From 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)
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Author of Lenin
(2000) and Stalin
(2005), Service critically surveys communism's entire history for a general-interest readership. His guiding thesis is the similarity of structures established and problems faced by all communist regimes that seized power, with special focus on those of the Bolsheviks in Russia. The Bolsheviks' dictatorial organization and coercive methods were replicated, as was the main impediment they faced in their quest for a total revolution of human society: the hostility of the people they ruled. Service particularizes the forms communism's unpopularity took in every communist country, narrating the solutions--applications of terror and attempts at reform--that communists devised for opposition. From the Russian incubus, Service extends communism's story to its dreams of fomenting world revolution, touching on the Communist International's efforts in the 1920s and 1930s, the hammer-and-sickle's territorial expansion after World War II, and the fortunes of out-of-power parties, from the big one in France to the miniscule one in America. A panoramic introduction to the ideology, Service's account of communism's idealists and tyrants provides solid grounding in the subject. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved