The way I see it, all communist states, (and in fact, all communists) embrace elements of one of the following ideas: isolation or imperialism. Which one exactly depends on the conditions of the state or the individual concerned, yet both can be exemplified, which seems odd, as both are similarly unpopular ideas among the communist movement.
National isolation is an idea which communism has grown to frown upon for multiple reasons. Such a rule cannot be applied to every situation, yet in general, the separation of one portion of the proletariat through the artificial division of states can be seen in contrast to class struggle, especially since Marx himself believed the nation-state was a bourgeois creation. In the Communist Manifesto, it is written that ‘National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.’
Equally, communism rejects imperialism – the practice of constructing an empire – probably more profoundly so. This can be seen most clearly from a Maoist (Third-Worldist) perspective, known for its fierce opposition to the exploitation of the third world by nations of the first, perhaps even more so than to labour exploitation in general. Even outside of Maoism, one would struggle to identify an openly imperialist advocate of Marxism. Long before Mao’s theories gained significance, Vladimir Lenin referred to imperialism as the ‘Highest phase of capitalism’, probably eliminating all prospects of its official establishment among the communist world.
The prospect is simple: both ideas appear counter-revolutionary in the field of Marxism. Yet, if you examine the communist and formerly-communist world, it appears that every state will have fallen into one of these traps…
The reason for this is as follows: I believe that the following two theories have split communism down the middle more drastically than any others: world socialism, and Socialism in One Country. This division has it’s roots back in the Bolshevik power struggle of the 1920s, in which Trotsky, an outspoken internationalist, talked of spreading the revolution whilst Stalin spoke of cultivating Russian communism independent of the outside world. It appears that Stalin’s ideas proved far more influential, for the majority of socialist states seem to have followed the path of building socialism independently. Thus, as independent communist states in a capitalist world, they took on an increasingly isolationist approach, setting themselves apart from their neighbours. Often, this lead to the rise of heavily nationalistic views within the regime, as has been the case in various communist states across east Asia.
By contrast, the communist world has also embraced ideas of world socialism, which can be seen again in the example of the USSR (prior to Stalin’s leadership) which existed not as one nation, but a network of states bound together by the common leadership of Moscow. Critiques of such a system highlight the fact that this was achieved by the repression of what have become known as the Russian ‘satellite states’, reducing them to mere provinces in the power block and thus robbing them of the national identity they once possessed. This has been criticised as an imperialist idea, for obvious reasons, allowing countries like the early Soviet Union to acquire negative connotations. So there you have it, on one end of the spectrum you have Lenin’s Soviet Union, and on the other, North Korea. As a communist country is, by nature, an enemy of the international capitalist world, a revolutionary state has two choices: they can fight capitalism, or they can hide from capitalism. Either way, it involves going to one of two extremes, for (not including the westernised and, let’s be honest, post-communist nations like China) they can’t just simply exist, but either extreme entails an ugly scenario.