How Many did Stalin Really Murder?

June 10, 2009

[First published April 26, 2005] May Day is coming up, which used to be a day of celebration in the Soviet Union with an impressive show of weapons and infinitely long parade of soldiers. Perhaps, then, it would be appropriate to pay special attention on this day to the human cost of communism in this symbolic home of Marxism, and worldwide. This blog is on Stalin and the Soviet Union. I will post one on the overall cost of communism next week.

By far, the consensus figure for those that Joseph Stalin murdered when he ruled the Soviet Union is 20,000,000. You probably have come across this many times. Just to see how numerous this total is, look up “Stalin” and “20 million” in Google, and you will get 38,800 links. Not all settle just on the 20,000,000. Some links will make this the upper and some the lower limit in a range. Yet, virtually no one who uses this estimate has gone to the source, for if they did and knew something about Soviet history, they would realize that the 20,000,000 is a gross under estimate of what is likely the true human toll.

The figure comes from the book by Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Macmillan 1968). In his appendix on casualty figures, he reviews a number of estimates of those that were killed under Stalin, and calculates that the number of executions 1936 to 1938 was probably about 1,000,000; that from 1936 to 1950 about 12,000,000 died in the camps; and 3,500,000 died in the 1930-1936 collectivization. Overall, he concludes:

Thus we get a figure of 20 million dead, which is almost certainly too low and might require an increase of 50 percent or so, as the debit balance of the Stalin regime for twenty-three years.

In all the times I’ve seen Conquest’s 20,000,000 reported, not once do I recall seeing his qualification attached to it.

Considering that Stalin died in 1953, note what Conquest did not include — camp deaths after 1950, and before 1936; executions 1939-53; the vast deportation of the people of captive nations into the camps, and their deaths 1939-1953; the massive deportation within the Soviet Union of minorities 1941-1944; and their deaths; and those the Soviet Red Army and secret police executed throughout Eastern Europe after their conquest during 1944-1945 is omitted. Moreover, omitted is the deadly Ukrainian famine Stalin purposely imposed on the region and that killed 5 million in 1932-1934. So, Conquest’s estimates are spotty and incomplete.

I did a comprehensive overview of available estimates, including those by Conquest, and wrote a book, Lethal Politics, on Soviet democide to provide understanding and context for my figures. I calculate that the Communist regime, 1917-1987, murdered about 62,000,000 people, around 55,000,000 of them citizens (see Table 1.1 for a periodization of the deaths).

As for Stalin, when the holes in Conquest’s estimates are filled in, I calculate that Stalin murdered about 43,000,000 citizens and foreigners, over twice Conquest’s total. Therefore, the usual estimate of 20 million killed in Soviet democide is far off for the Soviet Union per se, and even less than half of the total Stalin alone murdered.

But, these are all statistics and hard to grasp. Compare my total of 62,000,000 for the Soviet Union and 43,000,000 for Stalin to the death from slavery of 37,000,000 during the 16th to the 19th century; or to the death of from 25,000,000 to 75,000,000 in the Black Death (bubonic plague), 1347-1351, that depopulated Europe.

Another way of looking at this is that the annual risk of a person under Soviet control being murdered by the regime was 1 out of 222. But, compare — the annual risk of anyone in the world dying from war was 1 out of 5,556, from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day was 1 out of 278, from any cancer was 1 out of 357, or for an American to die in an auto accident was 1 out of 4,167.

Now, I must ask, with perhaps an unconscious touch of outrage in my voice, why is this death by Marxism, so incredible and significant in its magnitude, unknown or unappreciated compared to the importance given slavery, cancer deaths, auto accident deaths, and so on. Especially, especially I must add again, when unlike cancer, auto accidents, and smoking, those deaths under Marxism in the Soviet Union were intentionally caused? They were murdered.

Anyway, when you see again the figure of 20,000,000 deaths for Stalin or the Soviet Union, double or triple them in your mind.


Link of Note

”How Russia went from a workers’ state to state capitalism–Why did Stalin rise to power?” (9/1/2003)

By Alan MaassSo, how do communists – Marxists — now view Stalin’s mortacracy? By redefinition, a standard communist trick (e.g., “democratic people’s republic”). I quote from the article:

So-called “socialism” in Stalin’s Russia–and other countries, like China and Cuba, that modeled their systems on the USSR–is diametrically opposed to the basic principles we stand for. The rulers of the former USSR under Stalin used the rhetoric of socialism and Marxism to justify a different reality–an exploitative system, run by a minority, using forms of authority not that very different to capitalism in the West.


