The Historiography of Communism

The Historiography of Communism

The Historiography of Communism

The Historiography of Communism

Synopsis

In this fresh appraisal of communism and anti-communism, with an emphasis on the American case, respected scholar Michael E. Brown examines the methods, controversies and difficulties involved in writing the history of communism. Arguing that one important way of understanding communism-other than as a concrete political or ideological force-is as an expression of an essentially reflexive aspect of society that typically manifests itself in social movements. In this regard, Brown understands the history of communism as part of the history of society. Examining works by E. P. Thompson, Karl Marx, and Pierre Clastres, Brown develops the idea of history as an immanent feature of human activities. Taken together, the essays in this book-written over a period of 20 years-offer a distinctive approach to the connections between social theory, criticism, and historiography and to what is "social" about "social movements."

Excerpt

Most of the chapters in this book were originally written as essays in what was to be a monograph on the relevance of historiography to sociological theory and of sociological theory to the humanities. It presupposed a definition of sociology as the study of the social, or collective, aspect of human affairs, where that aspect was seen as necessarily connected to the study of political movements and other noninstitutional, or “informal,” critical activity. Many were written in the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union and were concerned with how the events associated with the breakup were being discussed in the United States, especially by those committed to progressive values and those intellectuals who had become disappointed in what they thought of as the Left according to one of two hypotheses. The first says that Communist ideology and practice are distortions of progressive ideals and need to be purged if those ideals are to have a fair hearing. The second says that they are endemic to the Left, thereby providing a sufficient reason to repudiate or at least marginalize it at virtually any cost. What Theodore Draper has referred to approvingly as “professional anticommunism” had its roots in either the history of the internal politics of “official communism,” in which Draper had once been intensely involved, or the official politics of the Cold War.

The first approach denied the legitimacy of “protest” in favor of “dissent” and insisted on an orientation to “social problems” within the limits of institutional politics rather than on a more generalized . . .

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