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Posted Thursday, October 1, 1998

Soviet flagA Scientific Paper on Those Other Great Holocausts in History


Reader George Popovic sends us this important paper, "The Death Toll of Communism," by Professor Rudolph Rummel, the foremost expert on genocide and democide, of the University of Hawaii.

"I AM sending you this material because it shows how deadly Communism has really been, according to Professor Rummel.

Note that on the Nazi "Holocaust" Rummel writes: "Consider that even in spite of the archival statistics and detailed reports of survivors, the best experts still disagree by over 40 percent on the total number of Jews killed by the Nazis."

Introduction:  Everyone is aware of how costly in lives and material a war can be, and for good reason many scholars, researchers, intellectuals, and interested citizens therefore focus on how war might be prevented. Few, however, are aware of even a more deadly scourge, that is genocide and mass murder.

The recent events in Rwanda have for a moment riveted attention on a genocide that within a few months has cost at least 500,000 lives. But if history is any guide, memory of this genocide will soon disappear and attention will refocus on the horrors of war.

Yet in this century, genocide and mass murder have killed about 170,000,000 people, or over four times all those killed from battle in all this century's international and domestic wars. Communism, that is the communist nations, have been responsible for most of this killing. Itself, this one ideology, has murdered about three times those battle killed in war.

An enemy far worse than war itself is totalitarianism (which includes Nazi Germany). And, as I point out, the solution is the universalization of civil and political rights, that is, liberal democracy.--RUDOLPH RUMMEL

Soviet flagHow Many Have Communists Murdered?

R. J. Rummel, Professor of Political Science University of Hawaii, author of Death By Government (New Brunswick, NJ: Trans-action Publishers, 1994)

WITH THE passing of communism into history as an ideological alternative to democracy it is time to do some accounting of its human costs.

Few would deny any longer that communism--Marxism-Leninism and its variants--meant in practice bloody terrorism, deadly purges, lethal gulags and forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions and show trials, and genocide. It is also widely known that as a result millions of innocent people have been murdered in cold blood. Yet there has been virtually no concentrated statistical work on what this total might be.

For about eight years I have been sifting through thousands of sources trying to determine the extent of democide (genocide and mass murder) in this century. As a result of that effort I am able to give some conservative figures on what is an unrivaled communist hecatomb, and to compare this with overall world totals.

First, however, I should clarify the term democide. It means for governments what murder means for an individual under municipal law. It is the premeditated killing of a person in cold blood, or causing the death of a person through reckless and wanton disregard for their life. Thus, a government incarcerating people in a prison under such deadly conditions that they die in a few years is murder by the state--democide--as would parents letting a child die from malnutrition and exposure be murder. So would government forced labor that kills a person within months or a couple of years be murder. So would government created famines that then are ignored or knowingly aggravated by government action be murder of those who starve to death. And obviously, extrajudicial executions, death by torture, government massacres, and all genocidal killing be murder. However, judicial executions for crimes the internationally would be considered capital offenses, such as for murder or treason (as long as it is clear that these are not fabricated for the purpose of executing the accused, as in communist show trials), is not democide. Nor is democide the killing of enemy soldiers in combat or of armed rebels, nor of noncombatants as a result of military action against military targets.

With this understanding of democide, the following list contains all communist governments that have committed any form of democide and gives their estimated total domestic and foreign democide and its annual rate (the percent of a government's domestic population murdered per year). It also shows the total for communist guerrillas (including quasi-governments, as of the Mao soviets in China prior to the communist victory in 1949) and the world total for all governments and guerrillas (including such quasi-governments as of the White Armies during the Russian civil war in 1917-1922).

Each line in the list gives, in order, the communist regime or group, years in existence up through 1987, amount of democide in thousands, and the annual rate of democide in percent. The world total democide of all regimes and groups, whether communist or not.

Afghanistan 1978-87 228 (.157)

Albania 1944-87 100 (.118)

Angola 1975-87 125 .302)

Bulgaria 1944-87 222 (.062)

Cambodia 1975-79 2,035 (8.161)

Cambodia 1979-87 230 (.398)

China 1949-87 35,236 (.120)

Cuba 1959-87 73 (.028)

Czech. 1948-68 65 (.024)

Ethiopia 1974-87 725 (.162)

Germany, E. 1948-87 70 (.011)

Grenada 1983 .106 (NA)

Hungary 1948-87 27 (.007)

Korea, North 1948-87 1,663 (.250)

Laos (PDR) 1975-87 56 (.124)

