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Communism : A History

by Richard Pipes

Buy the book: Richard Pipes. Communism : A History

Release Date: 05 August, 2003

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Richard Pipes. Communism : A History

simply excellent

This is the first book in the Modern Library Chronicles series I have read, and I finished it quite impressed. If others are half as well done, then I'm in for a real treat when I grab the next one. Of course, Richard Pipes' reputation precedes him, and he certainly adds much to this slim and excellent volume. His prose is crystal clear. His argument is both well presented and extremely well documented. This book, though short, is full of facts, all pointing to Pipes' predominant argument--that Communism, both a pseudoscience and pseudoreligion, is a flawed and contradictory system.

Pipes treats Communism as three "types": ideal, program, and regime. The ideal, that of full social equality, stretches back to Plato and was carried on, to varying degrees, by figures such as Thomas More, John Locke, and Helvetius. In the 1800s, Marx and Engels proposed their program--abolishing private property. And with Lenin and the Soviet Union, Communism as a regime comes into being. It is this third type that occupies most of the book.

Pipes explains the rise of Communism in Russia--why, for example, it took place there despite its not being industrialized. He then traces its institutionalization under Lenin and then Stalin, the terror it perpetuated, the lives it took. (And he makes the sometimes forgotten point that the Communist Party had MUCH to do with the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany.) His attentions then turn to attempts at Communism elsewhere--China and the Third World. Pipes' approach is somewhat centered on the Soviet Union, but this is fair, given that the USSR looms the largest in the story of Communism and given its role in attempting to promote revolution abroad. The system, Pipes argues, is bound to fail because the equality it seeks to create requires an enforcement apparatus that destroys equality, and because, in times of conflict (which Communism requires), ethnic and territorial loyalties dominate those of class. It is, moreover, too rigid, unable to correct itself, inflexible.

I would have liked to have read a bit more about the philosophical development of Marxism and Communism, particularly in connection with liberation theologies in the Third World. But this hardly detracts from the book, which is meant only as a summary and introduction, to whet the appetite for further reading. And at this, it is quite excellent.


An excellent and easy read

It's too bad readers like ... continue the sad myth that communism only failed because it occurred on unpromising Russian soil. Funny how communism always seems to be occuring in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why did Cuba fail? Apparently, Cuba was also not fertile soil for this wonderful ideology. Why did communism in China fail? Presumably ... believes this too was not the right place or time. Of course, one needn't read too much Lenin to realize that he wasn't a thug who appropriated communism for his ruthless purposes. As Pipes shows, Lenin passionately believed in communism's tenets and wrote many analytic texts of this ideology. Every instrument of terror employed by Stalin was created by Lenin, an avid and thoughtful follower of Marx. To dismiss these people as inauthentic communists is revisionism at its worst.

The converse of ... ridiculous review of this book is equally illuminating. Whereas communism never seems to find the right venue in which to flower, free-market capitalism never seems to fail, from the United States to a rock called Hong Kong. Capitalism is not anarchism, but countries that establish a firm rule of law and incentives for individuals to produce within that legal framework invariably excel. It's funny how people who defend capitalism always defend it as it actually exists, whereas those who defend communism or socialism always defend only the ideal. That speaks volumes. As if there is any basis for evaluating an ideology other than how it actually performs. I could easily defend the ideal of capitalism - all businesses would be perfectly run, no unemployment, etc.. It's a nice trick if you can away with it. I am very glad Pipes wrote this wonderful book so people remember not only that communism failed more miserably than its worst critics could have forseen, but exactly why it did so.


Nizhniy Novgorod

© FAB Russia, 2003-2005

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