Practicing Stalinism

Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition

J. Arch Getty

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In old Russia, patron/client relations, "clan" politics, and a variety of other informal practices spanned the centuries. Government was understood to be patrimonial and personal rather than legal, and office holding was far less important than proximity to patrons. Working from heretofore unused documents from the Communist archives, J. Arch Getty shows how these political practices and traditions from old Russia have persisted throughout the twentieth-century Soviet Union and down to the present day.


Getty examines a number of case studies of political practices in the Stalin era and after. These include cults of personality, the transformation of Old Bolsheviks into noble grandees, the Communist Party's personnel selection system, and the rise of political clans ("family circles") after the 1917 Revolutions. Stalin's conflicts with these clans, and his eventual destruction of them, were key elements of the Great Purges of the 1930s. But although Stalin could destroy the competing clans, he could not destroy the historically embedded patron-client relationship, as a final chapter on political practice under Putin shows. 

J. Arch Getty is professor of history at UCLA. He lives in Los Angeles.

“A lively and interesting work, Practicing Stalinism will surely spark historiographical controversy and should be the topic of wide discussion.”—Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin's Special Settlements

“Getty argues that traditional Russian symbols and practices, combined with clientelistic personal rule at all levels, pervaded the Soviet and even post-Soviet political systems. His extensive use of archive sources imparts authenticity and drama to a compelling account of how the past overpowered a regime dedicated to creating the future. An absorbing study.”—Geoffrey Hosking, author of Russia and the Russians: A History

“There hasn’t been much sign of Russian ‘democratization’ recently. Perhaps it’s time to get back to history, Arch Getty’s new book suggests, and the ‘deep structures’ of patrimonial power that have underpinned Russian elite politics from medieval times up to the present. This richly documented and wide-ranging study has made a compelling case for doing so.”—Stephen White, University of Glasgow

“A compelling account of the continuities and persistent practices of governance in Russian history that shaped both the way Stalin ruled the Soviet Union as well as how Putin dominates Russia today. Getty deploys his vast knowledge of Stalinism to demonstrate that patrimonial patterns of leadership and popular deference were as much a part of the integrated Soviet system as were the bureaucratic institutional norms of the state.”—Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Michigan

“[A]n impressive, assiduously researched study of political practices in the Stalin era . . . offers an important meta-narrative for Russian history.”—Antony Kalashnikov, Europe-Asia Studies
ISBN: 9780300169294
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
384 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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