Tackling not only post-communism but also communism's 150-year history in theory and practice, in more than 30 countries and four continents, is an ambitious undertaking within a slim volume, but it is a worthwhile one in Richard Sakwa's hands. This book does not entirely avoid the problems created by such an extreme compression of a vast array of facts and arguments. It is obviously impossible to reflect every nuance of opinion on each matter covered, and Sakwa does an honest job of sketching in challenging views in many places, but there are statements presented as incontrovertible fact that are actually either disputed or not known. Some relating to China caught my eye (figures on deaths from famine in the Great Leap Forward and the labour-camp population), and specialists in the other countries covered will no doubt find some of their own.
But the book generally provides the necessary historical background for readers to be able to engage with its arguments, and it is thoroughly referenced with regard to literature, if not always to statements of non-obvious fact. Indeed, the 16 pages of notes make it a useful reference for researchers as well as students. Major concepts are defined clearly and succinctly, and intelligent connections made between post-communism, post-colonialism and post-fascism. Its main audience will be politics undergraduates, who ought to be familiar with its terminology; those in other disciplines may struggle with some passages. It could also profitably be used at higher undergraduate and masters level with economics, area studies, international relations and history students, with the chapters on coming to terms with communism and post-communism in perspective particularly suitable for historians.
Jackie Sheehan is lecturer in 20th-century Chinese history, University of Nottingham.
Author - Richard Sakwa
ISBN - 0 335 20058 3 and 20057 5
Publisher - Open University Press
Price - £37.50 and £10.99
Pages - 153