The Red Flag: How Communism Changed the World
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Communism was one of the most powerful political and intellectual movements of the modern world; at the height of their influence Communist regimes controlled more than a third of the earth's surface. Given its rapid rise and extensive reach, its sudden and wholly unpredicted collapse after 1989 seems all the more astonishing and in need of explanation.
In The Red Flag, David Priestland tells the extraordinary story of a movement that took hold in many societies and countries throughout the world. He examines the ideas and motives of its principal thinkers and leaders:from Marx to Mao, and from Stalin to Che Guevara. Priestland asks what it was about Communism that inspired not only its leaders but also the rank and file -whether the militants of 1920s Russia, the guerrilla fighters of China, or the Marxist students of Ethiopia. And he explores the experience of what it meant to live under Communism for its millions of subjects.
The Red Flag looks at Communist regimes' efforts to build new states and industrial economies, but also explains their grim failures and, in some cases, their capacity to inflict extreme violence. He shows how varied a phenomenon Communism was and the manifold nature of its appeal across different societies: in some it flourished as a response to internal inequalities - economic, political and cultural; in others it became the blueprint for catching up with the 'modernized' West. And yet, while eagerly destroying old structures of privilege, Communist regimes simultaneously built new ones, and it was this dynamic, together with its widespread economic failure and an escalating loss of faith in the system, that destroyed Communism in much of the world.
Now, when a seemingly triumphant globalized capitalism is itself in crisis and the world enters a new phase of political and economic uncertainty, The Red Flag is essential reading.
carrot rather than the stick. In 1946 Kennan himself had described Communism as a ‘malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue’, and which could best be challenged by ‘courageous and incisive measures’ to ‘solve internal problems’.109 This was the principle that lay behind the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan, announced in June 1947. The Marshall planners were learning the lessons of the failures of laissez-faire free markets in the 1920s and nationalistic
obsequious, sycophantic manner, and social solidarity was impossible. These ‘Asiatic values’ (aziatchina) had corrupted Russians’ personalities and behaviour.15 Chernyshevskii, however, departed from Rousseau in insisting that Russia could only escape its humiliation by becoming more modern, and more like the West. He therefore combined a Rousseauian interest in egalitarian utopias with a Marx-like interest in a modern socialism and revolution. For alongside Vera and her fellow ‘new people’,
heroic self-sacrifice and Spartakus suggested that the German masses did not want a revolutionary, workers’ government. Kragler defeats his bourgeois rival Murk, but then retreats to the comforts of private life. Brecht’s view turned out to be realistic. The Communists did not take power in 1919 in Germany, and by 1921 it was clear that the revolutionary tide in the West had receded. Pro-Soviet Communist parties never captured the affections of the majority of the European working classes or
aspects of Marxism was shared by many other Western intellectuals of their generation. The Marxist Institute for Social Research, or ‘Frankfurt School’, founded in Germany in 1923 (and which moved to New York in 1934 after Hitler came to power), included figures with few links to Communist politics, such as the Marxist cultural critics Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse.29 But all of these figures were less influential in the inter-war period than during the next flowering of Romantic Marxism in
of an aristocratic military heroism effectively authorized an increasingly paternalistic political culture. The noble warriors of Aleksandr Nevskii were powerful role models. Nevertheless it would be an exaggeration to suggest that Stalinist Russia had simply reverted to the ancien régime. Party members were expected to absorb not only military heroic values, but Lenin’s almost Protestant ideal of sober asceticism. Party members were expected to follow a strict moral code. They were also, unlike