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Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Communism, by Archie Brown

Academics pumped out scholarly treatises on the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism by the yard, and debated the Soviet system's merits and flaws feverishly. Now all those copies of "The Lenin Anthology" and Leszek Kolakowski's "Main Currents in Marxism" are moldering in the garages of former grad students, and our collective memory of the great 20th-century struggle between capitalism and Communism is a series of clich├ęs and blurry newsreel images: Stalin and FDR guffawing as they carve up the postwar world, Kennedy and Khrushchev daring each other to push the button, Soviet tanks rumbling through the streets of Prague, Reagan instructing Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!"

Archie Brown's whopping study, "The Rise and Fall of Communism," which is modest in tone but comprehensive in scholarship, marks an important effort to dig past those iconic stereotypes and painful memories and figure out what the hell was going on in that 75-year-long failed experiment called Communism. This is still an exceptionally difficult subject for Americans to confront with any clarity, I think. Our political life remains haunted in peculiar ways by the specter of Communism, which has become (to mix metaphors) an all-purpose ideological cudgel to use against one's enemies.

link: The un-American way of life | Salon Books


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