Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

How Can We Write Better Histories of Communism?

Document type Article
Author Palmer, Bryan D.
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 83
Date 2019 Spring
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 199-232


At the current conjuncture, histories of Canadian Communism seem analytically stalled in a fruitless (if inadequately addressed) historiographic impasse, ordered by oppositions: Moscow domination vs. local autonomy; authoritarianism vs. the pursuit of social justice. We need to confront these experiences, not as dichotomies, but as related phenomena, developing our histories of Communism around more totalizing appreciations that encompass both sides of a seemingly divided logic of classification. Having myself tried to see beyond the limiting oppositions of the extant historiography, I will explore how certain historians seem unwilling to look past the conveniently counter-posed analyses of two existing schools of thought, labelled traditionalists/revisionists in the United States and essentialists/realists in the United Kingdom. As distortions of my own writing suggest, we have reached a point where it is both appropriate and necessary to be more rigorous and fair-minded in our characterization of the historiography. --Introduction