J. Arch Getty: Creating Alternative New History of Soviet 30s

For those interested in understanding the complex events of the Soviet Union, especially in the 1930s as war with Nazi Germany loomed -- on important place to start is the work of J. Arch Getty -- the professional Soviet historian who has worked to overturn that once-dominant "standard" analysis associated Robert Conquest and the anticommunist theory of "totalitarianism."

In the following video interview, J. Arch Getty starts briefly with his early years, education, and involvement with revolutionary politics in the 60s-70s, but soon focuses on his life's work: how he developed a new analysis of the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

He also discusses his own methodology -- identifying gaps and irrationalities in the "standard" analysis, and using them as doorways to a new theory of the history, to be filled in (and modified) as new data emerged from Soviet party archives over the last twenty years. In the process Getty raises (toward the end) interesting observations about the relationship of the Party and the State in the Soviet Union, including the degree of unofficial clique ("clan") politics in defining the dynamics of that Party-State amalgam and the eruption of the purges.

His work has helped dethroned the theories of "totalitarianism,"  and enabled us to approach to the Soviet Union as a series of real political events. In the process he has brought forward some startling discoveries and observations about those dramatic conflicts.

Interview with J. Arch Getty

This video first appears on the History Faculty website. (51 minutes)

 

For those interested in reading Getty's work on the Soviet Union here is a short list of his major works. ( list of articles on Wikipedia)

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  • Guest - ( )

    The Road to Terror is great, but he seems to be fearful of admitting that there's a chance that Stalin had popular support, didn't act selfishly, tried to initiate democracy, and was subdued by factions opposed to him. Maybe I'm just biased, but I find Grover Furr way more accurate and engaging, even thought many of his claims come across as idealistic to me.

  • Guest - ( )

  • Guest - jp

    have not read him, but the interview with getty shows him to be appropriately careful about what conclusions or conjectures the evidence allows him to make.

    the format reminds me of the 'conversations with history' website, which also has valuable interviews.

    there is a second video of getty on the terror, not an interview, on the recommended site. have not watched that yet. the site itself, by the way, is a nice find and the notice of it is appreciated.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    > there’s a chance that Stalin had popular support, didn’t act selfishly, tried to initiate democracy, and was subdued by factions opposed to him.

    I'd say that the documents which Getty & Naumov provide translations clearly show that Stalin was a willful participant in the terror. Although it wasn't all under his grand control as Conquest had implied, it's clear that Getty's documentation conflicts sharply with the image that Furr has tried to market of Stalin as the frustrated liberal.

  • Guest - ( )

    And why does that matter? In fact I don't see anything wrong with terror if your government is full of factions which wish to (or have connections to ones that do) overthrow the Soviet government in an extremely hostile international and domestic environment. Liberalism in such a situation is childish.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    The documents which Getty & Naumov produce show Stalin demanding arrest quotas with set numbers prescribed for the NKVD to arrest this many people. Under conditions of civil war such forms of general terror (which does not even make a pretense of looking for real evidence of spies) may be necessary. But they are certainly not compatible with any type "democracy." It has been precisely such practices as general arrest quotas which tended to encourage the Stalin-as-power-mad-cynic paradigm which Conquest propagated. Getty gives a better interpretation of the facts than Conquest had. But Furr just blows past the facts with vague unsubstantiated claims about Stalin's plans to establish a new "democracy."

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    When state terror, under whatever flag, becomes a conceptual and abstract calculus as advocated by (), then we really have to think long and hard about what kind of future we are imagining... This level of cold dissociation can only breed "more of the same" at the expense of the very people we say we are serving.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    > full of factions which wish to (or have connections to ones that do) overthrow the Soviet government

    It might be added that no one has found evidence of any factions which wished to overthrow the Soviet government. Overthrowing Stalin, whether you agree with that or not, is not the same thing. Perhaps some factioms actually existed somewhere that really wished to overthrow the Soviet government in a general way, but the Whites had been resoundingly defeated in the civil war and it's not likely that anyone like them had much influence.

    This is where Orwell/Blair got the idea in ANIMAL FARM from of having Snowball advocate building a windmill which Napoleon rejects until Snowball disappears and suddenly Napoleon proclaims that the windmill will be built. While NEP was in motion with the support of the Stalin-Bukharin alliance, Trotsky had been advocating that a 5-year plan should be established to begin industrialization. After Trotsky had been exiled, Stalin broke with Bukharin and suddenly began advocating a 5-year plan. Whatever you make of the specifics of Trotsky's ideas, there's no question that he was a fervent advocate of a Soviet government.

  • Guest - jp

    () says:

    <blockquote>"In fact I don’t see anything wrong with terror if your government is full of factions ... Liberalism in such a situation is childish."</blockquote>



    this is quite disturbing - it isn't 'liberalism' which rejects terror, it's an empathetic, thinking human brain.

    I am assuming here that the kind of 'terror' we are discussing is limited to 'Stalin's Great' terror - the events of the 30's as addressed by Getty. Conventional history deems as 'terror' many acts of human liberation and self-defense.

  • Guest - nand0

    Part of what we are dissecting here are the <em>particular</em> features of pseudo-science (and how it is different from debate and even wrong views <em>within</em> serious scientific discourse).

