Monday, 18 June 2018

How many did Communism kill?

This article calculates the total numbers of victims murdered by Communist regimes and movements from 1917 to the present day. It tries to give a comprehensive figure by listing all the specific, distinct instances of Communist atrocities that can be identified and adding them up. This is obviously a question that has been covered before, the canonical work being The Black Book of Communism (The Black Book) published in France in 1997. On the other hand, that book is 700 pages long, so this article tries to summarise the same question in a couple of pages. At the same time it breaks a total figure down as far as reasonably possible, rather than giving one hand-waving total. Summing reliable historical estimates for specific, identifiable crimes will hopefully increase the accuracy of the final total.     

Calculating the total victims of Communist governments and movements is a complicated business, almost certainly more complicated than calculating the victims of Nazism. While Nazism killed in vast numbers from 1939-45 in a relatively contained part of the world, Communism's crimes have been far more spread out: in time, over a century from 1917 to the present day; and in geography, from Berlin to Korea (to Peru). And while the Second World War is possibly history's most studied episode, Communist atrocities have never received the same attention.

This means we can say with confidence that Nazism had about 30 million victims, of which around 6 million were Jews killed in the Holocaust. But how many victims has Communism had in 100 years? And why should we care? And is it even fair to talk about a single total of victims of Communism?

The individual crimes listed below amount to some 65-70 million victims in 100 years. In this article I take a conservative methodology, in every instance hedging my bets in the middle of respectable historical estimates for numbers of victims. My figure can be compared to the 95 million victims suggested by The Black Book, which is at the top end of reasonable, scholarly estimates. I have not seen any thorough historical totals that come to less than 60 million, or over 100 million. This difference is not just a matter of different historical estimates but one of moral judgement; not just which wars, famines and murders happened, but which were crimes, and which were the responsibility of Communist aggression.

We should care about this because it is not just some dry statistical exercise, but a record of a large part of the history of the 20th Century and the modern world. Of the three great wars that defined the 20th Century, Communism was born from the chaos of the 1st World War, and defined the 2nd World War and the Cold War. Far more importantly, the reality is that 65 million is not just a 'big number', it is 65 million individual lives destroyed; 65 million fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, children, loved ones. These people are shrouded in silence, invisible, disappeared, unless we remember them. I hope this article prompts you to read more about the individual crimes listed. And although here I focus on the dead, the dead are only the beginning. Consistently in country after country records show that for every person killed three or more were imprisoned, tortured, beaten, or devastated by the loss of dear husband or wife, or family member.

But is it reasonable to calculate a single total of victims of Communism as a phenomenon? I believe it is. Yes, Communist regimes covered different countries and governments over 100 years, some of which were even hostile at times. But there is a direct and clear line of historical cause and effect from the original Bolsheveik revolution in Russia to each of the Communist regimes that followed it. These subsequent regimes were almost all created due to direct support from existing Communist states. Each overwhelmingly received military, political and economic support and trade only from other Communist states. And each explicitly declared loyalty to Marxism-Leninism and the 'principles' of the October revolution. Again and again, each instituted a political programme that sought to directly emulate Bolsheveik Russia - one party rule, repression of class enemies, mass nationalisation, militarism, collectivism of agriculture.

One of the key criticisms made of The Black Book was that one could collect a similar book of the crimes of 'Capitalism' or 'Colonialism', to which I say, feel free. But the links between all the examples of those phenomena are much weaker and vaguer than the real links: historical, political and ideological, between Communist states, which allows us to talk of a 'Communist' phenomenon as a single entity, if a multi-headed, multi-generational one.

The final criticism that needs answering concerns who has been counted as victims. Below I have counted those directly murdered, or killed by terrible conditions in prison camps and deportations, the casualties of wars of aggression by Communist states, and the victims of famines directly caused by idiotic Communist agricultural policies. Critics of this kind of approach (used in The Black Book and elsewhere) have claimed in response they could count every person who died 'due to' poverty, or a lack of universal healthcare, or industrial accident, in a capitalist country, and come to an even greater, ghastly total of victims. But this is a false comparison. Communist countries suffered ordinary deaths due to industrial accident, pollution, poor healthcare, etc, as well. These deaths are not the deaths counted here.

Those counted as murdered are those shot out of hand by Communist regimes, or those who died in scurvy concentration camps, or while being deported thousands of miles in horrific conditions to such places. Those counted as victims of War are not just all the casualties of wars in which Communists were involved, but specifically the casualties of wars caused by Communist aggression. These famine victims are counted because the famines they died in were directly caused by ideological Communist policies of state control and mass collectivisation that devastated farming. These famines were then made worse by the cynical paranoia that labelled any criticism as treason, and any warning of failure as sabotage, and responded with military repression aimed at crushing fictional class enemies and saboteurs presumed responsible. Any similar situations in capitalist countries should be rightly blamed at the governments there too.

This is a matter of historical and moral judgement. This is particularly the case in a few instances where I place a proportion only of the victims of a war or crime in the Communist tally. For example, in some wars mentioned I have only included casualties inflicted by the Communists, and not those killed by reckless action of the other side. The most controversial such case would be placing the blame on Stalin for 3 million of the Soviet casualties of the Second World War. I discuss the reasons for this special case in another article linked here.

I have labelled and dated every crime referred to below, and using these labels you can find more information and the sources for these estimates in online encyclopedias, The Black Book itself, and other articles online on the specific crimes. This article contains no original research, it seeks to catalogue a conservative, consensual historic view of the incidents and death tolls listed. I apologise for not being able to source every figure internally here, but doing so would make this article several times longer, and it is already probably too long. Any constructive comments are gratefully received.





Thursday, 7 June 2018

Stalin's guilt for Soviet Casualties in the Second World War

Among the questions of Communist criminal responsibility, Stalin's culpability for Soviet casualties and German POW losses in WW2 is possibly the most difficult one. Soviet losses were around 25 million, of which 8 million were military in battle, and 3 million were dead POWs. From 700,000 - 1 million German POWs also died in Soviet custody particularly from 1941-1943.

Soviet military losses were horrendous, especially earlier in the War.  In the 2nd half of 1941 alone, a series of huge Nazi encirclements and disastrous Soviet counter-offensives gave more than 3 million Soviet killed or captured, and another 3 million in 1942. German losses over the same 18 months were less than 1 million. In 1943 and 1944 Soviet losses were still 2 to 3 times as high as German losses, due to Soviet tactics and approaches that were incredibly wasteful of human lives.

Despite official Soviet propaganda Stalin bore great responsibility for the losses of the Soviet people. Stalin's insane purges weakened the Red Army in the late 1930s. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact gave Hitler carte blanche to invade Poland, the Balkans and France. The 1939-41 economic pact transported million of tonnes of vital raw materials to Germany without which the invasion of the Soviet Union would probably have been impossible.

Stalin's refusal to believe invasion was imminent, despite repeated intelligence warnings and German reconissance, left the whole Soviet Air Force and over 3 million men helplessly exposed when the Gemans invaded. Almost that entire 3 million would be taken captive and then starved to death by the Nazis over Autumn and Winter 1941. After the invasion through 1941 into early 1942 Stalin ordered repeated counter-attacks that cost millions of further Soviet losses dead and captured.

Reckless Soviet partisan activity killed large number of civilian 'collaborators' and sparked brutal Nazi repression that killed hundreds of thousands more. Scorched Earth policies ahead of the Nazi advance led to hundreds of thousands more deaths as peasants lost their precious food stores ahead of winter.

German POW losses fall into a different category, while Soviet policies were nothing like the mass extermination carried out by the Nazis from June 1941-Jan 1942, they still led to the death of around 1/3rd of German POWs, up to 1 million people. This was in line with the much higher death toll in the Gulag during the early half of the war.

The guilt does not just apply to Stalin personally though. It was the Bolsheveik system in its entirety that gave almost no value to human life, on the battlefield or off it. It was Bolsheveik and Stalinist aggression, first against Poland in 1920, then later, that led Stalin to risk using Hitler to allow USSR to absorb Eastern Poland and the Baltics. It was the suspicion and fear of Stalinism that poisoned efforts to form a Polish-British-French-Soviet alliance against Hitler in 1939. It was the Soviet guarantee that gave Nazis freedom to invade Poland and plunge the world into War, it was Soviet trade with Germany that gave them the material resources to be able to invade the Soviet Union in the first place; then it was Stalin's stupidity that left millions of Soviet troops exposed, betraying them to captivity and extermination.

In the 1st World War under the Tsarist govt Russia suffered 3 million dead out of 20 million total losses in the War.  In the 2nd the Soviet Union suffered 25 million dead out of 40 million in the European theatre. In fact the astonishingly higher Russian death toll accounts for the entire increase in deaths between WW1 and WW2, even given Nazi murderousness in Poland and elsewhere.

It is certain that the blame for some proportion of Soviet losses lies with the idiotic incompetence and aggression of Stalin and the Communist system. Picking a figure however is basically guesswork. How do you turn moral responsibility in such a complex situation into a percentage?

My mind returns again and again to 3 million. 3 million was the number that were basically offered up to the Germans at the start of the invasion, then killed en masse. 3 million out of 25 million or 12%, as good a number as any, and so the number I include in my total tally of Communist crimes to represent the horrendous Soviet losses in WW2. The overwhelming blame lies with the Nazis and always must, but Stalinist aggression, stupidity and disregard for human life killed millions of Soviet citizens.