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Paperback: 175 pages
Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (Aug. 2003)
This book provides an essential 1 volume guide to Communism. It begins with the history of Utopian visions from Plato to Marx and ends with the fall of the Soviet Union. It also provides a quick overview of the remaining Communist regimes as well. Pipes covers the basics and follows you through Marx's vision and shows where he went wrong. He proves how Marx's "historical vision" was wrong and so why socialist thought was doomed before it began. One of the basic problems was that no revoultion was successful in Marx's capitalist socities. All the successful revoultions were in agrarian societies. The main coverage is of the Soviet model. This is the obvious route because, at the end of the day, it was the basis of all that followed. We see how, in 1921, Lenin saw that the Communist market ecenomy was failing and had to try to prevent its collapse with the New Economic Plan, an attempt at merging capitalist and socialist economies. At the end of the day the Communist failed because the command economy would not work. It ignored the basic needs of the people, needed to spend money it did not have on the military and led to the rise of a beaurocracy that controlled all life and decision making in the Soviet state. In the end the leadership needed to rule via autocracy in order to safeguard their positions. All other Communist socities have had to release their economic grip in order to save their economies and hold on power. A valuable lesson to all who hold Utopian values in what not to do to create a Utopian state. At the end of the day Utopia will never happen as man cannot survive without property.
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This is poor fayre from Mr. Pipes who I rate extremely highly as a historian. His previous books on Russia's revolutions are outstanding, but this offering is ill conceived and makes one wonder what the intention was. I can well imagine the publishers ringing Pipes up one day... "Richard, old chap, we need a book on Communism pretty sharpish.." "Sorry, too busy right now." "Awww, c'mon Rich, it'll only take you a month..." "Sorry, just too busy." "Listen, we'll put a grand up front..." "Hmmm, a month you say. No more?" "Just as quick as you can write the thing." "Okay then, I'll start tomorrow."
Pipes chose to open with a back look at Plato and other Greek thinkers who (Pipes says) came to the earth shattering conclusion that greed is the root cause of mans undoing. Then we shoot RAPIDLY forward in time to C18 England and John Locke, who said pretty much the same thing apparently. A few French philosophers later, and we finally arrive at Marx and Engels. Pipes rubbishes Marx from the off, and despite admitting that Marx's works number several hefty volumes, Pipes choses to dismiss a lifetimes work by quoting a few sentances at random, usually taken out of context. Next we are treated to a brief and much simplified potted history of Lenin and Stalin, before moving on to Third world communism. This is also poor, Egypt, N. Korea and N. Vietnam are hardly refered to, while others, Angola and Mozambique for instance, never get a mention. Finally, we are subjected to the authors conclusions as to why communisism failed, again heavily biased and over simplified.
For anyone interested in the subject, avoid this like the plague. Pipes, as I said, is a great historian but this is a dire attempt to cover such a fasinating subject.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Simply excellent17 Jun. 2007
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I first read this fantastic little book back in 2003 and it never left my side throughout 4 years of university. That's my way of putting a disclaimer in that my review may be a little biased.
Over 161 pages Pipes charts the rise and fall of Communism from the very first intellectual musings by Plato and Aristole all the way through to John Locke and of course Karl Marx and Lennin. Pipes argues coherently and articulately coming to the conclusion that Communism failed not because of timing, or location, or implementation, but because the ideology of communism is fundamentally flawed. It wouldn't have mattered one jot if the time, place or manner of implementation changed (as the Neo-Marxist argue) because the ideology was so fundamentally anti-human that it would never have worked.
If you are interested in finding out how such a fundamentally flawed ideology could control the actions and reactions of the hundreds of millions of people and dictate the formation of the geo-political situation for 73 odd years then read this book - you won't regret it and it is quite simply a page turner that I found impossible to put down.
