The best books on communism

10 authors have picked their favorite books about communism and why they recommend each book.

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The Conquest of Bread

By Peter Kropotkin,

Book cover of The Conquest of Bread

Kropotkin was a remarkable man with remarkable ideas and this book, written in Brighton and first published in 1892 remains a gem in the canon of historic anarchist literature.

In the 130 years since it was published, communism has demonstrably failed (China is less communist, more sinister state gangsterism, like North Korea); socialism looks to be on its last legs. On the left, then, there is only anarchism remaining. This is nothing like the idiotic street antics of modern youth – more nihilism than any coherent political position – but thoughtful sets of ideas around governance without the presence of a central authority.

If it is anything, anarchism is rooted in a concept of collectivist, cooperative, local communities. This is what The Price of Bread explores. Yes, it is wildly idealistic, utopian in intent. It was written before the horrors awaiting us in the 20th century, epitomised by Lenin,…


Who am I?

Tim Madge is a well-established award-winning published author, historian and former journalist of over 45 years standing. He has written on a wide range of subjects, a cultural history of cocaine being one, resulting in White Mischief. It’s a fascinating story involving a murky mix of politics and race, as well as criminals and Sigmund Freud.


I wrote...

White Mischief: A Cultural History of Cocaine

By Tim Madge,

Book cover of White Mischief: A Cultural History of Cocaine

What is my book about?

Starting with the Incas, who used coca leaves to stimulate the brain, alleviate high altitude sickness, and to stay alert and awake, the innocuous Coca plant was transported to Europe where it was revved up, a thousand times, into the chemical we know, love and hate, as cocaine. The story is beyond parody as the new-found stimulant was heavily pushed by Sigmund Freud, and used early on by Coca-Cola (the name’s a giveaway) who, in effect, stole the drink idea from an Italian entrepreneur.

White Mischief concentrates on cocaine, but inevitably and necessarily ranges across the wider history of drugs and drug-taking, from historical times until the present day. It delves into the relationship between drugs, race, and racism, particularly apposite where the USA is concerned – to this day.

The Experiment

By Eric Lee,

Book cover of The Experiment: Georgia's Forgotten Revolution 1918-1921

Lee explores the 1918 Revolution in Georgia, where the Social Democrats (Mensheviks), led by Noe Zhordania remained committed to a democratic and inclusive revolution, which stands as a counterpoint to the Bolshevik notions of a strict, disciplined party and a limited, undemocratic but participatory system of government. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1918, the Georgian Social Democrats reluctantly broke away from Russia and sought to navigate the charged political waters, trying to stave off invasion from Turkey and Denikin's White forces with alliances with first Germany and then Britain. They also tried to apply classic Marxist principles, creating not socialism but a bourgeois industrial revolution and a corresponding democratic regime.

This new democratically elected Menshevik government tried to solve issues of pressing concern, carrying out land reform and encouraging judicial reform, and encouraging industrial development, while trying to maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their new nation. Eventually,…


Who am I?

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Language Teaching Methodologies at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. My book Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution was published in November 2017.  Most recently I have published an article-length study entitled Peasant Communal Traditions in the Expulsion of Collective Farm Members in the Vyatka–Kirov Region 1932–1939 in Europe Asia Studies in July 2012. I am currently conducting research for a future book manuscript on daily life on the collective farms and the day-to-day relationships between collective farmers and local officials.


I wrote...

Stalin's Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution

By Samantha Lomb,

Book cover of Stalin's Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution

What is my book about?

Upon its adoption in December 1936, Soviet leaders hailed the new so-called Stalin Constitution as the most democratic in the world. Scholars have long scoffed at this claim, noting that the mass repression of 1937–1938 that followed rendered it a hollow document. This study does not address these competing claims, but rather focuses on the six-month-long popular discussion of the draft Constitution, which preceded its formal adoption in December 1936.

Drawing on rich archival sources, this book uses the discussion of the draft 1936 Constitution to examine discourse between the central state leadership and citizens about the new Soviet social contract, which delineated the roles the state and citizens should play in developing socialism. 

In the Cause of Freedom

By Minkah Makalani,

Book cover of In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

Why did some Black Americans turn to the communist movement during the interwar period? This is one of the key questions Makalani seeks to answer in his book. He understands the limits of the movement, particularly its doctrinaire approach and the left’s limited engagement with race heading into the 1920s. He focuses on how Black Americans played a role in turning communism’s attention to racial issues while reconsidering certain theories of communism within their own radical networks. Makalani also emphasizes how many Black sojourners accepted communist tactics while maintaining their hesitancy towards the broader movement. Makalani provides a critical look at the Comintern and its efforts, while stressing the development of a unique Black radical movement. 


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the topic of international relations and when I started graduate studies, I focused on Russian and Soviet foreign policy between the World Wars. When I began my research, I learned of the existence of the Comintern and was fascinated both by this attempt to develop a worldwide movement and its connection to Soviet foreign policy. Since then, I have focused on trying to understand the individuals who populated the parties and the organization and unearthing a legacy that still resonates today. One cannot fully understand the history of decolonization or of human and civil rights movements without considering the influence of the Comintern. 


