Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Belle Anders

Soviet imperialism: A ’paper bear’?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 4, No. 8, May 8-21, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Although the Soviets face constraints, these have in no way lessened their ambition to replace the U.S. as the number one world power.

Last month the Soviet Union came as close to invading Poland as it ever has since the crisis there began last year. After Polish authorities brutally beat 26 strikers in Bydgoszcz and Solidarity threatened a nationwide general strike, the Soviets stepped up their troop mobilization along the Polish border and made bold threats against what they called the workers’ “counter-revolution.” The Warsaw Pact held extended war games in and around Poland. There was a sigh of relief around the world when the Polish authorities conceded to some of the workers’ demands, and Soviet military mobilization and hostile rhetoric eased up somewhat.

The danger of Soviet intervention still exists, but it has become clear that military action is Moscow’s last option in Poland. The Soviets are acutely aware of the high cost of invading Poland. Militarily, it would be a protracted affair against determined popular resistance. Economically, such a venture would be incredibly costly. Politically, it would invoke world outrage and opposition.

This brings up an important point for those concerned about the Soviet Union’s expansionist activities. It is obvious to many that the Soviet Union is on an offensive drive to gain world domination. Moscow has produced an awesome arsenal of nuclear and conventional weapons. There are Soviet military bases on every major continent and Soviet warships in every major sea. Soviet and Soviet-backed aggression in Angola, Kampuchea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan (and the continued threat to Poland) show that Moscow bears no respect whatsoever for the sovereignty of other countries.

The Soviet threat to world peace is a major international concern, including to many people in the United States. Questions frequently asked are: how can the Soviet Union be stopped? What can be done to combat the danger of war?

Soviet imperialism is not invincible. In fact, Moscow has a number of imperial weaknesses – problems that are the inevitable outgrowth of its expansionist activities. If we understand this dynamic, we can see how Soviet aggression can be corn-batted and the outbreak of world war can be forestalled.

Militarily, the Soviets have found themselves bogged down in both Afghanistan and Kampuchea. The Soviets have poured in massive numbers of troops (100,000 Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, 250,000 Vietnamese occupying Kampuchea) as well as equipment, and the Soviets have also resorted to ruthless extermination tactics like poison gas, burning villages, etc. Yet the people’s resistance in those countries is stubborn and will not quit. These conflicts are proving to be very costly to the Soviets, requiring millions of dollars a day and tying down hundreds of thousands of troops. This makes the Kremlin think twice about launching new foreign adventures. The people’s resistance in Afghanistan and Kampuchea is a major factor combatting the danger of war.

These wars are proving to be politically costly as well. The United Nations voted by overwhelming majorities to demand a Soviet pullout from Afghanistan and a Vietnamese withdrawal from Kampuchea. The Soviets’ mask as “natural ally of national liberation” has been pried loose, and some third world countries once friendly to Moscow have booted them out – including Egypt, Somalia and the Sudan.

Moscow also faces major economic problems. With 18% of the Soviet gross national product diverted to military expenditures, the economy is lopsided and deficient in critical areas. For the past several years running, the Soviets have failed to meet their economic goals in key areas, including coal, meat and vegetables, and grain. Heavy industry is geared increasingly toward war-related production, while light industry has been neglected for years – resulting in widespread shortages of consumer goods. Moscow also faces a possible major energy crisis by the mid-1980’s which will compound its economic problems and affect its military capabilities.

The economy is further drained because the Soviet Union must prop up the economies of its proxies in the third world – to the tune of $3 million a day for Viet Nam and $9 million a day for Cuba.

Domestic unrest is something else Moscow must worry about. Shortages in food and consumer goods, rising prices and efforts to intensify the exploitation of the Russian workers all contribute to the growing dissatisfaction among the working people. Worried over potential antiwar sentiments, the Soviets have even stopped returning home the bodies of dead Soviet soldiers from Afghanistan. This can only work for so long.

For the Soviets, there are no easy solutions to these problems. Already they have had some effect on Soviet actions. Moscow’s hesitation to invade Poland stems from its fears of the severe repercussions that would follow. The tenacity of the Afghan resistance has made it difficult for the Soviets to push further south to the Indian Ocean. The Kampuchean resistance and emerging united front help keep Vietnamese pressure off Thailand.

Although they face these kinds of constraints, the Soviets have in no way lessened their ambition to replace the U.S. as the number one world power.

The world’s people must be vigilant and firm in our opposition to Soviet expansionism and aggression. If we are, we can help combat the danger of war. Mao Zedong once called U.S. imperialism a “paper tiger”–a tiger which is ferocious and dangerous to the world’s people, but one with strategic weaknesses. In the long-term view, he said, it is not the reactionaries who are strong, but the people. The Soviet bear, too, is a paper beast. The resistance and opposition of the world’s people can help forestall the Soviet aggressors and ultimately defeat them.