In the aftermath of World War II, a surprisingly large number of poor countries were upset by revolution: Vietnam, China, Cuba, Algeria, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Afghanistan, Iran, and Nicaragua. Revolutionaries in these geographically and culturally disparate countries came to power through different routes, but once in power they had remarkably similar ideas about how to remake their states and societies. In this passionate analysis of the course of these revolutions, Forrest Colburn suggests that shared institutional and policy choices of revolutionary elites arose from a fashionable political imagination.
Paradoxically, in an era marked by the demise of European colonialism, it was Europeans--mainly Marx, Engels, and Lenin--who supplied the vision of what could replace colonialism. Colburn traces the diffusion of this intoxicating political imagination not to the Soviet Union, but instead to Western Europe and North America, where socialism was rarely more than political fantasy. In Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, this imagination inspired revolution, but more importantly led to sadly flawed ideas about how to eliminate poverty and inequality. The vogue for revolution in poor countries withered away in a descent accelerated, but not initiated, by the East European events of 1989-1991. This lucid book clarifies why so many countries were so profoundly wrecked in the frenzied pursuit of a dreamt-up world.