34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Great Reading for Anyone Interested in the Cold War,
This review is from: The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War (Hardcover)
"The Anti-Communist Manifestos" is a brilliant, masterfully written cultural history about four books, all bestsellers in their day, which shaped the West's understanding of Stalinism and its crimes. The authors were all former Communist Party members, three of whom had worked for Soviet espionage before turning sides. Thus the authors themselves were as controversial as the books they wrote, fanning ideological debates about "facts" and "credibility" throughout the 1940s and 1950s. John Fleming's extraordinary achievement is to tell the stories of these books within the context of their public receptions while avoiding the partisan distortions which characterized the ideological debates then and even now.
Arthur Koestler's novel, "Darkness at Noon" (1941), is one of the most important books of the 20th Century, while Whittaker Chambers's memoir, "Witness" (1952), remains famous for its detail regarding the author's accusations against Alger Hiss. The other two memoirs discussed are by a former thug / "organizer" of the German Communist Party, "Jan Valtin" (Richard Krebs), and by Victor Kravchenko, the first Soviet official to defect to the United States. Valtin's "Out of the Night" (1941) detailed the growth of the German Communist Party in the 20's and its destruction following the Nazi's seizure of power in the 1930's, along with lurid personal stories involving sex and violence. Kravchenko's "I Chose Freedom" (1946) triggered a pair of libel suits in France, which led to survivors of Stalin's slave labor camps testifying in open court. It was their testimony, that of the living victims of Stalinism, which became impossible to deny.
"The Anti-Communist Manifestos" successfully navigates through history, literature, and politics, and a reader opening to any random page is likely to become immediately engrossed. I personally enjoyed the elegance of Fleming's comments on memoir, that "subjective objective" form of writing, and his persuasive argument that "Witness" has a literary importance that has been overlooked by those whose interests have been limited to the factual.
Easy to understand why historians Tony Judt and Sean Wilentz have praised this book so enthusiastically.
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Initial post: May 15, 2011 9:21:13 AM PDT
Charles R. Williams says:
Now, I wonder, would Koestler, Kravchenko, Valtin, and Chambers see their works as anti-Stalinist or anti-Communist. There is no Stalinism as a coherent ideology; there is no Stalinism as a political movement. There is only the construct of "Stalinism" as a cover for the numberless crimes committed by Communists in the name of their ideology from the days of the Bolshevik coup to the present and the complicity of their fellow travelers.
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