Becoming educated about socialism is a crucial part of becoming educated about colonialism and imperialism. This is because a capitalist education instills biases into us which reinforce a pro-colonialist worldview. And by seeking out an alternative education, one can unlearn these harmful biases.
One of the ways capitalism makes people internalize the colonialist mentality is by teaching them that the existing socialist states Cuba, north Korea, China, and their ideological predecessor the USSR are all undeserving of respect or legitimacy. These countries are labeled authoritarian or “totalitarian,” their leaders are reduced to caricatures of nefarious “dictators” who get equated to fascists like Hitler and Mussolini, and their achievements are demeaned. This view of these countries is an integral part of the worldview of those with reactionary ideologies. But unfortunately, there are also many socialists who join in the denunciations of countries that they should see as allies.
It seems strange for these leftists to hold this view towards nations which have done so much to advance their own ideals. But when one has lived in a part of the world that’s benefited from colonialism, it’s easy to gain a dismissive view of history’s anti-colonial struggles. As the political analyst Jay Tharappel wrote last year: “Inheriting the memory of an arrogant colonising culture, the first — world Left in general has the weakest historic memory of having fought off a foreign colonial power compared to the socialist and postcolonial worlds against whom extreme genocidal levels of violence have been inflicted over the last several centuries.”
The Western and first-world left’s impulse to deride the existing socialist states stems from a culturally instilled hostility towards the vital tools that anti-colonial liberation struggles rely upon to work. These tools are armed struggle on the part of the oppressed populations, and the creation of governmental systems designed to preserve the gains of the victorious revolutions.
Part of this ingrained hostility comes from the fallacious belief that violence is never justified in revolutionary struggle. When one studies the history of how the socialist world has freed itself from capitalism and imperialism, the logic of this anti-violence dogma breaks down. When Russia’s communists were attacked by domestic and foreign bourgeois forces after the 1917 revolution, should moralism have persuaded them to not fight back and accept their slaughter at the hands of aggressively violent capitalists? When the DPRK was invaded in a genocidal war where the U.S. killed 20% of north Korea’s population, should the communists have surrendered because “violence begets hate?” Should modern north Korea lay down its arms because “guns don’t solve problems,” then become invaded by an imperialist superpower that’s been preparing to carry out another slaughter of the country’s people for seventy years?
Such an action on the part of north Korea would be the logical conclusion of what the “pacifists” expect from revolutionaries. “Pacifism” is effectively a demand for oppressed people to always accept the violence from the oppressors. Its arguments come not from in-depth historical analysis, but from vague platitudes which attempt to create a false equivalence between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressors.
These arguments are not just wrong; they’re based in a very elitist and racist worldview that presents much of history’s oppressed groups as moral failures for defending themselves from violence. As Michael Parenti has written, this smug moralizing is used as a weapon for keeping the oppressors in power:
Most social revolutions begin peaceably. Why would it be other-wise? Who would not prefer to assemble and demonstrate rather than engage in mortal combat against pitiless forces that enjoy every advantage in mobility and firepower? Revolutions in Russia, China, Vietnam, and El Salvador all began peacefully, with crowds of peasants and workers launching nonviolent protests only to be met with violent oppression from the authorities. Peaceful protest and reform are exactly what the people are denied by the ruling oligarchs. The dissidents who continue to fight back, who try to defend themselves from the oligarchs’ repressive fury, are then called “violent revolutionaries” and “terrorists.”
While judging the victorious socialist and anti-colonialist revolutionaries as morally inferior to the “nonviolent,” “anti-authoritarian” first-world leftists, the opponents of existing socialist states also claim that these states are “not real socialism” because they’re held together through state control. This is the essence of why many leftists denounce these societies as “authoritarian;” the mere fact that they exist in the form of nation-states has invited endless condemnations, along with claims that their socialism is fraudulent.
It seems that any socialist movement which decides to safeguard itself through organized military defense and law enforcement will necessarily be attacked as a “dictatorship” that goes against “real socialism.” And it doesn’t matter how democratic and equitable these socialist states make themselves, because facts can be replaced by imperialist propaganda. We’ve seen this in the case of the DPRK, where the government has provided free healthcare, housing, and university education while creating a governmental structure that’s both increasingly decentralized and controlled through representative democracy.
These facts are corroborated by north Korean defectors, and the sources which paint the DPRK as a cartoonishly sinister dictatorship come from CIA propaganda farms and neoliberal pro-regime change think tanks. But even the most absurd lies that the media promotes about north Korea are repeated by first-world leftists in order to argue for why socialists shouldn’t try to build their own state. The demonizations and slander that Kim Jong Un has experienced is the same as the character assassinations of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Xi Jinping. In all these cases, much of the world has been swept into a hate-frenzy against history’s socialist leaders through propaganda so crude that it often consists only of hyperbolically placing their names next to that of Adolf Hitler.
By opposing existing socialist states with the intention of upholding “nonviolence” and “anti-authoritarianism,” colonial leftists reinforce the continued violence and oppression from the capitalist class. Socialist states are the only examples of large and sustainable post-capitalist societies, and attacking them only does harm to the socialist cause; when socialists say that these states “aren’t real socialism,” they grant a big arguing point to the reactionaries who like to claim that socialism always fails.
As the Palestinian militant Leila Khaled has written about the self-detrimental beliefs that characterize many leftists in colonial countries:
Some seemed to have read the historic political literature of the left, but most regarded the Marxist-Leninist leaders disdainfully…Though we were impressed by their moral integrity and personal dedication, we felt their ideology and strategy had little to do with the making of revolution. What astonished us most about this group was that they were opposed to nationalism, a doctrine we hold dearly as a colonised and dissipated people.
The American left must do away with these kinds of sentiments. The fight for socialism in America must be infused with solidarity with all existing socialist states, and with awareness of the fact that military action and nationhood is what’s made the movements behind these states successful. This specifically will require American leftists to become willing to build a socialist worker’s state, to become armed to defend this state from the inevitable capitalist attacks, and to support national cooperation with China, Cuba, and the DPRK.
I realize the cause for socialist revolution in the United States is an especially difficult task, since it’s a colonialist country that’s mired in reactionary sentiments like the ones I’ve mentioned. But if socialism wins in this country, it will be the greatest gain yet in the project to transition the world to communism. Because with the productive forces that the country has, a socialist America would be an immensely powerful tool for fomenting socialist revolutions throughout the rest of the world.
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