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The communist dream came to fruition in the 20th century.  Yet the revolutions that brought its adherents to power did not take place under the circumstances that Marx and Engels predicted.  As a result, the interpretations of the dream and the institutions that were formed to realize it were different as well.

9.  Tuesday, February 11

Discussion:  Great Writing, Persuasive Criticism

In this section, we will talk  at length about what it takes to write well.  It will probably take you the rest of your life to master this task, but it makes sense to begin the process now.

George Orwell is one of the best stylists in the English language.  His works are deceptively easy to read.  Most people cannot write like this.  I want you to try.

I also want you to think about why he, or any other great writer, takes the time to engage in the brutal act of writing.  Great writing is never neutral.  That’s  partly what makes it great.

Readings from George Orwell:

  • “Why I write”  PRINT AND READ
  • George Orwell writes:  Facsimile of p. 1 of Brave New World (handout)
  • Mystery Facsimile (handout)
  • “Politics and the English Language” PRINT AND READ


10.  Thursday, February 13:  Leninism (1)

Discussion:  Marxism takes concrete form in revolutionary Russia

We will discuss a very difficult essay by Lenin called “What is to be Done?”  This is widely considered to be the foundational document of the communist party.  What makes it difficult is that it is a tract, not a scholarly essay.  Its purpose in 1902 was to motivate people to join Lenin’s side.  Lenin mentions lots of parties and groups you will never have heard of.  With the exception of what he calls “the Economists,” don’t worry about the others.  Just concentrate on what kind of communist party you would create if you were trying to make a revolution in Russia.  For this discussion, it is extremely important  that you read Pipes’ short chapter on the making of revolutionary Russia.  Nineteenth-century Russia was a different social setting than what we have already discussed about England.  Thus it is crucial that you understand this setting so you will be positioned to interpret Lenin.  Once you can see what Lenin is arguing, ask yourself what implications his position would have for the dream of communism.  How is his image of revolution different from what you have already encountered in the Communist Manifesto?

Also, as you read Lenin, refer back to our readings from the Apostle Paul.  Paul founded a revolutionary church.  Lenin founded a revolutionary party.  For this reason, don’t treat Lenin as a professional historian; read him instead as a professional revolutionary who wants to enlist you in his cause.

  • Selections from V. I. Lenin, What is to be Done (1902):  PRINT AND READ
  • “Lenin: Voice of Revolution (Video, 44 mins.):  WATCH
    This video provides useful background on Lenin’s role in the Russian Revolution
  • Richard Pipes, Communism:  A History.  READ Chapter 2.
  • Selections from the Apostle Paul:  RE-READ


11.  Tuesday February 18
:  Leninism (2)

Discussion:  Lenin imagines a communist future

Lenin’s pamphlet State and Revolution makes for a provocative comparison with What is to be Done? Lenin wrote it while hiding in Finland in the summer before the Bolshevik take-over in October 1917.  Unlike in 1902, when the Bolsheviks barely existed, Lenin was thinking about coming to power and trying to prepare his followers psychologically for this event.  As you read these excerpts from the pamphlet, ask yourself about Lenin’s image of politics after the revolution. There  is actually more than one image: one corresponds to the overthrow of the old state and its replacement with a new form of state organization (“socialism”); the other corresponds to the final stage of human history (“communism”). Both of these periods show up in The Communist Manifesto, but in much sketchier ways.  To understand Lenin, it is important that  you understand how he sees the relationship between these two periods.  How does one go from the first to the second?  Or does one? Or can one actually accomplish this feat?

  • Selections from V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution:  PRINT AND READ


— PAPER ASSIGNMENT:  This essay is due one week from today on Tuesday, February 25.  Please email it to me by 9:00 a.m. 



12. Thursday, February 2o:  Stalin, the Soviet Union, and Socialism (1)

In-Class Film:  “The Circus”  (1936):  We will meet at the Nanovic Institute to watch this intriguingly–even bizarrely–glorified depiction of Stalinism.


13. Tuesday, February 25:  Stalin, the Soviet Union, and Socialism (2)

“I congratulate the Magnitogorsk workers and executive staff on their first important victory.
Forward, comrades, to new victories!”  J. Stalin (Pravda, May 19, 1931)

  • John Scott, Behind the Urals:  READ (read as much as possible—it’s ‘lite’ reading)
  • Video on “USSR Industrialization”:  WATCH (19 mins.).
    This video focuses on Magnitogorsk and includes commentary from John Scott
  • Richard Pipes, Communism: A History:  READ Chapter 3

Paper Assignment #1 is due by 9:00 prior to this class meeting


14. Thursday, February 27:  Stalin, the Soviet Union, and Socialism (3)

At this point, we start to sense that something is going wrong with Scott’s ideal image of the Soviet Union.  What are the symptoms of this dysfunction and why are they occurring?

  • Josef Stalin, “The Tasks of Business Executives” (February 1931):  PRINT AND READ
  • John Scott, Behind the Urals:  READ  (finish the book and don’t forget the appendix including his diary notes).


15. Tuesday, March 4:  The Origins of Maoism in China

I want you to begin thinking about the similarities and differences between Lenin’s image of the march toward communism and that of Mao Zedong.  Look closely at the two authors’ rhetorical style.  What do they emphasize?  What not?  Under what conditions would you want to jump onto their respective bandwagons?  Or if you  did, what kind of person would you be?

  • Mao Zedong, “Report on the Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan”:  PRINT AND READ 
  • Mao Zedong, “A Single Spark can start a Prairie Fire”:  PRINT AND READ
  • Pipes, Communism, pp. 117-124.
  • Watch the first 10 minutes of this video to get a general sense for the period we are discussing:  WATCH




NOTE:  Please turn off and do not use your technology during class.  This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, FBI trap-and-trace devices, cell phones, Kindles, transistor radios, video cameras, video games, or other personal digital devices.

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