J. Arch Getty

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John Archibald Getty III (born November 30, 1950)[1] is an American historian and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who specializes in the history of Russia and the history of the Soviet Union.

Life and career[edit]

Getty was born in Louisiana and grew up in Oklahoma. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 and his Ph.D. from Boston College in 1979. Getty was a professor at the University of California, Riverside, before he moved to UCLA.

Getty is a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and a Research Fellow of the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow) and has been Senior Fellow of the Harriman Institute (Columbia University) and the Davis Center (Harvard University). He was Senior Visiting Scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.[2]

Research, ideas, and debates[edit]

Academic Sovietology after World War II and during the Cold War was dominated by the "totalitarian model" of the Soviet Union,[3] stressing the absolute nature of Joseph Stalin's power.[4] The "revisionist school" beginning in the 1960s focused on relatively autonomous institutions which might influence policy at the higher level.[5] Matt Lenoe described the "revisionist school" as representing those who "insisted that the old image of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian state bent on world domination was oversimplified or just plain wrong. They tended to be interested in social history and to argue that the Communist Party leadership had had to adjust to social forces."[6] Getty was one of a number of "revisionist school" historians who challenged the traditional approach to Soviet history, as outlined by political scientist Carl Joachim Friedrich, which stated that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian system, with the personality cult and almost unlimited powers of the "great leader" such as Stalin.[7][8]

In Origins of Great Purges, a book published in 1985, Getty said that the Soviet political system was not completely controlled from the center and that Stalin only responded to political events as they arose.[7] The book was a challenge to works by Robert Conquest and part of the debates between the "totalitarian model" and "revisionist school" of the Soviet Union. In an appendix to the book, Getty also questioned the previously published findings that Stalin organized himself the murder of Sergey Kirov to justify his campaign of Great Purge.[6] Getty saw Stalin's rule as dictatorial but not totalitarian because the latter demanded an administrative and technological effectiveness that did not exist.[9][nb 1]

The "totalitarian model" historians objected to the "revisionist school" of historians such as Getty as apologetics for Stalin and accused them of downplaying the terror. Lenoe responded that "Getty has not denied Stalin's ultimate responsibility for the Terror, nor is he an admirer of Stalin."[6][11] During the debates in the 1980s, the use of émigré sources and the insistence on Stalin's engineering of Kirov's murder became embedded in the two sides' position. In a review of Conquest's work on the Soviet famine of 1932–1933, especially The Harvest of Sorrow, Getty wrote that Stalin and the Soviet Politburo played a major role, but "there is plenty of blame to go around. It must be shared by the tens of thousands of activists and officials who carried out the policy and by the peasants who chose to slaughter animals, burn fields, and boycott cultivation in protest."[12]

In an 1987 review for the London Review of Books (LRB) about Conquest's work, Getty wrote: "Conquest's hypothesis, sources and evidence are not new. Indeed, he himself first put forward his view two years ago in a work sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. The intentional famine story, however, has been an article of faith for Ukrainian émigrés in the West since the Cold War. ... Conquest's book will thus give a certain academic credibility to a theory which has not been generally accepted by non-partisan scholars outside the circles of exiled nationalities. In today's conservative political climate, with its 'evil empire' discourse, I am sure that the book will be very popular."[13] In the same LRB article, Getty gave his interpretation of the events,[nb 2] which is in line with the "revisionist school" bottom-up approach.[9]

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the release of the Soviet archives, some of the heat has gone out of the debate,[7] as "totalitarian model" and "revisionist" school merged into "postrevisionism" as a synthesis.[9] Getty was one of the most active Western historians researching the archives along with Lynne Viola.[8] A 1993 study of archival data by Getty et al. showed that a total of 1,053,829 people died in the Gulag from 1934 to 1953.[14] In a 1993 study,[15] Getty wrote that the opening of the Soviet archives has vindicated the lower estimates put forth by the "revisionist school" scholars.[16] Few oppose Getty's analysis,[citation needed] which has gained acceptance,[citation needed] of broad society's will and power to resist, with a degree of autonomy to the bureaucracy and other professional groups in opposition to Soviet central power, over that of totalitarianism through one-sided hierarchical processes in which a despotic leadership exercised violence on a passive population, which was also defenseless. His analysis of Stalin as a powerful yet having to work within an array of competing interests and powers, a cruel but ordinary mortal being who was not omnipotent nor a master planner, has been described as a representation of the banal evil described by Hannah Arendt.[9]

