The revolutionary socialist tradition has always combined a commitment to workers’ revolution with opposition to imperialism.
But there is another tradition where the key divide is between imperialist nations and those that oppose them, often dubbed “progressive”.
This position is historically associated with the official Communist Parties that supported Russia during the Cold War. It is a worldview that first arose in 1920s Russia as a rising bureaucracy headed by Stalin took over the Communist Party.
Lenin and Trotsky had looked to international struggle by workers as the basis for socialism. Stalin talked about building “socialism in one country” instead. This meant using Russia’s economic clout to export “socialism”.
The Russian state became more important than workers’ struggle. And support for such “progressive” nations became more important than supporting workers’ uprisings in those countries.
As the 20th century unfolded such ideas became dominant across the Communist movement and much of the wider left.
Many looked to Russia or its allies as the only force that could act as a counterweight to the US and its Western imperialist allies.
But Russia was an imperialist power in its own right, dominating Eastern Europe and the oppressed nations within the USSR.
When popular revolts against its rule broke out some of the left were hostile to them. We were told that they were either Western plots or would play into the hands of the West.
In the Middle East these Stalinist ideas led Communist Parties in Egypt, Iraq and Syria into tailing post‑colonial nationalist regimes rather than fighting for working class independence.
The results were disastrous. All those parties were either destroyed by the new regimes or entirely co-opted by them.
The genuine revolutionary tradition, in contrast, looks to working class struggle across the globe as the key to liberation.
Alex Callinicos’s book Imperialism and Global Political Economy examines the Marxist theory of imperialism and looks at how capitalism has carved up the world.
It is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop—phone 020 7637 1848 or go to www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk