Communism and Really Existing Socialism: A Reading List for Post-Millennials

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What should someone coming of age in 2020 or so–someone post-millennial, who has no memories of all of any part of the twentieth century–learn about communism, and really existing socialism?

It is, I think, very clear by now to everyone except the most demented of the herbal teabaggers, and should be clear to all, that communism was not one of the brightest lights on humanity’s tree of ideas. Nobody convinced by the writings of Marx and his peers that a “communist” society was in some sense an ideal who then achieved enough political power to try to make that vision a reality has built a society that turned out well. All, measured by the yardsticks of their time and geographical situation, were either moderately bad, worse, disastrous, or candidates for the worst-régime-every prize. None attained the status of:

a prayse and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “the Lord make it like that of New England.” For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill…

Moreover, those who took Marx most seriously and fell under his intellectual spell either did first-class work only after they had liberated themselves and attached themselves to some other’s perspective (as Perry Anderson did to Weber via “modes of domination” and as Joan Robinson did to Keynes). Too close and uncritical a study of Marx is a mode of self-programming that introduces disastrous bugs into your wetware. The thinkers useful for the twenty-first century are much more likely to be along the lines of Tocqueville, Keynes, Polanyi, de Beauvoir, Lincoln, and (albeit in his intellectual rather than his political or personal practice) Jefferson than Marx. (And Foucault? Maybe Foucault–nah, that is too likely to introduce a different set of dangerous bugs to your wetware…)

Yet the ideas and the arguments for “communism” were (and are?) powerful. And they were very convincing to millions if not billions of people for fully a century and a half. How should post-millennials understand this? How much about this ought they to learn? And how best to present the subject so that they gain the fullest and most accurate understanding, in the short time that is all that they can afford to spend on it?

Here’s my first second take on readings, in the order in which I would put them a course:

More Scattered Things I Have Written: on and About the Subject:


Brad DeLong


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