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communist history reccomendations?

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Showing 1-25 of 141 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 30, 2009, 11:07:52 PM PDT
Im interested in reading a bit about the history of communism. I have read very little on the topic, so even reccomendations at primer/general readership level would be appreciated.
I am interested in books outlining the implementation of communism and socialism, the evolution of the ideology of communism, and biographies of prominant figures (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, etc.).
The problem I have come up against searching on my own is sifting out the bias, which, since I have read so few books on the subject, is a priority for me. Please reccomend books that tend more toward the factual, as opposed to analytical, and have struck you as be even-handed.

Posted on May 12, 2009, 9:34:32 PM PDT
Ms barbara says:
You can't go wrong and you will need nothing else than THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM written by different people under different regimes. (Courtois, Nicolas Werth, etc)
It talks of the history of Communism in all countries. Cuba, China, Russia, Vietnam etc etc. An excellent book all around. Get ready for a ride you will not soon forget.
I would also recommend (about China only) 13 Commentaries on the Communist Party. Might be hard to get but is an in depth re Chinese Communism and how it came about.
Good luck! If you want the best book (fiction) to understand what communism is read Ayn Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED. Hard to believe that fiction could hit the nail on the head so well! But that book did.

Posted on May 12, 2009, 9:42:39 PM PDT
Ms barbara says:
oops I put the wrong name of the one book. It is:
Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party
by (author) Epochtimes

In reply to an earlier post on May 18, 2009, 2:35:58 AM PDT
OldAmazonian says:
"I Led Three Lives" by Herbert Philbrick

Posted on May 30, 2009, 11:44:52 AM PDT
Feral Puma says:
If you want to develop an understanding of communism, I would recommend the following books be read in the following order:
1) The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
2) The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
3) Brainwashing by Edward Hunter
4) The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte Iserbyt

.... you might think, based on the titles, that some of those books don't relate with the subject of Communism, but I assure you they do. One warning though, they are not easy reads nor shoud they be. It isn't a pleasant topic that you're deciding to familiarize yourself with.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2009, 5:57:40 PM PDT
Anthem Books says:
Cry Havoc: The Great American Bring-down and How It Happened by Ralph de Toledano is a MUST for you to read. De Toledano lived through the battle of the 1940s and 1950s against the Communist International's culture war against the United States, and documented the destruction of U.S. education through the Comintern's network of the notorious Frankfurt School.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2009, 7:45:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 13, 2009, 7:46:18 PM PDT
For theory and development of thought read:

Capital and the Grundrisse (Karl Marx)
Finance Capital (Rudolf Hilferding)
Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (V.I. Lenin)

This will be the hardest section. This is also the most important for a rich and deep understanding. Pay attention to the changes that Hilferding and then Lenin make to Marx, especially the notion of the vanguard party, banking, and the inability of the proletariat to fulfill their historical role.

For history read:

The Making and Breaking of the Soviet System (Christopher Read)
A Short History of Soviet Socialism (Mark Sandle)
Lenninism Under Lenin (Marcel Liebman)

Also good are:

The Soviet Economic System (Alec Nove)
An Economic History of the USSR (Alec Nove)
The Revolution Betrayed (Leon Trotsky)
The Political Economy of International Relations (Robert Gilpin)

Avoid the books that these others have recommended, they are all ideologues - especially the person who recommended Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, as that is akin to learning about a cat from a dog. Ghost is not any better, trying to parade titles like 'The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America' as 'history of communism' is completely absurd.

When you want to be as objective as possible in your understanding of events or theories, always read from the authors of the movements/ideas FIRST.


Posted on Jun 14, 2009, 5:38:21 PM PDT
There are many authors who have written very eloquently about the history of communism. But the question is, are you interested in Marxist theory or in socialist governing? The two are radically different. I, myself, am extremely interested in the events surrounding the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik consolidation of power.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx - this is a must read if you want to know what the underlying motives for the movement are
A Concise History of the Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes is fantastic
Lenin, Stalin, Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe by Robert Gellately is a good read if you are interested in totalitarianism
The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky, although his arguments are somewhat self-serving, they are quite accurate in many instances

Posters will most often recommend books that agree with their own political philosophies. I suggest you try to break yourself out of the box. View the movement objectively. It's easy to denounce communism because there is a lot of bad in it. That said, it is history, and for that reason alone it is worth studying. Apologists for the communism aren't very popular these days, so what you really need to watch out for are those who inaccurately portray the movement in an attempt to slander the entire political left.

