The Communist Manifesto
When in the summer of 1991, I stood with the crowds at Moscow’s White House during the attempted coup against Gorbachev, I had the sense that I was living through and in a small, but not unimportant way, making history. I left Moscow fascinated by the questions of how big historical events shape individuals’ lives and how personal circumstances influence public action and commitments. My books explore how children experienced and made sense of the Russian Revolution; how survivors of the World War II blockade of Leningrad interacted with official state commemorations of the war; and how international communists explained and remembered their participation in the Spanish Civil War.
The Spanish Civil War was a critical event in the history of international communism and in the lives of international communists. Many communists affirmed, then and later, that in Spain they lived their ideals more intensely, passionately, and fully than they had anywhere else.
My book tracks international communists from the Lenin School in Moscow to the battlefields of Spain. I follow their postwar paths into the early Cold War, when Spanish Civil War veterans figured prominently among the victims of the spy mania that gripped both sides of the iron curtain. My research draws together state and communist party archives and a wealth of intimate letters and autobiographies to capture the personal dimensions of political commitments. Even for those communists who eventually left the party, the Spanish Civil War often remained a defining moment of their own life stories and personal relationships.
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Hobsbawm was both one of the most influential professional historians of the twentieth century and a lifelong communist. As a historian, Hobsbawm had no illusions about the failures of twentieth-century communist regimes. His life story illustrates how a commitment to communism entailed far more than an endorsement of Stalin or the Soviet Union. A schoolboy in Berlin when the Nazis came to power, Hobsbawm, associated communism with antifascism. In his autobiography, he offers not a confession or a justification for his membership in the communist party, but an effort to explain what he calls the “wars of secular religion” that devastated so much of the twentieth century.
Rae Yang offers a moving and sometimes harrowing account of how a privileged child of Chinese Communist Party elites became during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s a member of the Red Guards, and, in the aftermath of the revolution, a pig tender on a farm in the remote northern wilderness. Ultimately, she emigrated to the United States and became a professor of East Asian studies. In this beautifully written memoir, Yang recovers her youthful idealism and offers an unsparing assessment of the consequences for China, her family, and herself of the desire for revolutionary heroism.
In 1968, Margaret Randall, an American radical fleeing political repression in Mexico, moved to Cuba with her children. She remained there until 1980. Her memoir of her years in Cuba provides insight into the lived experience of revolutionary change. She charts her everyday life and struggles and offers a compelling picture of the broader political and economic context. A pioneering feminist, oral historian, and photographer, Randall, with the permission of the Cuban government, interviewed women throughout the country about how the revolution shaped their lives. Acknowledging the revolution’s failures, blind spots, and shortcomings, she remains committed to changing the world.
The Communist Experience is a vast and kaleidoscopic collection of primary sources that range from a fragment of the memoir of a Russian worker who became a Bolshevik before the 1917 revolution to letters from Spanish children evacuated to the USSR during the Spanish Civil War to the manifesto of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Cuba. Young organizes the collection around themes that cross-national and temporal borders, such as “children of the revolution” “state violence and repression,” and “leisure, entertainment sports, and travel.” The book can be read from cover to cover, but also rewards readers who dip into sections or personal stories according to their interests.
We think you will like Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, The Seven Days of Creation, and The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine if you like this list.
From Jack's list on The best real espionage stories from the perspective of an ex undercover KGB agent.
This book is a true find for history buffs. It is based on the by now declassified thousands of KGB messages that were decoded by the Venona Project. It gives clear evidence of the Soviet espionage efforts by the KGB against the United States even while the two were allies in WWII. It also proves the hitherto only rumored deep penetration of Soviet assets into the United States government. In those decrypted documents there is proof that the much-maligned Senator Joseph McCarthy was more right than wrong, albeit too frenetic and sensationalist in his pursuit of communists in the US government.
From David's list on The best books for understanding the Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Russia.
In this multi-generational novel, Maximov showed what the Soviet system meant for ordinary people whose speech he had a rare gift for capturing. In his portrait of seven decades of the Lashkov family, he showed how the drive of the communists to control the lives of others on the basis of an ideology whose implications they themselves did not understand tore families apart. Pyotr Lashkov, the patriarch, became totally alienated from his alcoholic anti-communist brother. Vadim Lashkov, a member of the third generation, is put in a mental hospital. A fellow prisoner advises him: “If ever you think of trying to escape, the search will be thorough, very thorough. And they’ll find you… because you’ve found out a little more than ordinary mortals are supposed to know.”
From Jasper's list on The best books to understand the history of communism.
The British historian of the Soviet Union wrote a number of extra-ordinary books about the horrors of the Soviet Union but this was the best one. It pulls together the story of the second great man-made famine in the Soviet Union when Stalin pushed through the second collectivisation campaign. It was the first book to bring together why and how Stalin’s policies deliberately killed so many people.
He also describes how many people in the West chose to ignore the evidence and the eye-witness accounts of the suffering. Reading it inspired me to research the Great Leap Forward famine. The parallels are astonishing. Did Mao know what happened under Stalin, or did he know but not care when he followed the same path?