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If now in decline since the tumultuous events of 1989, communism was without doubt the great political movement of the twentieth century—at its peak, more than a third of the world's population lived under communist rule—and it is still a powerful force in many areas of the world, most notably in the People's Republic of China. What is communism? Where did the idea come from and what attracted people to it? Is there a future for communism? This Very Short Introduction considers these questions and more in the ...
If now in decline since the tumultuous events of 1989, communism was without doubt the great political movement of the twentieth century—at its peak, more than a third of the world's population lived under communist rule—and it is still a powerful force in many areas of the world, most notably in the People's Republic of China. What is communism? Where did the idea come from and what attracted people to it? Is there a future for communism? This Very Short Introduction considers these questions and more in the search to explore and understand this controversial political force. Explaining the theory behind its ideology, and examining the history and mindset behind its political, economic and social structures, Leslie Holmes considers the evolution of communism from Marx's time, to its practice in the Bolshevik Revolution, to its collapse in 1989-91. Holmes highlights the inner dynamics, crises, and demise of communism as a global system, and introduces the major players in the communist world, including Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.
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1 The theory of communism 1
2 A brief history of communism in power 17
3 The political system of communism 52
4 The economic system of communism 69
5 Social policies and structures of communism 85
6 Communism's international allegiances 102
7 The collapse of communism - and the future 118
Further reading 139
Posted May 31, 2011
Communism is an ideological and economic system that dominated vast regions of the World during the twentieth century. At its peak, almost a third of the World population lived under communist regimes. Even today 1.5 billion Chinese (and a few million others) live in countries that to varying degree espouse communist ideals. It is inconceivable to study the modern history without understanding communism in all of its manifestations. It would be impossible in a single book, especially one that is a very short introduction, to do full justice to such a complex and vast subject. Keeping that in mind, this book manages to encompass quite a bit of basic information on communist regimes and societies. All of the most salient characteristics are well documented, with very insightful observations about the differences among various communist countries, or within single country over its history. However, there are some glaring omissions. The role of the vast internal security apparatus and the extent of politically motivated imprisonment and state torture are mentioned just in passing. This is quite an unacceptable omission, since it is precisely thorough state coercion and force that communist regimes solidified and preserved their power. The cornerstone of all communist regimes was the propagation and promotion of myths of "communist revolution," and hence a justified use of violence, as the raison d'être of the communist state. Indeed, there has not been a single communist country that had become communist without the use of violence.
Even more glaring than the omissions of the above nature are the analysis errors that permeate this book. The author repeats the old canard that communism is different from "true" Marxism, and that Marx and Engels probably would not have approved of how their ides were implemented. This completely sidesteps the issue of why was it necessary to implement communism in such a brutal way to begin with. In fact, Marx's ideology was so far removed from reality that the only way it could ever be implemented was in situations where normal operations of market economy were nonexistent to begin with.
Another rather annoying point that the author brings up on several occasion is his apparent gloating over the recent economic crisis that has affected much of the world economy. To him this is somehow a proof that the market economy is also not all that is cranked up to be, so maybe we need to take a second look at some of the communist policies after all. Besides being incredibly shortsighted, this view has the effect of partially rehabilitating political systems that had brought so much devastation and misery to literally billions of people. It is hard to imagine that someone would be making similar statements about, say, fascism. Yes, according to that viewpoint, fascism was an evil regime, but at least in fascist countries trains ran on time. It is unfortunate that communism never quite got the stigma that it deserves, and this short book will not make any steps in that direction.