How Many People Did Communism Kill?

When I posted about making May 1st Victims of Communism Day, I was not at all surprised that some on the left would get their knickers into a knot over the very idea. However, I was surprised that one left winger took exception not only to the date, but the idea that communists had killed millions of people at all. It was rather like coming face-to-face with a flat-earther or a Holocaust denier; you know such people exist, but you never expect to run into them in polite society. I thought such thinking had disappeared even on the left except among such hardcore dead-ender communist apologists as CPUSA or the Spartacist League (and, of course, Internet trolls). The only question today is not “did the communists kill tens of millions of people,” but “precisely how many did they kill?”

Since historical awareness of the sheer vastness of communism’s legacy of genocide seems to have faded, now would be a good time to review the extensive historical record of communism’s crimes against humanity.

In Death by Government, R. J. Rummel estimates the total Soviet death toll at just under 62 million. You can see the breakdown here. That breakdown shows 11.4 million deaths under Collectivization, which would include the Ukrainian Famine, also known as the Holodomor.

In Robert Conquest’s definitive The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (based on hundreds of sources of information, including dozens of interviews with famine survivors), he puts the total for the entire Collectivization/”De-Kulakization” period (including the Ukranian Famine, the Soviet suppression of the Kazakhs and the Crimean Tartars, etc.) at 14.5 million.

The Final Report of International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932–33 Famine in Ukraine produced by The Stockholm Institute in 1990 came up with a total of 7.5 million.

The Black Book of Communism came up with a smaller total of 4 million for the Holodomor, and 2 million for Dekulakization, as well as a total communist death toll of 94 million (smack dab in the middle of the 85-100 million death toll estimate in the summary), broken down as follows:

65 million in the People’s Republic of China
20 million in the Soviet Union
2 million in Cambodia
2 million in North Korea
1.7 million in Africa
1.5 million in Afghanistan
1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
1 million in Vietnam
150,000 in Latin America
10,000 deaths “resulting from actions of the international communist movement and communist parties not in power.”

Rummel, by contrast, came up with the following estimates in Death By Government:

62.9 million in the Soviet Union
32.9 million in the PRC while in power, plus an additional 3.5 million killed by the communist Chinese before taking control
2 million in Cambodia
1.7 million in Vietnam
1.5 million post-WWII Poland
1 million in Tito’s Yugoslavia
plus a suspected 1.6 million in North Korea

If I added that up correctly, that comes out to 103.6 million people. (Rummel’s overall total for the 20th century includes murder and genocide carried out by non-communist regimes.)

In light of more recent scholarship, Rummel has adjusted his estimate of Mao’s victims upwards from 38,702,000 to 76,702,000. (Note: I do not own Rummel’s Statistics of Democide, which goes into considerable statistical detail concerning how he arrived at his estimates.)

In Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts, he estimates Mao’s victims at 30-80 million.

Pretty much all the sources on the Khmer Rouge genocide give estimates in 1-3 million range, most around 2 million.

Ethiopia’s deposed Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam is one of the few communists actually convicted of genocide in a court of law.

In summation: Communism probably killed at least 85 million people, and might have killed as many as 140 million people.

I hope to have interviews with with of the most notable authors/historians on issues of communist genocide in the near future.

A Select Bibliography of Communist Genocide in the 20th Century

Below are some books I can recommend on the subject. Keep in mind that the edition I own is probably the first edition listed here, while the Amazon links go to more recent in-print editions.

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48 Responses to “How Many People Did Communism Kill?”

  1. Holly Hansen says:

    Great post. I would also add Miron Dolot’s book “Execution By Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust” as an excellent eyewitness account of the 1932-33 Soviet-engineered famine.

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  3. […] a far-right wacko. But what phrase should be used for liberals when self-avowed socialists and communists are marching quite literally at your side in every […]

  4. Yea sure says:

    Alright where do you got this from and how is that realistic you cant kill 40% of your people and still have a well working country this is ball shit

  5. Lawrence Person says:

    1. I would think that Bibliography at the bottom would indicate the sources I drew these numbers from.
    2. As far as I know, only Pol Pot’s Cambodia would qualify as killing “40%” of the country’s population, and very few would would claim the Khmer Rouge ran a “working country.”

  6. Dick says:

    Communism doesn’t kill people, totalitarian dictators kill people…………………….

  7. […] Democrats ascribe. Are tyou proud of yourself for electing one of them as your President in 2008? How Many People Did Communism Kill? Lawrence Person's BattleSwarm Blog The pathetic irony is that IF you had bothered to actually STUDY that stuff you Googled, then […]

  8. […] The overall 45 million figure Dikotter comes up with is slightly lower than the previous figures for the death toll by Mao’s communist government I’ve reported here: […]

  9. […] as a direct result from communism are known to be atleast 85 million, possibly up to 140 million. Deaths as a direct result from […]

  10. […] plus Ukraine's famine) The worst genocides of the 20th Century 20 million in the Soviet Union How Many People Did Communism Kill? ? Lawrence Person's BattleSwarm Blog […]

  11. humbert says:

    All those figures are pure junk. HOw many people died in the US civil war? near about two million maybe more. So what do you do? Blame Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists?

