Comrades!: A History of World Communism

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Overview

Almost two decades after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR, leading historian Robert Service examines the history of communism throughout the world. Comrades! moves from Marx and Lenin to Mao and Castro and beyond to trace communism from its beginnings to the present day.
Offering vivid portraits of the protagonists and decisive events in communist history, Service looks not only at the high politics of communist regimes but also at the social conditions that led millions to support communism in so many countries. After outlining communism’s origins with Marx and Engels and its first success with Lenin and the Russian Revolution in 1917, Service examines the Soviet bloc, long-lasting regimes like Yugoslavia and Cuba, the Chinese revolution, the spread of communism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and the international links among the hundreds of parties. He covers communism’s organization and ideology as well as its general appeal. He looks at abortive communist revolutions and at the ineffectual parties in the United States and elsewhere.
Service offers a human view of the story as well as a global analysis. His uncomfortable conclusion—and an important message for the twenty-first century—is that although communism in its original form is now dying or dead, the poverty and injustice that enabled its rise are still dangerously alive. Unsettling and compellingly written, Comrades! is the most comprehensive study of one of the most important movements of the modern world.
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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Service critically surveys communism's entire history for a general-interest readership… A panoramic introduction to the ideology, Service's account of communism's idealists and tyrants provides solid grounding in the subject.
— Gilbert Taylor

New York Sun

To the best of my knowledge, Robert Service's Comrades! is the first history of world communism. It includes every communist state, extinct and surviving, as well as major communist parties and movements around the world. It is a daunting undertaking that required mastery of vast amounts of source materials and the skill to make judicious choices among them… A rich repository of information and insight and should be required reading in institutions of higher education around the world.
— Paul Hollander

St. Petersburg Times

The book succeeds in explaining what all the fuss was about, something that a whole generation that has grown up in the aftermath of communism's collapse needs to know.
— Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Mail on Sunday

[A] brilliantly distilled world history of communism.
— Craig Brown

Financial Times

The decency of communism's ideals and the horror of its effects form the basis of Robert Service's masterly handling of the beginning, progress and (all but) end of communism. Service sees the miseries and tyranny which communists fought against; and he allows credit where it is due, as when he writes of Castro's regime that 'the poor of the island benefited most from the revolution. Blacks in particular were helped by government efforts to improve conditions.'
— John Lloyd

The Observer

Robert Service's Comrades! is a timely and ambitious book. Embroiled as we are with Islamic terrorism, the 20th-century struggle between world communism and western capitalism seems as remote now as the 1914 rivalries of kings and emperors must have seemed in 1945. But this was an equally desperate battle for ideas and power. Service strips away the illusions about communism that beguiled generations of admirers. From the moment in 1917 when Lenin forced the disparate revolutionary parties in Russia under his sway, communism became a system based on state terror and the dictatorship of elites in the name of the proletariat.
— Tim Gardam

The Economist
Service has produced a wide-ranging history that traces communism's intellectual origins back through early modern Europe to ancient Greece as well as its modern spread to countries covering a third of the earth's surface… One of the best-ever studies of his subject… Eschewing the usual convoluted language of Marxist debates, he provides a gripping account of communism's intellectual origins, pedigree and impact… A remarkable accomplishment, and worrying reading. Even though Soviet communism as an idea may have failed, its interaction with the Russian population contains a powerful warning… A reader emerges from Mr Service's volume with the sobering conviction that the only enduring means of preventing political extremism is to establish and maintain healthy institutions of civil society: a tall order indeed.
Literary Review

Service has taken [on] a huge subject but he more than succeeds in doing it justice in this sparkling and thought-provoking narrative… [An] engrossing history.
— Richard Overy

Sunday Telegraph

Service has read widely—using the extensive archives and poster collection of Stanford University's Hoover Institution to good effect—and he has organised his material in an analytical narrative that sweeps the reader along for 500 pages.
— Michael Burleigh

Democracy Journal

In Comrades!, Robert Service presents a lively and detailed account of the damage that was done in the name of 'building socialism'… He lucidly explains how the Bolsheviks gradually imposed their will on an impoverished and often resentful populace.
— Michael Kazin

