SUMMARY - Red Flag, The - Priestland, David



Here is a summary of the key points:

  • David Priestland's book provides a global history of communism from its origins in the late 18th century to the present day.

  • It analyzes the intellectual roots of communism in Marx, Engels and Lenin and traces the establishment of communist states in Russia and China.

  • A major focus is how communist movements and regimes shaped the modern world under leaders like Stalin and Mao.

  • Key events covered include the Russian Revolution, World War II, Chinese Civil War, Cuban Revolution and the decline of Eastern Bloc states.

  • The book incorporates global examples and latest scholarship to comprehensively examine the enormous impact and legacy of communism over the last 200+ years.

  • It provides an overview of the spread, evolution and influence of communist ideologies and movements worldwide from a broad, global perspective.

    Here is a summary of the evolution of revolutionary thought in the 19th century following the French Revolution of 1789:

  • In the early 19th century, thinkers like Babeuf, Fourier, and Saint-Simon developed different strands of socialism based on their experiences during and after the French Revolution. Babeuf advocated radical egalitarian communism, Fourier prioritized individual creativity and utopian communities, and Saint-Simon focused on scientific socialism and production.

  • The 1831 Lyon uprising and 1848 revolutions showed tensions emerging between industrial workers and capitalists. Early socialist movements were led by artisans defending traditional ways rather than industrial workers.

  • Marx built upon these influences, locating socialism in Germany's industrial context. He emphasized economic factors over will in shaping society and saw socialism emerging gradually via objective forces rather than revolution.

  • The failed 1848 revolutions and 1871 Paris Commune influenced Marx's focus on analyzing capitalism's workings economically in Capital. He portrayed communism transitioning gradually through stages rather than sudden revolution.

  • Anarchism was more compelling than Marxism where repression was harsh, while liberal reforms attracted potential Marxists. Northern Europe provided the best environment for Marxists like Germany's growing Social Democratic Party.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • In February 1917, mass protests and strikes in Petrograd over food shortages and economic hardship escalated into a full-blown revolution against Tsar Nicholas II's autocratic rule.

  • The army proved unwilling to use force against their fellow citizens, weakening the monarchy's hold on power. Within days, Nicholas abdicated, ending over 300 years of Romanov rule.

  • Initially, liberal classes like workers, soldiers, peasants united behind abstract calls for "freedom" and "democracy," hoping to establish a constitutional monarchy. They saw their revolution as continuing in the progressive tradition of the French Revolution.

  • However, Russia's profound social, economic and political problems could not be easily resolved. Liberal factions contested control with more radical socialists influenced by Marxism who advocated further changes.

  • A provisional government took power but lacked legitimacy as it continued the war effort. In the power vacuum, democratic soviets (councils) formed of workers, peasants and soldiers which competed for authority amidst the population's widespread demands for change.

  • This set the stage for further revolutionary developments as liberal and moderate socialist visions proved insufficient to establish stability or resolve Russia's deep-seated crises, opening space for the radical Bolsheviks under Lenin's leadership.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Béla Kun was a Hungarian communist revolutionary trained in Moscow who helped establish the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919.

  • As an effective orator, he rallied workers and intellectuals to Marxism and the communists took power with Soviet backing, capitalizing on radicalized workers' councils.

  • The communist government pursued radical policies like nationalization, collectivization, and anti-religious campaigns that alienated the population and peasants.

  • Though initially defending against Allied territorial demands, the government lost support due to economic chaos and shortages. It failed to defend against the Romanian invasion and Kun fled in August 1919, marking the collapse of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic.

    Here is a summary:

  • After coming to power in Russia, the Communist party saw itself as maintaining ideological purity, similar to social democratic parties in Western Europe. Becoming a party member required fully converting to Marxism.

  • Once in the party, members faced regular purges and interrogation to check their political views and past behaviors for any non-conformity. Those from bourgeois backgrounds had to renounce their class origins.

  • Social class was difficult to define precisely, leading to inaccuracies as some fabricated proletarian backgrounds. There was an obsession with ideological purity and class within party institutions.

  • By the late 1920s, any opposition was seen as extremely dangerous. Radicals criticized the NEP's tolerance of private enterprise and specialists. Stalin sided with these radicals and adopted their critique of NEP after defeating Trotsky and other opponents.

