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Practicing Stalinism

Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Practicing Stalinism
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19885-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Soviet Organizational Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Note on Transliteration and Party/Government Terms
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    THERE IS NO CLEARER modernist architectural statement than Lenin’s mausoleum on Red Square. Architect A. V. Shchusev’s design is pure constructivism. In the tradition of the fin de siècle avant-garde, this was the modern architectural art of the 1920s and was noted for its simplicity of line and lack of decoration. It was the building as machine. Here we find none of the classical ornamentation, portraits, or flowery archaic Russian script of traditional buildings and tombs. The façade of Shchusev’s simple ziggurat of marble and granite is marked simply with the word “lenin” in stark, straight lines.

    As part of...

  8. 1 The Old and the New
    (pp. 25-66)

    IF THE LENIN MAUSOLEUM can be read as a kind of text combining ancient and modern messages, then we can see the same fusion, or continuity, in a variety of Soviet practices. Intriguing carryovers are everywhere, even in one’s own experience, once one starts thinking about them. In Muscovite times, “great difficulties also confronted all foreigners who wished to enter Russia. Frontier guards were under strict orders to turn away any foreigner lacking an entry permit…. Even those who had the necessary documents were narrowly limited in their choice of residence and length of stay.” Those who tried to get...

  9. 2 Cults and Personalities, Politics and Bodies
    (pp. 67-95)

    THE CULTS OF both Lenin and Stalin followed Russian traditions of seeing the body of the ruler as the direct embodiment of the state. But comparing them, we see key differences. Lenin’s cult began spontaneously, while Stalin’s was much more a deliberate political tool of the leadership from the beginning. Both cults, however, were quickly accepted by the population. These were not the only cults in the Soviet Union; leadership “cultism” penetrated all levels of the elite. Our attention is therefore drawn not only to the manufacture and reception of cults, but to their role as “communication between ruler and...

  10. 3 The Party Personnel System: Upstairs at the Central Committee
    (pp. 96-121)

    WHEN WE TAKE a detailed look at patrimonialism and personalization in the Stalin period, and at the related questions of the structure of top party institutions, party personnel allocation, and the Bolshevik elite’s self-representation as leaders, we will see that personnel appointment was the heart of Bolshevik power and administration and was so understood at the time.

    We will also see that the leading bodies of the party were always ephemeral collections of personalities that never developed a rule-bound institutionalization that would allow institutions to project their rules, procedures, and authority onto senior political actors or determine their behavior. “Upstairs”...

  11. 4 The Party Personnel System: Downstairs at the Central Committee
    (pp. 122-146)

    DOWNSTAIRS WE FIND the TsK staff, whose work was entirely different from that of the grandees, and who had different interests. Beneath the Politburo, Orgburo, and Secretariat the main personnel work of the TsK was organized into a series of departments under the Secretariat. Over the decades of Soviet power, these departments were periodically reorganized, combined, split, abolished, and reestablished with confusing regularity, but their specializations remained more or less constant: personnel assignment, agitation and propaganda, rural/agricultural work, industry, press, culture, schools and education, international affairs, and the like. The size of the total Secretariat staff grew quickly after the...

  12. 5 Principled and Personal Conflicts
    (pp. 147-181)

    PATRIMONIAL POSTURING BASED on individual power, pride, and honor were not limited to the Old Bolshevik notables in the capital. This self-image and behavior permeated the entire party. On all levels, party members thought of themselves as some version of the elect, the privileged, those with special knowledge and mission. Party members, especially those who had served years in the underground and/or those who aspired to personal power, thought of themselves as natural, even entitled leaders, even if—or perhaps because—the locale for deploying personal influence was sometimes modest and limited.

    Given the shortage of qualified party personnel and...

  13. 6 Stalin and the Clans I: The “King’s Men”
    (pp. 182-205)

    INSPECTOR FRENKEL’, a Moscow-based plenipotentiary, was sent to Kuibyshev in order to ensure “fulfillment of decisions” by the regional party machine. In 1937, he reported to Moscow on First Secretary P. P. Postyshev’s “bad work” and “purely one-man style of work.” Postyshev, a powerful regional baron, retaliated not only by refusing to let Frenkel’ speak at party meetings, but by threatening him personally in the words quoted above, even though he was a “king’s man,” inserted into Postyshev’s fiefdom with Stalin’s authority to infiltrate, criticize, and discipline. In the end, the “king’s man” was sent packing. Frenkel’ was removed and...

  14. 7 Stalin and the Clans II: Who Can Vote? Who Can Shoot?
    (pp. 206-236)

    Until 1937, Soviet elections were rigged with one candidate for each seat, preselected by the local party clan, and with open ballot voting.¹ This meant that regional party clans could easily control these elections and ensure the election of their own. The Stalin Constitution of 1936 produced a new electoral system in which elections to soviets were to be universal, equal, direct, and secret with multiple candidates for each position. The constitution, “the most democratic in the world,” according to Soviet propaganda, is usually seen as a public relations gimmick, to make the USSR seem a plausible ally of the...

  15. 8 Stalin and the Clans III: The Last Stand of the Clans
    (pp. 237-268)

    AS HAD BEEN the case since the early 1920s, a newly arrived leader appointed by the center nearly always found himself in the midst of an existing party organization. The local Communists were mostly natives of the locale with webs of preexisting friendships, clans, and loyalties, and were naturally suspicious and resentful of the new leader. Until and unless the new boss could either win the trust of the locals and build his own working client group from them, or import his own friends and supporters, he would be an outsider. Since the early 1920s, when faced with a new...

  16. Epilogue. The New and the Old
    (pp. 269-292)

    THIS BOOK HAS CONCENTRATED on the persistence of Russian political practices across the divide of the 1917 Revolutions that brought the Bolsheviks to power. But there is another, later twentieth-century watershed: that of the 1991 fall of the USSR. At first glance, the 1917 and 1991 divides could not be more different. Seventy years of modernization separated them, and although the USSR in 1991 was in crisis, it was nevertheless a modern state that seemed much different from the one that existed before 1917. It had a bureaucratic political culture and an industrial economic base. Modern technology had allowed it...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 293-350)
  18. Index
    (pp. 351-359)