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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced history of an inspiring idea
It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either awe-struck or militantly against.

Although some reviewers say this book in anti-Communist, I sincerely believe that it is one of the best and most balanced scholarly (see appendix) accounts of...
Published on 28 Dec. 2011 by Magic Lemur

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32 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Biased
I was really looking forward to 'Comrades' arriving but after reading the introduction was already beginning to feel a little disappointed. Robert Service is clearly a very intelligent man who has trawled through miles of archives. Unfortunately he cannot hide the fact that he is rabidly anti-Communist. He makes too many childish remarks about the most prominent leaders...
Published on 20 July 2008 by P. Duval


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced history of an inspiring idea, 28 Dec. 2011
By 
Magic Lemur (Somewhere in Madagascar) - See all my reviews
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It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either awe-struck or militantly against.

Although some reviewers say this book in anti-Communist, I sincerely believe that it is one of the best and most balanced scholarly (see appendix) accounts of Communism I've read. Furthermore, it contains valuable insights into the merits and flaws of the theory through to how different leaders put them into practice.

As the most prominent example of the fairness of this book there is the final chapter. I was struck by how little Service sought to dance on the grave of communism, instead mentioning how there continue to be successful communist movements in Kerala (India) and pseudo-communism in the hills of Mexico.
Also for balance, Service goes through the various crimes of capitalism too and the overwhelming impression I got was that, despite the tyrannical excesses of Communism, there is still potential there and unfulfilled ends to accomplish.

Aside from issues of fairness, I found the book a compelling read; the type of book you read in a week and skip TV to read more of.
In addition his portrayals of leaders such as Castro, Tito and Mao are vivid and his judgements are sound. Crucially it gives you a good feeling of what Stalin's Russia or Mao's China was like and, unlike other books on the subject, doesn't dwell too much on issues of Good/Evil, Gulags, etc.

So, if you want an interesting read, then this book takes some beating and, for $10 a copy, you get a 500 page tome that, at least, makes good shelf-filler.
However, for those that disagree, there is another history of Communism taken much more from a socialist perspective. Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (or at least the film adaptation) is equally as good as this, with much greater emphasis on socialism as a whole (e.g. Israeli Kibbutzes). On the DVD version there is even the sadly missed polemnicist Christopher Hitchens providing some of his best commentary so, if you found this book to be anti-communist, then give that a go instead...
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5.0 out of 5 stars More than just a world history, 10 July 2013
By 
A. J. Smith (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Comrades: Communism: A World History (Kindle Edition)
Robert Service has provided a decent, detailed, yet highly readable account of the world communist movement, that leaves no stone unturned.
Most of the book, especially the earlier part, is focused on the USSR, but there is decent insight into Yugoslavia, Cuba, and China. However, Comrades is not a simple chronology of the world communist movement, it is an account of the factors, the attitudes, and the evolving nature of communism, and why it ultimately failed.
Service begins with a theoretical analysis of pre-Marxist communist, followed with examination of Marx and Engels, the early communist movement, leading to the Russian Revolution. While it focuses on the policies, power struggles, and other key factors, it frequently backtracks to the attitudes, and fortunes of people in communist parties all around the world, particularly Great Britain, Italy, France and the USA.
The only criticism one can have with Comrades is that certain countries, perhaps some of the most severe, such as Albania and North Korea, could have done with some more insight, but with a book so decently constructed, one can hardly quibble.
Service reaches a conclusion, held by many, that Communism, as we knew in the Soviet or Maoist models, is highly unlikely to ever return in such a guise. However, the legacy of communism is strongly ingrained and is unlikely to ever disappear in the near future. Such a legacy is the burden on democratic development, authoritarian practices, and the continual nature of the Chinese state, which retains all the key characteristics of communist authoritarianism.
Robert Service decently accounts for the failure of communism, and with regard to the pivotal moment, Perestroika, he delivers a fairly positive portrait of Gorbachev, but concedes that ultimately Gorbachev held a romanticized view of a caring, humanitanitarian Lenin who ultimately never existed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of a vast topic, 10 Feb. 2013
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Sussex by the Sea (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Comrades: Communism: A World History (Kindle Edition)
Like Communism itself, this text of this book is dominated by the history of the USSR from 1917 to 1991. The result of this is that pre-1917 the often disparate ideas of those who called themselves "Communists" forms the basis of the text, but afterwards any spirit of intellectual enquiry vanishes, and the book is simply a straightforward history of the countries of the Eastern Bloc (and China from 1949).

