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.
- Applebaum, Anne. Gulag : A History. Doubleday, 2003.
- Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine. The Free Press, 1997.
- Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. University of Alberta Press, 1986.
- Conquest, Robert. Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps. Viking Press, 1978.
- Conquest, Robert. The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities. Macmillan, 1970. (I have not read Conquest’s later Stalin: Breaker of Nations (Viking, 1991), but I believe that it incorporates additional material.)
- Heller, Mikhail and Nekrich, Aleksandr. Utopia in Power The History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Present. Summit Books, 1986.
- Rummell, R. J. Death by Government. Transaction Publishers, 1994.
- Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago (Volumes I-III). Harper & Row, 1973-1978.
- Werth, Nicolas; Panne, Jean-Louis; Paczkowski, Andrzej; Bartosek, Karel; Margolin, Jean-Louis; Courtois, Stephane. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999.