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Encyclopedia > Black Book of Communism

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression is a controversial book edited by doctor Stéphane Courtois which attempts to catalog various crimes (deaths, torture, deportations, etc.) that have resulted from the pursuit of communism. The book is organized into parts written by scholars of communism; for example, Part 1, entitled "A State against Its People: Violence, Repression, and Terror in the Soviet Union", is written by Nicolas Werth, a specialist in the history of the Soviet Union. The book was published originally in France under the title, Le Livre noir du communisme : Crimes, terreur, répression. Stéphane Courtois is a French historian, currently employed as research director (i. ... This article is about communism as a form of society built around a gift economy, as an ideology that advocates that form of society, and as a popular movement. ...

The authors are leading European academicians and the editor, Stéphane Courtois, senior researcher from CNRS. Stéphane Courtois is a French historian, currently employed as research director (i. ... The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) is one of the most prominent scientific research institutions in France. ...


The Controversy

While most details in the articles of the book are shocking facts that can easily be verified, the most controversial aspect of the book is the introduction, by the editor Stéphane Courtois. It maintains that "the Communist regimes...turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". Using unofficial estimates, totaling 94 million, he cites a total death toll which "approaches 100 million killed." In addition, a major source of controversy has been the book's equating of the crimes of Communism with those of Nazism. The Nazi Party used a right-facing swastika as their symbol and the red and black colors were said to represent Blut und Boden (blood and soil). ...

Many historians seem to consider that some figure between 60 and 85 million to be the most correct one, depending on the interpretation. Some critics have charged that Courtois's claims are exaggerated and, they say, sometimes poorly documented.

The deaths he draws attention to include 20 million in the Soviet Union, 65 million in the People's Republic of China, 1 million in Vietnam, 2 million in North Korea, 2 million in Cambodia, 1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe, 150,000 in Latin America, 1.7 million in Africa 1.5 million in Afghanistan and 10,000 deaths "resulting from actions of the international Communist movement and Communist parties not in power". Other scholars conversely claim that in some cases Courtois may have underestimated the number of deaths. For example, Jung Chang, author of the most recent biography of Mao, puts the number of Chinese killed under his dispensation at 70-75 million. Similarly, recent historians of the Vietnam war have put the number of deaths at the hands of the post-war Communist government at nearer 2.5 million. Latin America consists of the countries of South America and some of North America (including Central America and some the islands of the Caribbean) whose inhabitants mostly speak Romance languages, although Native American languages are also spoken. ... A satellite composite image of Africa Africa is the worlds second-largest continent in both area and population, after Asia. ...

A more detailed catalog of the crimes described in the book include: executions of tens of thousands of hostages and prisoners and hundreds of thousands of rebellious workers and peasants in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1922; the famine of 1922, (five million deaths); the deportation of the Don Cossacks in 1920; murder of tens of thousands in the Gulag in the period 1918-1930; liquidation of 690,000 people (including many Communist Party members) during the Great Purge; deportation of 2 million kulaks in 1930-1932; the deaths of 4 million Ukrainians and 2 million others during the famine of 1932-1933; the deportations of Poles, Ukrainians, Balts, Moldavans and Bessarabians in 1939-1941 and 1944-1945; the deportation of the Volga Germans in 1941; the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on 18 May 1944; the deportation of the Chechens in 1944; and the deportation of the Ingush in 1944, deportation and extermination of the urban population of Cambodia and the destruction of Tibetan culture and people by the Chinese. A famine is an phenomenon in which a large percentage of the population of a region or country are undernourished and death by starvation becomes increasingly common. ... Don Cossacks refers to cossacks that settled along the Don River, Russia it its lower and middle parts. ... Gulag  listen (from the Russian ГУЛАГ: Главное Управление Исправительно— Трудовых Лагерей, Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey, The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps) was the branch of the Soviet internal police and security service that operated the penal system of forced labour camps and associated detention and transit... The Great Purge is the name given to campaigns of repression in the Soviet Union during the late 1930s which included a purge of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. ... Kulaks (from the Russian кулак (kulak, fist)) is a pejorative term extensively used in Soviet political language, originally referring to relatively wealthy peasants in the Russian Empire who owned larger farms and used hired labor, as a result of the Stolypin reform introduced since 1906. ... The Volga Germans are ethnic Germans living near the Volga River and the Black Sea, maintaining German culture, German language, German traditions and religions: Evangelical Lutherans or Roman Catholic. ... The Crimean Tatars (Qırımtatar, Pl. ... May 18 is the 138th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (139th in leap years). ... 1944 was a leap year starting on Saturday (link will take you to calendar). ... This article covers the Chechen people as an ethnic group, not Chechen meaning citizens of Chechnya. ... The Ingush are a people of the northern Caucasus, mostly inhabiting the Russian republic of Ingushetia. ...

