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Tankie is a pejorative label for leftists, particularly Stalinists, who support the authoritarian tendencies of Marxism–Leninism or, more generally, authoritarian states associated with Marxism–Leninism in history. The term was originally used by dissident Marxist–Leninists to describe members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) who followed the party line of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Specifically, it was used to distinguish party members who spoke out in defense of the Soviet use of tanks to violently crush the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the 1968 Prague Spring uprising, or who more broadly adhered to hardline pro-Soviet positions.
The term is also used to describe people who endorse, defend, or deny the crimes committed by communist leaders, such as Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim il-Sung. In modern times, the term is used across the political spectrum to describe those who have a bias in favor of authoritarian communist states, such as the People's Republic of China, the Syrian Arab Republic, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Additionally, tankies have a tendency to support non-socialist states if they are opposed to the United States and the Western world in general.
After the Prague Spring, the term was used to describe Communist party members of Western countries who had supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact states, of which Czechoslovakia was a member. According to Christina Petterson, "Politically speaking, tankies regard past and current socialist systems as legitimate attempts at creating communism, and thus have not distanced themselves from Stalin, China, etc." It was also used in the 1980s to describe the uncritical support the Morning Star gave to the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. By 2017, tankie had re-emerged as internet slang for Stalinists and other authoritarian communists, and it became particularly popular among young democratic socialists. Modern tankies generally do not get along with non-Marxist–Leninist segments of the left and many of those who oppose tankies also consider themselves leftists.
After the Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the term has been extensively used in media and online, such as by Sarah Jones of New York, for "elements within the self-identified [American] left that have soft-pedaled Russia's aggressive foreign policy and history of human rights abuses," with The Intercept journalist Roane Carey identifying the "key element in the tankie mindset [as] the simple-minded assumption that only the U.S. can be imperialist, and thus any country that opposes the U.S. must be supported."
Tankie has its origins in British political rhetoric. It has since become a popular pejorative in English-language social media. In 2017, left-wing writer Carl Beijer argued that there are two distinct uses of the term tankie. The original, which was "exemplified in the sending of tanks into Hungary to crush resistance to Soviet communism." More generally, a tankie is someone who tends to support "militant opposition to capitalism," and a more modern online variation, which means "something like 'a self-proclaimed communist who indulges in conspiracy theories and whose rhetoric is largely performative.'" He was critical of both uses.
An instance of the modern usage is the description of those "who instinctively defend China based on the idea that it is an example of actually existing socialism resisting Western imperialism", in discussions around the Uyghur genocide. These people tend to use neoconservative analysis to justify the "anti-terrorism" operations of the Chinese government. The term tankie has also been used in contemporary times to describe the defenders of dictators like Bashar al-Assad or those who propagate pro-Russian narratives in the context of the Russo-Ukrainian War.
In the United Kingdom
Tankie originated in the UK as a term for hardline members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). The tankie wing of the CPGB was also sometimes called "Stalinist" and was associated with the views of the strong CPGB presence in British trade unions. Journalist Peter Paterson asked the Amalgamated Engineering Union official Reg Birch about his election to the CPGB Executive after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Paterson recalled:
When I asked him how he could possibly have sided with the tankies, so called because of the use of Russian tanks to quell the revolt, he said "they wanted a trade unionist who could stomach Hungary, and I fitted the bill."[a]
The support of the invasion of Hungary was disastrous for the party's reputation in Britain. The CPGB made mild criticisms of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which they justified as a necessary intervention, although a hardline faction supported it, including the Appeal Group who left the party in response.
The term continued to be used into the 1980s, especially in relation to the split between the reform-minded eurocommunist wing of the CPGB and the hardline, pro-Soviet group, the latter continuing to be labelled tankies. In the 2006 play Rock 'n' Roll by the Anglo-Czech author Tom Stoppard, the character Max, based on Eric Hobsbawm, discusses with Stephen what to read to hear what is happening in the Communist party, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Their options are Marxism Today and the daily newspaper, the Morning Star.
MAX: Marxism Today? It's not so much the Eurocommunism. In the end it was the mail order gifts thing. I couldn't take the socks with little hammers and sickles on them.
STEPHEN: Well, Read the Morning Star and keep up with the Tankies.
MAX: The Tankies ... How the years roll by. Dubcek is back. Russia agrees to withdraw its garrisons. Czechoslovakia takes her knickers off for capitalism. And all that remains of August '68 is a derisive nickname for the only real communists left in the Communist Party.
The term is sometimes used within the Labour Party as slang for a politically old-fashioned leftist. Alastair Campbell reported a conversation about modernising education, in which Tony Blair said: "I'm with George Walden on selection." Campbell recalled: "DM [David Miliband] looked aghast ... [Blair] said when it came to education, DM and I were just a couple of old tankies." In 2015, Boris Johnson referred to Jeremy Corbyn and the left wing of the Labour Party as "tankies and trots", the latter referring to Trotskyism.
The term tankie has been used in English-language social media to describe communists, particularly those from the Western world, who uphold the legacies of communist leaders, such as Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. While generally used pejoratively, some Marxist–Leninists have re-appropriated it and used the term as a badge of honor.
The Taiwanese left-wing magazine New Bloom alleges that many modern tankies are members of the Asian diasporas of English-speaking countries. In particular, members of the Chinese diaspora searching for radical responses to social ills such as xenophobia against Asians are drawn to tankie discourse. This modern conception of tankie has also been described as "diasporic Chinese nationalism."
