were for England. They wanted to be considered part of France, but the Colons and others were imperialistic in their thinking and refused to accommodate the native Algerians. While Algeria would have been content to be equal (which would have required softness on the part of the French and the French Colons), they were not willing to be subservient, second-class citizens, and so they went to war. France couldn’t help but be “hard” in its Imperialism. And I don’t mean to argue that Britain was uniformly “Soft” in its. India would not describe them as utterly soft although there seems to be a surprising lot of fondness for Britain in present-day India..

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I have just found an interesting website about one of the US's most decorated soldiers (a Marine?).
Two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley Butler.

Your comment would be much appreciated.