The Strange Death of Soviet Communism: A Postscript

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The collapse of communism marked the close of an era of world history. What took place in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1991, in the eyes of its proponents, constituted a great experiment in the application of new modes of organization to social life, the largest such experiment in history. The Strange Death of Soviet Communism, which first appeared as a special issue of The National Interest, brings together leading scholars of Soviet history, who show why the experiment failed and how it has destroyed the laboratory of socialist utopias. Francis Fukuyama considers the role of long-term social and intellectual modernization while Vladimir Kontorovich examines the related factor of economic stagnation. Myron Rush then analyzes the accidental and precedent-breaking accession and leadership of Gorbachev. Charles Fairbanks looks at the more general factors of change and rigidity within communist political culture. Chapters by Peter Reddaway and Stephen Sestanovich conclude this section by assessing respectively the role of internal pressure from Soviet citizens and external pressure from the West. The next chapters deal with why the West was surprised by the communist collapse. This involves a critique of Western Sovietology both for its scholarly failures and its ideological prejudices. Here, Peter Rutland and William Odom deal with social science interpretations of the Soviet Union while Robert Conquest and Richard Pipes reflect on historians' readings of Soviet history. Martin Malia then offers a comparative assessment of both. In the third section Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer discuss communism in relation to the intellectuals in the West. Although the authors are united in their anti-communist stance, the volume is diverse in its perspectives and assessments of Soviet communism. Taken together, these contributions show that the debate on the legacy of communism and a subsequent rethinking of modern history is just beginning. The Strange Death of Soviet Communism will be of interest to historians, political scientists, Slavic studies specialists, and sociologists.