On ‘Decolonisation’ Theory

‘Decolonisation’ theory was elaborated within the communist movement in the 1920s and afterwards to suggest that imperialism assisted the development of industrialisation in the colonial world, weakened their dependency on imperialism thereby it ‘decolonised’ them. This ‘theory’ was criticised at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928 and deepened after that by the Soviet political economy theorists. After the 20th Congress of the CPSU ‘decolonisation’ theory became the prevalent norm for the CPSU as evidenced by Mikoyan’s speech at that congress which chastised the Institute of Oriental Studies for stressing the effects of imperialist capital on the colonial world and negating the development of ‘independence' of these counties. This new turn represented a reversion to Kautskyism (as well as the derivative notions of Trotsky, M.N. Roy) in the communist movement. Politically this paved the way for an alliance with the regimes of Egypt, Indonesia and India. In India contemporary ‘decolonisation’ theory dominates the thinking of the reformist communist parties a well as the ‘progressive intelligentsia’. An essential part of ‘decolonisation’ theory is that the Marxist view of industrialisation – production of the instruments and means of production by machinery – is discarded and replaced by an understanding that any type of industrial development promoted by imperialism or the national bourgeoisie in the countries where direct colonial rule has been terminated constitutes ‘industrialisation’. The Marxist understanding of ‘decolonisation’ theory retains its validity today. What is of interest in the extracts below from the Soviet economic literature of 1958 and 1972 is that whilst politically the Soviet leadership promoted ‘decolonisation ’ theories internationally, Soviet economists to a significant degree retained a Marxist understanding of ‘decolonisation’ theory right through to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Vijay Singh.



Decolonisation is a false apologetic “theory”, advocated by bourgeois and opportunistic economists and politicians, who maintain that imperialism contributes to the industrial development of colonies and thus, allegedly weakens their dependence on the metropolitan countries, or “decolonises” them. JV Stalin exposed the reactionary nature of these fabrications on the example of India’s industrial development in the 1920’s. In the report “The Economic Situation of the Soviet Union and the Policy of the Party” (1926) JV Stalin said: “Take India. India, as everyone knows, is a colony. Has India an industry? It undoubtedly has. Is it developing? Yes, it is. But the kind of industry developing there is not one which produces instruments and means of production. India imports its instruments of production from Britain. Because of this (although, of course, not only because of this), India’s industry is completely subordinated to British industry. That is a specific method of imperialism—to develop industry in the colonies in such a way as to keep it tethered to the metropolitan country, to imperialism.” The domination of imperialism in the colonies condemns millions of working people to poverty, hunger, extinction.

Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopedia, Tom 13, Moskva, 1952, Vtoroe Izdanie, page 606.


Decolonisation Theories

 are apologetic, bourgeois, and reformist theories according to which imperialism ensures liberation of colonial and dependent countries by promoting the development of capitalism. Decolonisation theories begin to develop in the first half of 1920’s.

Representatives of theories of decolonisation preached overtly racist ideas about the pre-eminence of the “white man”, and the civilisational and cultural mission of the metropolitan countries supposedly called upon to educate backward peoples about prosperity and progress, and prepare them for liberation. The meaning of these bourgeois theories was to preserve non-economic methods of exploitation of colonial peoples by any means.

Imperialistic ideas of the “civilisational” mission of the metropolitan countries in the colonies were repeated in the reformist version of decolonisation theories (John MacDonald (Great Britain), O. Bauer (Austria), and others). The opportunists from the Second International opposed the liberation of the dependent countries, reserving that colonial policy could also have civilizing effect even under the socialist regime. Lenin characterised this opportunist line of the Second International as a direct retreat “towards bourgeois policy and a bourgeois world outlook that justifies colonial wars and atrocities.”

Kratkiy ekonomicheskiy slovar', Moskva, Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo politicheskoy literatury, 1958, page 61.


In the 20’s and 30’s, decolonisation theories were supported by some revisionist elements in the communist movement. Their arguments about the promotion of imperialism by the “free development” of the colonies were based on a perversion of the idea of export of capital, which would allegedly lead to the rapid development of the productive forces, industrialise the backward countries, thus automatically eliminating colonial dependence, without a national liberation struggle. These arguments ignored the fact that the capitals exported to colonies were only marginally invested in industry, and only in those branches that would ensure economic dependence of the colonial countries. The export of capital was substantially aimed at strengthening the military, political, and economic hegemony of imperialism in these countries. As for the revisionists’ conjectures about the rapid growth of productive forces in the colonies, historical development has shown them to be completely untenable. The development of productive forces under imperialist dependence has acquired ugly forms. The role of colonies was reduced to raw material appendages of the metropolitan countries and the economy developed one-sidedly, while feudal and other archaic modes of productive relations were preserved. The lie about the decolonising role of imperialism was exposed at the Sixth Congress of the Communist International (1928). In the “Theses on the Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies and Semi-Colonies” adopted by the congress, it was indicated that the export of capital to the colony for productive purposes strengthens the dependence of the colonial economy on finance capital of the imperialist countries.

After the fall of the colonial system of imperialism, overtly racist versions of decolonisation theories were replaced by new forms of apologetics, suited for new conditions. Theories of decolonisation transversely misinterpret the significance of the struggle of colonial peoples for political liberation. The process of the fall of the colonial system as a result of the national liberation struggle of peoples is interpreted as a voluntary refusal of the metropolitan authorities to dominate, leading to self-liquidation of colonialism, the process of which consists of three stages: liberalisation, change of forms of dependence, and independence. Bourgeois ideologists (A. Burley and others) disseminate myths about the beneficial effects of colonialism and put forward versions agreeable with the monopoly bourgeoisie of the reasons for the economic backwardness of the liberated countries, which are explained by climatic, natural and demographic factors, and national characteristics of the colonial peoples. They are trying to prove that developed capitalist countries are no longer interested in colonialism because of its economic inefficiency, and they themselves are allegedly seeking to accelerate the prosperity of developing countries in order to provide a capacious market for the export of their products. The real purpose of the decolonisation theories is dictated by the social task of the imperialist bourgeoisie: to promote the preservation of the economic dependence of the developing countries, to keep them within the framework of the world capitalist economy, and to influence the path of their development, thus extending a new form their colonial domination (see Neocolonialism). In the reformist version of the theories of decolonisation [J. Strachey (Great Britain), L. Laura (France) etc.], which appeared in the 1950s, the essence of colonialism is reduced to the political dominance of some countries over others, and the collapse of the colonial system signifies the end of imperialism. Theories of decolonisation have not withstood the test of history, and in the modern period are almost replaced by theories of development (see Theories of development of the liberated countries), on which imperialism anchors its hopes in ideological struggle for its influence in developing countries.

Ekonomiicheskaya entsiklopedia, Politicheskaya ekonomia, Tom 1, Izdatel’stvo “Sovetskaya entsiklopedia”, Moskva, 1972, page 374.

Translated from the Russian by Polina Brik.

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