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The New International, May–June 1952

A. Kimbay & G. Blackwell

Aspects of Russian Imperialism

The Drives Behind Russian Aggrandizement


From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 3, May–June 1952, pp. 153–162.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


From the turn of the century to the Stalin-Hitler pact, Marxists discussed imperialism primarily as a phenomenon of capitalist society. Imperialism in pre-capitalist societies was, of course, recognized. No Marxist denied the existence of Roman imperialism, whose aim was the extraction of loot, slaves and tribute from surrounding barbarians. Imperialism in antiquity was widespread and feudal imperialism, too, was known and acknowledged as such. “The policy, practice or advocacy of seeking to extend the control, dominion or empire of a nation” was a broad definition of imperialism applying to all societies engaged in the systematic spoliation of foreign states for the express benefit of the exploiting power.

It is, unfortunately, the view of many within the Marxist movement today that imperialism is unique to capitalism. The concern of Marxists before the advent of Stalinism with capitalist imperialism was a natural one as no other form of imperialism presented an existing threat to the democratic and socialist movement, and Stalinist imperialism was not a predictable phenomenon. Consequently, the only imperialism many can recognize is capitalist imperialism, characterized by the export of capital, the exploitation of foreign labor-power and the acquisition of cheap sources of raw material in an effort to increase the rate of profit. But Russia does not export capital, she has no individual capitalist benefiting from a higher rate of profit, industries in satellite nations are being nationalized, etc. Conclusion: Russia is anti-capitalist therefore non-imperialist. This is the line of thinking of not only confused people but has become a favorite device of the “theoretical” apologists for Russia’s countless violations of the rights of weaker nations.

Examining the Russian policy in the light of our earlier definition, however, will tend to eliminate confusion resulting from a comparison of imperialisms stemming from two distinctly different systems. It is the purpose of this article to examine some of the methods which Russian Stalinism uses in its attempts to extend Russia’s “control, dominion or empire” for the benefit of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

From shifting centers of world power modern capitalist imperialism penetrated backward areas, transforming their economies and subordinating them to the world market. It did not, however, transform its subject areas into replicas of the home countries, and the colonial areas were never allowed to reach an advanced level of industrial development.

Because it exports neither its advanced economy nor its bourgeois democracy to colonial areas, the capitalist world presents a varied picture of political and social institutions. Stalinist imperialism, however, offers no such variety. If there appears to be a different emphasis in its policy toward various satellite countries, this is only because certain areas serve distinctive needs of the Russian ruling class, and must be treated accordingly.

The exploitation of the satellites cannot be mere expropriation of their surplus goods. Their economic subordination to the needs of Russia’s war economy must be assured even if it is accomplished through fundamental upheavals in the productive patterns of the satellite countries which contradict their own basic economic needs.

The Titoists, for instance, have claimed that Russian national policy expressed itself in the maintenance of a basically agricultural economy in Yugoslavia impeding her native need for industrialization. Russia wished to maintain Yugoslavia as a source of agricultural exploitation, and to industrialize her around an agricultural base: developing industries which increased agricultural produce, such as the processing of materials, for fertilizer or the manufacture of products from agricultural materials. Thus the national need for the development of a powerful native industry was obviated in favor of the Russian need for a Yugoslavian agricultural economy.

In Bulgaria we can see the realization of the agricultural economy which Russia had intended to put into effect in Yugoslavia. Large quantities of Bulgarian farm products are appropriated for Russian use, or for sale on the world market to obtain foreign currency. All Bulgarian industrialization is oriented solely toward the exploitation of its agriculture. Large factories have been built for processing tobacco (which Russia sells abroad), for production of nitrogen fertilizer to aid farm production and for the spinning of cotton to be shipped to Russia, Wherever she finds it more advantageous Russia appropriates agricultural products and manufactures them in the USSR. This is done without any regard for the needs of the Bulgarian population.

Consequently Bulgaria sends wool and leather to Russia despite grave shortages of shoes and clothing at home. When raw materials exist in sufficient quantities to justify continued production the Russians often allow the satellites to maintain existing plants which do not manufacture farm products.