  • Stalin presented rapid industrialization as necessary for national defense amid Western invasion fears. In 1927-28, he ended NEP policies in agriculture and the market system, launching collectivization and industrialization instead.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • In 1937, Stalin organized the International Exhibition in Moscow to showcase Soviet achievements and progress under communism. It was intended to inspire the Soviet people and refute foreign critics.

  • The exhibition portrayed the USSR as a modern, industrialized nation that had overcome its backward past through collectivization and Five-Year Plans. It displayed new technologies, consumer goods, and national cultures.

  • However, the exhibition took place amid the height of the Great Terror, when mass arrests, executions and camps were depopulating entire regions. This reality clashed with the image of prosperity and social harmony projected.

  • Some exhibits tried to justify the purges as necessary for progress. But foreign visitors were shocked by the desperate public mood and signs of deprivation, undermineing the exhibition's intended propaganda message.

  • Overall, the exhibition appeared to be more about state boasting than popular consumption. It coincided with growing Soviet militarization rather than emphasizing improved living standards. These factors limited its effectiveness as propaganda both domestically and internationally.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • The 1937 Paris Exposition featured prominent pavilions from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that promoted their opposing ideologies through architectural styles and exhibits.

  • The Soviet pavilion emphasized progress, industry, and Stalin's leadership through a modern style, while the Nazi pavilion stressed a static, hierarchical society with neoclassical styles.

  • In contrast, the Spanish Republican pavilion embraced avant-garde art like Picasso's Guernica to condemn fascism and display social programs and artistic freedom.

  • Visitors found the German and Soviet pavilions too prideful compared to others. The exposition highlighted the competing visions between Nazi Germany, Soviet Union and Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

  • The Popular Front strategy saw Communist parties form anti-fascist alliances with socialists and liberals. This was embraced by Popular Front governments in Spain, France and Chile in the 1930s.

  • However, tensions remained as Stalinism clashed with non-Communist leftist ideologies, and the Popular Fronts proved fragile given political differences. Their popularity declined after World War 2.

    Here is a summary:

  • The May 4th Movement of 1919 in China was a cultural revolution sparked by growing nationalist sentiment and dissatisfaction with traditional Confucian social values following World War I.

  • Influenced by western thinkers like Rousseau, Chinese intellectuals like Lu Xun criticized Confucianism for upholding a rigid hierarchical society and family system that positioned people as "slaves to the dead" and prevented social and national progress.

  • Confucianism was seen as contributing to China's weaknesses by prioritizing obedience over innovation and individualism. A new cultural system was needed to replace Confucian norms and traditions to strengthen China as a modern nation.

  • The May 4th Movement launched a propagation of new cultural values aligned with science and democracy to sweep away the old order. It represented the beginnings of a broader 20th century rejection of traditional social and political norms across Asia in favor of new ideologies like nationalism and communism.

In summary, the passage discusses the May 4th Movement as a culturally revolutionary turning point sparked by the critiques of Confucian tradition following World War I and China's humiliations, seeking new individualist and progressive ideas to strengthen the country.

Here is a summary:

  • In the early 1950s, many rural Malayans joined the Communist insurgency in British Malaya. These Communists mainly came from poorer background, having only received primary education. They worked on rubber plantations with little prospect of advancement.

  • They were disaffected with their low socioeconomic status and treatment by superiors. Inspired by global political changes, they questioned traditional Confucian values that kept them poor. They relied more on peers than elders and valued friendship.

  • The chaos of WWII and Japanese occupation directly impacted their lives. Many had lost family. They felt drawn to politics to protect and advance themselves. They saw the Communist party as understanding politics and committed to ordinary people like them. It promised to help the Chinese assert themselves.

  • In the party, the Malayans felt part of a powerful movement shaping history. The party's ideological education provided sustenance and knowledge to succeed. It offered moral education, self-improvement and camaraderie they lacked in traditional society.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • After WWII, many young, educated Eastern Europeans were initially attracted to Communism's promises of free education, jobs, industrialization and modernization. This included Polish man Edmund Chmieliński.

  • Chmieliński found new purpose working in a Communist youth labor brigade rebuilding Poland after the war. He embraced the ideals of Communism like equality and dedicated labor.

