What is a Colonial Empire? The Misclassification of the Soviet Union

In his article, Adeeb Khalid, describes the distinct differences between colonial empires and modern mobilization states and argues that confusing the two different polities leads to the misinterpretation of modern history. Colonial empires and modern mobilization states have different overall goals and methods. Colonial empires were based on the difference between the rulers and the ruled and therefore destroyed any possibility of the natives being part of ‘civilized’ society. Whereas, modern mobilization states wanted to homogenize and sculpt their citizenry into an ideal in order to achieve universal goals. However, classifying governmental systems as either of these polities is rarely clear and often confusing. Khalid argues that Soviet Union is an example of a system that has previously been labeled as a colonial empire, but in reality it was a modern mobilization state. The continued comparison of the Soviet Union to oversea colonial empires such as Britain, leads to a biased Eurocentric view of their history,

To illustrate the differences and similarities between modern mobilization states, Khalid compares Early Soviet Central Asia with the Turkish Republic. The main common tie between the Soviet and Kemalist states were their mission to transform culture and reshape their citizenries. Both states reformed their language and adopted a latin based alphabet in order to distance themselves from the old backward traditions. Both states emphasized education, separated the state from religion, and exercised state power of all citizens to achieve their goals. The major difference between the two was that the Kemalist state’s leadership of the economy differed from the complete abolition of private property in the Soviet Union. The Kemalist state decided against a direct assault on religion, unlike the Soviet Union, and chose to subjugate all religion to the state. But the crucial point that Khalid argues is that because the Soviet civilizing mission was not targeting a specific group, but rather the old traditional way of life it can not be categorized as colonial. The absence of the racial or ethnic superiority of one group over another contradicts the basis of colonial empire.

3 thoughts on “What is a Colonial Empire? The Misclassification of the Soviet Union

  1. I am going to have to disagree with you on your statement about the differences in religion and how each empire dealt with it. I would find that the Soviet Union “assaulted religion” on an equal level to that of the Turkish Empire. Subjugate seems like an applicable term to when Peter the Great subjugated the Church during his rule. What the Soviet Union did was much more extreme.

  2. Listening to todays guest lecturer, I would have to maintain my ground on claiming that the Tsarist and eventual Soviet Empire were indeed just that: an Empire. Now, arguably Russia was not a traditional empire being that its people did not actively seek lands outside of its reach (i.e. Britain and France in Africa, Asia, Middle East, etc.), but nonetheless through Khaleed’s definition Russia falls under this category of colonizers. Every land that the Russians came to inherit (by military force) ravaged the land and its people for the betterment of the states agricultural and economic status. The cultural implications of Russia’s colonization strategy left the southern hemisphere of central Asia in a shambles as far as self identifications. Nomadic tribes no longer could govern themselves, land and properties were disseminated throughout the general population and the Russian presence, collectivization of agricultural policy were emplaced to provide for the overall state (particularly cotton) and much more. Not to mention at the very least acceptance of a new Tsarist way of life, meaning an end to the understanding of religion in these regions.

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