Criticisms and counter-criticisms

According to critics, most of these are disputable issues, for various reasons. For example, can the deaths during the Civil War be blamed entirely on the communist side? What share of the victims of the famine in 1922 is to be attributed to economic policies and what share to natural reasons, such as drought?

According to the book, after 1918 great famines have occurred only in communist countries, still in the 1980s in Ethiopia and Mozambique, both marxist-leninist. (In fact, North Korea suffered from one in the 1990s even though before communism it was richer than South Korea.) Also non-communist countries have suffered from drought but yet avoided mass deaths, so according to anti-critics one can hardly claim that the reason could be other than the centralization of power.

How many of the people in the Gulag were actually guilty criminals? Can the deportations during World War II be justified by strategic reasons (potential collaboration between deported populations - Volga Germans, Don Cossacks - and Nazi Germany)? (Note that deportations of ethnic groups is generally considered a human rights violation.) Should the killing of Nazis and Nazi collaborators during war time be regarded as deaths caused by communism? Critics allege that in answering these questions, the book consistently takes the most anti-communist position possible. Counter critics say that these criticisms smack of the sorts of arguments used by apologists for Nazism, who similarly attempt to relativise and historisise Nazi crimes. Mushroom cloud from the nuclear explosion over Nagasaki rising 18 km into the air. ...

The total number of deaths blamed on communism by the book is 94 million (94.36 million rounded to one significant digit). Of these, 65 million (69%) allegedly took place in China (mostly during the rule of Mao Zedong), 20 million (21%) in the Soviet Union (the vast majority during the rule of Stalin), 1.7 million (2%) were caused by Pol Pot, and "only" 7.66 million (8%) by all other communist states put together. This highly uneven distribution has prompted some critics to argue that it would make more sense to talk about the crimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot rather than "communism" in general. Yet one could by the same token say that National Socialism was not an evil ideology, just Hitler was evil; or that Fascism wasn't bad, just the Nazi variety (It is questionable how many opponents of the book would agree with this proposition). Within a single country - such as the Soviet Union - there are massive differences between the number of deaths under one leader and the number of deaths under another (Nikita Khrushchev strongly tempered Lenin's and Stalin's terror). Others note that China and the Soviet Union had much larger populations than other communist states so a higher death toll should be expected in these states. But by the same logic, the high death toll of Jews in Nazi Germany could be seen as stemming from the proportionately higher number of Jews in pre-war Germany - an argument unlikely to find favour among the same critics. While the number of deaths decreased after Stalin, systems such as the Gulag continued to claim many lives in the Soviet Union and in many other Communist states. Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was the chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death. ... Iosif (usually anglicized as Joseph) Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин), original name Ioseb Jughashvili (Georgian: იოსებ ჯუღაშვილი; see Other names section) (December 21, 1879[1] – March 5, 1953) was a Bolshevik revolutionary and leader of the Soviet Union. ... Pol Pot Saloth Sar (May 19, 1925 – April 15, 1998), better known as Pol Pot, was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and the Prime Minister of Cambodia (officially Democratic Kampuchea during his rule) from 1976 to 1979. ... Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchyov (Khrushchev) (Russian: Ники́та Серге́евич Хрущёв  listen, April 17, 1894 – September 11, 1971) was the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin. ... Gulag  listen (from the Russian ГУЛАГ: Главное Управление Исправительно— Трудовых Лагерей, Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey, The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps) was the branch of the Soviet internal police and security service that operated the penal system of forced labour camps and associated detention and transit...

