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Communisms - HIS00105H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hugo Service
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

Few ideologies have been as influential in shaping the modern world as communism. Yet the idea of communism as a unitary philosophy or monolithic political order does not stand up to scrutiny. On this course students explore the ways different people understood, experienced and implemented this radical political philosophy. Students are encouraged to challenge the traditional scholarship on this subject which has prioritised twentieth century European communism and the roles of prominent dictators. Instead, they are urged to consider the ways in which differing interpretations of Marxist philosophy shaped the lives of ordinary people across diverse chronological, cultural and geographical contexts from Beijing to Luanda, Havana and Ulaanbaatar.

Students first explore the development of the idea of communism and the traditions on which early revolutionaries drew. In part two, students turn their attention to life under communism; we ask how and why an idea conceived of as a means of emancipating people resulted in totalitarianism and repression in communist states in the twentieth century. Alongside this, we will think about ordinary life (going on holiday, falling in love, etc.) in communist countries. We place particular emphasis on how people’s status, gender, race or sexuality shaped their experiences, with a focus on marginalised histories. The final part of the course addresses the international appeal of the idea, focusing on diverse historical actors including Parisian students, Black Panthers and Maoists in Peru and Nepal. We conclude by considering the ways in which the idea has shaped the world today.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2022-23 to Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to the practice of comparative history;
  • To enable students to acquire skills and understanding of that practice by studying a particular topic or theme; and
  • To enable students to reflect on the possibilities and difficulties involved in comparative history

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp the key approaches and challenges involved in comparative history;
  • Understand a range of aspects of the topic or theme which they have studied;
  • Be able to use and evaluate comparative approaches to that topic or theme; and
  • Have learned to discuss and write about comparative history
  • Have developed skills in group work

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 of the autumn term. Students prepare for and participate in fifteen three-hour seminars. These take place in weeks 2-5 and 7-9 of the autumn term and weeks 2-5 and 7-10 of the spring term. Both the autumn and spring terms include a reading week for final year students and so there will be no teaching in week 6. There will also be a 2 hour revision session in the summer term.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

Autumn Term

  1. Karl Marx and the Frightful Hobgoblin: The Communist Manifesto

  2. Traditions and Origins: the late eighteenth century: Paris 1789 and Haiti 1791

  3. Marxism, socialism and anarcho-feminism: theory and practice in the nineteenth century

  4. Pathways to Revolution: communist takeovers from October 1917 to Havana 1959

  5. From the Soviet Gulag to China’s laogai: Stalinism, authoritarianism and broken promises

  6. Long live Chairman [insert name here]! Propaganda and the cult of the socialist strong man

  7. Making the World Anew: Socialism, Science and Nature

Spring Term

  1. Everyday life in communist societies

  2. Some more equal than others? Communism and gender

  3. Dissenting against communism

  4. “You say you want a revolution…” Global Maoism in the 1960s

  5. LGBTQ Histories and communism

  6. Periphery or centre? Decolonisation and the Cold War in Asia, Africa and Latin America

  7. 1989 and the (partial) fall of communism

  8. Global communisms after 'The End of History'


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Open Exam - 24 hours
N/A 67
University - project
Group Project
N/A 33

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For procedural work, the students will make group presentations towards the end of the autumn term. In addition, they may choose to submit an optional 2,000 word formative essay between weeks 7-9 of the autumn term. Essays should not be submitted in the same week as group project presentations are scheduled.

For summative assessment students will complete a 4,000-word group project due in week 6 of the spring term -- this will account for 33% of the final mark. They will then also take a 2,000-word 24-hour open exam during the common assessment period in the summer term, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. The open exam will be worth 67% of the final mark.


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Open Exam - 24 hours
N/A 67
University - project
Group Project
N/A 33

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Luxemburg, Rosa. ‘Marxist Theory and the Proletariat’ in Vorwärts (Berlin), No.64, 14 March 1903 [Marxists Internet Archive]

Priestland, David. The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World. Penguin UK, 2009.

Roy, Manabendra Nath. ‘The Awakening of the East’ in The Call, 15 July 1920 [Marxists Internet Archive]

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.