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J. Arch Getty

J. Arch Getty is the author of The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks 1932-39. He is a professor of history at UCLA.

Soviet Russia

J. Arch Getty, 2 March 2000

It was not until the 1970s that ‘Soviet studies’ evolved into ‘Soviet history’. The totalitarian model, with its focus on government control of an inert population, gave way to the study of modern Russian society. The new Soviet social history insisted that society mattered, even in dictatorships, that the Stalinist regime had had to deal with a society whose traditions, structure and inertia could derail or modify the state’s plans. Although society never ‘won’ the contest, neither were the state’s victories complete. Even in the 1930s, the regime, which wanted communal farms, sometimes had to settle for private plots and privatised cows.‘

Fudging the news

J. Arch Getty, 9 May 1991

In the days before electronic media were able instantly to place each of us in any part of the world, foreign correspondents were our link with current events. We found out about wars, revolutions, floods and famines by reading the work of these colourful characters who, with their trenchcoats, typewriters and suitcases, moved from capital to capital sniffing out the news. Writers like H. R. Knickerbocker, Malcolm Muggeridge, Eugene Lyons, John Gunther and Walter Duranty were our eyes and cars in the world. The milieux in which these men functioned in the Twenties and Thirties were turbulent and romantic. Moving constantly between Paris, Berlin and Moscow, they knew each other; they frequented the same salons, bars, restaurants and press offices and moved through settings ranging from the bohemian to the formal and diplomatic. Often living out of suitcases in assorted hotels, they passed with apparent ease in and out of circles of opium-smokers, political conspirators, avant-garde artists and government officials.

All the Russias

J. Arch Getty, 30 August 1990

I recently asked two first-time Soviet visitors to the United States for their most vivid impression of America. Both are perceptive scholars and both had spent several weeks touring and studying. Without knowing the other’s answer, each replied that he was surprised to find that, in contrast with his native country, the US had solved its racial problems. Anyone familiar with racism in America will be struck by this comment on the depth of the ‘nationalities problem’ in the USSR.

Back in the USSR

J. Arch Getty, 22 February 1990

The Western press is full of surprising stories about reform and crisis in the Soviet Union. Since Gorbachev came to power, Soviet politics have changed drastically. But even before his ascendancy, there were rumblings of earthshaking changes in Soviet society below the level of national politics. In the later Brezhnev years, liberal Soviet sociologists, many of whom were working in a kind of professional exile in Siberian research institutes, carefully wrote about changing Soviet mores. Studying the results of the first scientific public-opinion polls in sixty years, they noted a decline in Soviet-style patriotism, in respect for socialist and Leninist values, and in allegiance to Party and state. Led by the now-prominent sociologist Tatania Zaslavskaia, these observers pointed to increases in juvenile delinquency, evasions of military service and other ‘immoral’ activities as signs of a crisis in values. A decline in the attractiveness of visible and powerful public-service careers and a shift to ‘individualist’ lucrative private occupations, combined with respondents’ expressed desire to get rich, seemed to herald a fundamental transformation in attitudes and social organisation. Today many of the points scientifically documented by Zaslavskaia in their embryonic phase are becoming evident in daily life.

Starving the Ukraine

J. Arch Getty, 22 January 1987

The ‘peasant question’, in some form or other, was one that Russian governments faced for hundreds of years. Although it presented itself in many aspects, the essential problem was how to harness a dispersed and backward agriculture to state needs. In the 20th century a transformation-minded Bolshevik Party wrestled with peasant traditionalism, capitalism, low agricultural output and its own ideological preconceptions in an attempt to modernise along socialist lines. Economic development and industrialisation were at the top of the Bolshevik agenda after the Russian Revolution. To meet these goals it was necessary, among other things, to accumulate investment capital for expansion while assuring the kind of expanding food supply necessary for industrial revolution. At first, they tried to do all this within the framework of a mixed capitalist/socialist economy. From 1921 to 1929, after winning a bitter and devastating civil war, the Bolsheviks retreated temporarily from their goals of nationalisation and collectivisation and allowed private land ownership and a free-market agriculture. In 1929 the position changed abruptly when the party leadership decided on a radically leftist scheme involving the ‘liquidation’ of private trade, rapid and state-planned industrialisation, and collectivisation of agriculture. Today’s five-year plans and collective farms are the legacy of that late Twenties decision.

Letter

Starving the Ukraine

22 January 1987

SIR: Robert Conquest portrays recent writers on the Stalin period as a ‘gaggle of “revisionists" ’ and makes the most silly and manifestly false claims about their work (Letters, 7 May). Neither I nor any other scholar has ever written that Cold War-era works or the writings of émigrés are invalid as a genre. Neither I nor any other scholar has ever denied that large-scale...

‘Practising Stalinism’

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 20 March 2014

Arch Getty​ spent a great many hours in Soviet libraries and archives (presumably during the 1980s), trying to understand Stalinism, studying its institutions and formal procedures, reading...

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Rancorous Luminaries

R.W. Davies, 28 April 1994

Western historians have been struggling for decades to get into the archives of the Stalin period. In the early Eighties, before Gorbachev took office, we were granted very limited access, but...

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Stalin’s Purges

John Barber, 17 October 1985

Nothing in the history of modern revolution illustrates so vividly the contrast between the ideals of a revolution’s makers and the catastrophes it may be fated to endure as do the Great...

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