  • However, as Stalinist policies like rapid collectivization and industrialization were imposed, they came with great costs like food shortages and decline in living standards.

  • Younger workers and peasants bore the brunt of these hardships and changes, leading to disillusionment among even former Communist supporters.

  • The tightening political controls and demand for strict adherence to the Communist party line also stifled individual freedoms that some had originally supported Communism for.

  • In summary, Eastern European Communism generated early enthusiasm but also growing opposition as Stalinist policies prioritized development over people's welfare and basic rights.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • In the 1950s-60s, the Soviet economy was still based on heavy industrialization and collectivized agriculture, with a focus on production targets over consumer needs.

  • Khrushchev wanted to reform this model by introducing more incentives for workers, expanding the service sector, and boosting food production to increase living standards.

  • However, the centralized planned economy and powerful industrial lobby resisted reforms that threatened their control over resources and investment priorities.

  • Khrushchev's agricultural initiatives like virgin land farming had mixed results, increasing grain output but causing environmental damage. Living standards did not improve as much as he hoped.

  • Creative thinkers highlighted the contradiction between Marxist ideals of an equitable society and the reality of shortages, poor conditions, and lack of choice under the Soviet system.

  • Overall, Khrushchev struggled to modernize the economy while maintaining Communist party rule and the essential features of the Soviet planned economy model. Significant further reforms would have to wait until later under Gorbachev.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • After Bandung, Khrushchev sought to improve the USSR's image and compete with China for influence in the non-aligned movement through peaceful cooperation and increased aid to Third World leaders like Nehru and Nkrumah.

  • Supporting Lumumba in Congo was initially a propaganda coup, but his assassination backfired. China promoted revolutionary anti-imperialism over the Soviet model of peaceful development, causing tensions.

  • Relationships with nationalists like Nasser were strained as they suppressed local communist parties. In India, the communist party broke with Nehru amid domestic conflicts.

  • American fears of communist expansion made them wary of radical nationalism, pushing some Third World countries closer to the Soviets and Chinese. The US shifted to backing conservative forces.

  • Under Eisenhower, the US took a harder line, using force like coups and military aid to prop up anti-communist dictators, seeing nationalism in places like Latin America as part of an international communist conspiracy.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Enver Hoxha of Albania and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania both pursued Stalinist policies in the post-war period as a way to modernize their economically backwards nations and strengthen national identity.

  • Hoxha emphasized centralized control through five-year plans and a strict Stalinist model after gaining independence from Yugoslavia. He rejected Tito's brand of socialism and allied closely with the Soviet Union until the Khrushchev era.

  • Relations soured between Albania and Yugoslavia after a humiliating visit by Tito to Albania, leading Hoxha to fully embrace Stalinism and break relations with Yugoslavia in the 1950s.

  • After the Soviet-Yugoslav split was resolved, Albania aligned more closely with Maoist China, though Hoxha's "Maoism" remained closer to Stalinism with an emphasis on centralized control rather than populism.

  • Kim Il-sung of North Korea also employed a high Stalinist model focused on self-reliance, strict control and the cult of personality through his Juche ideology after the Korean War.

  • Stalinism provided a means for these peripheral states to assert nationalist goals of modernization and independence through rigid ideological control focused on the cult of leadership.

    Here is a summary of the key points about power dynamics in socialist workplaces:

  • Personal connections and relationships played a critical role in determining managers' actual power and ability to get things done. New managers without established connections had a hard time influencing workers.

  • Managers relied on cooperation from workers to fulfill production plans, so they had to compromise and maintain good relationships in order to avoid negative career consequences if plans were not met.

  • While appointed from above, managers tended to identify more with the collective of workers below them than their superiors. Their career prospects depended on the workers' performance.

  • Informal personal networks and friendships outside the workplace structure provided trust and refuge from Communist party oversight. Workers viewed managers as a privileged stratum.

  • Power dynamics were complex, with managers dividing workers but also limited in authority by their reliance on cooperation through intricate social relationships and reciprocal obligations.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • There was widespread resentment of managers and those in positions of economic privilege in communist states. Workers saw them as parasites who didn't do real work but benefited greatly.

