Mass killings under Communist regimes

Mass killings under Communist regimes

Mass killings occurred under some Communist regimes during the twentieth century with an estimated death toll numbering between 85 and 100 million.[1] Scholarship focuses on the causes of mass killings in single societies, though some claims of common causes for mass killings have been made. Some higher estimates of mass killings include not only mass murders or executions that took place during the elimination of political opponents, civil wars, terror campaigns, and land reforms, but also lives lost due to war, famine, disease, and exhaustion in labor camps. There are scholars who believe that government policies and mistakes in management contributed to these calamities, and, based on that conclusion combine all these deaths under the categories "mass killings", democide, politicide, "classicide", or loosely defined genocide. According to these scholars, the total death toll of the mass killings defined in this way amounts to many tens of millions; however, the validity of this approach is questioned by other scholars. As of 2011, academic consensus has not been achieved on causes of large scale killings by states, including by states governed by communists. In particular, the number of comparative studies suggesting causes is limited. The highest death tolls that have been documented in communist states occurred in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, in the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong, and in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The estimates of the number of non-combatants killed by these three regimes alone range from a low of 21 million to a high of 70 million.[dubious ][2] There have also been killings on a smaller scale in North Korea, Vietnam, and some Eastern European and African countries.



Communist regimes "Communist regimes" refers to those countries who declared themselves to be socialist states under the Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, or Maoist definition (in other words, "communist states") at some point in their history.

Scholars use several different terms to describe the intentional killing of large numbers of noncombatants.[3][4] The following have been used to describe killing by Communist governments:

  • Genocide Under the Genocide Convention, the crime of genocide does not apply to the mass killing of political and social groups. Protection of political groups was eliminated from the UN resolution after a second vote, because many states, including Stalin's USSR,[5] anticipated that clause to apply unneeded limitations to their right to suppress internal disturbances.[6]
  • Politicide The term "politicide" is used to describe the killing of political or economic groups that would otherwise be covered by the Genocide Convention.[7] Manus I. Midlarsky uses the term "politicide" to describe an arc of mass killings from the western parts of the Soviet Union to China and Cambodia.[8] In his book The killing trap: genocide in the twentieth century Midlarsky raises similarities between the killings of Stalin and Pol Pot.[9]
  • Democide R. J. Rummel coined the term "democide", which includes genocide, politicide, and mass murder.[10] Helen Fein has termed the mass state killings in the Soviet Union and Cambodia as "genocide and democide."[11] Frank Wayman and Atsushi Tago have shown the significance of terminology in that, depending on the use of democide (generalised state-sponsored killing) or politicide (eliminating groups who are politically opposed) as the criterion for inclusion in a data-set, statistical analyses seeking to establish a connection between mass killings can produce very different results, including the significance or otherwise of regime type.[page needed][12]
  • Classicide Michael Mann has proposed the term "classicide" to mean the "intended mass killing of entire social classes".[15]
  • Terror Stephen Wheatcroft notes that, in the case of the Soviet Union, terms such as "the terror", "the purges", and "repression" (the latter mostly in common Russian) colloquially refer to the same events and he believes the most neutral terms are "repression" and "mass killings".[4]
  • Mass killing This term has been defined by Benjamin Valentino as "the intentional killing of a massive number of noncombatants", where a "massive number" is defined as at least 50,000 intentional deaths over the course of five years or less.[16] He applies this definition to the cases of Stalin's USSR, the PRC under Mao, and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, while admitting that mass killings on a smaller scale also appear to have been carried out by regimes in North Korea, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and Africa.[17]
Red Holocaust − still small pile of stones, commemorating the victims of communism, as such the first memorial in Germany (Jimmy Fell, 2011)
  • Communist holocaust The United States Congress has referred to the mass killings collectively as "an unprecedented imperial communist holocaust"[18][19] while the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation established by the United States Congress refers to this subject as the "Communist holocaust".[20] The term "Red Holocaust" has been used by German historian Horst Möller; Steven Rosefielde has published a book on this subject titled Red Holocaust.[21][22]

Proposed causes

List of claims linking communism and mass killings

Theories, such as those of R. J. Rummel, that propose communism as a significant causative factor in mass killings have attracted scholarly dispute;[23] this article does not discuss academic acceptance of such theories.