Published works[edit]


  • Getty, J. Arch; Manning, Roberta Thompson, eds. (1993). Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44670-8.
  • Getty, J. Arch; Naumov, Oleg V. (1993). The Central Party Archive: A Research Guide. Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. ISBN 99944-868-6-1
  • Getty, J. Arch (1996) [1985]. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933–1938 (9th reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33570-1.
  • Getty, J. Arch; Naumov, Oleg V. (1999). The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09403-5.
  • Getty, J. Arch (2008). Stalin's "Iron Fist:" The Times and Life of N. I. Yezhov. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09205-9.
  • Getty, J. Arch (2013). Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-16929-9.


  • Getty, J. Arch (January 1986). "Trotsky in Exile: The Founding of the Fourth International". Soviet Studies. XXXVIII (1): 24–35.
  • Getty, J. Arch; Ritterspon, Gabor T.; Zemskov, Viktor N. (October 1993). "Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Prewar Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence". The American Historical Review. 98 (4): 1017–1049.
  • Getty, J. Arch (1998). "Afraid of Their Shadows: The Bolshevik Recourse to Terror, 1932–1938". In Hildermeier, Manfred; Mueller-Luckner, Elisabeth, eds. Stalinismus vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Neue Wege der Forschung [Stalinism before the Second World War (New Avenues of Research)]. De Gruyter Oldenbourg.
  • Getty, J. Arch (January 1999). "Samokritika Rituals in the Stalinist Central Committee, 1933–1938". The Russian Review. 58 (1): 49–70.
  • Getty, J. Arch (2000). "Mr. Ezhov Goes to Moscow: The Rise of a Stalinist Police Chief". In Husband, William, ed. The Human Tradition in Modern Russia. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 157–174.
  • Getty, J. Arch (January 2002). "'Excesses Are not Permitted:' Mass Terror Operations in the Late 1930s and Stalinist Governance". The Russian Review. 16 (1): 112–137.
  • Getty, J. Arch (2005). "Stalin as Prime Minister: Power and the Politburo". In Davies, Sarah; Harris, James, eds. Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 83–107.


  1. ^ Regarding the 1936 Soviet Constitution, Getty wrote: "Many who lauded Stalin's Soviet Union as the most democratic country on earth lived to regret their words. After all, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 was adopted on the eve of the Great Terror of the late 1930s; the 'thoroughly democratic' elections to the first Supreme Soviet permitted only uncontested candidates and took place at the height of the savage violence in 1937. The civil rights, personal freedoms, and democratic forms promised in the Stalin constitution were trampled almost immediately and remained dead letters until long after Stalin's death."[10]
  2. ^ Getty wrote: "Stalin gave his backing to radicals in the Party who saw the mixed economy of the Twenties as an unwarranted concession to capitalism. These leftists, for whom Stalin was spokesman and leader, argued that the free market in grain confronted the state with an unpredictable, inefficient and expensive food supply. ... These radical activists, who became the shock troops of the voluntarist 'Stalin Revolution' which swept the Soviet Union in the Thirties, were concentrated in working-class and youth groups. ... The collectivisation of agriculture from 1929 to about 1934 proceeded in several fitful campaigns characterised by confusion, lurches to left and right, and the substitution of enthusiasm, exhortation and violence for careful planning. Hard-line officials and volunteers forced reluctant peasants into improvised collective farms. Peasants resisted by slaughtering animals and refusing to plant, harvest or market grain. Neither side would give way. By 1934 the Stalinists had won, at least insofar as the collective farm system was permanently established, but they had paid a painful price: catastrophic livestock losses, social dislocation and, in some places, famine. Millions of people died from starvation, deportation and violence."[13]


