A major reorientation of scholarly thought about communism and contemporary social movements
The Historiography of Communism
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Michael E. Brown
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.”
"The range of theory in The Historiography of Communism is extraordinary, and the way Brown enriches the concepts and possibilities of historical materialism is equally innovative. He lifts the discussion of the history of communism in the United States, and the analysis of socialist societies, from the plane of empirical bickering to a plane of theoretical consistency. The essays on E.P. Thompson, on ideology, and on anthropology are all small masterpieces."
"Brown's book is bracingly iconoclastic, anything but a restatement of conventional wisdom."
"At its most innovative, Michael E. Brown’s The Historiography of Communism perceptively considers why historical study of the American left is important.... [The book] manages to offer persuasive evidence that the history of the American left should be taken seriously precisely because any reflection on the future of progressive politics in the US (or elsewhere, for that matter) will have to reckon with its multifarious and often contradictory past."
"The Historiography of Communism is a thought-provoking collection of essays on a wide variety of topics…. Brown has helped to pave the way for more theoretically aware discussions in the future. This is a contribution that can only be welcomed."
"Brown subjects the varying and complex debates within the historiography of Communism to a rigorous Marxist critique.... Brown provides a stimulating, insightful, and energetic assessment of leftist thought by engaging the structural aporias that have determined the 'writing' of Communist historiography. His recognition of the Left’s theoretical limits in the context of the current crisis is much needed in order to overcome the aversion to radical alternatives and thereby offer real hope for change to millions who continually bear the weight [of] capitalist domination, from Afghanistan to Haiti to the South Bronx, and beyond."
"A theoretical sociologist, Brown strives to demonstrate that historiographythe writing of historyand sociologythe study of societycannot be separated.... This book will be useful to those engaged in the theory of sociological analysis and to historians of American communism."
"The book is of interest for both historians and sociologists, and those interested in the left as a historical concept, but also as a sociological one. Brown's amalgamation of previous work, with a modern twist, is useful in depicting the context and social implications of the historiography of communism, as the title suggests. Overall, the book is innovative and sets a topic of interest in a specific context, which is relevant for the study of the past and present."