    Take creationism's <a href="/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design" rel="nofollow">intelligent design</a> theory:

    1) It adopts the form, language, and tone of real science -- and seeks to wrap itself in the appearance of authority (listing people with degrees etc.)

    2) It uses that form to present verdicts that its core audiences <em>want</em> to believe, and are <em>already</em> well inclined to believe.

    3) It then hopes to use this respected form of presentation to hoist itself into a larger debate, where its arguments are otherwise already discredited.

    As someone said about Fox news: "It provides ammunition, not information." In other words the believers go to such formats to pick up arguments, and talking points to better publicly defend views they already have.

    And embedded in pseudo scientific arguments, there often is a great deal of fact -- the problem is not that it is <em>simply</em> fantasy fabrication. (There is a difference between the fantasy of Stargate and the pseudo-science of Eric von Daniken.) Many facts of various kinds are assembled (by forms of non-logical construct, by exclusion of other fact, by slanted presentation, by false statements of causation, etc. etc.) into a web of argumentation that makes a false claim.

    The argument around pseudo science is not that it doesn't ever contain facts -- but that its claims of conclusion and verdict are false.

    And often, the problems with a pseudo-scientific argument is painfully <em>obvious</em> to someone with pre-knowledge of the controversies but painfully <em>hidden</em> from people who arrive at the question without much information.

    If you have read Badiou, there are inevitably many sharp questions in your head about his theory. (I don't know anyone who is simply a Badiouist!) But when you read the RCP polemic (after any serious study) what is clear is that their arguments and presentation are <em>bogus</em> -- they don't deal with the real issues, they distort his writings, they slant the controversies... all in the service of promoting their own theory to an audience predisposed to distrust new theory. In other words, it is "Look at this, it tastes terrible."

    And the RCP's arguments on Badiou were packaged in this way, for only two reasons... So they would have a seemingly scholarly work to present as they smeared Badiou at the margins of the "Communist Hypothesis" conference in Britain, and so they could quiet the curiosity in their own ranks.

    Someone in the RCP writing team went through Badiou's work and picked out passages that would (on the surface, on first encounter) be shocking or strange to an orthodox Marxist. And such quotes are everywhere into the RCP document, floating disembodied one next to each other like bodies drifting down a river. The readers are asked to come to the riverbank and gawk at the strange and awful sight -- of these odd contorted ideas torn out of the context of Badiou's specific work of definition.

    So if nothing else, that RCP document serves as an exercise of "Wow, I can't believe that Badiou said that about Christianity [or about power, or about the party, or about xxx]!" <em>to the reader who has not actually engaged Badiou's theory of truth process, fidelity and universality.</em>

    It reminds me of how 19th century Europeans toured a captured African "pygmy" around from town to town for people in a cruel exhibition -- and obviously didn't deepen anyone's understanding of a distant culture, but (on the contrary) confirmed (as it was intended) their own prejudices about their own superiority.

    So a shallow (and rather dishonest) argument is dressed up in the superficial trappings of a real polemic and real inquiry in order to arm the unengaged to misrepresent the issues in public -- by preemptively shortciruiting any real challenge to pre-existing verdicts.

    * * * * * * * * *

    The leftist pseudo-science we explored in various threads here are not the same as rightwing pseudo-science. The authors are not racists, or antisemites, or crudely anti-science.

    But I think that ()'s argument illustrates the functioning of pseudo-science:

    <blockquote>'[J.Arch Getty's]Road to Terror is great, but he seems to be fearful of admitting that there’s a chance that Stalin had popular support, didn’t act selfishly, tried to initiate democracy, and was subdued by factions opposed to him. Maybe I’m just biased, but I find Grover Furr way more accurate and engaging, even thought many of his claims come across as idealistic to me.</blockquote>

    <blockquote>why does that matter? In fact I don’t see anything wrong with terror if your government is full of factions which wish to (or have connections to ones that do) overthrow the Soviet government in an extremely hostile international and domestic environment. Liberalism in such a situation is childish.</blockquote>

    1) he reveals (with every word) that he is not judging things based on an examination of the arguments (he seems unaware that Getty's core thesis is about the power of "factions opposed to Stalin" -- in other words, Getty isn't "fearful" of that at all.... and the issue in real research is hardly "fear" in the first place. And () seems to think the controversy is over "popular support" -- which the government clearly had in some areas and not in others.)

    2) Coming from that place, he thinks that the author <em>whose verdict re-enforces his own predispositions</em> is probably the more accurate one.

    3) As the discussion proceeds, () reveals that the whole issue of <em>understanding</em> the horrible events of the late 30s doesn't particularly interest him anyway, since he thinks random state terror (arrest, mass executions, frightening of cadre and population into apolitical passivity) are all just fine. He is not bothered by an assumption of a simple choice between institutionalized state terror or a counterrevolutionary liberalism. (What a terrible binary world THAT would be! Do we need to ask what the vast majority of humanity would pick if those really <em>were</em> the choices -- which they are not)?

    So I think () is helpful to our discussion. Furr provides a clear example of a leftist piece of pseudo-science that misrepresents claims and cherry-picked evidence to "provide ammunition" for long-discredited arguments. And () then gives us an example of the kind of micro-audience who embraces that, because they <em>like</em> those long-discredited arguments and welcome a chance to wave their tattered banner.