Klas-Göran Karlsson writes that "Ideologies are systems of ideas, which cannot commit crimes independently. However, individuals, collectives and states that have defined themselves as communist have committed crimes in the name of communist ideology, or without naming communism as the direct source of motivation for their crimes."[24]

According to Rudolph Joseph Rummel, the killings done by communist regimes can be explained with the marriage between absolute power and an absolutist ideology – Marxism.[25]

"Of all religions, secular and otherwise," Rummel positions Marxism as "by far the bloodiest – bloodier than the Catholic Inquisition, the various Catholic crusades, and the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. In practice, Marxism has meant bloody terrorism, deadly purges, lethal prison camps and murderous forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions and fraudulent show trials, outright mass murder and genocide."[26] He writes that in practice the Marxists saw the construction of their utopia as "a war on poverty, exploitation, imperialism and inequality – and, as in a real war, noncombatants would unfortunately get caught in the battle. There would be necessary enemy casualties: the clergy, bourgeoisie, capitalists, 'wreckers', intellectuals, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, tyrants, the rich and landlords. As in a war, millions might die, but these deaths would be justified by the end, as in the defeat of Hitler in World War II. To the ruling Marxists, the goal of a communist utopia was enough to justify all the deaths."[26]

In his book Red Holocaust, Steven Rosefielde argues that communism's internal contradictions "caused to be killed" approximately 60 million people and perhaps tens of millions more, and that this "Red Holocaust" – the peacetime mass killings and other related crimes against humanity perpetrated by Communist leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot—should be the centerpiece of any net assessment of communism. He states that the aforementioned leaders are "collectively guilty of holocaust-scale felonious homicides."[27]

Robert Conquest stressed that Stalin's purges were not contrary to the principles of Leninism, but rather a natural consequence of the system established by Lenin, who personally ordered the killing of local groups of class enemy hostages.[28] Alexander Yakovlev, architect of perestroika and glasnost and later head of the Presidential Commission for the Victims of Political Repression, elaborates on this point, stating that "The truth is that in punitive operations Stalin did not think up anything that was not there under Lenin: executions, hostage taking, concentration camps, and all the rest."[29] Historian Robert Gellately concurs, saying: "To put it another way, Stalin initiated very little that Lenin had not already introduced or previewed."[30] Said Lenin to his colleagues in the Bolshevik government: "If we are not ready to shoot a saboteur and White Guardist, what sort of revolution is that?"[31]

Anne Applebaum asserts that, "without exception, the Leninist belief in the one-party state was and is characteristic of every communist regime," and "the Bolshevik use of violence was repeated in every Communist revolution." Phrases said by Lenin and Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky were deployed all over the world. She notes that as late as 1976, Mengistu Haile Mariam unleashed a "Red Terror" in Ethiopia.[32]

In The Lost Literature of Socialism, literary historian George Watson saw socialism as conservative, a reaction against liberalism and an attempt to return to antiquity and hierarchy. He states that the writings of Friedrich Engels and others show that "the Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism, which in advanced nations was already giving place to capitalism, must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire nations would be left behind after a workers' revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age, and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed. They were racial trash, as Engels called them, and fit only for the dung-heap of history."[33] Watson's claims have been criticised by Robert Grant for "dubious evidence", arguing that "what Marx and Engels are calling for is ... at the very least a kind of cultural genocide; but it is not obvious, at least from Watson's citations, that actual mass killing, rather than (to use their phraseology) mere 'absorption' or 'assimilation', is in question."[34]

Daniel Goldhagen,[35] Richard Pipes,[36] and John N. Gray[37] have written about theories regarding the role of communism in books for a popular audience.

