Two illuminating new books on communism

From The Economist:

1907bk1Is there any reason left to care about Soviet communism? Economists have little time for Marxism-Leninism, finding it inadequate both in theory and in practice. Governments of what were once Soviet territories have eagerly signed up to the class enemy’s alliances, NATO and the European Union. Russia itself has moved on. Even China, ostensibly still a major communist power, chose its own path to markets and modernity and is now beating capitalists at their own game.

But two new books will convince doubters that spending time on the Soviet experience is still worthwhile. The authors are both based at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Robert Service is the current professor of Russian history, while Archie Brown, after 34 years of teaching, is now emeritus professor of politics.

Both are very much concerned with the Soviet legacy for the present day, although their approaches could hardly be more different. Mr Service has produced a wide-ranging history that traces communism’s intellectual origins back through early modern Europe to ancient Greece as well as its modern spread to countries covering a third of the earth’s surface. As he puts it: “Communist parties have existed in almost every area of the globe except the polar ice caps.” By contrast, Mr Brown uses a magnifying glass to look at the Gorbachev era and its effects.

Of the two, Mr Brown’s book is more immediately timely, but also more problematic. “Seven Years that Changed the World” speaks directly to the heated debate about the end of the cold war.

More here.