Posted on Jun 20, 2009, 9:05:00 AM PDT
Doug1943 says:
Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. Read it in parallel with Richard Pipes' book by the same name.

Jan Valtin, Out of the Night. I think this has long been out of print, but it is well worth reading if you can find a copy. Think of it as docu-drama.

Isaac Deutscher's trilogy biography of Trotsky: The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Outcast.

Bertram Wolfe's Three Who Made A Revolution.

For a survey of Marxist theory, Leslek Kowlakowski's book is usually recommended. I found his chapter on Trotsky to be superficial and in some places outright wrong. But perhaps his discussion of other thinkers to whom he was not so hostile is better.

And before you buy anything, go to and look at everything they have online == you will find most of the Marxist classics there.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2009, 9:12:03 AM PDT
scarecrow says:
Can't improve much on suggestions already made;
You might also try some excellent Russian Marxists, as Roy Medvedev,"Let History Judge" and Boris Kagarlitsky,has recent history under Putin;
Charles Bettleheim is older,formulated the earliest concept of capitalism in Soviet Union; if you're interested in that;
Moshe Lewin in excellent,

more bourgeois is Stephen Cohen, good thinker,good focus on issues from West perspective; but obvious prejudice on who he is and where he is;

and then Slavoj Zizek has excellent Lectures on youtube and essays on communism

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2009, 9:04:39 PM PDT
You post seems less interested in assessing the ideas of communism or Lenin and weighing 'are they idealizable?' I suppose I feel I am content with a rational ignorance, I'm going to presume in the negative, on that. OTOH, I am interested in the intersection of Jewish history with the communist revolution and so Trotsky's ideas would be of interest but is there more direct analysis of why (and how much) Jewish development led to involvement in the communist revolution at the expense in the process, it would seem, of traditional Jewish ideals.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2009, 11:57:20 PM PDT
Doug1943 says:
You might want to read Isaac Deutscher's essay-book, The Non-Jewish Jew. ( It's out of print now, and rather expensive if purchased on-line, but still available in used bookshops.

Posted on Jul 1, 2009, 10:12:58 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 2, 2010, 3:06:24 AM PDT]

Posted on Jul 1, 2009, 10:46:24 PM PDT
Doug1943 says:
Whoa, Matt. What an excellent set of lists. Very useful. I'm going to be bankrupted getting these books -- (but am I too big to fail?)

I think that even people who are not Marxists, indeed, anti-Marxists, would learn a lot from studying the history of the Marxist movement. It engaged some of the best brains and spirits of the human race for six generations.

And since the basic method of Marxism was scientific in intent -- not drawing on supernaturalism, not based (in theory) in any sort of tribalism -- the attempts of Marxists to understand our complex and rapidly-changing reality can often be enlightening, even if their basic premise (humanity's next stage of social evolution will involve state ownership of the economy and this will be very wonderful) is wrong.

Even understanding why so many well-meaning and highly-intelligent, self-sacrificing people went so badly wrong -- apologizing for Stalin and Mao and Kim Il-Sung and Castro -- can be useful. It was the extremely attractive nature of the Marxist vision -- a world free of want, war, irrationality -- which seduced its followers. Plus -- in my opinion -- the fact that in some broad sense, historical materialism is correct.

North Korea is an interesting case, because it provides a test of the idea that the base determines the superstructure. Consistent Marxists must believe that however repulsive the current superstructure in North Korea, the base remains socialist. They don't judge the fundamental nature of a regime by whether a Good Man or a Bad Man is at the top. And yet this position leads to absurd and reactionary conclusions, so decent Marxists must deny that North Korea is socialist. And the fact that South Korea -- born of a brutal military regime sponsored by US Imperialism -- is a million times more desirable a place to live than North Korea, just rubs in the irony.

