Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-19400-0029 / CC-BY-SA 3.0


Tutor: Malcolm Spencer (tutor for 2018-19) / Jon Howlett

Module type: Comparative Histories

Module Code: HIS00077H

Few ideologies were as influential in shaping the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as Communism. Yet Communism was not a unitary philosophy or monolithic political order. Global 'Communisms' varied in different parts of the world and over time, but Communists remained bound by common histories, ideals, political culture and language. This module explores these linkages and encourages students to think about the how the history of Communisms as idea and reality might be understood across different chronological, cultural and geographical contexts from Moscow to Beijing.

Our course begins by asking: what is Communism? Where did the idea come from and how was it developed? We then ask what it means to turn abstract, radical ideas into ordered states and governments. How have different Communists tried to organise different societies? What frictions have these differences in ideals and models of organisation created? How were societies controlled? How were cults of personality created and sustained? What was the appeal of Communism at home and overseas? We then turn to life under Communism for ordinary people. We will address the tragedies that occurred, but also about what life was like in times of relative plenty: what did it mean to fall in love under Communism? To laugh and to joke? To dissent or to simply 'drop out'? In the final seminar, we will explore the legacies of Communism after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ways in which the idea has endured in countries including China and North Korea.

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:

    • What is Communism?
    • Marxism, socialism and anarcho-feminisim - theory and practice in the 'age of the idea'
    • Pathways to Revolution
    • Long live Chairman [insert name here]!
    • Internationalism and the appeal of Communism in the West
    • Making the World Anew
    • Ordinary life in Communist societies
    • Dissenting against cultures of Communist kitsch
    • Communisms after 'The End of History'


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.