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Comrades!: A History of World Communism Hardcover – May 31, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674025301 ISBN-10: 067402530X Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067402530X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674025301
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,548,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
Robert Service, well-known conservative historian of Russia, has undertaken a difficult task in attempting to write a concise and accessible history of Communism as a political reality. In "Comrades", he has succeeded remarkably well. The most important issue in any such history is of course that of the author's own political viewpoint, and this can easily lead the undertaking off the tracks by excessive zeal one way or another (I am myself a convinced Communist, which must be taken into account in this review). Service, as a conservative Briton working at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University (itself a well-known right-wing think tank), cannot be accused of having any sympathy with Communism whatsoever, and he makes this clear enough throughout the book. Not just is the general interpretation severely negative with regard to the Communist experience, and his commentary implying that it was dangerous lunacy to even attempt it anywhere in the first place, but he also regularly uses fairly strong hostile language about it, such as the repeated comparisons of Communism with an "infection" and a "virus" and so forth.

Nonetheless, it must be said that Service has done a surprisingly good job of sticking to the facts and trying to be as even-handed as he can probably muster. The most important thing here is that he is not guilty of the historiographical crime of omission, in only depicting negative or dubious episodes in Communist history, like the old Cold War school used to do, but he actually also spends time detailing improvements, valid arguments and realistic motives on the part of Communist parties and leaders. This is not to say that Service is ever convinced by them, and he makes this clear enough, but the fact that he did so greatly improves the utility of the book.
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Nick2032 on August 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A solid summary and synthesis of a vast amount of material. Service writes with sympathy to all sides, but from an essentially Western perspective that can seem distant from events on the ground in the countries he describes. Often the author spends too much time reciting facts that are almost common knowledge (the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall) and not enough time on the interpretation of the causes of events. Still, a worthwhile read overall.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dmitry Vostokov on June 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
I bought this book in a local bookshop just before finishing Young Stalin and started reading it a few weeks ago. I must say it is a breathless read. I'm very curious about the real story of communism in Russia and other countries because I only remember official USSR communist party interpretation from my school years in 80s. In Moscow University we also had a subject called the History of Communist Party of the Soviet Union (KPSS) and the textbook was called "kirpich" (a brick).

Thanks,
Dmitry Vostokov
Founder of Literate Scientist Blog
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Magic Lemur on December 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either slavishly in awe or militantly against.

Although some reviewers say this book in anti-Communist, I sincerely believe that it is one of the best and most balanced scholarly (see appendix) accounts of Communism I've read. Furthermore, it contains valuable insights into the merits and flaws of the theory through to how different leaders put them into practice.

As the most prominent example of the fairness of this book there is the final chapter. I was struck by how little Service sought to dance on the grave of communism, instead mentioning how there continue to be successful communist movements in Kerala (India) and pseudo-communism in the hills of Mexico.
Also for balance, Service goes through the various crimes of capitalism too and the overwhelming impression I got was that, despite the tyrannical excesses of Communism, there is still potential there and unfulfilled ends to accomplish.

Aside from issues of fairness, I found the book a compelling read; the type of book you read in a week and skip TV to read more of.
In addition his portrayals of leaders such as Castro, Tito and Mao are vivid and his judgements are sound. Crucially it gives you a good feeling of what Stalin's Russia or Mao's China was like and, unlike other books on the subject, doesn't dwell too much on issues of Good/Evil, Gulags, etc.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Magic Lemur on June 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either slavishly in awe or militantly against.

Although some reviewers say this book in anti-Communist, I sincerely believe that it is one of the best and most balanced scholarly (see appendix) accounts of Communism I've read. Furthermore, it contains valuable insights into the merits and flaws of the theory through to how different leaders put them into practice.

As the most prominent example of the fairness of this book there is the final chapter. I was struck by how little Service sought to dance on the grave of communism, instead mentioning how there continue to be successful communist movements in Kerala (India) and pseudo-communism in the hills of Mexico.
Also for balance, Service goes through the various crimes of capitalism too and the overwhelming impression I got was that, despite the tyrannical excesses of Communism, there is still potential there and unfulfilled ends to accomplish.

Aside from issues of fairness, I found the book a compelling read; the type of book you read in a week and skip TV to read more of.
In addition his portrayals of leaders such as Castro, Tito and Mao are vivid and his judgements are sound. Crucially it gives you a good feeling of what Stalin's Russia or Mao's China was like and, unlike other books on the subject, doesn't dwell too much on issues of Good/Evil, Gulags, etc.
Read more ›
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