Almost two decades have passed since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Robert Service, one of our finest historians of modern Russia, sets out to examine the history of communism throughout the world. His uncomfortable conclusion - and an important message for the twenty-first century – is that although communism in its original form is now dead or dying, the poverty and injustice that enabled its rise are still dangerously alive. Unsettling, compellingly written and brilliantly argued, this is a superb work of history and one that demands to be read.
‘Bears all the hallmarks of a classic work of historical literature … the true international legacy of communism [is] analysed to magisterial effect in this exhilarating work’ Hwyel Williams New Statesman
‘One of the best-ever studies of the subject … a remarkable accomplishment’ Economist
‘An outstanding book, written with grace and style’ Daily Telegraph
‘[A] brilliantly distilled world history of communism … Confronted by Service's amazing array of evidence to show that communism could only ever have flourished under conditions of extreme and all-pervasive oppression, only the determinedly softheaded would try to argue with him’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
In this incisive study, Service (A History of Modern Russia) surveys the varieties of communist ideologies (from Marx to Marcuse) and regimes (the Soviet Union getting the lion's share of attention) and finds a coherent pattern, which he forthrightly labels totalitarianism. Communism's hallmarks, he argues, include violent dictatorships, rigid, all-encompassing states that shackle civil society, persecute religion and stifle individual freedom. Communist systems impose dowdy fashions and stagnant economies staffed by listless workers. Rather than historical vagaries, Service contends, these are necessary features of communism, rooted in Marxist-Leninist doctrine and essential to regimes that needed suffocating repression to keep a lid on popular discontent. Service's critique is overwhelmingly negative, with scathing portraits of Communist leaders, intellectuals and fellow travelers like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, whom he calls "Stalin's admiring slugs." Yet he manages to be fair; he calmly exposes crimes of Communist regimes, nods at their achievements (especially those of local Communist administrations in India and Western Europe) and smiles at the poetic neocommunism of Mexico's Subcommandante Marcos. In his fluent narrative style, Service covers a lot of ground, sometimes too cursorily; the book could use more statistics, especially on the performance of Communist economies. Still, though bound to be controversial, his is an engaging and useful introduction to a world-shaking movement. 24 b&w photos.