Let us begin by acknowledging that Marxists indeed advocated that
all the world should become Communist, but not by hostile takeover.
Rather, they advocated a series of national revolutions around
the globe which would allow the victorious workers ultimately
to join together as one, abolishing the very idea of nationhood.
Indeed, when the Russian Revolution succeeded, a fierce debate
erupted over whether it was legitimate to try to build Communism
in one country without the support of other revolutions elsewhere.
A counterattack by defenders of the old order was mounted by the
"white Russians" (contrasted with the "red"
Communists) aided by such foreign powers as Great Britain, Japan,
France and the United States (which sent troops that never actually
entered combat). In such circumstances, it is understandable that
the new government should decide to press ahead without outside
support, and that it would later try to generate revolutions abroad
The idea of a threat of world conquest by Communism was usually based
on the experience of the period after World War II, when the Soviet
Union imposed a series of Communist governments on the often unwilling
populations of the countries they had occupied. They insisted
that they were not conquering but liberating these nations from
the shackles of capitalism. Having extended the bounds of the
Revolution beyond the borders of the USSR, it was unthinkable
that they should retreat and allow power to fall back into the
hands of their bourgeois masters. Probably more important, however,
was the desire of the Soviet Union to surround itself with a buffer
of sympathetic, easily controlled states which could protect it
from another invasion of the sort Hitler had carried out to such
The West viewed this move as purely an aggressive one, a forerunner
of further campaigns of world conquest, and viewed the Soviet-backed
Chinese revolution and the Chinese-backed Korean War which followed
as proof of a general program of Communist expansionism, as was
the Chinese conquest of Tibet. This was strong evidence, not lightly
Yet the USSR did not in fact invade and "take over"
China, and by 1960 had abandoned its former ally, and the North
Koreans did not fall under the sway of China, stubbornly refusing
to follow the Chinese lead to this day. The simple model of military
conquest which dominated Western rhetoric about Communism during
the Cold War was often a misleading guide to events, prompting
American Presidents, for instance, to identify the Vietnam War
as a Chinese project when it was in fact a civil war in which
the Vietnamese Communists--both then and later--were often hostile
to the Chinese. The invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese is another
contest seen as an instance of Communist aggression when in fact
the more liberal Vietnamese might have been able to prevent the
genocide carried out by the radical--not to say insane--Communist
Khmer Rouge if the Americans had not driven them out.
The Vietnam War was enormously prolonged because of the American
conviction that the fall of Saigon would be swiftly followed by
the fall of Laos, Cambodia, and much of the rest of Southeast
Asia in a "bloodbath." When Saigon did fall and the
Americans left, many people suffered; but the predicted bloodbath
and fall of "domino" states did not ensue. The Vietnamese
were far more nationalist than expansionist, whatever their political
Yet it would have been a foolish political leader indeed who did
not take seriously the threat of invasion by Communist troops.
Because of the secrecy of the Russians and the paranoia induced
by the nuclear arms race fueled by both sides but led most often
by the Americans, this threat was often wildly exaggerated. Hindsight
tells us that much of the Cold War rhetoric envisioning the Soviet
Union and its allies as bent on the military conquest of the rest
of the world was mistaken; but their non-military and indirect
military interventions posed serious threats that help to explain
the inflamed rhetoric.
However the history of actual Communist states is analyzed, the notion of forcible imposition of Communism on unwilling majorities is certainly contrary both to Marx's beliefs and those of most Marxists.
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