    * * * * * * *

    If anyone wants to stand in front of people and say "I like the random arrests of people with little or no evidence, i think having political police with arrest quotas and the legal right to beat arrestees for confessions is fine, i think that ongoing institutionalized political terror of the population, the state cadre and the party itself is fine, i think leaders of socialist political opposition movements deserve execution, i think any verbal expression of anti-government views deserves arrest -- and all that is integral to my view of socialism" --

    Well, if you <em>really</em> think this, say so and be clear.

    But you won't get any hearing --not from real historians, not from communists who want to serve the people, not from the oppressed who want a more just and non-oppressive society.

    Who in their right mind would embrace such ugly views and nihilist values -- justified using fake history?

    This discussion is not a discussion of the <em>claims</em> of Grover Furr (on the Soviet Union), or the <em>claims</em> of the RCP (on Badiou) -- it is a methodological examination of the techniques they use to make patently <em>false</em> claims.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    &gt; Liberalism in such a situation is childish.

    This makes me wonder if you've actually read any of Furr's claims. Furr has generated a lot of publicity around assertions that Stalin was planning to "democratize" the USSR in ways which, to hear Furr talk about it, could easily make one think of him as a downright liberal. Now I'm the type who likes to keep an open ear and mind to any new information which may from out of the Soviet archives which contradicts the old totalitarian paradigm. But I must say that I haven't yet been impressed with anything produced by Furr. What you seem to be doing here is backing off of the Stalin-as-democrat paradigm which Furr advocates and shifting towards the argument that terror can sometimes be necessary. Sure it can. Trotsky wrote a book attacking Kautsky during the civil war (which has usually been given the English title TERRORISM AND COMMUNISM) where he openly defended ruthlessness as a mode of civil war. None of the old Bolsheviks were strangers to these types of arguments. But Furr has claimed something else, and it is that something else which I strongly disagree with.

  • Guest - another brother

    thanks for sharing this interview. So much of the discussion regarding Soviet history is deduced from "principles" that are themselves largely the creation of various cold war propaganda projects. For communists, understanding the nature of soviet politics is crucial. Ideological deduction (without serious history) largely go unchallenged since it requires real effort to extricate events and method from conclusion and projection...

  • Guest - ( )

    <cite>The documents which Getty &amp; Naumov produce show Stalin demanding arrest quotas with set numbers prescribed for the NKVD to arrest this many people.</cite>

    Those quotas were demanded by the local party representatives and were the outcome of many factors:

    *A compromise with Stalin in which the local leaders probably wished to use the troikas to get rid of political opponents who could vote them out in the upcoming elections, and by which Stalin hoped to introduce elections by which corrupt officials would be ousted.
    *Genuine fear of conspiracies, crime and disorder.
    *Lack of information over the situation in far-out areas of the USSR, i.e. the cooperation of local parties was needed.
    *Ongoing factional struggles within the government, such as the actions of Yezhov and Yagoda.

    To quote Furr:

    " 98. At the same time much evidence suggests that the central (Stalin) leadership wanted both to restrain the "troika" repressions demanded by the First Secretaries, and to continue to implement the new Constitution's secret and contested elections. From July 5 to 11 most First Secretaries followed Eikhe's lead in sending in precise figures of those whom they wanted to suppress -- by execution (category 1) or imprisonment (category 2). Then,

    suddenly on 12 July, Deputy NKVD Commissar M.P. Frinovskii sent an urgent telegram to all local police agencies: "Do not begin the operation to repress former kulaks. I repeat, do not begin." (Getty, "Excesses" 127-8)

    99. Local NKVD chiefs were recalled to Moscow for conferences, after which was issued Order No. 00447. This very long and detailed instruction both expanded the kinds of people subject to repression (basically including priests, those who had previously opposed Soviet power, and criminals), and -- usually -- lowered the "limits" or numbers requested by the provincial secretaries.19 All this vacillation suggested disagreements and struggles between the "center" -- Stalin and the central Politburo leadership -- and the First Secretaries in the provincial areas. Stalin was clearly not in charge. (Order No. 00447; Getty, "Excesses" 126-9)."

    <cite>When state terror, under whatever flag, becomes a conceptual and abstract calculus as advocated by (), then we really have to think long and hard about what kind of future we are imagining… This level of cold dissociation can only breed “more of the same” at the expense of the very people we say we are serving.</cite>

    Yeah I'm obviously a cold-hearted cynical 'Stalinist' dogmatically following a futile line of politics, not a person interested in historic accuracy and trying to understand events in their context.

    <cite>[...]
    Well, if you really think this, say so and be clear.

    But you won’t get any hearing –not from real historians, not from communists who want to serve the people, not from the oppressed who want a more just and non-oppressive society.

    Who in their right mind would embrace such ugly views and nihilist values — justified using fake history?</cite>

    If this is aimed at me I don't agree with any of the points in that imaginary monologue, and I doubt anyone else on this site does. Also fake history? Lenin was a bloodthirsty dog and Mao killed 30 million people! sjdjkasjdsahjdkasdh...