There are digressions into the West, particularly the Italian and French Communist Parties - and an amusing look at the splintered history of the British Communist movement - but the majority of the book is an overview of the history of those countries that called themselves "Communist" or "Socialist". The unchecked nature of the policy pursued in those countries is established, and while the book presents a factual base for all assertions the occasional authorial sideswipe at a regime or leader does sometimes jar; however, this slight editorial mis-step does rather pale against the crimes taking place in the countries themselves.

Covering such a vast number of countries does mean that any individual focus can be lost: the fall of the Ceaușescu regime takes two pages, while there is hardly a mention of what happens to the Baltic states from 1945 to 1989. Latin America is covered in more depth: both Cuba and Chile are given a relatively sympathetic hearing, with the government of Allende in Chile repeatedly shown to be the only near-Communist state that did not repress its population. The leaders in Eastern Europe post-1945 do not have the page-count to get across any sense of individuality or motivation behind their actions (with the possible exception of Tito) making these sections of the book more of a slog, though it may be that this colourlessness accurately reflects the regimes in question.

The excellent final chapter of the book suggests that Communism as demonstrated in the world should be seen as a peculiar accident of Russian history; if the "Ten Days That Shook The World" had failed to shake then it is unlikely that other Communist regimes would have either formed, or been allowed to form by the capitalist states. Speculation of this kind is absent from the earlier parts of the history, and while this makes for a shorter book it suggests that a longer work may well have been an even more rewarding one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced history of an inspiring idea, 10 Jun. 2011
By 
Magic Lemur (Somewhere in Madagascar) - See all my reviews
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It is notoriously difficult to get a neutral view of communism. Read any review of Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto and you will frequently find them either awe-struck or militantly against.

Although some reviewers say this book in anti-Communist, I sincerely believe that it is one of the best and most balanced scholarly (see appendix) accounts of Communism I've read. Furthermore, it contains valuable insights into the merits and flaws of the theory through to how different leaders put them into practice.

As the most prominent example of the fairness of this book there is the final chapter. I was struck by how little Service sought to dance on the grave of communism, instead mentioning how there continue to be successful communist movements in Kerala (India) and pseudo-communism in the hills of Mexico.
Also for balance, Service goes through the various crimes of capitalism too and the overwhelming impression I got was that, despite the tyrannical excesses of Communism, there is still potential there and unfulfilled ends to accomplish.

Aside from issues of fairness, I found the book a compelling read; the type of book you read in a week and skip TV to read more of.
In addition his portrayals of leaders such as Castro, Tito and Mao are vivid and his judgements are sound. Crucially it gives you a good feeling of what Stalin's Russia or Mao's China was like and, unlike other books on the subject, doesn't dwell too much on issues of Good/Evil, Gulags, etc.

So, if you want an interesting read, then this book takes some beating and, for $10 a copy, you get a 500 page tome that, at least, makes good shelf-filler.
However, for those that disagree, there is another history of Communism taken much more from a socialist perspective. Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (or at least the film adaptation) is equally as good as this, with much greater emphasis on socialism as a whole (e.g. Israeli Kibbutzes). On the DVD version there is even the sadly missed polemnicist Christopher Hitchens providing some of his best commentary so, if you found this book to be anti-communist, then give that a go instead...
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78 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The People's Book is deepest red, 17 July 2007
By 
I. Curry "IDC" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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For those historians who like to think big, and take the brave decision to write a book which tackles a very large concept, a long period of time or controversial idea, it is difficult not to fall in to a trap of excessive simplicity or letting the bigger picture slip away amidst a barrage of details. Few subjects are as complex, debatable or relevant as communism, and this is the story of an ideology that changed the world.

It is also a subject on which it is impossible to be neutral. Communism as a monstrous ideology which led to more deaths than Facism, a brutal system implemented by thuggish dictators? Or a utopian idea whose time was not right, or that was implemented in the wrong places? A brave attempt at challenging age old iniquities, or an concept with a foolish disregard for human weaknesses. With this in mind it is important to note that Robert Service does have a bias, but that all historians do, and he does his job as an academic historian well with a thorough grasp of the sources available.