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Democide Galore

June 5, 2009

[First published May 8, 2005 Note for regular visitors: The {right} sidebar now provides a link to an archive in which I have organized together and by topic all my posts on different blogs, and website commentaries]

A few indigestible tidbits before the main course.

The democide deaths in Darfur, Sudan, have now probably exceeded 400,000, and perhaps twice the deaths from the Great Tsunami that was such oh-my-God!-news months ago. Meanwhile, with killing slowness, an underarmed, undermanned African Union force has been sent there to prevent the killing and assure peace, and now will be increased to about 12,000 troops by next year. This is not even the minimum required to stop the killing.

Dictatorial Ethiopia is suffering from another famine. The UN says that without food aid as many as 300,000 children will die. The UN has called for international help, again, as it has to help those starving under other thug regimes. Shouldn’t we also apply the “Never Again” to famine, and call also for the end to these killing. Criminal regimes? As I’ve commented before, democracies never have had a famine.

In Northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army has been slaughtering peasants and caused about 2,000,000 people to flee their villages. Worst of all, it “has reportedly abducted more than 20,000 children. Some are forced to fight, some to carry bags, others to have sex with the fighters. By way of initiation, many are obliged to club, stamp or bite to death their friends and relatives, and then to lick their brains, drink their blood and even eat their boiled flesh.” (link here) The International Court of Justice is about to issue an arrest warrant for the head of this rebel army, but local leaders oppose this as prolonging the conflict. Instead, they say, “if the rebels confess their guilt and undergo cleansing rituals, they will be accepted back into their communities.”

And then in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 31,000 a month die from civil war, democide, and associated disease and famine, which means that by now the toll has arisen to about 3,900,000 in six years. It is ruled by another thug regime

Then there is VJ day, and the end of World War II, which has occasioned both platitudes for the fighting spirit of Russian troops and the head shaking over their losses in the war. I did a lot of research on Soviet losses during the war. From a variety of official and unofficial sources, I estimated that the Soviets lost 7,000,000 men and women in battle, and 19,625,000 in total when I add the 3,000,000 Soviet POWs murdered, and those killed during the Nazi occupation.

But, which is seldom recognized in the outpouring of comments on the war, Stalin is responsible for the deaths by deportation, in camps, by summary execution, and through such extraordinary wartime measures as forcing prisoners to clear minefields with their feet, of around 10,000,000 citizens. Dead by Stalin and not Hitler! Then their were the mass murders carried out through Eastern Europe and occupied Germany by the Red Army and KGB, foreign deportation dead, and the mass of foreign POWs dying in Soviet camps. These dead would add another 3,000,000 to the total.

So, the Soviet’s (the use of “Russian” for Soviets is not correct, since a large number of different national groups had been forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, such as Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Armenian, etc.) lost about 13,000,000 to Hitler’s democide. And Stalin’s democide amounted to about 13,000,000 citizens and foreigners.

Overall, Hitler murdered about 21,000,000 people, and Stalin about 43,000,000. No one in recorded history, as far as I could determine, has murdered more during his rule. And yet, . . . try to relax and take two deep breaths to get ready for this . . . in Volgograd, once named Stalingrad, authorities will unveil a statue of . . . Stalin!

But wait, got more. The All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center took a poll, in answer to which half the respondants were positive toward Stalin’s “role in the life of the country” — 20% very positive, 30% some what positive, and ONLY 12% very negative. If anything displays the kind of education and information Russians are getting, this is it.

All this reflects the gradual takeover of Russia by present and former military and security chiefs, the refusal to publicize the tyranny and mass murders of Stalin, the turning a blind eye to the complicity of present and past officials in Stalin’s murders, and the public regret about the fall of the Soviet Union (I think President Putin called it “catastrophic”). As now is well known, Russia is has become an authoritarian state with a democratic veneer. Elections, yes, but the Putin regime now controls the major media and hassles and hamstrings opposition parties.