    <cite>This makes me wonder if you’ve actually read any of Furr’s claims. Furr has generated a lot of publicity around assertions that Stalin was planning to “democratize” the USSR in ways which, to hear Furr talk about it, could easily make one think of him as a downright liberal. Now I’m the type who likes to keep an open ear and mind to any new information which may from out of the Soviet archives which contradicts the old totalitarian paradigm. But I must say that I haven’t yet been impressed with anything produced by Furr. What you seem to be doing here is backing off of the Stalin-as-democrat paradigm which Furr advocates and shifting towards the argument that terror can sometimes be necessary. Sure it can. Trotsky wrote a book attacking Kautsky during the civil war (which has usually been given the English title TERRORISM AND COMMUNISM) where he openly defended ruthlessness as a mode of civil war. None of the old Bolsheviks were strangers to these types of arguments. But Furr has claimed something else, and it is that something else which I strongly disagree with.</cite>

    1) Yeah, I actually just memorized Furr's name so I could use it to support my Stalinist fanaticism in discussions.
    2) What about the 1936 Constitution? Or the 1944, 1947 or 1952 Plenums? What about Stalin's interview with Roy Howard? Do you have any evidence that he supported top-down bureaucracy as a principal? That he cared about personal power?
    3) When was Stalin as a democrat incompatible with Stalin as a liquidator of conspirators? You're performing some kind of elaborate mental calculus by assuming that I support a version of Stalin which only exists in your head.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    &gt; What about the 1936 Constitution?

    Proof that paper can take whatever is written on it.

    &gt; What about Stalin’s interview with Roy Howard?

    Interviews with foreign journalists tell us more about PR-images than what was going on within the state.

    &gt; When was Stalin as a democrat incompatible with Stalin as a liquidator of conspirators?

    Since very little of what went in the purges had much bearing on actual conspirators, this is sort of moot. Stalin was determined to frame complex issues in terms of conspiracies, most of them imaginary. The occasional trickles of reality which entered his suspicions only aggravated things further. One of the purposes of any concept of "democracy" is that it should place important limits on how far personal paranoia can affect things.

    Stalin does not appear to have regarded himself as supporting top-down bureaucracy as a principal, but many of the events which he helped to set in motion went overwhelmingly in the direction of such. When he was forced to explain this contradiction in his own mind, he seems to have lurched further in the direction of seeing himself as liquidating a conspiracy. None of this conflicts with the tendency of other party members to seize this as an opportunity for settling scores in ways which would disturb the central party leadership and raise questions about what was really going on.

    It can be a bit misleading to merely say that the central party leadership was not in charge. They were more in charge than anyone else involved. But purges of the type set in motion take on a life of their own. Lars Lih made a very good point when he noted that Russia might have been better off had Stalin really been just a power-seeking cynic. A cynic may more easily detect when purges are becoming recklessly counter-productive.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Look, (), I have no idea if your a Stalinist, or a Maoist, or even a communist -- it is hardly clear from your writings. If your idea of protecting the revolution, or the state, is about apriori justifying slaughter and purges, then it would appear that your vision of a new world is actually quite retrograde... like "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

    If our vision can only extend to replication of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and China in the 1960s, then we are destined to stay in a narrow hamster wheel indeed.

    The old line that justifies ANYTHING in the name of "the masses," of "the revolution," has new oppressors written all over it.

  • Guest - Nat W.

    I think an important point made by Getty is on the culture of violence that pervaded not just Stalin and those around him in the era of the purges, but the entire Bolshevik party from 1917 up until that point. It is no secret that Lenin himself upheld the idea of "Revolutionary Terror" a conception derived from the ideas and experience of the Jacobin reign during the French Revolution.

    To the dominant (dominant in that this section was the section of the Bolsheviks that won leadership over the entire party and hence over the state) section of the Bolsheviks the conception of Red Terror was an morally acceptable necessity of consolidating the advances of the revolution.

    Now it is also true that forces within the Bolsheviks along with left SRs like Schteinberg and Kamkov thought this acceptance of red terror and its actual application by the forces grouped around Lenin were morally reprehensible, though it was those grouped around Lenin (including both Stalin and Trotsky) who thought the idea of terror was a natural instrument of carrying forward the revolution.

    Thus when Stalin saw the terror of the 1930s as an option (even if as Getty suggests, it may not have been his first option or the one he wanted), imo it is clear that Getty's point about the the culture of dealing with political problems regularly with violence was a condition which necessarily led to what happened in the 1930s under Stalin and that this imo can be traced back to Lenin with relative ease.

    I think the reason for this (at least a major reason) was the ideological acceptance by Lenin and the Leninists with the conception of revolutionary terror along with the problem that was a very real and present problem for those involved of how to consolidate the revolution and defeat the counterrevolution.

    It is interesting to note that those who were the most ardent critics of how the Leninists conceived the role of repression domestically were also the most ardent critics of the treaty of Brest-Litvosk and supporters of revolutionary war spreading across Central and Western Europe (that is the Left Communists among the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs).

    I make the latter point to show that questions of how to both consolidate and spread the revolution existed (period) and some ideas won out over others, which helped things to go where they went leading to the great purges. And Lenin was not entirely innocent in this.

