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He had no reason to kill Kirov, and his immediate reaction to the assassination suggested panic, confusion and rage more than anything else. As Getty points out, no one, not even Trotsky, accused Stalin of the murder at the time or for another two decades. Even Khrushchev, who attributed to him direct responsibility for the deaths of several leading Communists, did not lay this charge at his door.

For most historians of Soviet politics in the Thirties, the Purges of were the deliberate culmination of the process of eliminating opposition in the Party which began in This Getty emphatically denies. The Great Purges were a separate phenomenon from the earlier purges, and had their own specific causes. He sees them as resulting primarily from severe central-regional conflicts, from bitter factional struggle in Moscow, and ultimately from the breakdown of the balance between radicals and moderates.

Persuaded of the existence of a major threat from internal opposition, consisting perhaps of a revival of Trotskyist influence, perhaps of an alliance of economic administrators, local Party leaders and military commanders, Stalin threw his weight behind the radical faction. A savage pre-emptive strike was launched against opponents, real or imaginary.

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Yezhov was given command of the NKVD in summer , and the following spring launched the terror which in the Soviet Union to this day bears his name, the Yezhovshchina. It is important to note what Getty does not do. The essential point is that the Purges were a political phenomenon whose basic causes must be sought in political factors. There can be no doubt that this book makes much of the traditional interpretation of Soviet politics in the Thirties redundant. It establishes once and for all that politics continued to function in those years, that the disappearance of political conflict at the end of the Twenties did not mean its abolition.

Getty, John Archibald

It also hammers a good many nails into the coffin of the totalitarian model of Soviet politics. Its description of the shortcomings of the Party apparatus in the Smolensk region makes the old picture of a monolithic, omnipotent Communist Party impossible to sustain. Of its more speculative hypotheses, the idea of a link between radical anti-bureaucratic policies and working-class hostility towards bosses and officials is particularly interesting.

It suggests that the Purges may be viewed as an example of extreme revolutionary populism, akin to the Jacobin terror of or the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the s. The Smolensk archive provides him with much of his evidence: but how typical was Smolensk? In more urbanised and industrialised regions the Party apparatus may have been more effective, its members more committed and better disciplined. Whether the stated grounds of expulsion from the Party in the purges of corruption, passivity etc were always the actual reasons, as Getty assumes, may be doubted.

These were convenient accusations to throw at political opponents; and in any case a lack of zeal was one of the chief sins of so-called Right deviationists. What party headquarters is ever satisfied with the performance of its local branches?

J. Arch Getty - Wikiwand

And despite its failings, the Party had a very tangible effect at the local level, playing a key role in mobilising the industrial work-force and collectivising the peasantry. This was not unique to the Thirties; it has been a perennial feature of Soviet politics from Lenin to Gorbachev. It may be true that his role in the Purges has been exaggerated, that he was essentially a balancer of interests and an improvisor, that he often changed course, and that there were significant constraints on his power up to But was he really as removed from the political struggle as Getty implies?

If he seems frequently to have reacted to events rather than to have directed them, is this not what all political leaders tend to do? While he sometimes sounded the retreat and supported moderate policies, especially in the face of economic setbacks, from onwards he mainly identified with the radical line.

He acknowledges that other factors besides the struggles within the Party played a part, though he leaves the task of evaluating these to other historians. But the result is that we have a considerably fuller account of how the Communist Party functioned between and than we have of the Purges themselves. The former and the latter may have been causally linked, as Getty argues they were, but it cannot be said that he has demonstrated this beyond any doubt.

In fact, his reconstruction of the Yezhovshchina is no less speculative, though rather more plausible, than the accounts given by his predecessors. It is certainly the case that the political situation in the Soviet Union in the late Thirties was conducive to the terror which occurred, for the reasons given. But what tipped the balance?

What turned potential into reality? But even allowing that this was all, and that these crucial interventions were not part of any grand design, the fact remains that they were essential contributions to the terror. Personal, political and structural factors all interacted. Like most seminal works, this book raises more questions than it satisfactorily answers. Further investigation of the conflicts in the Politburo, the extent of real opposition, the relations between Moscow and the regions, the influence of the international situation, is needed.

But it will take place, thanks to Getty, in a new context.

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He has cleared the ground of many influential myths and has advanced many challenging hypotheses. His book is a landmark in the writing of Soviet political history.

A. Context

SIR: I have not yet read J. However, I was sorry to see him draw one conclusion which, while predictable, seems to me greatly misleading and depressingly trite.


Arendt, by the way, also made use of the Smolensk archives, both directly and via the work of Merle Fainsod before it was sanitised by Jerry Hough. John Barber writes: Mr Weintraub is quite entitled to question my assessment of J. Unfortunately, he has failed to grasp its most important conclusion. Getty does not simply show, as others have indeed already done, that corruption, inefficiency, and resistance to official policies, existed in the Soviet Union in the s: he also presents strong evidence to suggest that this was true of the Communist Party itself.

It is, however, highly misleading of Mr Weintraub to imply that Arendt made significant use of the Smolensk archive. Log In Register for Online Access.

Review: "Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938"

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Based upon archival and published sources, the work describes the events in the Bolshevik Party leading up to the Great Purges of Professor Getty concludes that the party bureaucracy was chaotic rather than totalitarian, and that local officials had relative autonomy within a considerably fragmented political system. The Moscow leadership, of which Stalin was the most authoritarian actor, reacted to social and political processes as much as instigating them.

Because of disputes, confusion, and inefficiency, they often promoted contradictory policies.