Some have commented that Service does not come across as a fan of communism. To be fair this might be true, but then given the raft of evidence at hand of the excesses in the Soviet system this is unsurprising. What is more important is that as far as possible Service approaches the subject dispassionately and does not become a slave to an ideological dogma. Instead he is thorough in his research, and lets the evidence speak for itself.

Unsurprisingly he is an expert in the history of Russia, a fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford and was one of the first historians to gain access to the Soviet archives after the collapse of the USSR. Having written biographies on Lenin, Stalin and working on the end of this literary triptych with Trotsky, he has broadened his subject out to the ideology that most affected modern Russia, and looks at its historical roots, and its global impact.

Service is stronger when talking about Russia and Europe, with a wealth of experience and knowledge quite evident. But he is more than able when dealing with communism's impact around the world. He is not limited to a specific time period, and deals with the pre-19th century roots (albeit in a slight gallop - this is only a single volume) and the present day.

Service might be an academic historian, but he also has a flair for writing. He has an engaging and natural style, and an excitement and interest in the subject which leaps from the page. Russian history is well served by excellent writers, Orlando Figes, Richard Pipes and Simon Sebag Montefiore included, but Service now deserves a much higher profile amongst this quartet.

The only criticism is that it is a subject so vast as to be necessarily done a disservice by a single volume. But as a primer or introductory text, or as a very readable piece of history, it is excellent.

Again, weaknesses of Amazon's star system prevent giving a more accurate 4.5 stars. But it seemed harsh to drop down to a 4 for a really rather excellent book.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anti-Communist but fair history of Communism, 24 May 2009
By 
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Robert Service, well-known conservative historian of Russia, has undertaken a difficult task in attempting to write a concise and accessible history of Communism as a political reality. In "Comrades", he has succeeded remarkably well. The most important issue in any such history is of course that of the author's own political viewpoint, and this can easily lead the undertaking off the tracks by excessive zeal one way or another (I am myself a convinced Communist, which must be taken into account in this review). Service, as a conservative Briton working at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University (itself a well-known right-wing think tank), cannot be accused of having any sympathy with Communism whatsoever, and he makes this clear enough throughout the book. Not just is the general interpretation severely negative with regard to the Communist experience, and his commentary implying that it was dangerous lunacy to even attempt it anywhere in the first place, but he also regularly uses fairly strong hostile language about it, such as the repeated comparisons of Communism with an "infection" and a "virus" and so forth.

Nonetheless, it must be said that Service has done a surprisingly good job of sticking to the facts and trying to be as even-handed as he can probably muster. The most important thing here is that he is not guilty of the historiographical crime of omission, in only depicting negative or dubious episodes in Communist history, like the old Cold War school used to do, but he actually also spends time detailing improvements, valid arguments and realistic motives on the part of Communist parties and leaders. This is not to say that Service is ever convinced by them, and he makes this clear enough, but the fact that he did so greatly improves the utility of the book.

What's more, despite it being a hard task to summarize Communism in just a few hundred pages without unbalancing the story or leaving out essential elements, Service has done this as well as anyone could demand. Although the focus is still heavily on the USSR and to a lesser extent China, as one could expect, there is plenty of attention also to the Communists in Western Europe, in Latin America, in other Asian countries and even in Africa. There are two chapters dealing with Cuba, and the Warsaw Pact nations are described at length. Service's background to the history in the form of his analyses of Marx&Engels and Lenin are reasonable, and he takes care to distinguish where applicable between the general viewpoints of Marx & Engels, Lenin and Stalin respectively, as well as between Stalin and Mao and their successors.

That said, not all is well. Service relies far too much on dubious and explicitly right-wing sources, some of them wholly unreliable or false (Chang & Halliday, Li Shizui, Conquest) or seriously slanted (Gaddis, Courtois etc.), while modern 'left' sources such as Fitzpatrick, Khlevniuk, Lewin and Meisner get short shrift relatively. Although he makes few real errors, there are still some discredited stories included, and especially near the end of the book his anti-Communism gets the better of him sometimes. Service also has little understanding of economics or the policy questions involved, and often just parrots Hoover Institution type viewpoints with little comprehension; he seems besides to have concluded a priori that even social-democratic policy necessarily leads to crisis and failure, despite at the same time insisting that the social-democratic road is supposedly the only way to achieve reforms as opposed to Communism. One wonders then if the people in the developing world are supposed to overthrow their elites by means of conservatism, according to the lights of Robert Service? Has liberalism or conservatism ever achieved this since 1848? Those sorts of greater questions of political and historical significance are too easily ignored, which makes Communism appear more as a stubborn aberration than it is.

