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I’ve been collecting book recommendations to read about Catholicism under communist regimes and recently asked Twitter for some ideas too. This request followed a Twitter storm about communism as seen by Catholics, and there was quite a lot of disagreement.
I’m grateful for the recommendations. There were great ones! (Thank you. Some I’d read, but most I had not. Twitter recommendations are colored red below.)
Since I have been building this list for a couple friends, too, I’ll leave my notes for them and my recommended books here too. Take what you need and feel free to leave the rest!
Please add your recommendations to this list in the comments.. Thumbs up for first-person stories and historical reviews.
- “Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau” was recommended not because of communism but because of the insight that totalitarian regimes are similar in key ways.
- “Papal Pronouncements on the Political Order” (good discussions on communism embedded on it but it is not the main theme)
- “Communism and the Conscience of the West” by Fulton Sheen (some very strong sermons by Bishop Sheen on YouTube also)
- “Witness,” by Whitaker Chambers, has changed more communists to Christians than any book I know. (Just me) The story has many ironies, which the great intro highlights, such as Chambers despite being right was vilified by press, whereas Hiss whom he exposed managed to avoid full prosecution perhaps because he was part of a power elite forming after World War II. This book also made my return to Catholicism a certainty, although it would take many years.
The Spanish Civil War
For history buffs, the appearance of Soviet power and Stalin on the world scene really took a big notch up during the Spanish Civil War, which broke out just before the second world war and had all the players in the greater war involved. It was considered a proxy war by some historians.
Recommended was “The Red Terror and the Spanish Civil War: Revolutionary Violence in Madrid” by Julius Ruiz. I’m excited to read this book because I’m told it looks at Franco (who won the Civil War) but then faced the communists who, like they would after World War II, remain a force to be reckoned with.
It was in the Spanish Civil War that Western communists or communist sympathizers were the first to make the switch to disillusionment with what was happening with the Lenin-led revolution. Orwell went to fight in the SCW on the side of the communists, and then wrote the insightful “Homage to Catalonia.” Hemingway, having done the same, wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” although he did not make a complete break from his personal sympathies as seen in his relationship with Fidel Castro.
Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc
The USSR dominated the scene of communism for a long time for all sorts of reasons, in part because they had nuclear capability. So, there were some great books recommended:
- “Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko” by Bernard Brien
- “With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps” by Walter J. Ciszek and Daniel L. Flaherty
- “He Leadeth Me” by Walter Ciszek
Book’s I’ve read and regularly recommend include this one, but I’d say it is usually one of the first books and these are some of the first authors whom I recommend: Zhores and Roy Medvedev “A Question of Madness: Repression by Psychiatory in the Soviet Union”
Other books I recommend:
- Most biographies of Stalin are good, and there is little hagiography compared, for example, to Fidel Castro or Che Guevera. I’ve read several.
- “Khrushchev: The Years in Power” by Zhores and Roy Medvedev
- Zubok’s “Failed Empire: Soviet Union from Stalin to Gorbachev”
- Recommended: “Gulag: A History” by Anne Appelbaum (I’m reading this now. It was recommended by a different set of suggestions from a different Twitter question. Appelbaum is an excellent writer and mind. Really enjoying the read.)
- “Red Famine: Stalin’s War on the Ukraine,” by Anne Applebaum (excellent and critical read)
Cuba and the USSR
As far as Castro’s regime in Cuba, I haven’t found a lot of accurate studies or books from academia or reporters. There are Che’s “Motorcycle Diaries” when he drove all over Latin America and Castro’s biography of Che if you want to read revolution-speak from (at least Che) true believers. Fontova’s “Exposing the Real Che” is helpful in that the sociopath is revealed in accurate detail, but the book is as heated as the above books are hagiographic. There’s a “fun” book called, “Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba Then Lost It,” which I liked because it rounded out the scenes in The Godfather II when Michael must escape Havana.
