Communism: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)
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With astonishing authority and clarity, Richard Pipes has fused a lifetime’s scholarship into a single focused history of Communism, from its hopeful birth as a theory to its miserable death as a practice. At its heart, the book is a history of the Soviet Union, the most comprehensive reorganization of human society ever attempted by a nation-state. This is the story of how the agitation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, two mid-nineteenth-century European thinkers and writers, led to a great and terrible world religion that brought down a mighty empire, consumed the world in conflict, and left in its wake a devastation whose full costs can only now be tabulated.
Party’s control. Thus emerged the first one-party state in history. Except for retaining their grip on power, the Bolsheviks experienced setbacks in nearly all their endeavors. Life turned out to be very different from theory. But they would not admit they were wrong: whenever things did not turn out as desired, they did not compromise but instead intensified the violence. To admit to being wrong would threaten to unravel the whole theoretical foundation of their regime, since it claimed to be
looked after themselves and formed an interest group in many instances more influential than the propertied class. Lenin was appalled by the rapid growth of the Soviet bureaucracy, which his own policies had necessitated. For as the Communist Party, through the state, took charge of the entire organized life of the country, nationalizing large and small industries, retail and wholesale trade, transport and services, educational and other institutions, the officialdom that replaced the private
Soviet Communist Party’s archive reveals that even as it was publicly embracing the Turkish nationalists, Moscow secretly plotted to overthrow them. Drafted by Lenin, the directive, from late 1920, reads as follows: Do not trust the Kemalists; do not give them arms; concentrate all efforts on Soviet agitation among the Turks and on the building in Turkey of a solid Soviet party capable of triumphing through its own efforts.3 Kemal, for his part, while welcoming Moscow’s help and planning to
Soviet counsel and assistance. In some cases, aspiring dictators also saw in the Soviet Union assurance that they would stay in power: in return for proclaiming themselves “socialist,” they obtained the help of the Communist bloc’s security organs and armed forces against domestic and foreign rivals. After 1956, Moscow engaged itself actively in the Third World, seeking to build up an alliance embracing half of the world’s population against the West, notably the United States. The means of
understanding of the rank and file? It is self-interest—personal as well as national—that propelled Communist regimes and undercut its egalitarian ideals. How often and how unceremoniously Soviet leaders and Chinese leaders departed from the Marxist canon when it suited their interests! In 1917, Lenin allowed workers to take over factories and peasants to seize land, although these anarchist actions violated Marxist doctrine. In 1921, he restored the free market in agricultural produce and