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Correspondence

August 27, 2000

To the Editor:

I do not make it a practice to respond to book reviews, but Martin Malia's review of Oleg V. Naumov's and my "Road to Terror" (Book Review, May 28) is so dishonest as to require an answer.

There is a great deal of new research on Soviet history, and Malia doesn't like much of it. The new work disturbs his simple picture of one man somehow killing millions all by himself. Our work, and that of the other books Malia reviewed, focuses on the structure of political systems and seeks to explain terror and dictatorship by including factors other than dictators' psyches or the mysterious "ideological intoxication" Malia is so fond of. Stalin had lots of help, and "intoxication" or some bizarre mass hypnosis just does not account for it. To compare our work with that of Holocaust deniers is offensive and dishonest: Our book is a painstaking chronicle of the unfolding and scale of the terror rather than any denial of it. Perhaps Malia should be forgiven his simplicity; he is a specialist on the 19th century who has never done original research on the Soviet era. Unfortunately, this does not stop him from reviewing books outside his competence.

Neither we nor anyone else suggested, as Malia claims, that Stalin's USSR was a "normal state" with "social pluralism." Such characterizations, including the words "normal state" and "pluralism," do not appear anywhere in our book's 594 pages. Then, he accuses us of characterizing the Stalin system as chaotic, rather than a well-oiled totalitarianism. Apparently, our version of the Stalinist state is normal and chaotic at the same time! This is nonsense and Malia knows it.

Actually, the word "chaos" does not appear until the end of the book, on Page 573, where we wrote something entirely different: "[T]he 1937-38 terror was centrally-authorized chaos. It was the negation of politics." How could the negation of politics possibly square with Malia's claim that we put forward a "thesis that the purges made political sense in a presumably viable system"? We obviously argued the opposite of what Malia attributed to us.

Malia's review is full of other silly claims and non sequiturs. For example, he chastises us for claiming that Stalin had no master plan and then agrees with us two sentences later. Yet Malia goes beyond misrepresentation into the worst kind of dishonest misquoting. For example, Malia writes: "As his opening sentence declares, it is the author's second go at 'writing a history of the Soviet terror of the 1930s.' "

He omits the beginning and the end of this first sentence of our book, which actually says: "Writing a history of the Soviet terror of the 1930s closely based on archival documents is no easy undertaking." The following sentences discuss the availability of new documents from the Stalin period. How, one wonders, does this sentence "declare" a "second go" at anything?

What Malia calls "Getty's sampling [of documents] . . . organized to salvage his thesis" was actually carried out under the direction of Dr. Oleg Naumov, deputy director of the former Communist Party Archive in Moscow and a team of experienced Moscow archivists completely unfamiliar with my previous work. Malia has never worked in Soviet-era archives and has no idea what he is talking about on this score.

We are proud to be reviewed in the same company with Barrington Moore and Arno Mayer, two of the most distinguished social scientists of the century. Malia did not like their books either because they failed to focus on what he calls the "ideological intoxication" of the century. One expects an occasional critical review, but Malia's own intoxicated prose misrepresents the works he reviews and his incompetence does no credit to himself or to the Los Angeles Times.

J. Arch Getty

Professor of History, UCLA

Los Angeles

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