Drug addiction, imperialism, and how communism defeated both

It’s no secret that much of the world still suffers from drug addiction. In fact non-cannibinoid substance abuse has a global annual prevalence of between 1.7% and 3.5% [1]. While this may not seem like much, understand this means anywhere from 77.38 to 159.31 million people abuse what we call “hard drugs” regularly.

Now, one must not confuse the recreational use of “soft drugs” such as cannabis with the physical dependency to substances like heroin. When we speak of drug addiction we speak solely of the involuntary dependence on “hard” substances.

An initial question what might have is, “so what?” What does drug addiction and substance abuse have to do with class struggle or communism in general?

Well, let’s look to history as our point of reference. As we know, all history can be understood as a struggle between social forces. The introduction and spread of substance abuse is no different.

In the early 19th century the British imperialists sought a way to open up the rich domestic markets of China. The British deliberately used opium as a way to “access” Chinese domestic markets. By peddling opium to the Chinese, the British were able to extract significant amounts of capital from the wealthy Qing Dynasty. This eventually lead to the First, and subsequent Second Opium Wars [2] where the Chinese tried to resist this imperialist plot. The Qing Dynasty was eventually defeated and China became subservient to British hegemony. This began what many called the “century of humiliation” for China; illustrating the embarrassing condition of Chinese society and political sovereignty [3]. By 1949 an estimated 70million Chinese were ‘regular’ opium users, including 20 million registered addicts [4].

A familiar story can be seen with the introduction of crack cocaine in the United States. While substance abuse had always been parallel to the ‘ghettoization’ of racial minorities and the urban poor, nothing had quite the effect that crack had on the ghettos of the US. From 1984-1994, considered the “crack epidemic” at its time, the homicide rate of Black males age 14-17 doubled. In addition, Black males aged 18-24 experienced similar increases [5]. The reason is obvious. Crack was an easy way to make money, to ‘get out of the ghetto’. Many young and alienated youth sought drug dealing as a way to better themselves and those close to them and therefore used violence to protect this investment.

Most would have you believe that crack was introduced solely by drug traffickers, largely in the Bahamas and the Dominican republic. However, the evidence seems to indicate differently.

The current understanding surrounding the original freebasing of cocaine was to produce a higher profit for dealers. Sometime in the mid 1980s a massive increase in the amount of cocaine caused the powdered form to lose about 80% of its street value [6]. The dealers then turned to creating a smokeable form termed “crack” which could they could flip for a higher rate of return.

In 1986 the Reagan administration admitted to helping finance the anti-communist Contras through cocaine trafficking, beginning in 1984 [7]; the same year that the “crack epidemic” began ravaging many inner cities across the United States. This influx of cocaine is credited with “fueling” the crack surge that spread like wildfire across the United States [8].

More incriminating was the Dark Alliance series of reports released in 1996 by author Gary Webb that indicated a direct link between CIA agents and cocaine traffickers. Webb’s evidence explains how the CIA targeted Black communities for the majority of their operations and then used the profits to fund the anti-communists back in Nicaragua [9].

So here we see a dual nature to the spread of crack cocaine in the United States. On one side, it was used to quell the sentiments of Black Power popularized by groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. On the other hand we see the profits go directly to finance anti-communist death squads in the periphery.

Most importantly we must understand the class nature that drug abuse takes on. How substance abuse is not simply an individual dependency but a weapon used by the imperialists to stomp out opposition, create complacency, and dependence.

With this understanding we can see why the ‘War on Drugs’ is little more than justifications for the systematic oppression of entire social groups. The CIA, the FBI, and the DOJ know exactly how these drugs are entering the country. They were the ones overseeing the original operation. The current ‘War on Drugs’ is just a ploy. No amount of police repression, martial law, or incarceration will end the sale of hard drugs even if that was the original intent (which is seemingly not the case). It is impossible to end a bourgeois function of oppression by utilizing the bourgeois state.

However, this does not mean drug epidemics have not been defeated before. In fact, a couple solid examples exist of how communists have not only successfully resisted imperialism but specifically substance abuse as a tool of oppression.

Recall China at the end of the “century of humiliation”, when Chinese society was swallowed by an addiction to opium (70 million regular users, 20 million addicts). By 1952 that number was zero [10]. How could such an incredible change happen so quickly?

In 1949, Mao Tse-Tung declared the end of the “century of humiliation” with the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Many serious problems faced the impoverished nation but drug abuse was near the top of that list. To combat this, the Communist Party of China used the mass line and mass politics to uproot the opium epidemic at all levels of society [11].