Bulgarian copper plants continue to purify native ore – for use in Russia’s metallurgical factories. The “Vulcan” factory still manufactures cement for export to Russia, and the thermoelectric plant, “Republic,” uses coal from the Pernik mines. Whenever possible, Bulgarian production is used as an auxiliary to Russian military manufacture, and munition plants and factories for overhauling Russian military vehicles have been built. [1]

In Hungary, on the other hand, industrialization is progressing along lines originally initiated by the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy, again with no effort being made by Russia to integrate Hungarian industry with adequate supplies of native raw materials. Hungary suffers from basic shortages and has already announced her intention of importing additional raw materials to maintain her heavy industry. Furthermore, capital goods investments have tended to create an unbalanced productivity and it becomes increasingly evident that the distortion of her economy cannot continue on a permanent basis without further economic disturbances.

The direct orientation of the satellites (both in production and in trade) toward the USSR, distorts native economy, and is further aggravated by Russia’s inability to alter her own productivity in order to provide for the development of joint production in an even if one-sided manner. Russia and her satellites do not have complementary economies, in that the Kremlin is unable to supply the subjugated nations with the machinery required for their industrialization. Nevertheless, she makes increasing demands on them for delivery of goods and these demands tend to create intolerable pressures on the local economy. The bulk of the industrial aid required by the satellite states, moreover, does not come from the USSR but from the more highly industrialized countries within the Russian sphere of influence. The aid offered by Russia in the form of a $300 million loan to China and additional small loans to Poland are a mere token when considering the actual needs of these countries. Trade agreements between satellites aid in their mutual industrialization. Czechoslovakia, for example, sends industrial equipment and raw materials to Hungary and East Germany supplies Rumania and Poland with machinery.

Although it is true that the Russians occasionally aid the productive economy of the satellite states, exploitation of these countries by the Russian bureaucracy prevents them from building up capital goods for further expansion. Normally, they would have been able to sell finished commodities abroad and use the proceeds to further their purchase of machinery and required raw materials. Appropriation by the Russians of a large proportion of the finished commodity, therefore, acts as a powerful force to dampen their economic progress and Russia, in turn, cannot compensate for this loss since she herself has no surplus of machinery to export.

That the Eastern countries are very much in need of such economic assistance can best be illustrated by the fact that in 1947 both Poland and Czechoslovakia expressed their willingness to accept aid under the Marshall Plan.

The Russians hold complete domination over all foreign trade with the satellite countries. In 1948 Russia imported goods totalling 169 million dollars from the Eastern European countries (excluding Yugoslavia) as compared with 7 million dollars in 1938. She exported a total of 128 millions in 1948 (excluding Yugoslavia) as compared with 14 millions in 1932. [2] Much of this increase in export was made possible by production in satellite states, which Russia is able to obtain at a price far below the prevailing market price, and to resell abroad at below current prices in order to obtain foreign currency. [3] Bulgarian rose oil, tobacco, shoes, Chinese bristles and Polish coal have all been utilized in this manner. When Russia sells goods to the satellite states, however, this situation is completely reversed. After a severe drought in 1948, Czechoslovakia paid to Russia $4.00 per ton of grain, 50 per cent more than the prices prevailing on the world market at the time. In addition to this, Russia often acts as the middleman in transactions between two of the satellite states; buying from one, and reselling to the other at a higher price. Not imperialism – just Russian expansionism!

Russian imperialism has placed a further brake on the economic development of its satellites by cutting off their trade with the Marshall Plan countries. In 1950 trade between the United States and the Eastern block reflected a wide margin of imports over exports, resulting in a dollar balance of 54 millions which could be used by the Eastern countries to purchase necessary industrial goods and raw materials abroad. [4] In this connection, American restrictions on the import of certain types of goods from these countries will affect them severely. This is particularly true because many plants in Eastern Europe use western machines, the parts for which are no longer obtainable.

