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The Seeds of Its Own Destruction

Jenny Messenger

rengeniusArchie Brown
The Rise and Fall of Communism
The Bodley Head Ltd, 2009
736 Pages
ISBN 978-0224078795

The steady decline of communism reached its zenith 20 years ago. Archie Brown, emeritus professor of politics and author of the aptly titled The Rise and Fall of Communism, returned to Oxford last Thursday for a talk devoted to that fall. Based on broad themes from his book—colossal both in size and subject—the lecture attracted the standard, scrutinising academic crowd.

Much like his “lucid and accessible book” , Brown’s style was clear and succinct as he argued that the year 1989 marked the start of the political rebellion which led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Brown also discussed education, explicating his compelling assertion that the communist states created their own destruction by sowing the seeds of “new thinking”. While Brown held up valiantly to the audience’s examination on these central claims, his talk disappointingly lacked those elements of the book which The Independent deemed “always illuminating and sprinkled with sharp insights and occasional humour.”

Brown’s plethora of experience, extensive travels, and connections to some of the linchpins of the era—Mikhail Gorbachev, Lady Margaret Thatcher—are fodder for a hugely engaging talk. And yet, he neglected to offer his audience much more than a glimpse of any first-hand observations. While Brown’s book has garnered lavish and deserving praise—“a monument to the triumph of liberty”, a “scholarly, well-paced and critical overview”— stripping “away the romance of communism” can and should involve anecdotal indulgence, particularly with a live audience. In the end, Brown’s well-meaning effort to educate rather than entertain his audience proved a downfall of its own.

Jenny Messenger is a second-year classics student at Worcester College. She is an editor of ORbits.