Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Moral Odysseys in the Breakdown of Communism

By Kenneth Murphy

Pub Date: July 6th, 1992
ISBN: 0-02-922315-6
Publisher: Free Press

 Murphy (AndrÇ Malraux, 1991) delivers a stimulating study of the rise and fall of the Communist dream, as seen through 11 representative European figures. Like the classic work whose title it echoes, Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station (1940), Murphy's account uses biographical portraits to trace an ideology and its consequences. Murphy, however, picks up where Wilson left off--at the initial euphoria of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution--and follows the subsequent ``disintegration of the socialist idea'' as the notion of a benevolent leviathan that would eliminate class injustices was soon transformed into a totalitarian state. Although some Communists shed their misconceptions more readily than others, self-delusion was the common experience of the two sets of heretics examined here: writer/intellectuals (Silone, Mayakovsky, Koestler, Silone, Gide, and the young and fervent Solzhenitsyn) and revolutionary/politicians (Bukharin, Khrushchev, Yugoslavia's Djilas, Hungary's Nagy, Czechoslovakia's Dubek, and Gorbachev). Only Solzhenitsyn, imprisoned in the gulag while still a young soldier, saw through Communism's contradictions early, and he is the figure treated most sympathetically by Murphy. But for all his shrewd character analysis (e.g., Gorbachev's climb up the greasy pole as Yuri Andropov's protÇgÇ), the author fails to notice his subjects' attitudes toward the Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact of 1939, surely a seminal event in anti-Communism, and he overly credits ``utopian schemes'' as a root cause of the rise of Soviet totalitarianism, without remarking on Russia's long history of authoritarian Czarist rule. Still, an ironic, well-written post-mortem of a political system of staggering inefficiency, brutality, and self-delusion.