    I would argue that Stalin thought he was using the terror in the 1930s to help save the revolution from an immediate danger both internally and externally (though it is clear that he thought that internal threats were orchestrated from external forces, even Getty thinks that Stalin and his "clan" really believed this) and that in reality aside from what Stalin thought, there was an existential threat that the revolution faced (ie. Hitler) and that forces such as Bukharin and the Trotskyists did represent a real danger (at least to Stalin's own power and the way he had conceived of socialism.

    In this regard Stalin had choices about how to respond to the issues he faced and somehow the thinking among all involved (led by Stalin) led to the Purges. This choice, however, I feel strongly, had evolved out of the history of the Bolshevik's in power, the choices that were made beginning and in 1917-1918 and leading up the great purges.

    I think it necessary then to contemplate the choices that presented themselves along each step of the development of the soviet revolution, to ponder even over solutions that were brought forward that lost, and to think about what things 21st century revolutionaries can morally accept in consolidating revolution and crushing the counterrevolution (forces that will not lose sleep over killing and smashing us). Obviously these questions are not easy, and at the same time they are life and death questions, not just for defeating the counter revolution but also for the type of society we want after the revolution is wielding power (state or otherwise).

    Thanks for this post, I thought the interview was great and that the point Getty makes about Bolsheviks and the state and how clans trumped bureaucracy (and how that relates to question of the "rule of law" under socialism) were very thought provoking.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Since Grover Furr's work continues to figure into the present discussion, I thought thread would be an appropriate place to post Dr. Furr's recent statement about historical method regarding the investigation of conspiracies. He wrote this and emailed it to me after reading what has been written concerning him and his work, on this site. I post it here with his permission. (Perhaps we could post it as its own article to facilitate discussion?)

    For my part, I will simply restate that I think people should read Furr's work for themselves. Several of his articles can be found at the marxist journal, Cultural Logic, www.clogic.eserver.org .

    One more point: I don't believe that describing his project as "leftist pseudoscience" is productive to our understanding of his work, nor to our grasping of the important issues his work explores.

    ************************

    From Grover Furr


    Researching a conspiracy is like investigating a sophisticated crime, and the researcher is the detective.

    Sophisticated criminals operate "conspiratorially". The aim of conspiratorial behavior is to leave NO evidence behind. Conspirators memorize; don't write stuff down; destroy all written material as soon as it's been studied and digested; meet secretly; and so on.


    In my article "Evidence of Leon Trotsky's Collaboration with Germany and Japan." I quote an article from the _Communist International_ that specifically reminds inexperienced communists to act in exactly this way.

    I cite the example of the conspiracy to remove Lavrentii Beria in June 1953. We know this conspiracy took place because we know it took place – because it was successful.

    As I note in that article, there is no evidence of it at all -- in the Soviet archives, for example. We do have "confessions" -- the autobiographical accounts written down much later by some of the participants. But those accounts contradict each other on major details.

    If the conspiracy against Beria had failed we'd have only the "victors'" version of events, plus maybe some "confessions." Nothing else in writing.


    Then some "smart" people would be saying: "This conspiracy never occurred. It's a fabrication. These men have been framed."

    The only reason they are NOT saying this is that the conspiracy succeeded, and the participants acknowledged it. So no one can deny it happened.

    Back to the fact that all their accounts contradict each other. This ought to teach us something too.

    One can expect that conspirators' accounts WILL contradict each other, sometimes substantially. For many reasons. People tell self-serving versions. People confess only what they think they need to confess. People's memories change, fade, are reconstructed. Probably no single conspirator knew all the others. Probably the "center" of the conspiracy never met -- it wasn't organized like that.


    That's what we can learn from the "Beria conspiracy", and we know that it happened.

    __________

    So, how do you investigate a conspiracy like the alleged Trotskyite conspiracy? You investigate it like any crime, or like any historical event.


    * You gather ALL the evidence. Whatever exists, and EVERYTHING you can find. It may not be much. It is certain to be a lot less than you would like.

    Of course! The aim of the conspirators was to leave NOTHING behind.

    * You never, ever discard ANY evidence. Confessions may be all you've got. Or there maybe other stuff, but not much other stuff. These are professional conspirators.

    Did you ever read a Sherlock Holmes mystery? Nero Wolfe?

    These fictional detectives work with small bits of evidence that others do not see, or see but do not recognize as evidence. They look for small inconsistencies, patterns. They work with an hypothesis, and then search for materials to confirm or disconfirm it.

    They never expect a "smoking gun", evidence that is so striking it is almost undeniable. These stories are much more like the "Beria conspiracy" above.

    * You look for corroborating evidence. Indirect evidence. Like these fictional detectives, and like real detectives do, We have some of that. It's discussed in my article.


    * We also have some archival evidence, from Soviet and Czech archives. The anticommunists almost never mention it. It is too inconvenient. But it is there. You find it by being painstaking, extremely thorough, looking everywhere.

    We have a little from White Russian (emigre) archives too. I didn't get into that. No need to. But there's a little, though it too is cryptic. The White Russians had an intelligence service, and they were conspiratorial too.

    As for direct evidence from German or Japanese archives -- please! Of course it would be "nice" to find it. But German and Japanese intelligence, like all intelligence services, are also experienced conspirators. Many of their archives were destroyed during the War.

