An erudite yet readable introduction to the economic theory that grew into the 20th century’s worst political nightmare, by distinguished historian Pipes (Prosperity and Freedom, 1999, etc.).
In a masterfully succinct survey, Pipes provides a good glimpse of many of the precursors of communism (Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, etc.), but he rightly concentrates on the 19th century and the enigmatic figure of Karl Marx as the true founder of the creed. Marx promulgated two basic ideas that were essential to the development of communism: 1) there is an inexorable natural law that governs the course of human history; and 2) all wealth is created by labor. The first proposition was beyond proof, of course, and the second was dubious at best, but these were the first of many miscalculations that Marx’s followers had to overlook in the decades that followed. For, as the author allows, “Marxism in its pure, unadulterated form was nowhere adopted as a political platform because it flew in the face of reality.” It developed instead into social democracy (in Western Europe) and communism (in Eastern Europe)—the main distinction between the two being the comparative emphasis that was placed on violence and terror as a means of redressing social injustice. The tragic history of Soviet Communism is recounted at length, and Pipes is at pains to demonstrate that, just as Stalinist terror was not (despite Trotskyist objections) an abuse of Leninist principles, Lenin’s own vicious pragmatism and astounding cruelty were perfectly in line with Marx’s approach to politics. The pathetic corruption of the Soviet apparat (with its privileged caste of Party members who lived in a hermetic society of private stores, housing, schools, hospitals, etc.) was not, in the author’s view, a later malformation—it was, in fact, present almost from the very first days of the Bolshevist coup and was very largely responsible for its success. As one sociologist comments sadly, “socialist may triumph, but socialism never.”
Superbly informative, written with great insight and real style.