Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews John Fleming’s book, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War,
Although the Cold War was a “great game” played out on the field of diplomacy, a conflict between military superpowers that sometimes turned hot, it was also the 20th century’s war of religion: a clash of beliefs and a battle of the books. This mortal combat between Communism and liberal democracy produced a vast literature, some books famous in their day, some famous still.
Now John V. Fleming has had the excellent idea of telling the story of four of them, and the result is the readable and fascinating “The Anti-Communist Manifestos.” It may be all the better because Mr. Fleming, an emeritus professor at Princeton, isn’t a modern historian by trade but an authority on medieval literature who knows how to read a text and its context. His four manifestos are “Darkness at Noon,” Arthur Koestler’s novel about the Soviet show trials, and three memoirs: “Out of the Night,” by the pseudonymous “Jan Valtin,” a mysterious Communist agitator; “I Chose Freedom,” by the Soviet defector Victor Kravchenko; and “Witness,” by Whittaker Chambers, best known to history as the man who accused Alger Hiss of espionage.
These books are, of course, chosen from a long potential list that could include eyewitness accounts of the early Soviet regime—like Bertrand Russell’s “The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism” (1920) and Emma Goldman’s “My Disillusionment in Russia” (1923)—or George Orwell’s “1984.” Orwell’s book has just passed its 60th birthday and has been described as the most influential novel ever written.
But Mr. Fleming’s quartet has a linking theme. All his authors were anticommunists who had once been Communist activists. They wrote about what they had seen from the inside.
Go read the rest of the review, and better yet, buy The Anti-Communist Manifestos and read it.
Dr Fleming blogs at Gladly lerne, gladly teche.