It should be noted that the Black Book does consider lesser crimes too, such as torture, human rights violations or crimes against cultural heritage, that, it claims, were committed by various communist states. Some commentators, such as classical liberal French philosopher Jean-François Revel, claim that this shows that all states ruled by communist parties committed human rights violations. Jean-Francois Revel (born January 19, 1924 in Marseille, France) is a French politician, journalist, author, philosopher and member of the Academie Francaise. ...

The book has also been criticised for a lack of context. For example, it says nothing about deaths caused by capitalism during the same time frame, a number claimed by some (for example, the French book Le Livre Noir du capitalisme - "The Black Book of capitalism") to be far greater. However, this was achieved by counting the crimes of colonialism or imperialism, where the deaths arguably were caused by anti-capitalism, i.e., by reducing the economic freedom of people. Moreover, any attempt similarly to relativise Nazi and fascist crimes would be widely seen as obnoxious.

Some critics say that no mention is made of lives saved by governments pursuing communism, through the reduction of mortality and the improvement of life expectancy. Noting that China and India were quite similar economically and demographically when the former set off on the communist road in 1949, Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen has estimated socialist India's excess mortality relative to the People's Republic of China at 4 million deaths per year, stating that "India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame (the Great Leap Forward)". This, some critics say, can be interpreted as more than 100 million lives saved by the People's Republic of China over a thirty-year period by outperforming a comparable socialist country economically. Some logicians, however, would call these "alternative histories" a logical fallacy, since we can never verify what might have been. Life expectancy is the most likely number of years remaining for a living being (or the average for a class of living beings) of a given age to live. ... Economics (deriving from the Greek words οίκω [oeko], house, and νέμω [nemo], distribute) is the social science that studies the allocation of scarce resources. ... Demographics comprises selected characteristics of a population (age and income distribution and trends, mobility, educational attainment, home ownership and employment status, for instance) for purposes of social studies. ... 1949 is a common year starting on Saturday. ... Photographs of Nobel Prize Medals. ... Amartya Sen Amartya Kumar Sen (अमर्त्‍य कुमार सेन) (born November 3, 1933) is an Indian (Bengali) economist best known for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, and the underlying mechanisms of poverty. ... The Great Leap Forward also refers to a hypothesized stage in human evolution. ...

On the other hand, India had a statist economy, whereas the more capitalistic countries---South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and others---had a much better record than China. For example, the independent Chinese island nation of Taiwan (the Republic of China) achieved much higher life expectancy than mainland China in the same period of time. It is disputable whether the achievements of Taiwan can be compared with those of mainland China (as it is disputable whether China can be compared with India), but, if they can be compared, this provides a viable counter-argument to the argument presented above. It would seem that the achievements of communist states in terms of life expectancy are poor except when compared to (other) socialist countries. Furthermore, European countries ruled by communist parties (such as the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) were characterized by decreasing life expectancy and increasing mortality (especially among adult men) in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. No European non-communist country underwent a similar demographic trend. Some scholars (for example Michal Pohoski) interpret these data as a proof that the systems introduced by communist governments had a negative impact on lifespan. Similar results follow if the capitalist West Germany is compared to the communist East, South Korea to North Korea, Finland to Estonia etc. National motto: None Official language Mandarin Chinese Capital and largest city Taipei President Chen Shui-bian Premier Frank Hsieh Area  - Total  - % water Ranked 138th 35,980 km² 2. ... Events and trends The 1960s was a turbulent decade of change around the world. ... Events and trends Although in the United States and in many other Western societies the 1970s are often seen as a period of transition between the turbulent 1960s and the more conservative 1980s and 1990s, many of the trends that are associated widely with the Sixties, from the Sexual Revolution... Events and trends The 1980s marked an abrupt shift towards more conservative lifestyles after the momentous cultural revolutions which took place in the 1960s and 1970s and the definition of the AIDS virus in 1981. ... In demography, life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average, or mathematical expected value, of the remaining lifetime of an individual in the given group. ...

Some researchers say that communist, socialist and other systems that reduce economic freedom cause poverty and starvation whereas the most capitalistic countries have produced most wealth and highest life-expectancy. This has been backed by the studies of many leading development economists, such Jagdish Bhagwati and Jeffrey Sachs. Also Amartya Sen has advocated pro-market reforms in India and elsewhere.

