Communism and Democracy
History, debates and potentials
On the centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Mike Makin-Waite surveys the history of the communist movement, tracking its origins in the Enlightenment, and through nineteenth-century socialism to the emergence of Marxism and beyond.
As we emerge from the long winter of neoliberalism, and the search is on for ideas that can help shape a contemporary popular socialism, some of the questions that have preoccupied socialist thinkers throughout left history are once more being debated. Should the left press for reform and work through the state or should it focus on protest and a critique of the whole system? Is it possible to expand the liberal idea of democracy to include economic democracy? Which alliances require too great a compromise and which can help secure future change?
Arguments on questions such as these have been raging since the mid-nineteenth century, and were the basis of the split between Social Democrats and Communists in the aftermath of the First World War. Mike Makin-Waite believes that revisiting these debates can help us to avoid some of the mistakes made in the past, and find new solutions to some of these age-old concerns.
His argument is that the democratic and liberal counter-currents that have always existed within the communist movement have much to offer the left project today. This unorthodox account therefore tracks an alternative history that includes nineteenth-century revisionists such as Karl Kautsky, Menshevik opponents of Bolshevik oppression in 1917, Popular Front critiques of sectarianism in the 1930s, communist support for 1968’s Prague Spring, and the turn to Gramsci and Eurocommunism in the 1970s.
The aim of Communism and Democracy: history, debates and potentials is to recover some of the hard-won insights of the critical communist tradition, in the belief that they can still be of service to the twenty-first-century left.
Part I: The promise of modernity
1. The record of communism
2. Enlightenment and revolution
3. ‘An extraordinary brainwave’: the emergence of Marxism
4. Forward from liberalism?
5. Socialism, Engels, Marxism and democracy
6. Inescapable debates
Part II: The short communist century, 1917-1989
8. Regime change, everywhere
9. Not catching modernity’s promise
10. Popular Fronts and the war of position
11. Cold War, Khrushchev and 1956
12. The dialectics of 1968
13. September in Santiago
14. Menshevism reloaded?
15. The end of the old times
Part III: Routes for radicals
16. The red and the green
17. The left since the 1990s
18. Prospects for renewal?
‘Well written, clearly argued and making valid and important arguments … It is refreshing to see someone write about communism in such an overarching and balanced way.’
- Matt Worley, Professor of Modern History, University of Reading
‘I’ve enormously enjoyed reading this work … it is really high-powered material.’
- Willie Thompson, former Professor of Contemporary History at Glasgow Caledonian University
‘A fresh overview and searching re-appraisal of twentieth-century communism, highlighting the movement’s troubled relationship with democracy. The book is clearly written, with many striking turns of phrase and sharp insights … It is essential reading for anyone who aspires not just to bring the baneful reign of neoliberalism to an end, but to put the idea of life after capitalism back on the political horizon.’
- David Purdy, social economist and joint contributing editor to Feelbad Britain
‘This book is essential reading for political activists who want to move beyond arm-chair intellectualism or self-righteous oppositionism, as well as being far more readable than most contemporary left political theory.’
– Duncan Bowie, Chartist
'In this book, [ Makin-Waite ] offers a fresh and unflinching overview of the history of communism from its roots in the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century to the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the USSR, the demise of the international communist movement and the emergence of a global capitalist system from which the “spectre” of communism has been banished.'
– David Purdy, Open Democracy
'The fundamental mistake of the communist movement of the twentieth century, especially communism in power, was the attempt to move beyond the inadequate realisation of liberal democratic principles by rejecting them tout court. Makin-Waite argues powerfully that any new radical, transformative politics of emancipation in the contemporary era must seek to realise the promise of liberalism more fully, rather than negating or bypassing it.'
– Stephen Hopkins, European Politics and Society
‘This highly readable and stimulating book is an absolute must for all those engaged in the endeavour to chart a socialist route out of the neo-liberal quagmire.’
– David Parker, Socialist History
‘Makin-Waite has written a book that will introduce a new generation of radicals to the history of the Marxist strand of socialist organising and thinking.’
– Terry Irving, Labour History