I edited...

Left Transnationalism: The Communist International and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions

By Oleksa Drachewych (editor), Ian McKay (editor),

Book cover of Left Transnationalism: The Communist International and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions

What is my book about?

In 1919, the Communist International was formed in Moscow, Russia. The Communist International’s (Comintern) purpose was to guide the world communist movement and bring about revolution. Over time, with the failure of the communist revolution in Europe, priorities changed. A new area of concern for the movement was the fight against imperialism and, later, the fight against racism. Left Transnationalism brings together scholars from all over the world to analyze how the Comintern and its goals resonated in various regions outside of Europe. Taking a transnational perspective, this collection provides new insights into the development of the communist movement, the legacy of interwar communism, and how anti-imperialism or racial equality became intertwined with the communist movement. 

McCarthyism

By Joe McCarthy,

Book cover of McCarthyism: The Fight for America

The fairest way to begin to explore the conspiracy McCarthy and his backers feared is to hear it from the Cassandra himself. Joe lays out his case in this thin volume.


Who am I?

Larry Tye is a New York Times bestselling author whose most recent book is Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. Before that, he was an award-winning reporter at The Boston Globe, where his primary beat was medicine. He also served as the Globe’s environmental reporter, roving national writer, investigative reporter, and sports writer. Tye, who graduated from Brown University, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1993-94. He taught journalism at Boston University, Northeastern, and Tufts.


I wrote...

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

By Larry Tye,

Book cover of Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

What is my book about?

America’s first Red Scare happened in the wake of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution when there was a widespread fear that anarchism, radicalism, and revolution were spreading here. The second Red Scare, which was more pandemic and lasted longer, occurred in the wake of World War II and coincided with the launch of the Cold War. The terror this time was that communists were infiltrating our government and stealing not just the formula for the atomic bomb but America’s very soul. The backlash – to believers, it was pinpointing the risk, to foes, it constituted unfounded fear-mongering – became an ism named for its loudest tribune, Senator Joe McCarthy.

Our increasingly polemical and ideological domestic divides, and building tensions with China and Russia, suggest we could be in for a Third Red Scare, and that readers might want to bone up on the defining one from seventy years ago. Here are some books they might not know about, but ought to.

Stalked by Socialism

By Jana Kandlova,

Book cover of Stalked by Socialism: An Escapee from Communism Shows How We'Re Sliding into Socialism

This is a captivating, personalized memoir that simultaneously explores the current ascent of socialism in the United States. The author escaped Eastern European communism in 1988, during its decaying stage, and moved to the United States in hope that she would enjoy freedom of speech and individual liberty in this country. Yet, to her surprise, she had to deal with the escalating rise of the left in the United States that has been recently seeking to curtail the freedom of speech and impose a greater regulation, trying to replace equality of opportunity with the equality of outcomes. Designed as a warning for Western audiences, Kandlove’s book samples the miseries of her daily life under socialism in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and the 1980s. She also provides revealing anecdotes of her encounters with various Western “useful idiots” who peddle socialism and do not want to learn from history.


Who am I?

Andrei Znamenski spent 35 years exploring religions, ideologies, and utopias. Formerly Associate Professor at Alabama State University, a resident scholar at the US Library of Congress, and then a visiting professor at Hokkaido University in Japan, he is currently Professor of History at the University of Memphis. Znamenski studied indigenous religions of Siberia and North America, including Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. At some point, he became intrigued with Western idealization and romanticization of non-Western cultures and spiritualities, the topic that he covered in his The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. His Socialism as a Secular Creed, which is a logical follow-up to that project, is an attempt to examine the socialist phenomenon as a political religion of the modern age.


I wrote...

Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

By Andrei Znamenski,

Book cover of Socialism as a Secular Creed: A Modern Global History

What is my book about?

Andrei Znamenski approaches socialism as a form of a modern political religion that arose out of activities of secularized apocalyptic sects, the Enlightenment tradition, and dislocations produced by the Industrial Revolution. He examines how, by the 1850s, Marx and Engels made the socialist creed “scientific” by linking it to “history laws” and inventing the proletariat—the “chosen people” that were to redeem the world from oppression. Focusing on the fractions between social democracy and communism, Znamenski explores why, historically, socialism became associated with social engineering and centralized planning. He explains the rise of the New Left in the 1960s and its role in fostering the cultural left that came to privilege race and identity over class. Exploring the global retreat of the left in the 1980s–1990s and the “great neoliberalism scare,” Znamenski also analyzes the subsequent renaissance of socialism in wake of the 2007–2008 crisis.

Perjury

By Allen Weinstein,

Book cover of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case

For a generation of liberals and progressives, it was an article of faith that Alger Hiss, a Harvard-educated New Dealer who accompanied Franklin Roosevelt to Yalta, was railroaded by the McCarthyite tactics of the anti-Communist right when was accused – and convicted—about his past as a Communist spy. But Weinstein, who started out his book as a Hiss sympathizer, conducted a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of one of the Cold War’s most celebrated trials and concluded, on the basis of a mountain of evidence, that Hiss was in fact guilty as charged. I devoured this book when it first came out because it stands as a case study of the need to confront hard facts even when they are politically inconvenient. 