    Archives or papers of German generals. A very little bit has come to light. I discuss it in that article.

    So you get all the evidence you can find -- little bits, from here and there, that have taken you a long time and a lot of trouble to find. You don't discard any of it, ever. But none of it "speaks for itself." You know that because you have been doing this a long time.

    Then you study it. You don't "believe" or "disbelieve" it. You study and evaluate it, in context with everything else.

    ____________________


    No evidence "speaks for itself." Confessions can be faked. But documents, and other material evidence, can be forged even more easily.

    Since you seem to think that studying confessions is somehow different from studying other kinds of evidence, or that statements from human beings are less likely to be forged than, say, documents -- a very naive belief -- let me assure of something:


    * You that you treat confessions the same way that you treat all other kinds of evidence.

    Confessions are not "more" or "less" "reliable", etc., than other kinds of evidence. See my example of the "confessions" in the "Beria conspiracy" above. They just need to be studied critically.


    Torture: I devote a lot of attention to the question of torture, which most people approach in the most naive way imaginable. Read it!

    _____________________

    All of this is explained, at considerable length, and done, in my article. That's why it's 170 pages long. The editors demanded this exhaustive critical discussion of the evidence, and I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less.

    It is not "filler." Such a word shows that you have no idea how this kind of research has to be conducted.

    You said you'd read my article. I doubt you did. But if you did, you entirely failed to understand it.

    ______________________

    At the end you look at all the evidence, and its interpretation. You have three possible conclusions:

    * The preponderance of the available evidence points to Trotsky's having been guilty. He did conspire with the Germans and Japanese.

    * The available evidence points in different directions; can be impugned (proven to have been faked -- yes, you need evidence for that, too), so that there is insufficient basis to conclude that Trotsky conspired with the Germans and Japanese.

    Note that

    * a very successful conspiracy will NOT leave evidence behind.

    Therefore,

    * "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack" (of a conspiracy). Remember the "Beria conspiracy"!

    What you can NEVER prove is that Trotsky did NOT conspire with the Germans and Japanese.

    You can never "prove a negative." You can never prove that "Trotsky was framed." All you can ever do is one of two choices above.

    Plenty of crimes – for example, murders -- go unsolved because the criminals left no evidence behind. But that doesn’t mean that nobody was murdered!

    Likewise, a conspiracy may leave no evidence, or insufficient evidence, behind. That is the aim of the conspirators, after all. But it doesn’t mean that there was no conspiracy.

    By Grover Furr

  • Guest - Andrei Kuznetsov

    I think there's a very important point that Getty makes in his interview when he describes the Bolsheviks being trained in the "college" of the Russian Civil War, and maintaining the mindset of the war well afterward.

    Now, of course in war things must be done by force, but Getty notes that the mentality of using force as the major method of dealing with contradictions stayed, and for some Bolsheviks the civil war never really "ended" in their mindset. With that whole thing going, it is understandable why the USSR had such policies directing the nature of politics and society.

    It's something to think about: what is the connection between approaching revolution/people's war/revolutionary civil war and building socialism in the aftermath? What could the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) done after the civil war to have taken society on a different course?

    These are important questions for future socialist revolutions.

  • Guest - prianikoff

    The idea that the purges were an ad-hoc movement that developed from regional pressure is, frankly, completely unbelievable.
    The process had already begun in the late 1920's, with the supression of the Left &amp; Leningrad Oppositions and removal of the Bukharin &amp; Tomsky from the Politburo.

    Harry Wicks, a young railworker from London and a founding member of the British Communist Party, was attending the Lenin Schoool in 1929.
    In his memoirs, he reports on the "Chistka" (purge) carried out there following the removal of Bukharin &amp; Tomsky from the Politburo.
    Bukharin was formally Principal of the School, but was removed without a murmur of dissent.

    "The Chitska went on and on, from the morning till night for weeks. Each of us had to stand alone, up on the platform in front of a group of Red Army colonels and generals and other high dignaries; our Cleansing Commission was *under the jurisdiction of the Central Committee of the Party*...they or anyone in the school could ask you questions about your social origins, your biography...

    When the discussion on each person had been closed, there was no vote.
    But the chitska commission would immediately make its decision, which would be communicated to the party nucleus bureau in the school."

    Harry Wicks "Keeping My Head", Socialist Platform 1992
    page 92

    Harry also makes clear that the purge was also carried across Russia and internationally, with particularly serious ramifications in the German CP.- Brandler stopped attending the school and other German "rightists" sent home.
    The leadership of the CPUSA was given to Foster in this period.
    The British Comintern representative David Petrovsky (AJ. Bennett), the husand of Rose Cohen, suffered severely and disappeared from Moscow.
    Subsequently, he and his wife, who were very close to Pollitt and Gallacher were shot.

    He also makes the point that "Stalinism had set in before the Chitska" (p.94)
    Stalin himself went to the school on at least one occasion to have discussions with various Red Professors. These were put on secondment and given the task of digging up dirt on Bukharin, which later appeared in official volumes.
    Very similar to the ones that had already been published against Trotsky, which were distributed to students on their induction.