Another frequent criticism of the book is that the nations discussed are not actually communist in nature but just socialist. The goal of communism as set out by individuals like Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky was the eventual cessation of capitalism and all it's associated phenomena such as the exchange of money, the use of banks, and governments that ruled from the top down. Critics of the book argue that since the nations under discussion did not achieve these goals and in some cases worked to thwart the achievement of those goals they should not be considered communist and the ideology of communism should not be made to pay for the crimes and betrayals of Stalinism, Maoism ect. Others note that the states were ruled by Communist parties that attempted to implement Marx's theories. They also note that this defence makes it difficult to criticize capitalist states since similarly all problems can be explained by saying that the apparently capitalist states are in fact not capitalist. If a country is defined to be communist only when no resources are scarce, one can hardly expect to find any such country. Karl Marx Karl Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was an influential German philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary organizer of the International Workingmens Association. ... 1915 passport photo of Trotsky Leon Davidovich Trotsky (Russian: Лев Давидович Троцкий; also transliterated Leo, Lev, Trotskii, Trotski, Trotskij and Trotzky ) (October 26 (O.S.) = November 7 (N.S.), 1879 - August 21, 1940), born Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Лев Давидович Бронштейн), was a Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist intellectual. ... Stalinism is a brand of political theory, and the political and economic system implemented by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. ... Maoism or Mao Tse-tung Thought (Chinese: 毛泽东思想, pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng), is a variant of Marxism-Leninism derived from the teachings of Mao Zedong (1893–1976). ... A Communist party is a party which promotes Communism. ...

Two of Courtois's co-editors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, after pressure from the media and attacks from left-wing groups, later distanced themselves from his introduction to the Black Book, saying that Courtois inflated the figures to arrive at his desired nine-digit total. Courtois has also come under fire for his assertion that Nazism was "better" than communism because the former supposedly killed "only" 25 million. That number is highly disputed, since Soviet citizens killed by the invading German army in World War II alone are believed to number almost 25 million; furthermore, it does not account for the fact that nazism ruled for 12 years only, while the Soviet Union lasted for 75 years. On the other hand, Courtois himself firmly asserted that both totalitarian regimes practiced "crimes against humanity" on a monumental scale. The Nazi Party used a right-facing swastika as their symbol and the red and black colors were said to represent Blut und Boden (blood and soil). ...

All authors, many of whom were communists when they started their research, stand behind the articles of the book even though some of them consider that the number of victims of communism to be "only" around 80 million.

See Also

Communist states has a list of many other scholarly estimates of human rights violations by Communist states. This article is about one-party states ruled by Communist Parties. ...

Further reading

  • Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Panne, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stephane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0674076087

The Harvard University Press is a publishing house, a division of Harvard University, that is highly respected in academic publishing. ...

External links

  • Reviews on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0674076087)
  • Review - Journal of American History (http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/88.3/br_128.html)
  • Review on firstthings.com (http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0002/reviews/radosh.html)
  • The misnamed Black Book Of Communism (http://www.worldsocialism.org/canada/wc00011a.htm)
  • Critical review (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/french/maison/conferences/aragon/aragonpapers/wall.html)
  • Critical review (http://mailman.lbo-talk.org/pipermail/lbo-talk/Week-of-Mon-20040202/002369.html)
  • A Trotskyite critique (http://www.wsws.org/polemics/1998/jul1998/blck-j15.shtml)
  • Maoist Internationalist Movement responses (http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/agitation/blackbook/index.html)
  • "Counting the Bodies", by Noam Chomsky (http://www.spectrezine.org/global/chomsky.htm)
  • Le Monde Diplomatique: "Communisme, les falsifications d'un «livre noir»" (http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/1997/12/PERRAULT/9660) (in French)

  Results from FactBites:
NCPA Debate Central -- The Black Book of Communism (1071 words)
Black Book, written by six former proponents of communism or fellow travelers, properly notes that both Nazism and communism murdered people not for what they did, but for who they were.
Communism compiled a lengthy enemies list, which included political parties, clergy, intellectuals, shopkeepers, many ethnic groups, and other "socially dangerous elements." Enemies were starved and worked to death; executed with bullets, shovels, and hammers; devoured by dogs; lit on fire; and made to kill one another for their capturers' amusement.
Black Book puts to rest the odious fiction that has softened communism's image for so long: that communism was the salvation of the downtrodden.
  More results at FactBites »



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