cover image Comrades! A History of World Communism

Comrades! A History of World Communism

Robert Service, . . Harvard Univ., $35 (592pp) ISBN 978-0-674-02530-1

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)