Wish I had good recommendations here: I’ve read two great books on the Holomodor, and a couple really good books on the Armenian genocide which was against Christians. These both helped me understand what is happening in Crimea and the Ukraine now. Need recommendations here.
Solzhenitzen’s “Gulag Archepaligo” came out and exposed the truth hiding behind the iron curtain. The book opened my mind and also his view that Christianity was the only real global force strong enough to win a heart or mind from communism stuck with me. His faith was remarkable to me, but his monarchist/royalist nostalgia left me uneasy. Yet, he was just one more person in the end of the 20th century whose faith in Christ proved strong enough to face down systemic evil.
Conversion stories from the end of the 20th century often relate a realization how Catholicism is diametrically opposed to communism.
Malcolm Muggeridge and Dorothy Day, both converts, along with many others of their generation, had seen hope for the suffering “masses” in the Marxist experiment in post-World War I Europe. Yet, at some point, each one encountered communism in some way — Orwell and Auden in battlegrounds, or Day in social work, or Muggeridge in person in Moscow – and faced a pivotal moment of disillusionment. (The same realization is recounted by communists or socialists who went to help rebuild Europe after Yalta and came face to face with Soviet territorial aggression and heard rumors of terrible repression – and lost faith in Stalin, as the story of Whitaker Chambers encompasses.)
Muggeridge was able to visit Moscow during the Cold War only to become completely disillusioned, then writing “Winter in Moscow.” He was a highly visible, atheist thought leader in the Oxbridge tradition, where the theory and intent of communism had appealed to the higher ideals of many who often viewed faith as a primitive intellectualism to be cast aside. Yet, it was encountering Mother Teresa that Muggeridge had a change of heart. This transition from atheist communist/socialist to Catholic is covered in his autobiography “Chronicles of Wasted Time” and also a bit in “Jesus Rediscovered.”
Muggeridge eventually said something along the lines that communism talked about the goal of life on earth being to establish paradise, or utopia, without suffering, and Catholicism talked about the goal of eternal life obtained through the cross. I’m not getting it right.
Dorothy Day, roughly at the same time, was converted from an active communist in the US to a Catholic who, now a saint, was not without controversy for her prior politics. I’ve found the best explanation she had about communism and Catholicism, and her own views, is an article in America magazine from the middle of the Depression entitled, “What Catholics Don’t Understand About Communism.” There is an echo of Muggeridge here, in that communism was speaking to suffering and presenting a competing idea of redemption to the Church.
I think the conversion stories of communists to Catholicism formed, for me, the greatest testimonies against communism, which I saw as a survivor of clergy abuse as another institution riddled with evil. That’s why I’m interested in younger people who seem to see Catholicism and communism as potentially resolved. I’ve got a great reading list from some of the best on Twitter below. How do they deal with the issue of evil in the historical regimes to date?
- Recommended: “Calvary in China” by Robert W. Green. I have it here. It looks super.
I’ve had a harder time finding books about communism in China and Asia. There are few really good books about the Korean War from the ground experience, for example. Then again, there are some but very few books about troops from the Pacific Theatre (like Burma) compared to Europe, so that focus seems to play out in books covering subsequent years.
China has less information coming out from its prisons and other settings, and its role in international support for Maoists (e.g., in Latin America) is less known for some reason. I’ve read “The Blood of the Martyrs: Trappist Monks in Communist China,” by Theresa Moreau, who also reports in shorter forms about Christian and Catholic persecution in China.
Some pretty good books I’ve read, but they all bear the bias of the authors. They look at communism as a world or global wave or phenomenon. Where books in this vein look at faith and organized religions as institutions, which sadly they could be, aligned with the parties overthrown or coming to power … I am looking for books that round this history out by personal narratives.
