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The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War Hardcover – August 17, 2009
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About the Author
John V. Fleming taught humanistic studies at Princeton University for forty years. He is the author of The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Matthew Shaer a staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor In 1946, a Ukrainian defector named Victor Kravchenko published for American audiences a visceral account of the failings of the Soviet system. "I Chose Freedom" was received happily by critics here and rapturously in France, where the tale of slave labor, starvation and collectivization sold by the tens of thousands. Proof that he had struck a nerve came from a series of vicious and sustained attacks from the Parisian liberal press; in 1948 Kravchenko decided to sue the journal Les Lettres françaises for libel. He won, and he returned to the United States a vindicated man. As John V. Fleming notes in his expansive new book, "The Anti-Communist Manifestos," in many ways Kravchenko's life story is also the story of a widespread shift in political sentiment. "I Chose Freedom" presented the "clearest possible dichotomy between the suffering millions and the small clique of Communist tyrants who torture them," Fleming writes. Thus were the horrors of the Soviet experiment brought to the world's attention. "The Anti-Communist Manifestos" takes as its subject "I Chose Freedom" and three other titles that altered the course of the Cold War: "Out of the Night," by Jan Valtin; "Witness," by Whittaker Chambers; and "Darkness at Noon," by Arthur Koestler. Each of these authors had first-hand experience of the Soviet system, and each attracted a sizable -- and influential -- readership. (None of the men, however, was particularly likable.) Fleming, a medievalist by trade, splits his book into quarters, analyzing both the text in question and the historical background. There is something a little forced about the grouping -- after all, the Cold War was a sprawling conflict, and its course was influenced by thousands of variables. But Fleming is a strong writer and a generous guide, and he emerges with a spectacularly nuanced portrait of a pivotal period in world history.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
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I'm still waiting for Mr. Fleming's next book and I hope I don't have to wait much longer.
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.
Fleming is not only widely read but also a clever writer, usually able to rein in both the academic and blogger sides of his personality. Though the book sprawls more than occasionally, most of Fleming's diversions are at least as engaging as the theme itself. One might expect to find a reference to Dostoyevsky here--there are half a dozen--but not references to Walt Disney or the mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. Fleming has even inserted droll index entries ("idiots, useful, 220; not so useful, passim"; "prothonotory warbler, spotted by Hiss, bagged by Nixon, 291").
The theme of this work is "the cultivated blindness" that prevented Western leaders and intellectuals from acknowledging for decades the falseness and brutality of the Soviet regime. The thoughtful reader may ponder what current politically correct notions will appear as hopelessly wrong-headed in another eighty years.