In This Review

The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century

The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century
By Francois Furet
596 pp, University of Chicago Press, 1999

The late Furet devoted his last book to the study of modern communist ideology, especially its "most powerful" passion -- hatred of the bourgeoisie. He starts with World War I, describing how this incomprehensible war affected both the Soviet revolution and the fascist one. The former was a triumph of political will over Marxist determinism, whereas the latter was a triumph of violence stemming from the war rather than a reaction against communism itself (as some historians have argued). Case studies of three intellectuals -- Pierre Pascal, Boris Souvarine, and Gyorgy Lukacs -- are particularly illuminating. So too is Furet's study of the similarities between communism and Nazism and the "godsend" that antifascism proved for Stalin. Constantly interesting, this ambitious work nonetheless suffers from two flaws. First, the political history overshadows the intellectual story that Furet was so well qualified to probe. Second, the book is heavily centered on France. Certainly, France was a major ideological battlefield; the notion of collective ownership had been fiercely debated across the political spectrum since the French Revolution. But Furet pays little attention to other European theaters, the United States, or the Third World. His passion and formidable intelligence do not quite overcome those failings. On this topic, Raymond Aron's Opium of the Intellectuals remains peerless.