Sunday, August 05, 2012

Colonialism and Post-Colonialism in the Soviet Union

To my mind a colony is an ethnically distinct territory ruled by a state dominated by a different ethnicity and economically exploited by that state against the will of the indigenous population of the politically subordinated entity. The classic examples of such territories are the former European ruled countries in Africa and Asia. The Gold Coast from 1874 to 1957 for instance meets all the criteria listed above for being a colony and nobody disputes its former colonial and present post-colonial status.

In regards to the USSR I think it is clear that some of the territories ruled by Moscow such as the Baltic States clearly constituted colonies in the classic sense described above. They were completely politically subordinated to a Russian dominated state, provided far more resources to that state than they received, and the indigenous Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians strongly resisted Soviet rule. In the case of Central Asia, Michael Voslensky's term semi-colonies appears more appropriate. There was complete political control over these republics by Moscow and very few Central Asians represented in the central apparatus of the Soviet state. So they meet the first part of my definition of colonies. But, they do not meet the next two criteria. The central Soviet government invested considerably more resources into Central Asia than they extracted, the exact opposite of its policy in the Baltic states. There was also very little opposition to Soviet rule by the indigenous Central Asian population. For the most part most Central Asians had favorable opinions about being citizens of the Soviet Union. This was due in large part to the economic benefits provided by the Soviet government to the inhabitants of Central Asia. I would categorize the USSR as a colonial empire that had both colonies such as Latvia and Estonia and semi-colonies such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

This brings up the question of whether the former Soviet states are post-colonial. Or as David Chioni Moore put it, "Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post in Post-Soviet?." I would argue that the post is indeed the same, but that a semi-colony only conforms to the political and not the economic forms of a classic colony. In both cases the "post" is also the same as in post-polio in that there are long term negative consequences to both colonialism and Soviet rule that can be crippling.


Anonymous said...

To me, this has nothing whatsoever to do with ethnicity, and what's 'ethnicity' anyway?

People living in country A that is being colonized by country B will always be, one way or another, perceived as a different 'ethnicity'; that's a consequence, and the cause.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Well in this context I am using ethnicity to refer to well established groups that have distinct cultural differences which they and others view as distinguishing them from other groups of people. The most commonly used such cultural signifier has been language. In the case of European colonial in Africa skin color was an important signifier of difference between Europeans and Africans.

Anonymous said...

Culture varies more along the class lines than whatever it is you call 'ethnicity'. Early 19th century Russian aristocrats, some of them didn't speak a word of Russian; French was their native language. They called Russian peasants 'blacks', 'stinking blacks'. Does it make them colonizers?

To me, colonization involves settlers from the metropolis, who, simply by the virtue of being settlers from the metropolis (or their descendants), have a privileged, highly privileged social and economic status, compared to the local population. They form a different, and immediately obvious socioeconomic category.