Being a sympathizer with Communism in general, whether Leninist or otherwise, I can't say that reading Service's book is easy or entirely free of frustration. Nonetheless, if one takes into account what the world must look like from his point of view, Service has done a remarkably decent job in writing a history of what are essentially his enemies. Moreover, it can't hurt at all for Communists to read a history that acknowledges the same facts, as is necessary for any dialogue on the topic, but interprets them negatively where we would interpret them positively or hopefully: this can help enormously with keeping perspective, strengthening the arguments in defense, and recognizing past errors. For that reason and for its well-structured and concise writing, Service's book is useful reading, even if by no means the last word on the subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Comrades, 29 Nov. 2012
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Comrades is probably the best one-volume summary of the rise and fall of Communism you will find. Certainly overshadowed in specific detail by books focusssing on certain leaders or revolutions, but as an overall viewpoint this book is unbeaten. Also very interesting as it went into the details about Communist organisations in non-communist countries, which I had not come across anywhere else.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative, 19 Dec. 2010
A decent and quite well written run through of the history of communism and communists.
This is a huge subject and for me ,who is by no means an expert, the book was just the right length and went into the right amount of detail.
Occasionally there seemed a bit of a rush through when it came to describing the communist political movement in Western European countries but in general it seemed quite an authoritative account and also not too biased.
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32 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Biased, 20 July 2008
By 
P. Duval "philip_duval" (Manchester UK) - See all my reviews
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I was really looking forward to 'Comrades' arriving but after reading the introduction was already beginning to feel a little disappointed. Robert Service is clearly a very intelligent man who has trawled through miles of archives. Unfortunately he cannot hide the fact that he is rabidly anti-Communist. He makes too many childish remarks about the most prominent leaders and even the colour prints in the centre of the book are accompanied by petty jibes. We know that life under Communism was never the utopia it had hoped to be and that in many Communist states life was truly a nightmare of terror and repression. Unfortunately because of Service's style and commentary I get no sense of how much of the suffering came to be. It is too simplistic to claim that Communism was intrisically bad when it's stated aim was to build a human paradise. We must understand why it went so wrong. This book does not tell us that. Really disappointing.
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31 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is history?, 28 Sept. 2008
By 
Lark (North Coast of Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This book receives two stars for having a good contents, index and references for further reading and ease of access for students or readers wishing to make a quick reference.

It is a history of communism from an anti-communist author, as other reviewers have indicated, however that in itself is not what makes this such a poor, poor book. There are excellent examples of historical writing by authors who are not necessarily sympathetic towards their subject matter, such as Anthony Beevor's books on Stalingrad, Berlin or The Spanish Civil War (AKA The Struggle for Spain).

From the outset I had a strong sense that it would be possible to read the introduction and concluding chapter "Accounting for Communism" and still have a clear idea of the book in its entirety. It is an excellent summation of the authors opinion and that's what this book is, thinly veiled opinion.

The scope of the book is collossal, incorporating a great number of different ideological, cultural, ethnic, national and economic/developmental contexts and honestly I dont believe that it could all be dealt with in such a short, single volume.

In the concluding chapter "Accounting for Communism" Service does an incredibly disappointing number, suggesting that communism was purely and simply a vehicle for authoritarian personalities, cultures and psyches who are now instead finding a home in radical sectarianism in the form of islamic terror.

This is clearly in keeping with the ideology of libertarian and classical economists such as Hayek but for a historian is a travesty, it is infact a vindication of sinister right wing thinking of the kind behind fascism that through a "triumph of the will" leaders can assure their ascendency and put their personal stamp upon history.

There are good, considered and political analysis of the emergence of communism in different contexts and the role of authoritarian culture or at least the lack of democratic or liberal culture and norms, in both China, Russia and elsewhere. However this is not it and some of them, for instance Eric Fromm and Theodore Ardono are socialists who I suspect would be considered as one of a kind with Stalin et al.

Save your money and by Gulag Archepelago instead.
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