Oh yes, one more thing. When the Allies set aside May 8, 1945, to celebrate their victory over Germany, Algeria was then a French colony. Understandably, with all the celebration about victory and freedom, the Algerians tried, with the permission of the sous-prefet, to demonstrate for independence. Although a peaceful demonstration, they were fired on by troops and legionnaires, after which the military carried out a street-by-street, house-by-house massacre of any Algerians they could lay hands on and if they could not they would, for example, drop grenades down chimneys. About 45,000 Algerians were massacred (link here), of which are shown two heads below. Thanks to Gary Busch for the email tip and photo below.


Link of Note

”Outside View: Dictators must go” (4/19/05) By Herbutus Hoffman

Hoffman is president and founder of the World Security Network. While recognizing President Bush’s Forward Strategy of Freedom, he says,

Western foreign policy is for the most part reactionary, rather than proactive in “shaping a better world.” Foreign policy is for the most part a mix of lifeless bureaucracy and fear, almost always reactive and never preventative. Foreign policy too often contains a shot of cynicism as its actors secretly flirt with the 43 global dictators regardless of their character, only because they happen to be in power or because they bring the promise of new business.

Democratically legitimized politicians continue to hesitate when they ought to take action against them on behalf of oppressed people in other countries. . . .

It is perfectly clear for all to see: today’s Europe is secure only because there is now more freedom and democracy than there was 20 years ago. . . .

The United States is rich and powerful because it gave its citizens freedom more than 200 years ago. West Germany was rich, East Germany poor. North Korea is extremely poor, South Korea rich. Vietnam is poor, Thailand rich. . . .

Let’s start a new approach with fresh, new thought, combined with optimism for a new progressive foreign policy — with imagination a la Einstein — to promote democratic development and to get rid of the last 43 dictators in the word by 2025, now!


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“No, God, I Can’t Believe It”–A Ducudrama Of The Forced Ukrainian Famine

April 28, 2009

[First published in May 18, 2005] In 1932, Stalin went to war against Ukrainian nationalism and resistance to collectivization. His weapon of choice was enforced famine. Stalin won. The “war dead?” About 5,000,000 Ukrainians who starved to death or died of associated diseases. Want to know what it was like for a Ukrainian villager then? Here is one possible story.
***

“We were starving to death,” Viktor suddenly blurted as I placed another beer before him. “My father, Petro Pynzenyk, was powerless to do anything about it, which made him very angry. I remember him shaking his feeble fist in the air and yelling to my mother Olena, ‘How could he do this to us? How could he starve us to death? God, why? What have we done to him?’

“My mother wouldn’t answer. Skeletal and weak with hunger, she could no longer leave their bed.”

Ignoring his beer, his eyes turned inward, Viktor finally let it all out.

***

Drought had brought famine to the Ukraine. But this famine was nothing compared to what Stalin, the absolute dictator of the communist Soviet Union, or USSR, was doing. He had launched a total blockade that prevented any food from getting into that Soviet republic. The communist cadre even searched travelers to the Ukraine to make sure they carried no food with them.

According to Stalin’s fanatical communist reasoning, Ukrainian peasant nationalism was a danger to his power that had to be subdued. The peasants also had strongly resisted giving up their homes, farms, and livestock to be collectivized into factory farms. Stalin’s weapon against such stubbornness and nationalism was starvation. He sent the communist cadre, activists, and security forces into the region to enforce his own man-made famine.

Petro Pynzenyk’s anguished outbursts against Stalin would almost exhaust him. He had been a handsome man in his youth, taller than most other peasants, with a round, open face and a strong brow. Even when age had grayed his hair, he had been well muscled, as heavy farm workers usually were. Now his ribs showed and his stomach was caved in; his arms and legs had grown bony, their muscles raped by his body for sustenance.

Viktor remembered watching him pry the soles off his shoes and then drop them into a pot of boiling water hanging in the fireplace. “Maybe they’ll add some flavor to the tree bark,” he rasped. It seemed that he could no longer say anything normally.

He was nonpolitical, tried to stay out of trouble, and did what the local communist functionaries asked. Except that, with all his being, he dreaded the demand he knew would soon come from Kiev—that he give up his one-acre farm and small home to collectivization. His father had worked all his life to develop and build this small farm. Petro did not want to give it up, but if he resisted, the communists would shoot him and his family.

