"The Rise and Fall of Communism"
Course Requirements

My goal in this course is to provide you with a systematic way of understanding the evolution of world communism.  To accomplish this goal, I will seek to acquaint you with two subjects:  1) the fundamental theoretical issues in the study of communism, and 2) the formative historical experiences of countries like the Soviet Union and China.  If I succeed, you will be able to use my perspective to interpret the history of any communist state in the 20th or 21st century.

This course has a substantial reading component.  We will read both secondary and primary sources.  Make sure you follow the schedule on the Web Syllabus closely, as I will take advantage of this virtual medium to add readings and change assignments.

Your performance in this course will be evaluated in terms of reflective writing assignments—short paragraphs and essays—and participation in discussion sections.


  1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (International Publishers). Although the Manifesto is short, it is one of the most important readings in the course. Concentrate on the pamphlet's big picture. You should devour its ideas, predictions, and revolutionary spirit.

  2. Rosenberg and Young, Transforming Russia and China (Oxford, 1982).  This book provides useful historical background to all of the themes in the course.  It is also one of the few successful comparative studies of Russia’s and China’s journey with communism.  Some of the chapters are a little too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party.  Please keep this in mind when you read the chapter on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which seems strangely neutral about Mao Zedong’s atrocities.

  3. Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (Bantam).   This is one of my favorite books.  It provides a persuasive answer to the question: why do smart, educated people do evil things?

  4. Vaclav Havel, Open Letters: Selected Writings (Vintage, 1992).  We will only read the long chapter entitled “The Power of the Powerless.”  This is a difficult but powerful essay.  My past students routinely report that it continues to influence their perspective on life.
Virtual Sources

As the father of two Notre Dame graduates, I am acutely aware of the cost of textbooks. To save you money, I have posted many of our reading assignments, as well as some nice videos, on the Course Syllabus.  I think you will find them quite interesting, especially those that were previously secret.  To make your life easier, I recommend that you simply print all of these articles.  However, you must print those articles that are required for your discussion sections.  To ensure high quality discussions, you must remember to bring each these readings to your respective Friday section.


We will have two or three films. At least one of these films will be in the evening. We will have showings of evening films, giving you some flexibility about when you choose to attend. Evening films will be shown at 7:00 p.m. in locations TBA

First Film: "Interrogation" ( Przesluchanie), by Ryszard Bugajski. A terrific and sometimes (appropriately) frightening depiction of Stalinist Poland in the early 1950s.

Tuesday, February 15, at 7:00, in 114 Pasquerilla Center
Wednesday, February 16, at 7:00, in 107 Pasquerilla Center


Grading in this course will be based on three essays, short paragraphs, and active, enthusiastic participation in discussion sections.

First Essay Assignment                                                                 15 percent
Second Essay Assignment                                                            20 percent
Final Essay Assignment                                                                35 percent

Discussion Sections
Short Paragraphs                                                                         10 percent
Participation                                                                                 20 percent

Office Hours

I hold regular office hours on Tuesdays, 3:00-4:00 and Wednesdays, 2:00-4:00.  If you absolutely cannot make those times, please ask me for an appointment.  I enjoy meeting with all of my students, so please feel comfortable visiting me.  We do not have to talk specifically about the course.

My office is in 211 Brownson Hall in the Office of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, of which I am director.

Top of Page · Founders · Competitors · Defenders · Reformers · Losers

The use of electronic devices of any kind, including laptops, cell phones, video cameras, and personal digital devices, is prohibited in my classroom!