The decline in trade with the West and the increasing demands of Russia on the Eastern economy was the basis of the recent International Economic Conference held in Moscow. It attempted to reestablish trade with the West, and to offset the effects of trade decline with the Marshall Plan countries by an increase in trade with non-Stalinized sections of the world which were also outside of the Marshall Plan orbit. This would include Switzerland, Sweden, and other “neutral” areas in South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

To obtain additional goods for export to these areas, Russia is forcing satellite regimes to withhold food and consumer goods from its own population. The Latvian radio, for example, repeatedly boasts of the large quantities of canned goods, cheese, textiles, beer and tobacco, which is shipped to Russia, while Lithuania claims that it has increased its grain export to Russia by 100,000 tons. (The grain sent to India during the summer of 1951 as a “gift from the Soviet Union to the starving masses” also came from Lithuania.)

The expropriation of food and consumer goods from the satellite populations combined with the high rate of capital investment have resulted in a marked decline in the standards of living in the Eastern countries. Disequilibrium in industry takes place in different forms but possesses one uniform feature, the refusal to invest substantially in consumer goods. Capital investment in the satellite nations is now 20–25 per cent of national income as compared with 3–4 per cent before the war. [5] There has been, however, an actual decline in capital investment for agricultural consumer produce. In Hungary only 3.5 per cent of all manufacturing investment is slated for consumer industries, and in Poland only 1.1 per cent. This small figure is further reduced by the acknowledged failure on the part of the government to carry out the official plan for agricultural and consumer products. The decline in the standard of living is reflected in the wage-price changes in Bulgaria since 1939. While wages have risen from an average of 63.6 leva in 1939 to the current average wage of 350–400 leva, prices have skyrocketed, as shown on the following table. [6]



in 1939
(in Leva)


(in Leva)

Wheat, 1 kg.



One Egg



Raw Wool (unwashed) 1 kg.



Sugar, 1 kg.



Cheese, 1 kg.



Beef Meat – 1 kg.



Butter, 1 kg.



Man’s Suit (domestic fabric)



Men’s Cotton Socks, 1 pair



Men’s Leather Shoes, 1 pair



Calico, 1 meter



The decline in the standard of living is also characterized by recurring complaints in the press concerning the decline in the quality of goods.

A graphic comparison of the differences between the standards of living prevailing in Lithuania and the U.S., for instance, can be seen in the reports of Lithuanian refugees. Where an average of 35 hours work will purchase a man’s suit in America, the Lithuanian worker will pay 1,666 man hours. The average salary of an unskilled worker in Lithuania is 300 rubles per month; a suit costs 1,500–2,300 rubles, and a kilogram of butter ranges from 25–44 rubles.

The appropriation of a worker’s earnings by the various Stalinist regimes is carried out in many ways. Workers are obliged to participate in forced savings programs, from which they are not allowed to withdraw money for long periods of time, making a portion of their wages available to the state. The “turnover tax,” a special sales tax imported from Russia, constitutes the most important single source of revenue for the satellite regimes.

In addition to this the currency “reforms” in Eastern Europe have wiped out the savings of the masses, particularly the peasantry. In Rumania, Article 13 of the currency decree is of particular interest, in that it provided for a recalculation of the population’s payment obligations to the state at a ratio of 20 old lei to one new lei, while the price of rationed articles was also divided by 20. However, only 80 per cent was offered on sums below 1,000 lei ($6.75) and up to 95 per cent on sums over 2,000 lei ($20.00). [7]

Higher investments are made possible by the increased exploitation of the working class, brought about by the sharp fall in his standard of living. This lower living standard, however, is reflected in lower production of inferior merchandise, to which can be traced the repeated references in the East European press to “poor worker morale.”

The recent plan failures are to a large extent, based on the “lack of enthusiasm” shown by the working class and their continued castigation for “refusing to show proper enthusiasm” is a recurring theme in the satellite press. Because of the coal shortage in Russia coal is vital to the war economy, yet Polish coal miners have never reached their pre-war productivity. In Czechoslovakia, too, coal is a major production bottleneck. This is again traceable to the poor living conditions enjoyed by coal miners, particularly in the Ostrava coal basin, a major source of Czechoslovakian hard coal.