Who am I?

As a child of the Cold War, I was fascinated from an early age by Russia—and the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. I still remember devouring everything I could about many of the events of the 1960’s—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the coup that replaced Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These and much else from this period inspired me to become a journalist. And while I have had a wide-ranging and occasionally globe-trotting career, returning to the subject of U.S.-Russia relations in Russian Roulette  and the feeling that we made a genuine contribution to contemporary history—was unusually satisfying.


I wrote...

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

By Michael Isikoff, David Corn,

Book cover of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

What is my book about?

Russian Roulette stands as the definitive account of Russia’s attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election – a sweeping story that has its roots in Soviet Cold War “active measures,” supercharged for the Internet age with an aggressive mix of cyberwarfare, hacks, and social media manipulation. Russia’s assault on American democracy is told against the backdrop of the country’s seduction of one of the two U.S. presidential candidates, Donald Trump, whose decades-long efforts to do business in Russia turned him into a willing recipient of Moscow’s assistance.

And yet, Barack Obama’s  White House – fearful of putting its thumb on the scale in an election it assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win—failed to aggressively respond, even ordering senior U.S. government cyber experts to “stand down” from developing options to punch back at Moscow’s machinations. The book merges investigative journalism with modern history, and became an instant number-one New York Times best-seller upon its release.

The Party

By Richard McGregor,

Book cover of The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers

The Chinese Communist Party is a mystery and this book is the best journalistic guide to try to understand it. This book inspired my reporting in China. It made me understand that the party is at the heart of every important decision made by Beijing though its decision-making is rarely visible. Written by a former Financial Times reporter, the book documents the big role the party plays in everything from picking the CEOs of China’s biggest firms to revamping the military.


Who am I?

For nearly 40 years I have worked at the Wall Street Journal, largely focusing on international economics. I was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Asian and Russian financial crisis. China has been a particular passion. In 1999, I covered the U.S. negotiations with China over its entry to the World Trade Organization, which included side trips to New Zealand and elsewhere for some of the talks. From 2011 to 2014, I was posted in Beijing where I wrote about the Chinese economy and loved getting out to the countryside. Back in Washington, I reported on the deteriorating U.S.-China relationship, especially during the Trump years.


I wrote...

Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War

By Bob Davis, Lingling Wei,

Book cover of Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War

What is my book about?

This is the inside account of the U.S.-China economic struggle starting in the 1990s.  I wrote it with my Wall Street Journal colleague, Lingling Wei, who was the best-sourced American reporter in China until she was expelled in 2020 along with other American journalists. Our book features deep reporting in Beijing as well as Washington D.C., which distinguishes it from many works by U.S. journalists who rely too much on American sources. We focus on the trade war fought by President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.  Expect lots of scoops and details not available anywhere else.     

The Black Book of Communism

By Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin

Book cover of The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

This was the first real effort to bring together a picture of the whole story of the global Communist movement and the many famines it created. It covers the whole-scale of the misery in regimes in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Russia, India, China, and southeast Asia. It’s a lot of ground to cover but the narrative does not flag. Although the opening of the archives had produced more information, this is still a very impressive book however sobering it might be.

Who am I?

Jasper Becker is a foreign correspondent who spent decades reporting on China and the Far East. His the author of numerous books including Hungry Ghosts – Mao’s Secret Famine, Rogue Regime – Kim Jong Il and the looming threat of North Korea, City of Heavenly Tranquillity, and most recently Made in China – Wuhan, COVID and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy.


I wrote...

Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy

By Jasper Becker,

Book cover of Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy

What is my book about?

What might COVID-19 mean for, and reveal about, China's place in the world? The coronavirus pandemic started in Wuhan, home to the leading lab studying the SARS virus and bats. Was that pure coincidence? This book explores what we know, and still don't know, about the origins of COVID-19, and how it was handled in China.

We may never get all the answers, but much is already clear: China's record as the origin of earlier pandemics, and its struggle to bring contagious diseases under control; its history as both a victim of biological warfare and a developer of deadly bioweapons. When Covid broke out, Wuhan was building science parks to realise Beijing's ambitions in biotech research. Whoever achieves global leadership of the gene-editing industry stands to harvest great power and wealth.

The Communist Manifesto

By Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels,

Book cover of The Communist Manifesto

Written in 1848, The Communist Manifesto is still fresh and relevant. If you’ve never read it, or read it a long time ago, this is the place to start for understanding not only what communism is but why it has inspired so many around the world. In powerful and often poetic prose, Marx and Engels explain the workings of capitalism and urge the oppressed to come together to take action against inequality and oppression. As a bonus, many recent editions include provocative forewords (including one by my next pick, Eric Hobsbawm) that explore how the Manifesto can help us understand capitalism today.

Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

By Lisa Kirschenbaum,

Book cover of International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

What is my book about?

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.

The Communist Experience in the Twentieth Century

By Glennys Young,

Book cover of The Communist Experience in the Twentieth Century: A Global History Through Sources

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

By Lisa Kirschenbaum,

Book cover of International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

What is my book about?

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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