J. Arch Getty and the Purges. - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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Inter-war period (1919-1938), Russian civil war (1917–1921) and other non World War topics (1914-1945).
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I just finished reading Getty's Origins of the Great Purges, which unfortunately I have to return to the library tomorrow.

As many of you already know, Getty paints a picture of the Purges that is radically different from the typical Western perspective. First and foremost, it is picture where Stalin isn't an evil mastermind in control of everything, though it is more than that. Stalin is presented as a mediator of extremes, one who does more reacting than acting. The Central Committee itself is presented as a chaotic organization without much control of the provinces. The various events that are collectively described as the Great Purges are the results of the Central Committee trying to keep accurate records of who is and isn't a party member, and a radical anti-bureaucratic stance towards the mid-level party leaders.

Probably the most interesting part of the book was the Bibliographic Essay, where Getty literally demolishes the typical Western view of events. Getty goes directly to the sources of Conquest and his ilk and shows them to be completely unreliable. Statements from Conquest like "basically the best, though not infallible, source is rumor" are rebuked for their idiocy ("Such statements would be astonishing in any other field of history" says Getty, as should any person interested in historical accuracy).

I highly recommend this book, even though it does drag-on in various places. I've ordered another one of Getty's books, The Road to Terror, where he seems to take on a more anti-Stalin line regarding the same period, though reviews at amazon still suggest it is nothing like a Conquest-type view. I'm currently thinking some of the pro-Stalin people out there might be purposely misusing Getty's older research, though I'm not certain. I can't wait to get my copy of Road to Terror.
By Tovarish Spetsnaz
You will find that in this forum..we'v covered Getty's work on Stalin over and over...as well as the Soviet Archival data. Take a look around some of the threads in the History Forum...I hope you find some interesting information.
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By Maxim Litvinov
Yay! Brings a smile to my face :) People reading history books, and quoting their personal opinions without cutting and pasting huge slabs of text.

I haven't read Getty's Origins of the Great Purges so can only imagine what it's like. But I've got The Road to Terror and have read most of it. It's mainly new(ish) archival sources with a nice commentary by Getty and Naumov.

I think we're all past accepting Conquest as fact here - please speak up if I don't talk for you.

I can't compare the two books, obviously. But I think Getty's thesis helps to promote a number of points which are important to understanding the era:
1) Stalin really was quite a moderate - in terms of the ruthlessness of his policies, and indeed his position on the political spectrum. He felt very threatened by the prospect of counter-revolutionaries within Russia, but so did the Party as a whole.
2) The USSR was never totalitarian. It never ruled predominantly through making the people too terrorised to resist. Citizens may have felt that it was not in their best interests to criticise the Party, but this does not mean that they rejected the government's legitimacy.
3) Purges and the Terror were instances of chistki gone wrong, combined with excessive paranoia -- they were not designed to "terrorise" the people or exterminate sections of the population.
4) One man didn't, and couldn't, direct everything. The central Party bureaucracy very often had to coerce state officials, and carry out policies that enjoyed the support of the local Party and people. The outcomes of Soviet policies depended on many more variables than "Stalin's Say-So".

.... or then again, maybe Conquest doesn't really say that, and it's just me. Time to read him again, methinks.
By Intelligitimate
From my research into the issue for the past few months, there seems to be three views of Stalin.

Typical Western view – Stalin was an evil madman, with many slight variations depending on the ‘historian’ in question. Championed by Conquest, Solzhenitsyn, etc.

Pro-Stalin view – Stalin was a great man. He defeated the fascists and turned the USSR into a superpower. Championed today by various Communist organizations, who all seem to highly rely on the work of people like Ludo Martens and Anna Louis Strong. There seems to be very little pro-Stalin stuff that is available in English today.

Bourgeois Revisionist view – Stalin was much like a typical politician. He often decided between the positions of two groups, and often tried to appease both sides with some sort of compromise. He wasn’t an evil mastermind behind many of the bad things that happened, which have been exaggerated by anti-Communists anyway. The level of control he possessed is exaggerated, as is the control of the Bolsheviks in general.

Of course, Getty is the only Bourgeois Revisionist historians I’ve read so far, though he does mention other people that have similar conclusions, so I will assume that there is group of people who hold similar views to Getty.

I think an important thing Marxists must do is finally try to settle these historical issues. The “Stalin Question” is perhaps the biggest dividing line among Marxists there is, not to mention between Marxists and other socialists. I personally suspect the truth lies somewhere between the Pro-Stalin view and the Bourgeois Revisionist view, but there definitely needs to be a de-emphasis on Stalin, and Communist leaders in general.

Also, the “Stalin Question” is important for us because it is the primary propaganda weapon of anti-Communists. This view needs to be debunked and exposed for the raving anti-Communist pack of lies it is.

On another note, I also want to start investigating the Chinese revolution. From my own research, this seems to be a far more obscure subject. No one on either side is citing any sources, and there doesn’t seem to be any Bourgeois Revisionist group, but that perception may be caused by my inadequate study. So, if anyone could point me in the right direction here, I’d appreciate it.
By Tovarish Spetsnaz
Championed today by various Communist organizations, who all seem to highly rely on the work of people like Ludo Martens and Anna Louis Strong. There seems to be very little pro-Stalin stuff that is available in English today.

Ludo Martens is of the Dutch Communists I think (I forget which country)...but in the general view of world Marxist-Leninist Parties he's pretty insignificant. Most "pro-Stalin" parties are like the CPSU in Russia today...even the CPRF tries to play the Stalin card once in a while to appease its followers. Generally there is little in English becasue most of his supporters are from non-english speaking countries.

There are also several revisionist historians in Russia who have examined the archives and have written books on him...and they are even more authoritarian on the subject than Getty.

If I may suggest this site...it contains a lot of literature in Russian in defense of Stalin. Go to www.translate.ru and translate some of the stuff into English. Its defenately worth it...
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By jaakko
Tovarish Spetsnaz wrote:Ludo Martens is of the Dutch Communists I think (I forget which country)...but in the general view of world Marxist-Leninist Parties he's pretty insignificant.

Correction: Ludo Martens is in the leadership of the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB). Actually PTB is quite significant party in the world Marxist-Leninist movement (MList in the more general sense of the term). It holds international seminars where also many major mainstream communist parties participate (CP of Cuba, WPK etc., and parties like KKE etc.). Of course PTB is just one factor, but despite the different opinion among the MList movement concerning PTB-affiliated parties all recognise the value of Ludo Martens' pro-Stalin works.

Sorry for the slight derailment, which I originally intended just as a small correction...

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