Mongolia 1926-87 100 .187)

Mozambique 1975-87 198 (.123)

Nicaragua 1979-87 5 (.020)

Poland 1948-87 22 (.002)

Rumania 1948-87 435 (.055)

USSR 1917-87 61,911 (.422)

Vietnam 1945-87 1,670 (.105)

Yemen, S. 1967-87 (1.002)

Yugoslavia 1944-87 1,072 (.118)

SUBTOTAL 1900-87 106,267 (.477)

GUERRILLAS 1900-87 4,019 (NA)

TOTAL 1900-87 110,286 (.477)

WORLD TOTAL 1900-87 169,199 (.235)

Of course, even though systematically determined and calculated, all these figures and their graph are only rough approximations. Even were we to have total access to all communist archives we still would not be able to calculate precisely how many the communists murdered. Consider that even in spite of the archival statistics and detailed reports of survivors, the best experts still disagree by over 40 percent on the total number of Jews killed by the Nazis. We cannot expect near this accuracy for the victims of communism. We can, however, get a probable order of magnitude and a relative approximation of these deaths within a most likely range. And that is what the figures in list are meant to be. Their apparent precision is only due to the total for most communist governments being the summation of dozens of subtotals (as of forced labor deaths each year) and calculations (as in extrapolating scholarly estimates of executions or massacres).

With this understood, the Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto. Communist China up to 1987, but mainly from 1949 through the cultural revolution, which alone may have seen over 1,000,000 murdered, is the second worst megamurderer. Then there are the lesser megamurderers, such as North Korea and Tito's Yugoslavia.

Obviously the population that is available to kill will make a big difference in the total democide, and thus the annual percentage rate of democide is revealing. By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot's rule of slightly over just over 2 to 1.

In sum the communist probably have murdered something like 110,000,000, or near two-thirds of all those killed by all governments, quasi-governments, and guerrillas from 1900 to 1987. Of course, the world total itself it shocking. It is several times the 38,000,000 battle-dead that have been killed in all this century's international and domestic wars. Yet the probable number of murders by the Soviet Union alone--one communist country-- well surpasses this cost of war. And those murders of communist China almost equal it.

I should note that communist forced labor was particularly deadly, killing about 53,000,000 people. It not only accounts for half the deaths under communism, but is close to the world total of almost 59,000,000, which also includes colonial forced labor deaths (as in German, Portuguese, and Spanish colonies). Communists also committed genocide, to be sure, killing almost 12,000,000 people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity, is about a quarter of the world total . Communists are much less disposed to massacre then were many other noncommunist governments (such as the Japanese military during World War II, or the Nationalist Chinese government from 1928 to 1949). Communists were much more discriminating in their killing overall, even to the extent that in the Soviet Union, communist China, and Vietnam, at least, they used a quota system. Top officials would order local officials to kill a certain number of "enemies of the people," "rightists", or "tyrants".

How can we understand all this killing by communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology with absolute power. Communists believed that they knew the truth, absolutely. The believed that they knew through Marxism what would bring about the greatest human welfare and happiness. And they believed that power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, must be used to tear down the old feudal or capitalist order and rebuild society and culture to realize this utopia. Nothing must stand in the way of its achievement. Government--the Communist Party--was thus above any law. All institutions, cultural norms, traditions, and sentiments were expendable. And the people were as though lumber and bricks, to be used in building the new world.

Constructing this utopia was seen as though a war on poverty, exploitation, imperialism, and inequality. And for the greater good, as in a real war, people are killed. And thus this war for the communist utopia had its necessary enemy casualties, the clergy, bourgeoisie, capitalists, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, tyrants, rich, landlords, and noncombatants that unfortunately got caught in the battle. In a war millions may die, but the cause may be well justified, as in the defeat of Hitler and an utterly racist Nazism. And to many communists, the cause of a communist utopia was such as to justify all the deaths. The irony of this is that communism in practice, even after decades of total control, did not improve the lot of the average person, but usually made their living conditions worse than before the revolution. It is not by chance that the greatest famines have occurred within the Soviet Union (about 5,000,000 dead during 1921-23 and 7,000,000 during 1932-3) and communist China (about 27,000,000 dead from 1959-61). In total almost 55,000,000 people died in various communist famines and associated diseases, a little over 10,000,000 of them from democidal famine. This is as though the total population of Turkey, Iran, or Thailand had been completely wiped out. And that something like 35,000,000 people fled communist countries as refugees, as though the countries of Argentina or Columbia had been totally emptied of all their people, was an unparalleled vote against the utopian pretensions of Marxism-Leninism.