In 2022, New York magazine observed that "[l]eftists from other countries have been contending with the American tankies for years", quoting activists from Hong Kong and Poland, the two countries that have suffered from communist authoritarianism.
- 50 Cent Party
- Brezhnev Doctrine
- Chinese nationalism
- Soviet nationalism
- Little Pink
- Red fascism
- Regressive left
- Tank Man
- The Stalinist Legacy
- Vatnik (slang)
- ^ Reg Birch's hardline attitudes later led him to split away from the CPGB to form a pro-Albanian Maoist party.
- ^ a b Driver, Stephen (16 May 2011). Understanding British Party Politics. Polity Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0745640785.
- ^ New Statesman 2016.
- ^ a b Dutkiewicz, Stecuła; Jan, Dominik (4 July 2022). "Why America's Far Right and Far Left Have Aligned Against Helping Ukraine". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 26 January 2023.
- ^ Douthat, Ross (18 October 2021). "James Bond Has No Time for China". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 December 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
- ^ Paterson, Tony (6 February 2014). "Hard-line Czech communist Vasil Bilak dies: Last surviving tankie who supported 1968 invasion of his own country by Soviet Union passes away at 96". The Independent. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- ^ "Vasil Bilak, 96, Dies; Czech Communist Encouraged 1968 Soviet Invasion". The New York Times. 6 February 2014. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
- ^ Petterson, Christina (2020). Apostles of Revolution? Marxism and Biblical Studies. Brill. p. 11. ISBN 978-9004432208.
- ^ New Statesman (2016): "The first time "Tankie" was written down was in the Guardian in May 1985, in an article describing the Morning Star crowd: "The minority who are grouped around the Morning Star (and are variously referred to as traditionalists, hardliners, fundamentalists, Stalinists, or 'tankies'—this last a reference to the uncritical support that some of them gave to the Soviet 'intervention' in Afghanistan).""
- ^ Rickett, Oscar (23 October 2017). "From latte socialist to gauche caviar – how to spot good-time leftwingers around the world". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2 July 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- ^ Pearl, Mike (11 November 2018). "How a Real Class War, Like with Guns, Could Actually Happen". Vice. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- ^ a b c Andersen, Sebastian Skov; Chan, Thomas. "Tankie Man: The Pro-Democracy Hong Kongers Standing Up to Western Communists". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on 31 March 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
- ^ Ukraine has silenced Ireland’s ‘Tankies’
- ^ a b Jones, Sarah (3 March 2022). "Russia's Invasion Tests the American Left". Intelligencer. New York. Archived from the original on 3 March 2022. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
- ^ Carey, Roane (1 March 2022). "Don't Be a Tankie: How the Left Should Respond to Russia's Invasion of Ukraine". The Intercept. Archived from the original on 1 April 2022. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
- ^ Peyser, Eve (22 August 2017). "Corncob? Donut? Binch? A Guide to Weird Leftist Internet Slang". Vice. Archived from the original on 25 March 2021. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- ^ Robertson, Matthew P.; Roberts, Sean R. (May 2021). "The war on the Uyghurs: A conversation with Sean R. Roberts". Made in China Journal. 6 (2): 262–271. doi:10.22459/MIC.06.02.2021.33. Archived from the original on 4 March 2023.
- ^ Glastonbury, Marion (1998). "Children of the Revolution: matters arising". Changing English. 5 (1): 7–16. doi:10.1080/1358684980050102.
- ^ Hassan, Gerry (2004). The Scottish Labour Party: History, Institutions and Ideas. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 220–222.
- ^ Undy, Roger (2008). Trade Union Merger Strategies: Purpose, Process, and Performance. Oxford University Press. p. 178.
- ^ Paterson, Peter (February 2011). How Much More of This, Old Boy...?: Scenes from a Reporter's Life. London: Muswell. p. 181. ISBN 9780956557537. OCLC 751543677.
- ^ Pimlott, Herbert (2005). "From 'Old Left' to 'New Labour'? Eric Hobsbawm and the Rhetoric of 'Realistic Marxism'". Labour/Le Travail. 56: 185.
- ^ Davies, A. J. (1996). To Build A New Jerusalem. London: Abacus.
- ^ Andrews, Geoff (2004). Endgames and New Times: The Final Years of British Communism 1964–1991. Lawrence & Wishart Ltd. pp. 93–94. ISBN 978-0853159919.
[John Gollan] said 'we completely understand the concern of the Soviet Union about the security of the socialist camp ... we speak as true friends of the Soviet Union'.
- ^ Jernigan, Daniel K. (2012). Tom Stoppard: Bucking the Postmodern. McFarland and Co. p. 187. ISBN 978-0786465323.
- ^ Stoppard, Tom (2006). Rock 'n' roll. Faber and Faber. p. 79.
- ^ Campbell, Alastair (2010). Diaries. Volume 1, Prelude to power. London: Hutchinson. p. 301. ISBN 9780091797263.
- ^ Watt, Nicholas (5 October 2015). "Boris Johnson: Jeremy Corbyn and Labour left are 'tankies and trots'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- ^ Hioe, Brian (22 June 2020). "The Qiao Collective and Left Diasporic Chinese Nationalism". New Bloom Magazine. Archived from the original on 1 July 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- ^ Communist Poland
General and cited references
- New Statesman (9 August 2016). "What exactly are 'Trots' and 'Tankies'?". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 16 September 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2019.