The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World by David Priestland - review by Archie Brown

Archie Brown

Comrades in Arms

The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 675pp £35

When Albert Marquet, a French painter of landscapes and seascapes, was invited to the Soviet Union as an official guest before the Second World War, he behaved in a rather grumpy and disenchanted manner until he was taken to the Museum of Contemporary Western Art in Leningrad. There he found his own paintings displayed alongside those of Matisse and Cézanne. Marquet’s opinion of the judgement and discernment of his hosts was immediately enhanced. He was not to know that his works had been taken out of deep storage specially for his visit and that they were promptly returned to the vaults after he had gone. He returned to France as an enthusiast for what was known in those days as ‘the Soviet experiment’, saying ‘I did like it in the USSR.’ 

This example of manipulation of gullible foreigners is one of the stories told by David Priestland in his engaging history of communism. A particular strength of the book is the attention it pays to cultural life – especially, but not only, in the Soviet Union. Priestland enlivens his

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