August 27, 2009


The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World by David Priestland: Western progressives nostalgic for the Soviet Union shouldn’t get too excited by the global financial crisis, writes John Gray. A fine new history of communism shows why (John Gray, 27 August 2009, New Statesman)

It cannot be long before progressive opinion begins to look back on communism with nostalgia. Whatever they may have been like in practice, communist states were established to embody ideas that progressives understood and to a large extent shared. The Soviet Union and Maoist China were seen as advancing the cause of humanity and many on the left judged it best not to make too much of any crimes these regimes committed along the way. However imperfectly, communism continued an authentic tradition of European radical humanism.

One of the many virtues of David Priestland's The Red Flag is that it places communism squarely in this tradition. Citing Marx's description of Prometheus as "the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar", Priestland shows how Marx's Promethean world-view has animated communist movements and regimes throughout their history. In the preface to his dissertation, Marx wrote, in the words of Aeschylus: "In sooth all gods I hate. 'Tis better to be bound on a rock than bound to the service of Zeus." In Marx's variation on the Promethean myth, heroic humanity wages war against religion, inequality and subservience to nature.

Priestland shows that this modern mythology was propagated right up to the end of communist Russia.

For over half of Ted Kennedy's career the single most important issue facing mankind was the war between the West and Communism, yet he for the most part was either silent on that war or actively engaged in undermining the West. That too is his legacy and that of the Left he led.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 27, 2009 12:02 AM
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