    Given this, any documentary evidence from the 1930's, purporting to show that regions were inciting a "Great Terror", against the wishes of a reluctant Stalinist centre are quite simply, worthless.
    Given the atmosphere by then, Party meetings were staged rallies, with no opposing motions or ammendments, instigated by the centre to shore up its authority.
    This created an atmosphere conducive to a witch-hunt, in which demagoguery could flourish.
    The amalgam, whereby Oppositionists were linked with fascism and foreign intelligence services was its most characteristic method.

    The material basis for this witch-hunt was the bureaucratic leadership's justifiable fear that it might be overthrown. It's simply a retrospective myth that the Stalinist leadership of the party was "popular" in the late 30's. It was highly *unpopular* and fearful of the development of a mass opposition within the party.

    This was because of the uncertainties created by its economic policy and the self-evident failure of its policies in Germany and Spain.
    The rapid changes of political line inevitably created centrifugal forces, which spun off the Left and Right Oppositions, several mass organisations in Germany and the POUM in Catalonia.
    Any questioning of the break-neck pace of collectivisation and industrialisation in the USSR was regarded as deliberate "sabotage".
    So the Stalinists fabricated a series of imaginary plots to justify smashing their internal opponents.

    Stalin was careful to create the illusion that he was neutral in all this.
    But it was a calculated pose. He may have been the mediocrity around which the bureaucracy coalesced, but he was its ultimate arbiter.

  • prianikoff writes:

    <blockquote>"The idea that the purges were an ad-hoc movement that developed from regional pressure is, frankly, completely unbelievable. The process had already begun in the late 1920′s, with the supression of the Left &amp; Leningrad Oppositions and removal of the Bukharin &amp; Tomsky from the Politburo."</blockquote>

    Let me note my own <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2010/10/04/three-quick-examples-of-leftist-pseudo-science/#comment-29377" rel="nofollow">previously stated view</a>, and then deal with this in particular.

    <blockquote>But I think there were three things going on:

    1) There has been repeated line struggles arising in the leadership of the Communist Party, the most important of them were the conflict with Trotsky (and those he represented) mainly in the years before 1924, and then a major ongoing line struggle with Bukharin (and with his proposals on planning, approach to class struggle etc.) IN both of these cases, a group and line around Stalin developed and prevailed. In the late 30s purges, the main representatives of those trends were tried and executed.

    2) There was a large problem of controlling the society at the republic level — and a great deal of passive resistance (at local levels within the party and state) to directives coming from the center. This thesis is explained in great detail in Getty’s book on the purges and I won’t give more detail here. In that regard, the purges were aimed at the party leadership itself at those levels — and the targets were often people who had emerged in leading posts as part of the Stalin-side of the line struggles (i.e. a great many who had come to power in the 1933 “congress of victors” were removed, even though, they might appear to be part of Stalin’s own wave.

    3) There was a sharp struggle (precisely in the late 1930s) over whether to abandon attempts to forge collective security with Britain and France (against Hitler), or abandon that frustrating approach and reach a non-aggression pact with Germany. This was a major shift in Soviet policy and there appears to have been major struggle against it (including certainly Litvinov but also potentially Bukharin and elements of the military). In other words, there were not just previous line struggles involved but a very acute one right there, in the late 30s, breaking out in the face of German threat.

    I think that the purges and trials can be understood in terms of these three levels of conflict — in which there were real opposition groups and real resistance to the party center operating at many levels and contending over both line and power. and there was also an element of events being unleashed (in the yerzovchina) that spun out of control — including of those who those who were seeking to push through the events to a new level of consolidations.</blockquote>

    In other words, it is hard to overlook prianikoff's point that the late 30s purges involved the final removal (including prison and execution) of leaders of the 1920 oppositions. There is continuity <em>in that sense</em>.

    But there is after Kirov's assassination in 1934 a different quality to the struggle within the Communist party which, by 1936-38, is taking the form of a widespread "settling of accounts" with all the old oppositions, <em>and</em> a major purge of the army command, <em>and</em> a major purge of the second and third tier of leaders (who were often men of the Stalin era elevated after the January 1934 "Congress of Victors"), <em>and</em> a devastating purge of international communists living in exile within the Soviet Union, <em>and</em> a generalized witchhunt for spies, saboteurs and hidden oppositionists within the population at large....

    In other words, the events of the late thirties (culminating in the Yezhovshchina of 37-38) was a bit of a "perfect storm" -- combining a number of different things.

    Also, <em>all</em> great conflicts have an ad hoc character -- including battles, revolutions, general strikes, rebellions, invasions, and (in this case) purges. that is because they are <em>real</em> conflicts of real material forces -- and each side is reacting to events. the totalitarian theories have an extreme assumption of "total" power and "totalizing" ideas. But in fact (as Getty points out) the problem for Stalin was not that he had "total power" -- but on the contrary that the central power of the Soviet Union was weak (for many reasons) within a very large and disjointed country and system. And one reason for the purges was an extreme and violent move to (finally) "pull everything together."

