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Comrades: Communism: A World History Paperback – Unabridged, 2 May 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Unabridged edition (2 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330439685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330439688
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 240,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Service critically surveys communism's entire history for a general-interest readership... A panoramic introduction to the ideology, Service's account of communism's idealists and tyrants provides solid grounding in the subject. -- Gilbert Taylor "Booklist" (04/15/2007)

To the best of my knowledge, Robert Service's "Comrades!" is the first history of world communism. It includes every communist state, extinct and surviving, as well as major communist parties and movements around the world. It is a daunting undertaking that required mastery of vast amounts of source materials and the skill to make judicious choices among them...A rich repository of information and insight and should be required reading in institutions of higher education around the world. -- Paul Hollander "New York Sun" (06/27/2007)

The book succeeds in explaining what all the fuss was about, something that a whole generation that has grown up in the aftermath of communism's collapse needs to know. -- Lewis H. Siegelbaum "St. Petersburg Times" (06/08/2007)

[A] brilliantly distilled world history of communism. -- Craig Brown "Mail on Sunday" (05/06/2007)

The decency of communism's ideals and the horror of its effects form the basis of Robert Service's masterly handling of the beginning, progress and (all but) end of communism. Service sees the miseries and tyranny which communists fought against; and he allows credit where it is due, as when he writes of Castro's regime that 'the poor of the island benefited most from the revolution. Blacks in particular were helped by government efforts to improve conditions.' -- John Lloyd "Financial Times" (06/30/2007)

Robert Service's "Comrades" is a timely and ambitious book. Embroiled as we are with Islamic terrorism, the 20th-century struggle between world communism and western capitalism seems as remote now as the 1914 rivalries of kings and emperors must have seemed in 1945. But this was an equally desperate battle for ideas and power. Service strips away the illusions about communism that beguiled generations of admirers. From the moment in 1917 when Lenin forced the disparate revolutionary parties in Russia under his sway, communism became a system based on state terror and the dictatorship of elites in the name of the proletariat. -- Tim Gardam "The Observer" (05/13/2007)

Service has taken [on] a huge subject but he more than succeeds in doing it justice in this sparkling and thought-provoking narrative...[An] engrossing history. -- Richard Overy "Literary Review" (05/01/2007)

Service has read widely--using the extensive archives and poster collection of Stanford University's Hoover Institution to good effect--and he has organised his material in an analytical narrative that sweeps the reader along for 500 pages. -- Michael Burleigh "Sunday Telegraph" (05/06/2007)

In "Comrades!", Robert Service presents a lively and detailed account of the damage that was done in the name of "building socialism."..He lucidly explains how the Bolsheviks gradually imposed their will on an impoverished and often resentful populace. -- Michael Kazin "Democracy Journal" (06/01/2007)

[A] welcome comprehensive volume arrating the history of world communism. -- G. A. McBeath "Choice" (11/01/2007)

Book Description

Robert Service's critically acclaimed and compellingly readable history of world communism

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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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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.
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