    Take the figures for the USSR. It says 20 million were killed under Stalin. Add to that the recognised figure of 20 million maybe more killed between JUne 1941 and JUne 1945 by the nazis who invaded the USSR and who viewed slav peoples as an inferior race. The nazi war was a war of extermimnation of slavs, Vernichtungskrieg in German, by the way.

    So if you add those figures, it comes to 40 million dead in the USSR from 1917 up until 1950. Well the soviet population was reaching around 200 million in the early 1950s. Despite the 40 million killed, and the demographic gap and the fall in birth rates?? Oh, come on!!

    Let’s stick to facts, shall we? To rational analysis as well?

  12. humbert says:

    I see you’ve been citing the Black book on communism, le livre noir as they called it in French. You’re quoting one Jean Louis Margolin who’s laid out a couple of hundred pages on China in that book. The guy’s NOT a china specialist. He speaks no Chinese, and not enough english either. He wrote a PhD thesis on Singapore, for chrissakes. Did you check his references? Practically nothing! Now there’s been millions of pages written on China by academics etc. in China, in the US, in the UK, in India, in Japan and elsewhere. They’ve been available in English which Margolin doesn’t read too well apparently, given the paucity of his sources.

    Margolin himeslf says his figures are unverifiable. Read his first lines. HIs is a work of history? He cites copiously from a pretty dodgy book by journalist Jasper Becker called china’s Hungry Ghosts. Find any serious references in Becker’s book that back up HIS claims? I didn’t. Let’s know if you did!

    You yourself are quoting all the anticommunist propagandists beginning with intelligence bigwigs like Robert Conquest. Sorry, history is a job for serious honest historians. Propagandists stay out.

  13. […] to socialism, vapidly proclaiming the political system (which is responsible for more than 80 million deaths) “totally […]

  14. […] is center-left at best, as a Communist is to trivialize the dangers of Communism, and the death of 85 million innocent people. Communism also advocates the complete abolishment of private enterprise. Among Barack […]

  15. […] The Volokh Conspiracy and others in proclaiming May 1st as Victims of Communism Day. The fact that communism killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million people is not acknowledged nearly as often as it should […]

  16. […] Of course, don’t forget that Tito, being a Communist, killed plenty of his own countrymen, though several orders of magnitude less than his fellow communists in other countries. […]

  17. […] regime, a million probably wouldn’t do it. After all, they’ve always shrugged away the millions killed by other socialist governments around the world. And the intention of the Ogabe regime — taking another step towards doing […]

  18. Jeff says:

    85 million killed by Communists? Now go on the Internet and see how many have been murdered by Islamic Jihadists since the 7th. century. The number stands at 270 million…and that’s a conservative estimate. Some put it between 300 to 400 million. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, North Korea, North Vietnam, Pol Pot, etc., collectively, have a long way to go before they even come close to the Jihadists death toll. The afore mentioned are amateurs compared to the Jihadists. Islam will go down in history as the greatest mass-killers in the history of mankind.

  19. beigli rendeles says:

    very nice thanks a lot for this – Beiglirendeles

  20. […] imprimatur for a playwright to make a living, Havel refused top buckle under or avoid criticizing the great evil that was communism. In the wake of Prague Spring, his works were banned and he was repeatedly […]

  21. […] Just like last year, we should take a day in memory of communism’s victims, especially given that there were somewhere between 85 million and 140 million people killed by communism. […]

  22. […] Today is May 1st, meaning that once again it’s time to observe Victims of Communism Day. As I’ve written before, Communism killed somewhere between 85 million and 140 million people. […]

  23. Communism has killed more people then hitler every dreamed. I am from the United States and so many people think we need a loving dictator. The problem is, is that there is a very short list of them, if any. People need to find out about the priciples of freedom and learn about courage and respect. I hope america gets to be the great country it was before it gets any worse.

  24. […] the continuing government-orchestrated famine in North Korea. These events alone, according to some estimates, are responsible for the government sanctioned murder of well over 50 million people. But for some […]

  25. […] total for the 20th century includes murder and genocide carried out by non-communist regimes.) Didin't they teach you the FACTS about world communisn in at Leftninny University? […]

  26. Mark says:

    I fail to see the correlation between communism and mass murder. I can see the correlation between a dictator and mass murder. Either way, communism is not coming to America. We have had socialist policies in place for half a century, and we still have not resorted to genocide. When is the right-wing assertion that socialism/communism = mass murder going to become a reality?

  27. […] got people promoting taking incremental steps toward an ideology which has, when fully implemented, led to the deaths of between 85 and 140 million people, and doing so while relying upon lies and doublespeak, and our “free” press […]

  28. Jacqques says:

    Communism is an idea, it is not capable of killing anyone. Thoughts can’t kill, only drive people to killing.
    If you all consider communism to be the source of evil, you are no better then Hitler, who thought Jewish people was the reason for all evil.
    And even if you want to claim communism kills, then all type of politics does. How many have USA killed to vanish the growing treat of communism? I don’t know the number, but i bet it’s higher then most of the numbers presented, and they are very proud to call themselves liberalls..
    (I am not a communist, so don’t think i am defending my own believes, i only saying political opinions are not the reason for killing, people are.)