“The Black Book of Communism,” by Jean-Louis Panne is expensive. (I use library books a lot.) It gives an idea of the international web of alliances and funding that was communism during the Stalin/Khruschev eras. It is not as great as showing how some countries shifted toward communism as a pragmatic financial decision, although that’s implicit. You can see how global communism when it was not part of the actual territory of the Soviet bloc or Chinese land holdings was less ideological and more often (not always) about shared totalitarian control by government, where often former colonies had not stabilized but reverted under strong men to colonial brutal rule learned in the previous era from colonial powers like Belgium.)
My favorite of the world-wide communism books I’ve read is “Comrades! A History of World Communism,” by Robert Service who takes a careful look at why so many places fell to communism. His viewpoint is from what made people or leaders turn to communism as an organizing principle, and that is important to understand. I’m not sure he covered in as much detail the corruption of governments in small countries just seeking license to pillage their own countries. and he offers not a lot on issues of faith that were affected.
“How Difficult It Is To Be God: The Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru 1980 to 1999” by Carlos Ivan Degregori (who is maybe the world expert on the Shining Path and by some extension the Maoist movements in Latin America at the end of last century). What I like about this book is that the author lived through the Maoist revolutions and he was involved in what might be considered restorative justice commissions of a sort after the horror was over – something I am interested in personally.
For me a couple political science books helped piece things together, especially considering how many have said communism is evil on the world stage across history (since 1017).
There’s a book I really liked by Mark Zupan (economist) called “Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest,” which covers Western history and the rise and fall of all manner of governments, pointing to a single theme for why they all fall at some point – democratic or totalitarian, moral or not. I found this reading, with its inclusion of a lot about China and some about South American governments, very helpful for understanding the communist-democratic dichotomy from a different angle.
Who were the leading persons who managed to bring down the Berlin Wall in my lifetime? I found both these books to be really insightful. Both John O’Sullivan’s “The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister” and George Weigel’s “Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II.”
I really appreciated this, like the Zupan book above, historical perspective on the variations among totalitarian regimes and, also, US foreign policy after the Cold War, both by Jeane Kirkpatrick, whose primary principle that evil in history recurs was particularly important to me, so the earlier book was “Dictatorships and Double-Standards: Rationalism and Reason in Politics” and the later one just before she died was “Making War to Keep Peace: Trials and Errors in American Foreign Policy.”
There are many books about Fatima vis a vis the World Wars, and the rise of communism. I appreciate the faith-rich ones, but would like to find those that put the apparitions in historical context, such as the danger in which Catholics found themselves in Portugal in the 1910s. There was a great book called something like Red October, White Flag, I read and stuck with me … I’m trying to find that again and also … to find more historical context for the apparition in Fatima and elsewhere in terms of interrelationship with world politics. For example, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego before Spain and the West and (from what I read) the Church considered him and all natives in the New World “human” and entitled to protections for what we would call “human rights” today; also known as Our Lady owning the Western governments and Church.
Smart Younger Persons’ View that Communism and Catholicism Are Compatible
Twitter has introduced me to some younger bright persons who think communism is compatible with Catholicism.
I’m not inclined to agree but am very curious about their thinking so I can learn. I’m curious is there has been a new dialogue about communism possible since the Soviet behemoth (in theory) fell off the world stage. Or, will this be related to liberation theology? I’m really looking forward to these reads.
A generous reading list that @piagnone provided me, who laid out a quick framework in a couple tweets and provided some lists.
OK! So what catholics who hold these ideas generally mean when they say communism/socialism is a critique of capitalism as unjust & unchristian, and a belief a society based on common ownership & the abolition of capital, rent, and wage-labour as would be a good alternative something different from the soviet system & (it’s argued) compatible with church teaching (an essay on that: https://web.archive.org/web/20161004145507/http://tradinista.com/a-catholic-socialism-part-i/ …) . For a more general reading list covering those topics: https://twitter.com/piagnone/status/1060692635982159872 … (in retrospect would add days’ ‘from union sqr to rome’)
Also from @piagnone and @areyousurebruv
From @MrAIAnderson via @piagnone