Although working class resistance is an important factor, it is by no means the only counteracting force to Stalinist “expansion.” As in Russia, the very existence of bureaucratic planning and the terror and inefficiency arising therefrom is an important factor operating against maximum industrial progress. An analysis of the Russian five-year plans indicates that the bureaucracy is unable to set wages and prices with a reasonably definite knowledge of their effect on the total economy. The many sharp swerves in wages and prices which Russia has put into effect since the inception of the fourth “five-year plan,” and the variations in result from the original expressed intentions of this plan indicates the accuracy of this conclusion, as do the complaints of Russian economists to the effect that “no theory of planning actually exists.” Fear of punishment by plant directors in a bureaucratic society leads to falsification of the productive picture. The directors tend to minimize the plant potential, for instance, so that production demands made upon them may be lessened. Articles in the Soviet press referring to managers who “speed up production only at the end of the month” reflects their unwillingness to exceed quotas even when possible, for fear of an increase in succeeding quotas. Bourgeois economists have often proclaimed the efficiency of capitalist productive methods, resulting from the dynamic character of private ownership. This claim contains an element of truth when compared to police state planning insofar as the private owner or manager is freer to make decisions concerning the conditions of production and employment. Under socialist planning production will find a powerful stimulus in the positive attitude of the working class toward the factories and their produce; and will be further stimulated by the rapport between national and local interests. Under Stalinism, however, the manager is neither free to make independent decisions, nor does he represent any local interests whatever.

Unlike his prototype in capitalist society, the Russian manager regards private decisions as risky, dangerous – possibly fatal! Without instructions from above, he is afraid to hire additional labor, request credit for the purchase of machinery, or obtain needed supplies through any but the regular (bureaucratic) channels. In order to meet his plan requirements, however, the Russian director often finds it necessary to commit illegal acts. In The New Soviet Empire, Dallin reveals the existence of a large group of “middlemen” in Moscow, whose sole function is to obtain additional supplies for factory managers through illegal barter.

Terror, bureaucracy, economic inefficiency brought about by the lack of democratic planning on the local level, all act as counteracting tendencies toward increased productivity in the Stalinist “colonies.” In a modern industrial nation such as Czechoslovakia, the damage to the economy is most pronounced. One of the reasons advanced by the Czech government for failure to meet the 1951 plan was the “manner in which the plan has been applied”; and there can be no doubt that the imposition of political terror, backward methods and bureaucratic inefficiency on advanced economies is one of the outstanding regressive traits present in Stalinist imperialism. In Czechoslovakia we see the rare historical example and dire consequences of a backward nation imposing its institutions on an advanced society.

Another significant characteristic of Russian imperialism is its attempt to “Russianize” as large a portion of the Stalinist empire as possible. Any deviation from the official policy is regarded as the possible nucleus of future opposition, and national differences, containing the memory of independent political states, are considered highly dangerous. The process of Russianization has reached its highest level in the Baltic countries, the first areas annexed by the Russians. In this area, many of the well-known party leaders have been purged and replaced by Russians and by natives of Russian extraction. Even the high ranking officials are suspect if they stem from other than Russian origins. Twenty-five of the 115 members of the Esthonian Supreme Council do not even speak the language of the people they are supposed to represent. Kolkhozes are named, not after native, but after Russian heroes. Only one such farm in Esthonia bears the name of a living Esthonian: Johannes Kotkhas, wrestling champion of the Soviet Union. In present day Esthonian culture, Russian drama, music and art predominate almost exclusively. Even the teachers in Esthonian schools are, to a large extent, imported from Russia. The same tendencies are apparent in other sections, of “the empire.” In Poland, ten thousand Russian specialists dominate the native economy and army down to the very lowest units. The Russian language is glorified, and taught to Polish workers in their “off” hours. Rarely are native heroes glorified in the local press, this honor being reserved for Russian heroes and it is usually their images which are deemed worthy to appear on the face of Polish postage stamps.

According to an exile report in the March 1952 issue of News From Behind the Iron Curtain:

Soviet control in Bulgaria is exercised mainly through the system of Soviet “specialists” and through the Cominform. The Cominform issues orders to the Party for carrying out its policies through the Liaison Section of the Central Committee. The Central Committee in turn sends reports of its activities to the Cominform where these are carefully evaluated and criticized. The Cominform also determines special campaigns, such as “aid to Korea,” “the peace campaign” and recruiting members for international brigades.

