Wokeness Is Great for Imperialism
Just ask the first woke empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Under Biden the US military is going woke. Some worry/hope that this means its effectiveness will decrease. I think the chance of that is zero. When you’re in the military (any military) a great deal of your time is wasted on absolute nonsense as it is.
Adding unisex toilets and critical race theory lectures to the mix won’t do much. Having your intelligence insulted on a daily basis, and mandatory participation in bizarre and sometimes humiliating rituals is basically the job description.
What it really signals is that wokeness will come to be increasingly weaponized in the international arena just as it has long been weaponized in the top-down class wars at home.
Just as wokeness is useful to divide the working class, and to keep down the uppity white working class, so it can be useful to claim the moral high ground over non-wokies abroad and to demonize and bomb them. But also to justify wielding power over them in supposedly benevolent, paternalistic, cuddly ways. Just ask the Soviets.
The Soviet Union was the first and original woke empire. The Bolsheviks had a conception of the Russian state, Russian nationalism, and even just Russian national feeling as something akin to the root of all evil.
As a result, they built an affirmative action empire bypassing meritocracy with ethnic quotas promoting non-Russians at the expense of Russians. Even more consequentially they felt it necessary to launch innumerous new nation-building projects to transform the many ethnicities of the Russian Empire, which had supposedly had their natural national development cruelly stifled by tsarist authorities, into fully-fledged nations and nationalities of the multi-national Soviet Union. And they did this on an ideologically anti-Russian footing, teaching the nationalities that they had a history of being oppressed by the Russians and locating their heroes primarily among insurgents against the Tsars.
As part of correcting these “historical injustices” against the non-Russians, the Soviets drew the borders of their republics and autonomous regions in a way that greatly favored them at the expense of the Russians, but the one thing the Bolsheviks did not do was give the nationalities the choice to secede. To the contrary, the very project of carrying out this anti-Russian nation-building helped necessitate and justify their continued exercise of power over them — of course in cooperation with, and under the local management of, good and capable Communists promoted from the ranks of the ethnicities. (Of course, the primary justification was that they were building socialism, but while this in practice, especially early on, often meant ethnic-Russian Communists communizing non-Russians this supposedly this time around wasn’t a problem because these were new, enlightened, anti-Russian Russians. (In the light of the war they had unleashed against the Russian church, traditions, peasantry, and reputation their anti-Russianness could not be held in doubt, but why that was supposed to be a consolation to the minorities is entirely unclear.))
Thus while Britain and France relinquished its control over Asia in the 1940s and 50s, and over Africa in the 60s and 70s, the Caucasus and Central Asia remained under woke (in nationality terms) Moscow to the very end until 1991. Decolonization was not only a consequence of military and demographic factors. Especially for the British, it was also a matter of will. A Britain where “the white man’s burden” had become non-PC, but which was not yet woke (or “liberal interventionist”), had difficulty justifying to itself the continued use of direct power over faraway peoples in their own homes.
The woke Bolsheviks however had put Moscow’s grip on the Caucasus and Central Asia on such a foundation that it could still be easily justified (meaning to themselves) until the very end of communism in the USSR.
It is very unlikely that an archaic universal Russian Empire (Rossiyski, not Russki) would have been able to hold onto these territories (or even that it would have wanted to). And it is totally impossible that a Russian national state would have. Yet the Soviet Union, placed on woke fundamentals in its forming years was able to. Primarily because it was able to justify its continued hold as benevolent and cuddly, and not at all imperial. Thus while Chadians obtained their independence in 1960, the ancient nations of Armenia and Georgia had to wait until 1991, which would have been utterly unthinkable in a national, non-Soviet Russia.
Wokeness has served empires well before. The best thing you can do for power is to coat it with some bamboozling velvet. Not even so much as to fool anyone else, but to fool yourself. When you think about it, the “white man’s burden” and “civilizing mission” of old, and “humanitarian interventionism” and wokeness of today, aren’t really all that different. It’s just another excuse for those with power to exercise more of it.
PS.: There is a narrative that Stalin in the 1930s and during WWII gradually reversed the woke policies of the Bolsheviks and became a crypto Russian nationalist, and reverted the Soviet Union to a chauvinist Russian Empire. This does not hold up. All that happened under Stalin was that he realized that demonizing Russians non-stop while at the same time asking great sacrifices of them was not the optimal strategy, and so the Russians were rehabilitated and they too would hence have their national sentiment flattered just like the other nationalities.
So what happened was that a cautious Soviet-led Russian nation-building project was added to all the others. It means the Russian national awakening was completed in Soviet times under Communist supervision (which manifests to this day in the Russian national mythology being disproportionately based around historical figures who were PC to Communists, which among select military heroes (Aleksandr Nevsky, and the generals of 1812) mainly meant poets and writers (eg Tolstoy, Lermontov, but most of all Pushkin)), but it does not mean that other nation-building projects were abandoned, and at no point did policy change to assimilation.
Another innovation under Stalin was that the tension between the periphery of the old empire and the Russian capital came to be less emphasized, and the supposed harmony of all nationalities under the new enlightened Soviet leadership more so.
The post-WWII period also saw a great deal of linguistic assimilation but this was a matter of practicality, and came as much from the grassroots, as parents in a vast, Communist but Russian-speaking, empire pushed for their children’s proficiency in Russian to give them better opportunities. In East Ukraine in particular it came as aggressive top-down de-Russification efforts finally capitulated to demands for education in Russian from below. (Ie the parents protested that the authorities were scheming to handicap their children by forcing the less economically useful and less socially prestigious Ukrainian on them.)