A People’s History of Communism?

Following the huge success of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a great many other “people’s histories” have appeared. A brief search of Amazon shows titles such as these:

  • A People’s History of the World
  • A People’s History of Modern Europe
  • A People’s History of the Second World War
  • A People’s History of the Vietnam War
  • A People’s History of Poverty in America
  • A People’s History of Chicago
  • A People’s History of Quebec
  • A People’s History of Florida
  • A People’s History of Christianity
  • A People’s History of Science

Other titles include:

  • A People’s History of Sports
  • A People’s History of Baseball

Many of these sound like genuine attempts to recover history from the point of view of the ordinary people who experienced and participated in it. On the other hand there are the more dubious:

  • A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club
  • A People’s History of the Peculiar: A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths

But among this outpouring I cannot find A People’s History of Communism. The closest possibly is A People’s History of the Russian Revolution by Neil Faulkner.

Wouldn’t you think communism would qualify for a people’s history? A history from the point of view of ordinary people? After all, communism claims to represent the people. It is perhaps the supreme people’s social movement of all time. Nothing else has championed ordinary people and challenged class rule like communism.

Indeed, the communist tradition itself has pioneered class analysis as a way of understanding history. It was Marx who famously developed the concept of ideology as the representation of class interests: “The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.” So why no history of communism explicitly from the point of view of the ordinary people — vast millions of them — who carried out the great communist revolutions of the twentieth century?

Actually, I did find a couple of phony attempts at such an approach. Here are two books purporting to represent the people’s experience of communism:

  • A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution by Orlando Figes
  • The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History by Frank Dikotter

Both authors are notorious battery-acid anticommunists. They represent the standard view that communism was a fraud, pretending to represent the people while actually enslaving them. Or alternatively that revolutions were quickly hijacked by wicked leaders lusting for power. In either case communism is an anti-people monster, hoisting into power new masters worse than the old ones. The result is death, destruction, and misery.

Most of those who write these faux-populist histories of communism couldn’t care less about “the people” and in this way are themselves examples of exactly what they accuse communism of: championing the people while betraying them.

Communism as people’s tragedy. Communism as people’s delusion. But where are the histories of communism as the greatest ever attempt by the people to take control of their own destinies?  This is how communism saw itself. Which is to say: this is how millions of people who participated in the communist revolutions of the twentieth century understood what they were doing. These revolutions could never have come about, could never have survived, could never have succeeded in reconstructing great nations, without the dedicated support and participation of millions.

But we live in an era when communism has been abandoned almost entirely. It has been abandoned even by the Left, which either avoids it with embarrassment or embraces the “revolution betrayed” version of anticommunism.

The history of communism has been written by its bitter enemies, who show it no mercy. And communism has many bitter enemies. It was the greatest of all challenges in history to the ruling class; the most dangerous enemy of all time to the “masters of men.” So it absolutely must be killed and destroyed, and its ashes absolutely must be scattered to the wind.

What is needed is a history of communism from the point of view of those who seek to overthrow class power. From the point of view of ordinary people who seek to reclaim their own power. A history that gives voice not to the rulers and their intellectual servants but to the ordinary people who made communism possible: A People’s History of Communism.

Categories: Communism

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