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A semi-colony is, in Marxist theory, a country which is officially an independent and sovereign nation, but which is in reality very much dependent and dominated by another (imperialist) country.

This domination could take different forms -

  • economic (the supply of capital, technology or goods, and control over strategic assets and foreign trade),
  • political (direct intervention by the imperialist country in the political affairs of the semi-colony to secure client-regimes),
  • military (the presence or control exercised by foreign troops) and
  • cultural (e.g. the imposition of a foreign culture on the local population through the media, education and foreign consumer products).

The term semi-colony is often used interchangeably with "neo-colony".

Client relationship

The relationship between the semi-colony is said to benefit the position of semi-colonial elite or ruling class (which serves both its own interest and the interests of foreign investors and creditors) and also to benefit the imperialist country, which obtains profits and cheap resources from its investments in the semi-colony. The semi-colonial situation however disadvantages the working majority of the population, insofar as balanced economic development is impossible - only those industries are developed which benefit foreign investors or the export trade (usually extractive and agricultural industries).

The class structure of a typical semi-colony features a large mass of peasants and unemployed, a relatively small urban working class and middle class, a strong landowning class, and an urban comprador bourgeoisie.

Many semi-colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America are dominated by the imperialist countries which once colonised them, while others may never have been a colony but are nonetheless dominated by a superpower such as the United Statesmarker or formerly the Soviet Unionmarker.

Marxists regard semi-colonies differently to what they regard as genuinely independent nations, and will often support a semi-colony in a struggle against its dominating power, reasoning that it will help resolve the national question and thus promote class struggle.

Origins of the term

The concept of a semi-colony originated in the earlier years of the Communist International, which classified the countries of the world as being either imperialist countries, intermediate countries, semi-colonies, and colonies. From that definition followed a political strategy for the labour movement in each type of country (for example as regards nationalisation of industry, workers' rights, democratisation, the ownership of land).

The term "semi-colony" has continued to be used particularly in the Trotskyist movement. The general perspective of the Communist International was that it was impossible for semi-colonial countries to achieve substantive industrialisation and transform property relations without a socialist and democratic revolution. In other words, the power of semi-colonial elite had to be overthrown by the workers and peasants, to liberate the country from its client-relationship with foreign powers, and make comprehensive local economic development possible.


However, with the expansion of the world market and globalisation especially from the 1970s onwards the "semi-colonial" status of particular countries became more ambiguous, because a number of them were able to industrialise to a significant extent so that they became at least "semi-industrialised" countries. They gained somewhat more financial, political and cultural autonomy, and in some cases, the local elite became a major foreign investor in its own right. On the other side, it was no longer very clear that they were under the control of another foreign country, rather than being dominated by a bloc of several wealthier countries, or by international financial institutions.

This raised the question of whether the concept of a "semi-colony" is still relevant. Whatever the case, the definition of a country as a semi-colony as such refers to specific analysis of its place in the world economy and world trade, as well as its local political and economic culture.

Some groups, such as the League for a Fifth International apply Lenin's analysis of imperialism to describe the vast majority of states in the world as semi-colonies, including all of Eastern Europe.


  • Ernest Mandel, "Semicolonial Countries and Semi-Industrialised Dependent Countries", New International
(New York), No.5, pp.149-175)
  • Donald Denoon, Settler Capitalism: The Dynamics of Dependent Development in the Southern Hemisphere. Oxford University Press, 1983.
  • The Communist International, 1919-1943; documents, selected and edited by Jane Degras. Oxford University Press, 1956-65.
  • “The Dynamics of World Revolution Today”, resolution adopted at the 1963 Reunification Congress of the Fourth International.
  • Michael Löwy, The politics of uneven and combined development. Verso.
  • Ronald H. Chilcote, Imperialism: Theoretical Directions.
  • Ronald H. Chilcote, The Political Economy of Imperialism.
  • Ronald H. Chilcote, Dependency and Marxism: Toward a Resolution of the Debate.

See also

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