  1. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF).
  2. ^ "Faculty page". History.ucla.edu. University of Los Angeles, California. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  3. ^ Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). "Joseph Stalin: Power and Ideas". Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1. Academic Sovietology, a child of the early Cold War, was dominated by the 'totalitarian model' of Soviet politics. Until the 1960s it was almost impossible to advance any other interpretation, in the USA at least.
  4. ^ Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). "Joseph Stalin: Power and Ideas". Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1. In 1953, Carl Friedrich characterised totalitarian systems in terms of five points: an official ideology, control of weapons and of media, use of terror, and a single mass party, 'usually under a single leader'. There was of course an assumption that the leader was critical to the workings of totalitarianism: at the apex of a monolithic, centralised, and hierarchical system, it was he who issued the orders which were fulfilled unquestioningly by his subordinates.
  5. ^ Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). "Joseph Stalin: Power and Ideas". Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1. Tucker's work stressed the absolute nature of Stalin's power, an assumption which was increasingly challenged by later revisionist historians. In his Origins of the Great Purges, Arch Getty argued that the Soviet political system was chaotic, that institutions often escaped the control of the centre, and that Stalin's leadership consisted to a considerable extent in responding, on an ad hoc basis, to political crises as they arose. Getty's work was influenced by political science of the 1960s onwards, which, in a critique of the totalitarian model, began to consider the possibility that relatively autonomous bureaucratic institutions might have had some influence on policy-making at the highest level.
  6. ^ a b c Lenoe, Matt (2002). "Did Stalin Kill Kirov and Does It Matter?". The Journal of Modern History. 74 (2): 352–380. doi:10.1086/343411. ISSN 0022-2801. S2CID 142829949.
  7. ^ a b c Sarah Davies; James Harris (8 September 2005). Stalin: A New History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 3–5. ISBN 978-1-139-44663-1.
  8. ^ a b Sheila, Fitzpatrick (2007). "Revisionism in Soviet History". History and Theory. 46 (4): 77–91. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2303.2007.00429.x. ISSN 1468-2303. ... the Western scholars who in the 1990s and 2000s were most active in scouring the new archives for data on Soviet repression were revisionists (always 'archive rats') such as Arch Getty and Lynne Viola.
  9. ^ a b c d Karlsson, Klas-Göran (2008). "Revisionism". In Karlsson, Klas-Göran; Schoenhals, Michael. Crimes Against Humanity Under Communist Regimes – Research Review. Stockholm: Forum for Living History. pp. 29–36. ISBN 9789197748728.
  10. ^ Getty, J. Arch (1991). "State and Society Under Stalin: Constitutions and Elections in the 1930s". Slavic Review. 50 (1): 18–35. JSTOR 2500596.
  11. ^ John Earl Haynes; Harvey Klehr (1 January 2003). In Denial: Historians, Communism, & Espionage. Encounter Books. pp. 15–17. ISBN 978-1-893554-72-6.
  12. ^ Coplon, Jeff (12 January 1988). "In Search of a Soviet Holocaust". Village Voice. Retrieved 30 November 2020 – via Montclair State University.
  13. ^ a b Getty, J. Arch (22 January 1987). "Starving the Ukraine". The London Review of Books. 9 (2): 7–8. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  14. ^ Getty, Arch; Rittersporn, Gábor; Zemskov, Viktor (1993). "Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence" (PDF). American Historical Review. 98 (4): 1017–1049. doi:10.2307/2166597. JSTOR 2166597. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  15. ^ Getty, J. Arch; Rittersporn, Gábor; Zemskov, Viktor (1993). "Victims of the Soviet penal system in the pre-war years: a first approach on the basis of archival evidence" (PDF). American Historical Review. 98 (4): 1017–1049. doi:10.2307/2166597. JSTOR 2166597. The long-awaited archival evidence on repression in the period of the Great Purges shows that levels of arrests, political prisoners, executions, and general camp populations tend to confirm the orders of magnitude indicated by those labeled as 'revisionists' and mocked by those proposing high estimates.
  16. ^ Wheatcroft, Stephen G. (1999). "Victims of Stalinism and the Soviet Secret Police: The Comparability and Reliability of the Archival Data. Not the Last Word" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies. 51 (2): 340–342. doi:10.1080/09668139999056. For decades, many historians counted Stalin' s victims in 'tens of millions', which was a figure supported by Solzhenitsyn. Since the collapse of the USSR, the lower estimates of the scale of the camps have been vindicated. The arguments about excess mortality are far more complex than normally believed. R. Conquest, The Great Terror: A Re-assessment (London, 1992) does not really get to grips with the new data and continues to present an exaggerated picture of the repression. The view of the 'revisionists' has been largely substantiated (J. Arch Getty & R. T. Manning (eds), Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (Cambridge, 1993)). The popular press, even TLS and The Independent, have contained erroneous journalistic articles that should not be cited in respectable academic articles.

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