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The Left Side of History: World War II and…

The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of…

by Kristen Ghodsee

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Ghodsee's book gives subtle reasoning to why people supported communism at the end of World War 2 beyond the knee-jerk reaction where “communism” is a dirty word that is quickly matched with Stalin and the Soviet labour camps.

The book centres around Ghodsee's quest to find out more about why a British Army Officer would have been working with the communist partisans. It's a mixed book. I had expected more detail on the partisan movement on Bulgaria, particularly the work of the British officer Frank Thompson (brother of the historian E.P. Thompson), and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the resistance.

Ghodsee contrasts the motivations and beliefs of Thompson with the present day realities of life in Bulgaria using personal interviews with those that lived through World War 2 and their hopes for a better society.

The story of Elena Lagadinova,"The Amazon", is particularly interesting as she rose through the ranks of the Communist Party to become deputy to the National Assembly and President of the Committee of the Movement of Bulgarian Women and advanced women's rights in Bulgaria against much patriarchal opposition. She is described as being far from a conformist party member.

The baseline of the book is that despite the excesses of the communist government there is nostalgia for the communist period in Bulgaria, particularly in the face of the economic and social impacts of democracy and free markets after 1989.

Underlining this is the revulsion of the new democrats for anything created by the communists regardless of the wider social benefits.

As is always the case it is the victors who write the history. The old communist monuments built in Bulgaria were demolished post 1989. New memorials to the Victims of Communism carry the names of people were active allies and collaborators with the Nazis and who's hands were just as bloody as those who were hard-core adherents of Stalin.

All in all an interesting book that gives insight into the motivations and aspirations of those that fought with the communist partisans in World War 2 as well as their post war aspirations to build a better society based on social justice rather than purely profit margins.

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  mancmilhist | Aug 28, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0822358352, Paperback)

In The Left Side of History Kristen Ghodsee tells the stories of partisans fighting behind the lines in Nazi allied Bulgaria during World War II: British officer Frank Thompson (brother of the great historian E.P. Thompson), and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the armed anti-fascist resistance. But these people were not merely anti-fascist; they were pro-communist, idealists moved by their socialist principles to fight and sometimes die for a cause they believed to be right. Victory brought forty years of communist dictatorship followed by unbridled capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today in democratic Eastern Europe there is ever-increasing despair, disenchantment with the post-communist present, and growing nostalgia for the communist past. These phenomena are difficult to understand in the West, where “communism” is a dirty word that is quickly equated with Stalin and Soviet labor camps. By starting with the stories of people like Thompson and Lagadinova, Ghodsee provides a more nuanced understanding of how communist ideals could inspire ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:50 -0400)

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