- Communist Theory and Practice
- Stalin and After
- Reception in the West
- The Third World
- A Look Back
Pipes describes Lenin's rise to power and the Russian Civil War, briefly. It seems to me, judging by this book's narrative, that the entire Russian "revolution" was a farce. The peasants didn't want state control of their property: they wanted their own property to be increased. The communist "revolution" seems to just be the rhetoric behind a new class of aristocrats who wanted to rule the empire their own way. Next Pipes goes to Stalin, who assumes power after the death of Lenin. He describes Stalin's establishment of a state that was truly different -- with an established Party and collectivized farms. The reader learns of the rebellion by the peasants, who set their fields ablaze rather than give them to the state. The result was artificial famine that killed millions. Pipes writes about Stalin's need for a "counterrevolution" to unify his supporters in opposition to -- leading to the great purges of the late 30s.
What is left of "Stalin is After" is a very brief history of the Soviet Union until its demise in the late 1980s during Gorbachev's administration. In "The Third World", Pipes writes about communism in China, southeast Asia, and the Americas. Interestingly, during the Chinese civil war (between the Nationalists and the Communists), Stalin supported the Nationalists, believing that they were better suited to keep a strong Japan at bay. The rivalry between "Communist" Russia and "Communist" China supports my own belief that both political entities were no more communistic than they were republics -- both were just empires, supported by idealistic rhetoric.
Pipes concludes with "A Look Back", where he examines the flaws of political communistic theory and the states that tried it. He points out that the ideal of land and property being jointly held by all members of a state is a historical myth: it has never happened will never happen. The Russian peasants who wanted to increase their own profits are exactly like unionized workers in industrial societies: they're interested in making more money, not egalitarianism. He also points out that human beings are not infinitely malleable as the Communist governments would like to believe. This reminds me of Stephen Pinker's Blank Slate, which I read during the summer. I believe he cited the Communist regimes as examples of how a belief in biological "blank slates" were flawed.
All in all, a good read. I want to read more to get a firmer grasp on the subject from other authors. I think it's a solid introduction. You can read another review here.