Was the Soviet Union the ‘last empire’?
The usefulness of explaining the breakup of the Soviet state by its distinctly imperial nature has already attracted a fair share of scepticism. My task here is to develop such insights into a systematic critique of accounts of the Soviet state as an empire. The Soviet domain has been usually described as consisting of an inner and an outer empire, i.e. the USSR and Eastern Europe. Some authors extend the inventory to as many as four layers: two ‘formal’ empires – the nonRussian ‘subjects’ of the Russian Federation and the Union Republics; and two external ‘informal’ empires – contiguous, which includes the members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact (sometimes also Mongolia, Afghanistan or even China), and the overseas one, i.e. the Soviet clients in the ‘Third World’. 1 I am leaving out of consideration the ‘informal empires’ as my concern is with the domestic aspect of the USSR and its widespread contraposition to the Western national or federal state.