    This debate (was it a calculated plan, or was it an adhoc event unleashed and then ridden like a tiger) is important -- and marks a point of collision (in my opinion) between theories of "totalitarianism," and more materialist examinations of Soviet history (as real events and real political processes).

    so while prianikoff is certainly right that there was a continuity of some forms and a continuity of some targets -- there was also a change involved. And part of it was the emergence of imprisonment and execution as tools within the <em>inner party</em> struggle. this had not happened before kirov's assassination (and the prime example is that Trotsky was first removed from effective power (about 1924-25_, then from the party, sent into <em>internal</em> exile (1928) and forced into <em>foreign</em>exile (1929)-- but neither put on trial (for alleged criminal offenses) nor executed in the way that became to marked in 1936-38.

    There were major line struggles over very substantive issues (the very direction of the revolution and society). It is not wrong that people had to "go through the gate" occasionally (i.e. be reviewed for their posts and politics). But a critical summation of the Soviet experience raises questions about <em>how</em> such things should be done, how important it now appears to have the line struggles involve the people broadly, and for the the accounting of specific people to also involve a broad popular component (and not just tightly held hearings or secret decisions or police).

  • Guest - prianikoff

    "...part of it was the emergence of imprisonment and execution as tools within the inner party struggle. this had not happened before kirov’s assassination."

    I'd agree that 1936-7 was a qualitative "leap" in the process of purging.

    I seem to recall that the execution of the ex-left SR Yaakov Blumkin, who had once attempted to assasinate the German Ambassador over the Brest Litovsk Treaty, allegedly for making contact with Trotsky was one of the watersheds.

    As a counterbalance to Getty (who I've yet to read) I'd recommend reading Vadim Rogovin's work "1937, Stalin's Year of Terror", although I'm not too keen on the organisation that publishes it.

    P.S. I used to know Harry Wicks in his later years and he was a very modest, low income worker all his life, who remained alert and politically active and was a very impressive speaker.

  • Guest - sublime

    is there a pdf file for the books stated above. i would love to have some so ia can rad tem at home. thanks, for the change of production relations!

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    &gt; As a counterbalance to Getty (who I’ve yet to read) I’d recommend reading Vadim Rogovin’s work “1937, Stalin’s Year of Terror”

    Rogovin can be worth reading alongside of Getty, but one of the few places where I'm forced to agree on a small point with Furr is that Rogovin tends to too readily assume the Stalin-as-cynic model. From his point of view, Furr tends to play things the other way. That is, Furr looks for evidence that Stalin really believed in certain general accusations as a way of leading the uninitiated student into assuming that Stalin's suspicions must have been based on real evidence. In the same way one could look for evidence of the sincerity of Julius Streicher's beliefs as a way of suggesting that Der Sturmer was more than a propaganda rag.

    I think that arguments like this tend to underplay the role of ideology in influencing sincere believers. The documents which have come to light since 1991 have supported the view that Stalin made a catechism out of honestly believing in counter-revolutionary conspiracies. As is the case with most such catechisms, Stalin's attempts to push this view forward had a very conservatizing effect on the political body of the USSR. But the contention that he was a mere cynic is not well-supported.

  • Guest - Bleak Masterson

    In the spirit of the original entry, people might want to check out Terry Martin. <b>Affirmative Action Empire</b> is a massive account of the Soviet Union's autonomous republics and the political battles around their formation.

    This is a gloss, but what I ultimately see in the era discussed above is not a problem of pseudo-science or bad theory in action -- those are post facto rationalizations in the main -- but the actions of a state in existential crisis. This is going to go over real well here, but most states in this kind of crisis, no matter how they might be characterized in terms of their political economic foundations, behave this way. This is an overgeneralization, but not an unuseful one.

  • Guest - Bleak Masterson

    Also, read Doug Northrop's <b>Veiled Empire</b>. It is a very good account of the unveiling campaigns in the eastern republics during the same period.

  • links to those books?

  • Guest - Bleak Masterson

    Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia [Paperback]
    Douglas Northrop (Author)
    amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Veiled-Empire-Gender-Stalinist-Central/dp/0801488915/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1287684492&amp;sr=8-1-spell

    The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Wilder House Series in Politics, History, and Culture) [Paperback]
    Terry Martin (Author)
    http://www.amazon.com/Affirmative-Action-Empire-Nationalism-1923-1939/dp/0801486777/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1287684547&amp;sr=1-1


    There are tons more -- it's a new day in soviet studies -- it's not so much that they are pro or con stalin, though as in getty's work, there is the obligatory disclaimer. The thing that is striking about them is that they are <i>histories,</i> not comic books or self-serving caricatures. that is not to say that they are apolitical, but they have useful analysis and information for anyone interested in this topic.

  • Guest - sublime

    what i mean is these books:John Arch Getty and Roberta Thompson Manning. Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives, (ed., with Roberta T. Manning), New York, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
    J. Arch Getty, Oleg V. Naumov. The Central Party Archive: A Research Guide, Univ Pittsburgh Center for Russian. 1993.
    John Archibald Getty Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1985. Ninth printing, 1996.
    J. Arch Getty, Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939, Yale University Press, 1999
    Stalin’s “Iron Fist:” The Times and Life of N. I. Yezhov, Yale University Press, 2008

    in pdf, for me to download instead of reading them in the internet. im sorry but we have a weak connection. thank you!

  • Guest - K Vijayachandran

    This deserves careful study.