Almost all important positions in the Party, the entire Central Committee and heads of the Army, Police and Economy, are in the hands of Bulgarian Communists who have been appointed by Moscow or by Soviet agencies such as the MVD. General Ivan Michailov, Vice- President of the Ministerial Council, General Peter Panchevski, Minister of War, and General Assen Grekov, for example, were transferred from the Soviet Army only a few years ago. “Specialists” from the Red Army control all sections of the Ministry of War, i.e., military intelligence, political education, operations, etc. The transfer of men from the Soviet Army to the Bulgarian was promulgated by decree Number 132 of July 28, 1950, providing for extra payment to officers and generals who served in or were trained by the Soviet Army. Leadership of the People’s Militia is also in the hands of Soviet “specialists,” such as Minister of Interior Georgi Tzankov, who was trained in the Moscow MVD. The Inspectorate of Party Cadres of the Central Committee, which controls all activities of Party members, consists of MVD agents who prepare and carry out purges and direct leading Party cells. The Commission of State Control, which supervises the economy, is headed by another “specialist,” Dimo Dichev, a Soviet agent for many years. Other Soviet “specialists” head the Commission of Science, Art and Culture and have even been elected to the Bulgarian Academy of Science. These include Alexander Nesmeynov, Constantin Bikov and Alexander Oparin. Soviet komsomols use the DUPY [Dimitrov Union of People’s Youth] to reeducate youth in Stalin’s Communism. Some of their leaders are Zoya Toumanova, Nisnetzev and Solovod. And finally, all members of the Central Committee pledge fidelity to the Soviet Union with the oath: “We are determined to remain true to the death to our genial teacher Stalin.”

The satellite press apes Pravda in every conceivable way, even down to the cartoons and layout. Bulgarian army uniforms are an almost exact replica of those in use by the Russian army. The destruction of distinguishing national characteristics appears to have become one of the principal aims of Russian imperialism.

The Stalinist attempt to destroy national institutions and thus prevent them from becoming centers of independence from Moscow, is directed against all the subject nations. This policy has gained considerable impetus as a result of the emergence of Titoism in Yugoslavia, a dynamic nationalism which hits at the heart of Stalinist imperialism. The watchful eyes of Russa’s secret police are forever alert to the possible development of Titoism in the other satellite nations. Stalinist exploitation of subject countries is a relatively new phenomenon and gives rise to innumerable conflicts between the Russian and native bureaucracies. Local leaders want power for themselves. To be sure they are not pure power machines but also ideologists, despite many differences between their public and private ideologies. When Rumania’s Ana Pauker marched into a department store in Bucharest demanding the finest clothes from the sales clerks and demanding “Do you think we are pigs?” she indicated her conception of the role which she played in the revolution.

Russian nationalism has shown that it cannot countenance national power on any level, however, and Ana Pauker has now fallen from power. The Russians distrust native rank and file CP members because of their connection with the masses, and their suspected “leniency” toward the peasants and workers.

Moscow has recognized that nationalism in Eastern Europe received a powerful impetus during the German occupation and that many of the rank and file within the CP were inspired by nationalistic motives. She therefore favors party members of Russian origin who can have no national feelings toward the satellite countries, and distrusts not only the rank and file but even the native leadership. The constant purges of satellite leaders are accompanied by a playing down of the importance of those still in power, who might find themselves in opposition to Moscow policy. The ousting of Rostov for instance followed a split in the Bulgarian party concerning the exploitation of Bulgaria by Russia. Moscow is aware that the pressures which existed in Yugoslavia and which eventually caused Tito to split, exist in all Cominform countries. Yet Titoism is a natural if not always an inevitable outgrowth of Stalinist imperialism. The Russians are opposed to separate national power yet local Stalinist leaderships are indispensable political agents to assure Russian imperialist aspirations. Stalinists in other areas cannot regard the purge trials in the satellite countries with equanimity, nor view the approach of Russian domination without concern. Their fears constitute a powerful factor within Stalinism pointing toward its eventual destruction.