  • There was a feeling of unequal economic privileges, with managers enjoying higher standards of living while ordinary workers struggled. This bred resentment toward the class differences that still existed under communist rule.

  • The resentment came from a view that the economic system was unfairly skewed to benefit certain elites, even if private ownership of factories was now nationalized. Ordinary workers did not feel their own economic situations were improving equal to those at the top.

So in summary, the passage discusses how there was resentment among workers in communist states toward managers and others in privileged economic positions. Workers saw them as parasites who unfairly benefited more from the system despite claims of equality.

Here is a summary:

  • In the late 1980s, Gorbachev's reforms of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) weakened censorship and started opening up the Soviet political and economic system.

  • This gave more room for ethnic nationalist movements and demands for independence to emerge within Soviet republics such as the Baltic states, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and the Central Asian SSRs.

  • In particular, nationalist movements grew stronger in the Baltic states which had a strong sense of national identity and had only been forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940. They pushed for complete independence.

  • Gorbachev at first tried to devolve more autonomy to republics rather than accept independence, fearing this could tear apart the Soviet Union. But nationalist pressures continued mounting in 1989-1990.

  • By early 1991, the Baltic states had declared independence. In August 1991, hardliners attempted a coup against Gorbachev but it failed due to lack of support. This further weakened the central Soviet government.

  • Between August-December 1991, the remaining republics including Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all declared independence, dissolving the Soviet Union and marking a pivotal point in the end of the Cold War.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • In the 1980s, dissident groups in Eastern Europe shifted tactics from large protests to grassroots methods like alternative subcultures focused on environmental and peace issues to avoid crackdowns. This included Poland's satirical Orange Alternative group.

  • Gorbachev's reforms in the USSR weakened communist parties by signaling an end to Soviet military support. This empowered reformers within parties and reduced fears of opposition groups.

  • Reforms began in Poland in 1986, leading to Solidarity's victory in elections in 1989. Hungary transitioned to multiparty democracy the same year after holding elections in 1988.

  • Hungary's opening of its border with Austria in 1989 allowed East Germans to flee to the West, sparking massive demonstrations in East Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 marked the end of East Germany's hardline regime and inspired protests across Eastern Europe.

  • Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania also saw transitions away from communist rule in 1989, completing the collapse of Soviet-aligned governments in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev's reforms fatally undermined Soviet control of the region.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Marxism originally aimed to radically transform societies through revolution in order to build modern, egalitarian states. This vision appealed to students and elites in developing countries who saw their own societies as "backward."

  • However, communism may not have succeeded in places like Russia and China without external crises like WWI and the Japanese invasion, which undermined the existing regimes.

  • Lenin developed Marxism-Leninism, emphasizing a disciplined vanguard party model. This emerged from Russian conspiracy politics and drove Stalin's rapid industrialization.

  • The militant, organized approach of Marxism-Leninism attracted nationalists in developing countries fighting imperialism and occupation. They saw it as a model for rapid modernization.

  • Communist regimes often pursued radical transformation through militaristic methods like mass mobilizations, propaganda campaigns, and coercive industrialization. This approach was particularly dominant under Stalin and Mao.

  • While initially appealing as an anti-colonial ideology, the rigid and coercive application of transformation policies often undermined communist regimes' popularity and sustainability in the long run.

    Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Revisionist historians have challenged the traditional narrative of Allied diplomacy leading up to WWII, questioning perspectives portrayed in early works.

  • Van Ree makes a convincing argument about political thought in chapters 15-16 of his book on the topic.

  • Pechatnov will contribute a chapter to the Cambridge History of the Cold War on the Soviet Union's view of the outside world.

  • Leffler and Naimark have written extensively on American and Soviet policies respectively in the 1940s-50s period surrounding the start of the Cold War.

  • Memoirs from key figures like Kennan and Truman provide insights into American perspectives on the USSR at that time.

  • Italy experienced divisions between communists and anti-communists after WWII.

  • Historians have analyzed the geopolitical motivations behind the Marshall Plan in addition to its role in postwar European reconstruction.

  • Soviet archives shed light on Moscow's deteriorating views of the US from 1945-1947 as tensions mounted.

  • Mao established communist rule in China amid conflict with Nationalist forces in the 1920s-1940s period leading up to the Communist victory.

