The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown

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The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Flipping
Reviewed by Sue Flipping
Summary: This is an impressively researched, tightly written and scholarly study of Communism. Illuminating but by no means light reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 736 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-1845950675

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A source of hope for a radiant future or…the greatest threat on the face of the earth.

Whichever of these descriptions you would apply to Communism you will find Archie Brown's detailed and largely objective study enlightening and engrossing. On one level, this is a chronological description of how a political force grew to dominate a third of the world's population then virtually disappeared within a period of less than a century.

The journey from the first ideas of communism (with a small 'c') amongst the early Christians to the Utopia of Sir Thomas More to Marx and Engels and thence to the arrival of the first Communist state feels like a slow burn to an inevitable conflagration. The sparks of that conflagration are flamed in Imperial Russia which became the Communist Soviet Union. In reading Brown's account, there is no surprise that a people who had grown used to the inequalities of Imperial Russia should simply find themselves under a different yoke.

Even then, Communism might not have survived in the way it did were it not for the Second World War which had a pivotal role in nourishing Communism and ensuring its spread. Communism advanced into smaller European countries and to Asia and Africa. The book considers the unique role of Cuba, the only example of Communism in either Hispanic countries or the Americas. It also covers China, the only large country that could still be considered to be Communist. The reasons for Communism being welcomed, by some at least, in such a diverse range of countries is a key part of Brown's study.

Meanwhile, Brown shows that, even in democratic countries where Communism was never going to be a major player, the mere existence of a Communist party had wide reaching effects on policies, economies and ideologies. Would Ernest Bevin, for example, have risen from a poverty stricken childhood to become one of the greatest politicians of his time if he had not honed his skills working with trade union Communists?

However, this book has much more to it than simple chronology. Brown considers what Communism meant to different people in different eras and in different parts of the world. He identifies six defining characteristics of Communism and debates the difference between Communism (the political idea), communism (as a final stage of social development) and socialism. Communism attracted authoritarian leaders such as Stalin who demonstrated quite outstanding brutality and murderous intent. Yet it was also supported by some of the greatest thinkers of the day and by those with genuine and deeply held concerns about the poorest and neediest in society. It explains why Brown refers to communism variously as 'thuggish', 'murderous' and 'utopian'

Archie Brown travelled widely in Communist countries across a span of forty years. He is now Emeritus Professor of Politics at Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. This is a book that has been professionally researched in the kind of detail that makes the reader feel privileged to be on the receiving end of it. The downside of that is that the notes sections at the back are a nightmare to refer to. Perhaps because of considerations of space, there is no line space between one note and the next so it's difficult to refer to them and, should you want to, review the references. On the plus side, there is an impressive index.

It is common to read a book such as this and find out new information. It is less common also to find a new sense of perspective and understanding. I was fortunate enough to be in Berlin the night after the Wall started to come down. I confess to having, at the time, only an uncertain grasp on why a political party that seemed all-powerful should have crumbled so quickly. This book, in a single volume, adds enormously to our understanding of why Communism burned so brightly yet faded so quickly.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi and The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism by Anthony Read.

Buy The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown at Amazon.com.

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