Choice

[A] welcome comprehensive volume narrating the history of world communism.
— G. A. McBeath

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
Service critically surveys communism's entire history for a general-interest readership… A panoramic introduction to the ideology, Service's account of communism's idealists and tyrants provides solid grounding in the subject.
New York Sun - Paul Hollander
To the best of my knowledge, Robert Service's Comrades! is the first history of world communism. It includes every communist state, extinct and surviving, as well as major communist parties and movements around the world. It is a daunting undertaking that required mastery of vast amounts of source materials and the skill to make judicious choices among them… A rich repository of information and insight and should be required reading in institutions of higher education around the world.
St. Petersburg Times - Lewis H. Siegelbaum
The book succeeds in explaining what all the fuss was about, something that a whole generation that has grown up in the aftermath of communism's collapse needs to know.
Mail on Sunday - Craig Brown
[A] brilliantly distilled world history of communism.
Financial Times - John Lloyd
The decency of communism's ideals and the horror of its effects form the basis of Robert Service's masterly handling of the beginning, progress and (all but) end of communism. Service sees the miseries and tyranny which communists fought against; and he allows credit where it is due, as when he writes of Castro's regime that 'the poor of the island benefited most from the revolution. Blacks in particular were helped by government efforts to improve conditions.'
The Observer - Tim Gardam
Robert Service's Comrades! is a timely and ambitious book. Embroiled as we are with Islamic terrorism, the 20th-century struggle between world communism and western capitalism seems as remote now as the 1914 rivalries of kings and emperors must have seemed in 1945. But this was an equally desperate battle for ideas and power. Service strips away the illusions about communism that beguiled generations of admirers. From the moment in 1917 when Lenin forced the disparate revolutionary parties in Russia under his sway, communism became a system based on state terror and the dictatorship of elites in the name of the proletariat.
Literary Review - Richard Overy
Service has taken [on] a huge subject but he more than succeeds in doing it justice in this sparkling and thought-provoking narrative… [An] engrossing history.
Sunday Telegraph - Michael Burleigh
Service has read widely—using the extensive archives and poster collection of Stanford University's Hoover Institution to good effect—and he has organised his material in an analytical narrative that sweeps the reader along for 500 pages.
Democracy Journal - Michael Kazin
In Comrades!, Robert Service presents a lively and detailed account of the damage that was done in the name of 'building socialism'… He lucidly explains how the Bolsheviks gradually imposed their will on an impoverished and often resentful populace.
Choice - G. A. McBeath
[A] welcome comprehensive volume narrating the history of world communism.
Publishers Weekly

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. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Foreign Affairs
History has different levels, wrote the great French historianFernand Braudel. There is, famously, the longue durée the slow, almost imperceptible movement of time over several centuries. Geography and climate play dominant roles in it, and ideas change slowly and gradually. The French Revolution was but a moment in the West's long tradition of violent struggles, Jean-Jacques Rousseau a mere comet in the galaxy of democratic theory. Braudel contrasted this historical time (he called it Level C) to the traditional subject of history writing (Level A), in which brute facts follow brute facts. The better exemplars of Level A history depict human beings galloping breathlessly along, as in a novel: in haste and excitement, from one event to the next, until the inevitable denouement. Even Braudel's elegant prose could barely conceal his disdain for the genre.

This is the kind of history that Robert Service has produced. His survey of the history of international communism is readable. Its verdict -- that the system was awful and deservedly collapsed -- is not contentious. Comrades! will be popular. But it will soon be forgotten because it leaves the reader with his original hunger for explanations about causes and effects, cycles and connections.<

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674046993
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2010
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 643,283
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Service is a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of Russian History at Oxford University.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2007

    A reviewer

    Service has done an excellent job at tackling a major topic - the rise and fall of communism - into a single volume. This makes a good starting off point for anyone who wants to learn about communism. It is also chopped up into shorter theme or geographic specific chapters for easy reference. A worthy read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2010

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