Posted on Jul 1, 2009, 11:38:29 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 2, 2010, 3:06:57 AM PDT]

Posted on Jul 2, 2009, 12:40:23 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 2, 2010, 3:07:13 AM PDT]

Posted on Jul 2, 2009, 1:48:23 AM PDT
Listen to Matt in regards to the normative aspect of Marxism. Do not become engulfed in this side, as it will only lead to frustration and disregard. For example, and this is completely my own subjective interpretation of an objective phenomena - I have heard stories of/know many people who were radically leftist in the seventies, yet are now either extremely centrist or conservative as they have 'grown up'. The issue is not which side was 'right' or wrong', as this is moot in most cases, but the level and form of understanding. Most youth during that time had a very normative agenda, ironically caught in the tide of social forces, and did not have any semblance of an objective understanding of Marx. This leads to a very superficial understanding that easily crumbles under scrutiny. This is what Matt is saying when he quotes Marx on 'if this is Marxism, I am not a Marxist.

In my opinion, the most important thing to remember in you pursuit is this. You have already failed, as statements such as "even if their basic premise (humanity's next stage of social evolution will involve state ownership of the economy and this will be very wonderful) is wrong." are, in my opinion utterly, lacking in support from either Marx or Lenin and completely normative. An objective understanding does not cause one to ask what is good or bad, right or wrong, but what is, in Marx's method, 'historically necessary - objective. Keep in mind the break between Lenin and Marx as well. Liebman's "Leninisn Under Lenin", listed above, is a fantastic read in this regard. It was one of my assigned texts at Cambridge University during a lecture on this very subject.

Posted on Jul 2, 2009, 10:03:57 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 2, 2010, 3:07:44 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2009, 1:10:29 PM PDT
Also remember, that the Soviet was (attempted) international. There was a large debate of the problems that would occur if the revolution did not 'spread'. This wasn't ignored, especially by Lenin. Naive? Possibly, but I would say only in hindsight. (=

Posted on Jul 2, 2009, 1:22:04 PM PDT
Doug1943 says:
Matt, Stergios: Whoa .... what an interesting debate/discussion! I've got to mark exams right now, but when I am finished -- a few days -- I will jump in. You raise many interesting questions and I don't want to just vent my prejudices, but give you reasoned answers. Don't go away!

Posted on Jul 2, 2009, 6:54:30 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Sep 2, 2010, 3:08:06 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2009, 7:13:38 PM PDT
I will be leaving for England (Cambridge) tomorrow, and I most likely will not be able to respond for upwards of 4 days.

Posted on Jul 7, 2009, 6:29:44 AM PDT
Doug1943 says:
Stergios: When you use the word "normative", what do you mean by it?

Posted on Jul 13, 2009, 1:21:31 PM PDT
Sorry it took so long to reply, I have limited internet access here. By normative I mean people that tell you what 'should' be done, as opposed to a positive statement, or telling you 'what is'. That is a very broad definition, and I would recommend that, if you are interested, you simply Wikipedia it or take these links I have provided for you (to Wikipedia):

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 15, 2009, 2:46:52 AM PDT
Doug1943 says:
Okay, got it. I appreciate that Marx and Marxists believe that their ideas reflect what is happening -- their socialism is scientific, not utopian, as they see it -- but it is also true that they are passionately committed to seeing this happen. They approve of it. They believed -- and I suppose Marxists still believe, hard as it is to understand this -- that when the state owns everything, it will indeed be very wonderful.

Of course there are paradoxes hidden here -- more formal than real -- reminiscent of the free will vs determinism debate and the supposed implications for those who claim to reject free will -- but I think we ought to be able to agree that Marx and his followers are not simply making predictions, like weathermen, but believe that state control of everything will be good, and thus work hard to bring it about.
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Discussion in:  Communism forum
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Initial post:  Apr 30, 2009
Latest post:  Jan 3, 2011

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