33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
An amazing introduction to an important subject12 Jan. 2002
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Communism was an amazing development in world history. A system of ideas took control of intellectuals and revolutionaries across the world, but in unindustrialized nations communism was able to achieve power and wrecked horrible suffering on those unlucky enough to be born within its grasp. Richard Pipes does an excellent service by providing the reader with a concise history of Communism. Call it a 'Cliff Notes' if you will, yet it is brief and easy to follow. Pipes spilts his book into three sections. The first details the history of communism from Marx to its rise and domination in Russie. The second is the reaction to communism and its influence on intellectual life in other industrialized nations. Finally Pipes explores communisms influence in the third world with an excellent examination of China and how Mao's style of communism contrasted with the USSR (which was caught between hoping to encourage communism abroad but unwilling to see communists abroad who achieved power drift from control by Moscow...result tension and hostility between Russia, China etc.). While Communism has died, it is important that we remember its errors for two reasons. The first is so we do not repeat them, obviously. The second is so that we know where the modern world came from as we start our way into a new century.
74 of 95 people found the following review helpful
A Well-Deserved Obituary13 Sept. 2001
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In a succint 160 pages, Richard Pipes aptly lays down a history of Communism which is meant to serve both as an introduction to and an obituary for this "utopia" envisioned by Karl Marx and others. The telling quotes and the refreshingly logical progression (from its starting point in the books of philosophers to the bloody ocean of victims it left behind) make this book arguably one of the best ever written on this grim subject. Although I cannot speak for everyone, the skill that Pipes displays while grounding his conclusions in the facts as well as his ability to pick the quotes that best exemplify each leader, make this the best that I personally have ever read on Communism--and thus my rating of five stars. To be frank, if Communism does survive after this, the book will only prove its point--that Communism, in theory as well as in practice, has a reckless disregard for both the facts of reality and for human life.
72 of 93 people found the following review helpful
167 Compelling Pages4 April 2002
Donald J. Boudreaux
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A few reviewers of this book are horrified that Richard Pipes straightforwardly blames communism for the oceans of blood spilled by Soviet, Chinese, Cuban, Cambodian, and other noted communists tyrants. One reviewer even suggests that American capitalism has produced horrors of comparable magnitude. Hmmm.... What might these depredations of capitalism be? While capitalism has not and will not produce heaven on earth - no system ever will - the negative effects of capitalism that agitate its detractors are hardly comparable to the wholesale slaughtering of human freedom and human life achieved by every single communist regime. Pipes argues eloquently and without a hint of hysteria that communism by its nature breeds tyranny. It is not the only breeder of tyranny, of course, but it is certainly the gold medallist of tyrannical forces. Pipes' humanity, his skill with words, and his deep knowledge of history make this little book a true gem.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
simply excellent5 April 2003
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This is the first book in the Modern Library Chronicles series I have read, and I finished it quite impressed. If others are half as well done, then I'm in for a real treat when I grab the next one. Of course, Richard Pipes' reputation precedes him, and he certainly adds much to this slim and excellent volume. His prose is crystal clear. His argument is both well presented and extremely well documented. This book, though short, is full of facts, all pointing to Pipes' predominant argument--that Communism, both a pseudoscience and pseudoreligion, is a flawed and contradictory system. Pipes treats Communism as three "types": ideal, program, and regime. The ideal, that of full social equality, stretches back to Plato and was carried on, to varying degrees, by figures such as Thomas More, John Locke, and Helvetius. In the 1800s, Marx and Engels proposed their program--abolishing private property. And with Lenin and the Soviet Union, Communism as a regime comes into being. It is this third type that occupies most of the book. Pipes explains the rise of Communism in Russia--why, for example, it took place there despite its not being industrialized. He then traces its institutionalization under Lenin and then Stalin, the terror it perpetuated, the lives it took. (And he makes the sometimes forgotten point that the Communist Party had MUCH to do with the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany.) His attentions then turn to attempts at Communism elsewhere--China and the Third World. Pipes' approach is somewhat centered on the Soviet Union, but this is fair, given that the USSR looms the largest in the story of Communism and given its role in attempting to promote revolution abroad. The system, Pipes argues, is bound to fail because the equality it seeks to create requires an enforcement apparatus that destroys equality, and because, in times of conflict (which Communism requires), ethnic and territorial loyalties dominate those of class. It is, moreover, too rigid, unable to correct itself, inflexible. I would have liked to have read a bit more about the philosophical development of Marxism and Communism, particularly in connection with liberation theologies in the Third World. But this hardly detracts from the book, which is meant only as a summary and introduction, to whet the appetite for further reading. And at this, it is quite excellent.