Viktor was fourteen at the time. He spent the days hunting alone, because Petro, much to his shame, had grown too weak to join him. With a long-handled net, Viktor tried to catch any animals he saw around the village or in the unplowed fields, even former pets that the communists had missed when they came through, shooting them and stuffing the dead ones in sacks to be carried or trucked away. They’d also taken all the livestock, and had gone house to house looking for food, even seizing warm bread off the tables. When they learned that the villagers had started catching birds to eat, the communists again came through, shooting the birds out of the trees and bagging their little bodies.

When they came to the Pynzenyk home, they poked around the grounds outside the house with long rods, searching for buried food. They thus found the seeds Viktor’s mother had hidden by the pump, which they’d planned to use for planting if they survived.

Finally, as much as he didn’t want to believe it, Viktor realized they would not survive much longer.

One late afternoon when Viktor returned empty-handed to their house, he was just pulling the door shut behind him when he heard a distant scream. Alarmed but too weak to move himself, Petro waved Viktor outside to find out what was happening. Petro and Olena waited in tense silence as Viktor left the house. Viktor could tell they were scared. He followed the sound of the screams, which were soon punctuated by loud moans and gasps for breath.

When Viktor discovered what had caused the screams, he vomited up what liquid lay in his empty stomach. Sickened, revolted, he ran home and lay by his house and wept until too exhausted to cry anymore. Finally, he staggered inside.

He pushed the door shut behind him and stood there, swaying as if cornered. He could only gape at his parents, his mouth working. He started crying again, fighting to gulp air into his lungs, but dreading the news he had to tell his parents.

“What is it?” Petro demanded weakly.

Viktor ran over to his mother’s bed and threw himself down beside her, his whole body shaking. Olena put her bony arm around him, murmured some soothing words, and waited.

Finally, still trembling, Viktor blurted, “They ate her.”

“Ate who?” asked his father.

“Yana.”

“Yana? What are you talking about?” His mother looked from Viktor to Petro in confusion.

Viktor calmed down enough to explain, although tears still flowed. “Little Yana down the road. She went missing, and her father searched the woods and finally checked that crazy man Taran’s house on the other side of the stream. She was . . . ”

“What, Viktor?”

“She was . . . cut up in his . . . in his food pot. Her father grabbed a shovel and killed Taran and his mother with it.” Viktor’s stomach heaved at the memory, but nothing would come up. He whimpered, “She was such a fun little girl. She was always laughing and trying to trip me. She would make believe I was a horse.”

“My Holy God in Heaven,” Petro groaned. “I had heard this was going on, but in our village? No, God, I can’t believe it.”

Olena could only close her eyes and let the tears flow.

The days went slowly by, each a torment of hunger. Petro also grew too weak to leave his bed. Viktor continued to hunt, and captured some rats in the field. With the head of one he saved from the pot, he actually caught a starving dog whose own hunger had overcome its natural fear. His parents always gave him the largest part of any catch. They wanted Viktor to live to remember them, and what had happened.

Olena died two weeks later, and Petro the following week. With the death of his father, Viktor gave up all hope. He was lying on their bed, just waiting for the end, when Stalin ordered the release of grain from the military warehouses.

Local officials soon started going from village to village, looking for survivors. When they came to Viktor’s house, they knocked on the door. Receiving no response, they entered and, one told him later, were nearly overcome by the smell of urine, feces, and death. They found Viktor almost dead, lying next to the rotting corpses of his mother and father on a pile of filthy blankets. Viktor was not the first one they’d seen in this condition; they knew what to do. He was carried outside and propped on the ground to be spoon-fed thin soup.

***

Unlike all but a few in his village, Viktor survived. Five million Ukrainians did not.

Even this did not satisfy Stalin. He decided that the core Ukrainian culture had to be destroyed. And who was at the heart of this culture? The blind traveling musicians, who played and sang the classical Ukrainian music and folk tunes, and recounted tales of Ukrainian heroes. So, Stalin had communist officials call all the folk musicians together for a festival, and then had them all shot to death.

How can we prevent this from ever happening again? Through the democratic peace.


War/peace docudramas
War/democide Docudramas


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