    Here are summaries of the key points made in the passages:

  • Passage 1 discusses how locals provided logistical support to Castro's rebel forces during the Cuban revolution against Batista. They supplied food, shelter, intelligence and assisted with transportation through rural parts of Cuba. This grassroots support helped the insurgency gain momentum and eventually topple the government.

  • Passage 2 describes the early struggles of Castro's forces including food shortages, lack of medical supplies and setbacks in battles against Batista's army. It notes how Castro adapted revolutionary strategies like dispersing forces into small mobile units and relying on ambushes rather than frontal assaults. These tactics helped neutralize the government's technological advantage.

  • Passage 3 examines divisions within Latin American communist parties in the 1960s over whether to pursue armed revolution or political participation. It cites a Uruguayan politician noting armed struggle had become entrenched as the preferred approach in countries like Cuba, but other parties still favored working within legal systems.

  • Passage 4 provides context on the U.S. perspective during the Cuban revolution. It notes an intelligence assessment from 1959 that viewed directly intervening to overthrow Castro as a "one hell of a gamble" given limited knowledge about conditions on the ground and lack of support for Batista.

  • Passage 5 discusses how Fidel Castro translated his revolutionary vision into policies and programs after taking power in Cuba. An American activist praised his leadership and the regime's successes in areas like education, health care and land reform.

    Here are more detailed summaries of the sources provided:

  • J. P. Nettl (1966) provides a comprehensive biography of Rosa Luxemburg, a pioneering German Marxist theorist and revolutionary who played a leading role in the early 20th century German and Polish socialist movements. The book examines her political thought and activism through primary sources.

  • T. Rees and A. Thorpe (1998) is an edited collection that brings together scholarly contributions analyzing various aspects of international communism and the Communist International (Comintern) from its founding in 1919 up until WWII. It explores the Communist parties and strategies across different countries and regions.

  • P. Spriano (1975) offers an in-depth case study of the wave of factory occupations by industrial workers that swept across northern Italy in 1920. It details the events, ideological influences, and their impact on the development of the Italian communist movement in the postwar period.

  • R. L. Tökés (1967) provides a comprehensive political history of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic established in 1918-1919 under Béla Kun. It analyzes the socio-economic context, the left-wing revolutionary program implemented, and the Republic's eventual defeat by Romania.

  • The two volumes by H. Weber (1969) aim to trace the complex ideological evolution and various internal factions within German communism from 1918 up until the late 1960s. It draws upon primary Communist documents.

  • E. D. Weitz (1997) constructs a wide-ranging analytical narrative of the development of German communism as a mass movement and political/intellectual force from 1890 until reunification in 1990.

  • J. Willett (1978) examines the relationship between art, culture, and politics during the tumultuous Weimar period in Germany (1917-1933). It focuses particularly on leftist artistic genres like Dadaism and their engagement with Communist ideology.

  • R. Wohl (1966) provides a detailed chronological study of the historical origins and rise of French communism from its establishment during WWI in 1914 through the interwar period up until 1924.

  • C. Wrigley (1993) is an edited collection that presents scholarly contributions analyzing major themes pertaining to labor challenges faced by revolutionary regimes and workers across Central and Western Europe from 1917-1920.

    Here is a summary of the key events that took place in May 1968:

  • In early May, students and activists began protesting at the University of Paris in Nanterre against the Vietnam War, consumerism, and university authoritarianism. This sparked widespread social unrest.

  • On May 3rd, the occupation of the Sorbonne by students began. Over the following weeks, demonstrations and general strikes spread across France involving young workers and students.

  • On May 10th, around 20,000 young people marched through Paris chanting anti-authoritarian slogans. Riots broke out and the police used force to try to disperse the crowds.

  • Strikes affected schools, factories, and mines across France. Millions of workers joined the protests and labor unions united behind the demands of the students.

  • On May 13th, a massive general strike and civil disobedience campaign shut down almost all public transport and many factories. The protest reached its highest point with over 10 million workers on strike nationwide.

  • The events of May 1968 are considered a cultural and political revolution that shook established French institutions and challenged traditional norms. It represented a significant rise of leftist ideas and social movements among French youth.

  • The unrest eventually subsided after negotiations between the government and trade unions. However, it left a significant mark and legacy of social change in French politics and society.

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