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


by J. Arch Getty

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. xx, 360. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 0300169299

The Russian Roots of the Stalinist State

The theme of Practicing Stalinism is found in its sub-title: Despite the revolutionary rhetoric, the culture of the Soviet Bolshevik regime was deeply rooted in traditional Russia.  The regime was greatly influenced by traditional Russian religion, social order, family, policing, corruption, and even government institutions.

 Prof. Getty (UCLA) makes a good case, from the “icons” Marxist heroes carried in quasi-religious processions to the “relics” of “saints” held up for veneration, most notably Lenin – and later for a time Stalin – in the great tomb on Red Square.  Then there was the rigid hierarchical organization with the Vozhd replacing the Tsar as the font of authority, often to the point of paralysis in government, while ruling with an iron hand through a secret police modeled on that of the old regime, including the traditional exile of dissidents to Siberia.  Soviet propaganda frequently recycled traditional folk themes or even religious motifs, and, while Getty doesn’t make the point, there were even heresies, such as Trotskyism/. 

Interestingly, Getty notes that while some Soviet leaders, even Stalin at times, opposed some of these influences, they were usually too strong to resist, in fact so strong that they have resurfaced under the Putin regime. 

Practicing Stalinism will prove rewarding reading not only for those interested in the Soviet state, but also by helping throw light on other purportedly revolutionary movements, leftist or rightist, that presume to break with the past but in fact are often heavily dependent upon it, such as Fascism, Maoism, or Nazism, and even Bolivarianism.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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