The Communist Party encouraged the destruction of the “old society” and “old values”, including opium dependency; correctly teaching that opium abuse was weapon of class struggle used by the imperialists against the Chinese [12]. Addicts were encouraged to come clean and significant community pressure was put on regular users to hang up the habit. According to the construction of this new power, the apparatus of the revolutionary state served the interests of the people. The fist of the people fell hard upon the opium dealers who could uniquely be considered class enemies for their hand in imperialist exploitation. While many opium dealers correctly gave up the trade, many resisted the new power and the construction of this “new society”. These class enemies were rightfully crushed, with thousands being sentenced to labor camps or executed [13].

While many bourgeois ‘historians’ and critics claim that Mao ended opium abuse through “brutal repression”, reason and evidence indicate quite differently.

First, there was no inherent punishment for being a dealer or being an addict. There was only reprisal when a dealer refused to relinquish the trade or an addict refused to accept treatment [14]. Secondly, crediting one person with the abolition of drug addiction in China is ridiculous. The war against opium in China was waged by the masses and their vanguard in the Communist Party of China. Only a mass mobilization and desire to smash the old society could end the epidemic of opium on the scale it existed. Thirdly, the idea that the actions of a state alone can end widespread drug addiction is ahistorical. The capitalist police state in the US has incarcerated millions in its ‘War on Drugs’ to no avail. This is because to tackle substance abuse one must properly understand it within its context to the class struggle. Being victorious against any drug epidemic means being victorious in the process of reproduction; in the case of opium in China or crack in the United States this means being victorious in the class struggle.

A similar story can be told about the Black Panther Party’s struggle against drug abuse in their communities. Understanding the class nature of drug addiction, the BPP established several community initiatives and programs among the youth to combat the influence of drug culture in American ghettos [15] [16].

The depraved capitalist-racist oppressor exploits these psychological and emotional deficiencies for all they are worth. The oppressor encourages our participation in any activity that is self-destructive. Our self-destructive behavior patterns and our escapist tendencies constitute a source of profits for the capitalists. They also, by weakening, dividing and destroying us, reinforce the strength of the oppressor enabling him to: Perpetuate his domination over us.

The BPP understood the importance of combating drug culture among the youth who would be the primary engine of resisting capitalist domination manifested in White hegemony [17]:

As long as our young Black brothers and sisters are chasing the bag, as long as they are trying to cop a fix, the rule of our oppressors is secure and our hopes for freedom are dead. It is the youth who make the revolution and it is the youth who carry it out. Without our young, we will never be able to forge a revolutionary force.

Ultimately, the BPP knew that only a fully mass movement could destroy the plague of substance abuse in the Black Community. This is an important contribution not only in the realm of Black Liberation but Marxism-Leninism as a whole. How can we resist imperialist expansion and capitalist domination? Only by empowering the oppressed masses and applying a correct mass line to our struggle [18]:

We are the only ones capable of eradicating the plague from our communities. It will not be an easy task. It will require tremendous effort. It will have to be a revolutionary program, a people’s program. … It will be controlled totally by the people. We, the people, must stamp out the plague, and we will. Dope is a form of genocide in which the victim pays to be killed.

Although the Black Panthers were not successful in their struggle against drug abuse (mostly due to FBI intervention through COINTEL and cocaine trafficking) we can still learn from their experience.

What remains true is that the struggle against substance abuse takes upon a class character when understanding capitalist domination. Furthermore, we know from the experience of China that communism can be used as a weapon against all mechanisms of capitalist-imperialist exploitation. However, it is not enough to wage a ‘War on Drugs’ or to wrongly criminalize the addiction. Defeating drug addiction as a function of oppression means defeating capitalism and all of its subsidiaries. Only the successful construction of socialism and progress towards communism can fully eliminate the hideous features of bourgeois society.

We must crush the system that enables such brutal exploitation and profits from alienation. We must destroy the capitalist-imperialist class. We must create a new society. We must win the class struggle.

Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.


[1] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. World Drug Report 2012.

[2] Kaufman, Alison Adcock. 2010. The ‘Century of Humiliation’. Then and Now: Chinese Perspectives and International Order

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Reinarmen, C. 1994. The Crack Attack: Politics and the Media in America’s Latest Drug Scare.

[6] Department of Justice, US. 1991. The DEA History Book, 1876-1990.

[7] Alexander, Cockburn. 1999. Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Office of General Inspector Investigations Staff. 1998. Volume I: The California Story.

[10] Kissinger, C. Clark. How Maoist Revolution Wiped Out Drug Addiction in China

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] La Motte, Ellen N. 2011. The Opium Monopoly.

[15] Baggins, Brian. 2002. History of the Black Panther Party.

[16] Tabor, Michael “Cetewayo”. NY Panther. Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.


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