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The Passing of an Illusion : The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century Hardcover – June 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0226273402 ISBN-10: 0226273407 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 600 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226273407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226273402
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #880,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Born in the 19th century as a theory, communism became a reality only in the 20th, when Lenin led the Bolsheviks to power in the October Revolution of 1917. In The Passing of an Illusion, the late French historian François Furet argues that Lenin had little idea that the revolution he set in motion in Russia would so swiftly spread to other countries. The October Revolution did spread, Furet continues, because it gave citizens of the European and Asian powers caught up in World War I the idea that war was neither necessary nor inevitable. Russia's example proved that a country at war could simply declare that enough was enough and walk away. That action, Furet says, "endowed the idea of revolution not so much with a doctrine as with a universal sense of peace rediscovered." For nations bled dry by four years of war, the promise of peace was irresistible. That promise, announced by a red banner, troubled the ruling classes of nations across the globe for the next seven decades.

This sweeping, utterly essential history traces the rise of state communism through such exemplars as Stalin and Mao Zedong, charts its degradation in the dictatorship not of the proletariat but of powerful individuals, and documents the last gasps of the doctrine in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Furet ends by remarking on a strange irony, a logical outcome of communism that Lenin and his contemporaries would have feared to foresee: with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, "class warfare, the dictatorship of the proletariat, Marxism-Leninism have given way to the very things they were supposed to replace--bourgeois proprietorship, the liberal democratic state, individual rights, free enterprise. All that remains of the regimes of October is what they sought to destroy." --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

A bestseller in France translated into 13 languages, this lucid "interpretive essay" is a particularly Eurocentric "history of the illusion of Communism during the time in which the USSR lent it consistency and vitality." Despite the broad promise of the title, Furet (1927-1997), a noted historian of the French Revolution (Revolutionary France, etc.), limits his study to Europe, especially France, and barely addresses the post-Khrushchev years. Both European fascism and communism, he argues, were antibourgeois passions fueled by mass politicization and post-WWI social fracturing. Quite interesting for American readers are his portraits of European intellectuals who, despite evidence of Soviet depredations, remained loyal to the revolutionary ideal. Also valuable is his close study of antifascism in France, where antifascist communists gained prominence. In one of the few allusions to the American scene, he notes that European intellectuals lacked a Hannah Arendt to conceptualize both the fascism they had opposed and the communism they embraced under the heading of totalitarianism. While he claims, a bit sweepingly, that the communist idea has now been liquidated, he astutely notes that the problems communism professed to solveAthe tensions inherent in bourgeois democracy between the needs of humanity and the needs of the marketAremain. That insight is a fitting coda to this solemn and measured obituary of the communist idea.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
What do Saint-Simon, Szyszko, Reyes, Schafer, and Marx all have in common? According to "The Passing of an Illusion," by Francois Furet, they were all the annointed prophets of the deadly cult of socialism (the deceitfully benign "nom de plume" of communism), which proved itself hostile to the most basic notions of individuality and freedom. These men provided the idealogical cornerstone for the bloody reign of Lenin and Stalin, and fueled the egoism and violence of dozens of more minor dictators and rebels throughout the last half of the Twentieth Century. Who better to expose the truth that our history books will not reveal than a former priest of the Red Religion? As a young man, Furet, a Jewish Creole of Haitian descent, was constantly excluded from social interactions by his French bourgeois peers for no other reason than his heritage. Understandably then, it was the revolutionary writings of the Polish Szyszko and the Belgian Schafer (famous for their simultaneous calls for the liberation of all nations subjugated by the European colonial powers)which first attracted Furet. As he matured, Reyes' ephemeral "Notes on a Libido Theory of Value" became more to Furet's liking, and his political activities in support of a "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" in France grew ever more intense. Thirty years later, and after a story of conversion that absolutely MUST BE READ TO BE BELIEVED, Francois Furet has returned to the world of the rational, and brings to us as his offering of penitence this ecyclopedic survey of the diabolical philosophy of communism in Europe. This book should be mandatory reading for every student and amator of political science in America, where the marxian discipline--sadly--rages on in the halls of some of our greatest centers of learning.
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36 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Florence Starzynski on December 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had high hopes for this book. But as I got into it I found myself having difficulty linking the concepts together. At first I though it was me but after a while I started to parse the sentences. I soon concluded that the sentences are totally unreadable, full of vague terms, run on constructions and, perhaps, paradoxical comparsions that are not readily apparent. Take these two sentences selected at random:
In both cases they were outsiders to the collectivity, thus exacerbating their opprobrium. Even a plurality of opinions had no effect on this second accusation, which followed from the first, since the bourgeois were no less detested on the left than on the right.
Now maybe this makes more sense in the original French. The translation is by Furet's wife, Deborah who may be so intune with her husband so as to assume more from English reader than is usual.
A great disappointment.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is a great book, but it is NOT a layman book. I read this for my graduate class in political science, and it was used as the theotical backbone for the class. The sentence structure is a little bit too hard to read at first, but the biggest obstacle, I think, is rather the concepts a person needs to know before he or she can really understand the book.
If you do not understand the book, then may be you are not part of the intended audience of it anyway.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. B. Alcat on September 10, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Furet says, in the preface to this book, that "The passing of an illusion" "is not a history of Communism, even less a history of the Soviet Union; it is a history of the illusion of Communism during the time in which the USSR lent it consistency and vitality". In my opinion, this book tells us a story, the story of a myth. That myth is no other that the Communist myth, that was supposed to bring a world of peace and freedom, and instead only brought more chains to those who chose to follow it.

The October revolution was thought to be the continuation of the French Revolution, a new revolution that would finish the task the other couldn`t complete. Many continued to believe so even after it was fairly evident that that wasn't the case: the dictatorship of the proletariat had turned into arbitrary rule of the proletariat by a few. Of course, it was much easier to believe in the Communist myth living far away from the URSS than in that country, having to deal with the reality of oppression.

Furet points out how ingeniously the URSS managed to retain its universalistic appeal even after Stalin imposed the doctrine of "socialism in one state". He also mentions the intelligent identification that the URSS tried to make between Communism and Anti-Fascism, and the realization that "Communism had to conceal its reality in order to remain an 'idea' ". Many intellectuals were almost eager to be mislead: they hated Fascism so much that they didn`t wait much to "establish a subjective connection between Communism and liberty".

"The passing of an illusion" is rather long, but it is more than worth your time and effort. Even though it doesn`t exhaust the subject, it allows the reader to learn a lot about it...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By George Tyler Gale Jr. on April 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
Whether the skill of his wife's translation or not, this man wrote in this work some of the best historical prose I've ever read. A profundity on every other page in a field that's been exhausted by the historical profession.
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