A Dictionary of 20th Century Communism.
Silvio Pons and Robert Service, eds.
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2010
The book jacket for this comprehensive reference work states: "The first book of its kind to appear since the end of the Cold War, this indispensable reference provides encyclopedic coverage of communism and its impact throughout the world in the 20th century.... In more than 400 concise entries, the book explains what communism was, the forms it took, and the enormous role it played in world history from the Russian Revolution through the collapse of the Soviet Union and beyond.... [It] features contributions from an international team of 160 scholars."
The editors of this massive scholarly project are two of the most distinguished scholars in the field. Silvio Pons is professor of Eastern European history at the University of Rome Tor Vergata and director of the Gramsci Institute Foundation in Rome. He has published extensively, including books on the Soviet Union and Europe, and on Europe in the Cold War. Robert Service teaches Russian history at the University of Oxford and has authored many books, including histories of world communism; twentieth-century Russia; and biographies of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky.
In the introduction, the editors state that only a few countries proclaim a communist ideology: China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam. However, China and Vietnam have in fact incorporated capitalism and capitalism development, with Cuba also seemingly moving in that direction. The opening of old archives in Russia and elsewhere has provided scholars with extensive information hitherto unavailable and has illustrated the crimes against humanity perpetuated in the name of communism. In this respect, the editors state that "oppressive and tyrannical regimes" (p. xi) were established, with a "totalitarian nightmare" ensuing. In other words, the editors do not mince words about this gigantic "failed experiment," in which some of the worst tragedies and "most infamous crimes" occurred (p. xii). While the book provides a "historical overview" (p. xi), it also tears the cover off of communist tyranny and oppression. For a dismaying listing of deaths due to communism, see The Black Book of Communism, edited by Stephane Courtois (1999).
This journal is devoted to social development, and the book does not disappoint in its coverage of this seminal area. Entries in the book devoted to economic and social development include the Comecon development organization, command economy, economic reforms, the Gosplan committee, planning, socialist camps, the Soviet bloc, the Warsaw Pact, famine under communism, five-year plans, and others. Under "Constitutions," the authors write that communist leaders "spelled out a series of rights, including rights to a variety of welfare provisions that reflected the regime's formal commitment to the construction of a socialist society.... They were therefore ideological rather than strictly legal documents" (p. 235). Under the entry for Evgeny Preobrazhensky (1886-1937), a leading political figure during the tumultuous first decade following the Bolshevik Revolution, the book points out his "contribution to development economics" (p. 650).
I read the entry on Hannah Arendt with particular attention, because her classic and much-cited book Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) contributed to a better understanding of the potential and real evils of communist dictatorships throughout the world (Stalin's being a prime example). Interestingly, Stalin was to die two years after the publication of her book. It would have been helpful if the author of this entry had provided the dates of Arendt's life span.
The important entry "Anticommunism" (pp. 14-17) states that the three volumes of Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which "demonstrated incontrovertibly the depth and breadth of the concentration camp system in the Soviet Union[,] ... were probably the most influential anti-Communist polemic ever" (p. 16). This entry further states that "anticommunism is a bigger and more important story in the United States than elsewhere in the world" (p. 14). McCarthyism is certainly one example of that (see the "McCarthyism" entry on pp. 529-532).
This reference book is not without its coverage problems. Some might say that the noted U.S. Democratic Socialist leader, Norman Thomas, should have at least been mentioned in the index (even though he was not a communist, per se). Some will say that Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan should have separate entries, along with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (because of their important roles in the demise of communism). Others that might have had entries include the many people who suffered under communism, such as Walter Ciszek, SJ; China's Cardinal Kung; Hungary's Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, and others.
October 2017, only a few years away, will mark the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Thus, it is indeed beneficial to see published a sound and massive reference book as this one. It is a reference work that will stand the test of time and continue to inform us for years to come.
Thomas D. Watts, University of Texas at Arlington
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|Author:||Watts, Thomas D.|
|Publication:||Social Development Issues: Alternative Approaches to Global Human Needs|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2013|
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