  29. […] Liberal compares Rick Perry to Stalin because Texas won’t spend as much as liberals think they should. I’m sure we all can agree that was the very worst thing about old Joe Stalin: Fiscal restraint. […]

  30. […] communism so much that they thought every Russian was a threat.” Yeah, funny what an ideology killing 100 million people and having some 5,000 nuclear warheads pointed at you by an evil empire will dampen your […]

  31. […] is center-left at best, as a Communist is to trivialize the dangers of Communism, and the death of 85 million innocent people. Communism also advocates the complete abolishment of private enterprise. Among Barack […]

  32. Mike says:

    The Ukrainian nation has the most tragic history of all European nations. Because of its natural resources and its strategic location, Ukraine was frequently invaded, conquered, divided and heavily oppressed by neighbouring imperialist powers in particular Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary and Germany, especially in the bloodiest 20th century. Despite joint efforts of those imperialist powers to enslave and to eventually destroy the Ukrainian nation (especially the Ukrainian language, culture and religion), the Ukrainian nation survived and gained long overdue independence in 1991. So the Ukrainian nation did not pursue imperialism – conquest of other nations’ territory and subjugation of other nations, but waged a legitimate struggle for liberation of Ukraine from foreign occupation and from foreign oppression, and for self-rule for the Ukrainian nation. Why is this most important fact ignored by anti-Ukrainian forces as to who the aggressors, conquerors and oppressors of Ukraine were to justify criminal policies of imperialist powers aforementioned?
    By invading Poland in 1939 the second world war was launched jointly by imperialist Nazi Germany and the imperialist Soviet Union (the Russian Communist Empire territorially the largest in the world that had enslaved over 100 nations).

    The biggest crimes of the 20th century were committed by both the Soviet communist and Nazi Germany regimes that sought world conquest and domination (dozens of millions of people of many nationalities were exterminated). Ukraine’s losses in the 20th century suffered from Nazi German and Soviet Russian rule are staggering and unsurpassed (human losses alone may be over 20 million).

    Falsifiers of Ukraine’s history should be reminded of this truth (these undeniable facts) so that they remember this truth for as long as they live! Truth and justice (punishment for crimes committed by aforementioned imperialist powers against the Ukrainian nation) must prevail! The Ukrainian nation has the legitimate right to demand financial and material compensation for the crimes against the Ukrainian nation committed especially by Russia, Germany and Poland on the lawful basis of Germany’s compensations to many nations for Nazi German crimes.
    I wish you could raise this issue in the mass media, with appropriate government officials in Ukraine, Canada, the EU, the USA and with the International Criminal Court.

  33. […] the crimes of an ideology that killed 100 million people should never be forgotten. Especially one that still has friends in high […]

  34. Anonymous says:

    Communism doesn’t kill people. People kill people.

  35. […] How Many People Did Communism Kill? […]

  36. Dave says:

    Liberals, progressives, and commies who either defend these deaths or deny them, either wholly or in part, are a lot like bleeding hemmorhoids. They should be cauterized and discarded as productive humans.

  37. Steven says:

    “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” — Malcolm Muggeridge

  38. Stranger says:

    Professor Rummel passed away in the 1990’s leaving his work unfinished. [This is false. Rummel died March 2, 2014. – LP] And without being able to access and add many “murders by government” to his total.

    Currently, the 20th Century count for democide, defined as the deliberate death of a government’s subjects, by Communist entities for the full century is 124.1 million.

    Fascist, primarily NSDAP, democides total 59.2 million.

    Miscellaneous democides total 19.4 million; all documented; for a total of 202,700,000 humans killed between 1901 and 2000 in one way or another by a political entity that claimed dominion over them.

    And that is by no means a complete count. More bodies and more records are found every day.


  39. […] a quick reminder that today is Victims of Communism Day, the day when we remember the 100 million plus victims of the 20th century’s most deadly totalitarian […]

  40. […] Today is May 1st, which means that it is once again Victims of Communism Day, the day when we remember the over 100 million people killed by communism. […]

  41. […] that Ciccariello-Maher seems to be a big fan of communism, the political movement responsible for more genocide than any other in the 20th century, I too have my doubts about the sincerity of “satire” claim. But just imagine if a university […]

  42. […] is center-left at best, as a Communist is to trivialize the dangers of Communism, and the death of 85 million innocent people. Communism also advocates the complete abolishment of private enterprise. Among Barack Obama’s […]

  43. David Ross says:

    The issue is not how many people communist states killed (although this is instructive) but how many people died in the name of communis,. All wars since WW2 had communism in the mix. Vietnam is the best example, Americans and Vietnamese died because they were terrified that communism would win (Eisenhower’s Domino theory). This led them to support a corrupt regime which ultimately turned the people against their efforts.Marxist principles were ultimately shown to be nonsense and flying in the face of human nature. The West’s illogical fear led to an arms race and many struggles around the world where the underdog felt that communist principles would triumph in the end. A fine idea but doomed to failure. The total of these poor misguided individuals would be far more sobering than the total executed by the state.

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