Despite their evident distrust of the populations in the “colonial” areas, the Russian government has found it difficult to maintain the same direct surveillance over foreign nations that it is able to exercise over its own people.

The G.P.U., while it undoubtedly exerts a strong influence in maintaining Russian leadership in satellite parties, is itself insufficient to insure their domination. The elimination of native leaders removes what may be an important wedge in retaining what little support the Russians may still have among the workers. Continuous reference is made in the satellite press to the “low morale” of the working class (read working class opposition), which has expressed itself in strikes and slowdowns. The strike of Polish longshoremen in the city of Sczcedin following the 1950 currency reforms is an example of such opposition. The Communist Party in Eastern Europe, particularly its lower levels, had achieved considerable success in posing as highly sympathetic friends of the poor peasantry. This is an important factor in Russia’s anxiety over continued native CP loyalty at least for the present. Yet every peasant in the satellite countries knows that he is being collectivized by a foreign power, with whom he cannot feel any national identity which would normally tend to minimize the feeling of outrage brought about by the commission of similar acts by a native regime. This expropriation of lands and stock becomes an act of foreign imperialist robbery. In order to reduce the native peasant to the level of passivity existing in Russia, Stalinism believes that it must wipe out the living memory of an independent political state. To achieve this aim will require a longer and more terrifying process than the consolidation of Stalinism in Russia itself.

In their efforts to achieve control over their satellites and increase native production the Russians have exported one of the most distinctive features of life in Stalinist Russia today – the slave labor camp. These camps in addition to their punitive value, are centers of “cheap” labor for direct exploitation by the Russian bureaucracy itself, which dual function causes them to be regarded with great favor by the Stalinist rulers.

According to refugee reports, 60,000 persons in Bulgaria were sent to slave labor camps in 1950. A goodly part of Russian slave labor is drawn from the mass deportations in the Eastern countries, and one exile reports that ⅕ of the entire population of Bucharest has been deported, either to small villages or to “work camps.” Another source indicates that 550,000 persons have been deported in Lithuania, and that over 50,000 Lithuanians have been killed by the Russian police during the past few years. Yugoslavia’s Slovenski Porocevalec reports that large scale deportations are organized to provide settlement areas for Russian colonies. In this connection 150,000 Turks were deported from Bulgaria to Turkey and 100,000 Bulgarians were re-located in other parts of the country while Russian “colonies” are in existence on the shores of the Danube Black Sea canal.

We have examined but a small portion of the acts committed by Stalinist imperialism in Europe. The full picture is even more nightmarish and if the form of Russian imperialism is different from that of its capitalist prototypes, the effect upon the colonial states is at least as repressive.

Terror, robbery, appropriation of goods, actual enslavement of portions of the population, maintenance of occupying armies (both native and foreign) and the conscription of local men for service in the cause of future imperialist activities have, in the past, been the tools of various exploiting groups. The Stalinists have adopted this complete arsenal and neither semantic use of “expansionist” cloaks nor dissertations on the non-capitalist nature of the Russian economy can hide the primitive and violent character of Russian imperialism.

* * *


1. Bulgarian Economy by Ivanko Gabensky, National Committee for a Free Europe.

2. Russia’s Satellites in Europe – Ygael Gluckstein – George Allen & Unwin Ltd., p. 64.

3. Russia bought, from Poland, at $1.25 per ton, a supply of coal for which Denmark and Sweden had offered $12. She realized from this transaction, in the course of but a single year, more than $100 million clear profit. Never did Britain’s capitalists realize so large a profit from their Indian colony as did the Russian imperialists from this one example of brotherly assistance. Ibid., pp. 66–67.

4. Review of International Affairs – July 18, 1951.

5. Russia’s Satellites in Europe – Ygael Gluckstein – George Allen & Unwin Ltd., p. 74.

6. Bulgarian Economy by Ivanko Gabensky, National Committee for a Free Europe, p. 32.

7. News from Behind the Iron Curtain, March 1952.

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