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Publisher's Summary

Communism was one of the most powerful political and intellectual movements the world has ever seen. At the height of their influence, Communists controlled more than a third of the Earth's surface. But perhaps more astonishing than its rapid rise and extraordinary reach was Communism's sudden, devastating collapse in November of 1989.
In The Red Flag, Oxford professor David Priestland tells the epic story of a movement that has taken root in dozens of countries across 200 years, from its birth after the French Revolution to its ideological maturity in 19th-century Germany to its rise to dominance (and subsequent fall) in the 20th century.
Beginning with the first modern Communists in the age of Robespierre, Priestland examines the motives of thinkers and leaders including Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Che Guevara, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Gorbachev, and many others. He also asks what it was about Communism that inspired its rank and file - whether the militants of 1920s Russia, the guerrilla fighters of China, or the students of Ethiopia - and explores the experience of what it meant to live under Communism for its millions of subjects. He shows how Communism, in all its varieties, appealed to different societies for different reasons, in some as a response to inequalities and in others more out of a desire to catch up with the West. But paradoxically, while destroying one web of inequality, Communist leaders were simultaneously weaving another. It was this dynamic, together with widespread economic failure and an escalating loss of faith in the system, that ultimately destroyed Soviet Communism itself.
At a time when global capitalism is in crisis and powerful new political forces have arisen to confront Western democracy, The Red Flag is essential listening if we are to apply the lessons of the past to navigating the future.
Cover photo of Che Guevara copyright 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
©2009 David Priestland. Recorded by arrangement with Grove Atlantic, Inc. (P)2015 Audible Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Christopher on 10-28-15

Time well spent for history buffs

Provides a wide and deep perspective on world events in the last century. The reader is EXTRAORDINARY in his pronunciation of names and places in many languages. Not the most exciting book, but fills in a lot of detail on a subject that is oversimplified in every other place we encounter it.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful


By Jose Gomez-Rivera on 03-09-16

The Promethean Tragedy in Communism

Would you consider the audio edition of The Red Flag to be better than the print version?

David Priestland has detailed the great paradox underlying the development of Communism as a global historical phenomenon. He traces its roots to the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher of alienation and equality, and the leveling experiment of Jacobin France. He follows that by analyzing the evidently contradictory currents of romantic egalitarian Marxism and the modernizing and regimented form. Priestland provides a panoramic scope but he does not sacrifice detail or scholarship. His analysis of the "inherent contradictions" of Communism is thorough; detailing how its manifestations have found it impossible to escape through any other than by futile, although monumental, violence or entrenched bureaucratic privilege. The author's take on why Communism collapsed is also insightful and nuanced, as he explores Neo-Con politics, Neoliberal economic transformations and ascendancy along with nationalist factors while underscoring the contradictions of the system. I thoroughly recommend this book.

What does Paul Boehmer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

great reading

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5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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