But communists could not be wrong. After all, their knowledge was scientific, based on historical materialism, an understanding of the dialectical process in nature and human society, and a materialist (and thus realistic) view of nature. Marx has shown empirically where society has been and why, and he and his interpreters proved that it was destined for a communist end. No one could prevent this, but only stand in the way and delay it at the cost of more human miser y. Those who disagreed with this world view and even with some of the proper interpretations of Marx and Lenin were, without a scintilla of doubt, wrong. After all, did not Marx or Lenin or Stalin or Mao say that. . . . In other words, communism was like a fanatical religion. It had its revealed text and chief interpreters. It had its priests and their ritualistic prose with all the answers. It had a heaven, and the proper behavior to reach it. It had its appeal to faith. And it had its crusade against nonbelievers.

What made this secular religion so utterly lethal was its seizure of all the state's instruments of force and coercion and their immediate use to destroy or control all independent sources of power, such as the church, the professions, private businesses, schools, and, of course, the family. The result is what we see in the above list.

But communism does not stand alone in such mass murder. We do have the example of Nazi Germany, which may have itself murdered some 20,000,000 Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Yugoslavs, Frenchmen, and other nationalities. Then there is the Nationalist government of China under Chiang Kai-shek, which murdered near 10,000,000 Chinese from 1928 to 1949, and the Japanese militarists who murdered almost 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Indochinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and others during World War II. And then we have the 1,000,000 or more Bengalis and Hindus killed in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971 by the Pakistan military. Nor should we forget the mass expulsion of ethnic Germans and German citizens from Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, particularly by the Polish government as it seized the German Eastern Territories, killing perhaps over 1,000,000 of them. Nor should we ignore the 1,000,000 plus deaths in Mexico from 1900 to 1920, many of these poor Indians and peasants being killed by forced labor on barbaric haciendas. And one could go on and on to detail various kinds of noncommunist democide.

But what connects them all is this. As a government's power is more unrestrained, as its power reaches into all the corners of culture and society, and as it is less democratic, then the more likely it is to kill its own citizens. There is more than a correlation here. As totalitarian power increases, democide multiplies until it curves sharply upward when totalitarianism is near absolute. As a governing elite has the power to do whatever it wants, whether to satisfy its most personal desires, to pursue what it believes is right and true, it may do so whatever the cost in lives. In this case power is the necessary condition for mass murder. Once an elite have it, other causes and conditions can operated to bring about the immediate genocide, terrorism, massacres, or whatever killing an elite feels is warranted.

Finally, at the extreme of totalitarian power we have the greatest extreme of democide. Communist governments have almost without exception wielded the most absolute power and their greatest killing (such as during Stalin's reign or the height of Mao's power) has taken place when they have been in their own history most totalitarian. As most communist governments underwent increasing liberalization and a loosening of centralized power in the 1960s through the 1980s, the pace of killing dropped off sharply.

Communism has been the greatest social engineering experiment we have ever seen. It failed utterly and in doing so it killed over 100,000,000 men, women, and children in cold blood, not to mention the near 30,000,000 of its subjects that died in its often aggressive wars and the rebellions it provoked. But there is a larger lesson to be learned from this horrendous sacrifice to one ideology. That is that no one can be trusted with power. The more power the center has to impose the beliefs of an ideological or religious elite or impose the whims of a dictator, the more likely human lives are to be sacrificed. This is but one reason, but perhaps the most important one, for fostering liberal democracy.  

Professor Rudolph Rummel has set up in the University of Hawaii a web site [ URL: ] on democide (genocide and mass murder), democracy, and war.

This includes data, sources, statistical analyses, books, and articles. The democide data covers major pre-20th century episodes of democide, and all democide for all nations 1900-1987.

The site also covers material on the democratic peace--the fact that democracies do not make war on each other and minimize domestic violence, including democide.

Following are the contents:

  • Web Site Introduction
  • Personal
  • Murder by Government--Democide
  • 20th Century Democide
  • Statistical Evidence For Understanding And Explaining Democide
  • Individual Megamurderers and Mortacracies
  • Lesser Megamurderers
  • The Miracle That is Freedom
  • Data and Results on Dimensions of Nations
  • Conflict and Violence
  • Conclusions and Policy Recommendations
  • Some Links to Related Materia

R.J. Rummel Professor Emeritus of Political Science University of Hawaii 46-393 Holopu Place Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744 Ph: (808) 235-8866 E-mail:

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