BOOK REVIEW: Tear down this idea

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COMMUNISM: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION

By Leslie Holmes

Oxford University Press, $11.95, 144 pages

THE SOVIET UNION: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION

By Stephen Lovell

Oxford University Press, $11.95, 144 pages

THE REAGAN REVOLUTION: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION

By Gil Troy

Oxford University Press, $11.95, 168 pages

Reviewed by Jeremy Lott

“This is a book,” writes University of Melbourne political scientist Leslie Holmes, “about a dream … that for too many became a nightmare.”

The book is “Communism: A Very Short Introduction,” and it is one of three related volumes released recently as part of Oxford University Press’ invaluable, sprawling Very Short Introduction series. The other two Very Short Introductions that we will consider are “The Soviet Union,” by Kings College reader Stephen Lovell, and “The Reagan Revolution,” by McGill University historian Gil Troy. These three authors help document the nightmare that was communism and how most of the world finally managed to jolt itself awake from it.

“The overwhelming majority of states that were Communist as recently as the late 1980s have now moved on,” explains Mr. Holmes, former president of the International Council for Central and East European Studies. “While, formally, five Communist states remain, the two successful ones (China and Vietnam) are so largely because they have jettisoned many of the original basic tenets of communism and are in some important areas - notably the economy - already post communist.”

Of the other three holdouts, Laos is a “backwater” that is beginning a transition to capitalism, North Korea is an isolated kingdom, and Cuba is trying to hold back American influence, with a little help from U.S. sanctions. In another decade or so, it’s possible that the few remaining nations will not even bother to describe themselves as communist.

The near total collapse of communism is a really remarkable thing, given how ascendant world communism looked for so long. From the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978, the reds were on a roll. Mr. Holmes reminds us, “By the 1970s, more than a third of the world’s population lived in a Communist system.”

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