List of claims relating to a failure in the rule of law or economic conditions as cause

Eric D. Weitz says that the mass killing in communist states are a natural consequence of the failure of the rule of law, seen commonly during periods of social upheaval in the 20th century. For both communist and non-communist mass killings, "genocides occurred at moments of extreme social crisis, often generated by the very policies of the regimes."[38] They are not inevitable but are political decisions.[38]

Stephen Hicks of Rockford College ascribes the violence characteristic of twentieth-century socialist rule to these collectivist regimes' abandonment of protections of civil rights and rejection of the values of civil society. Hicks writes that whereas "in practice every liberal capitalist country has a solid record for being humane, for by and large respecting rights and freedoms, and for making it possible for people to put together fruitful and meaningful lives", in socialism "practice has time and again proved itself more brutal than the worst dictatorships prior to the twentieth century. Each socialist regime has collapsed into dictatorship and begun killing people on a huge scale."[39]

The Black Book of Communism, a set of academic essays on mass killings under Communist regimes, details "'crimes, terror, and repression' from Russia in 1917 to Afghanistan in 1989".[40][not in citation given][41] Courtois claims an association between communism and criminality—"Communist regimes ... turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government"[42]—and says that this criminality lies at the level of ideology rather than state practice.[43]

Benjamin Valentino writes that mass killings strategies are chosen by Communists to economically dispossess large numbers of people.[44] "Social transformations of this speed and magnitude have been associated with mass killing for two primary reasons. First, the massive social dislocations produced by such changes have often led to economic collapse, epidemics, and, most important, widespread famines. ... The second reason that communist regimes bent on the radical transformation of society have been linked to mass killing is that the revolutionary changes they have pursued have clashed inexorably with the fundamental interests of large segments of their populations. Few people have proved willing to accept such far-reaching sacrifices without intense levels of coersion."[45]

Michael Mann writes: "The greatest Communist death rates were not intended but resulted from gigantic policy mistakes worsened by factionalism, and also somewhat by callous or revengeful views of the victims."[46]

According to Jacques Semelin, "communist systems emerging in the twentieth century ended up destroying their own populations, not because they planned to annihilate them as such, but because they aimed to restructure the 'social body' from top to bottom, even if that meant purging it and recarving it to suit their new Promethean political imaginaire."[47]

Other claims

Influence of national cultures

Martin Malia called Russian exceptionalism and the War Experience general reasons for barbarity.[48]

Secular values

Some proponents of traditional ethical standards and religious faith argue that the killings were at least partly the result of a weakening of faith and the unleashing of the radical values of the European Enlightenment upon the modern world. Observing this kind of trend in critical scholarship, the University of Oklahoma political scientist Allen D. Hertzke zooms in on the ideas of British Catholic writer and historian Paul Johnson and writes that

[A] shift in intellectual mood has come from the critique of the perceived failures and blinders of the secular project. To be sure, this critique is not universally shared, but a vast scholarship, along with a proliferating array of opinion journals and think tank symposia, catalog the fallout from the abandonment of transcendent societal anchors. Epitomizing this thought is Paul Johnson's magisterial book Modern Times, which attacks the common Enlightenment assumption that less religious faith necessarily equals more human freedom or democracy. The collapse of the religious impulse among the educated classes in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, he argues, left a vacuum that was filled by politicians wielding power under the banner of totalitarian ideologies – whether 'blood and soil' Fascism or atheistic Communism. Thus the attempt to live without God made idols of politics and produced the century's 'gangster statesmen' – Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot – whose 'unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind' unleashed unimaginable horrors. Or as T.S. Eliot puts it, 'If you will not have God (and he is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.'[49]

Personal responsibility

The Russian and world history scholar John M. Thompson describes the system of terror developed during Stalin's time as "puzzling"; surveying Russian history, he posits the height of the killings in the Soviet Union in the 1930s as a function of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's personality – specifically contending that

Attempts to explain this nightmarish period as Stalin's consolidation and reshaping of power, or the cleansing of the party as an evolving component of the Stalinist system somehow run amok, or as Stalin's coldly calculated effort to ready the country for war and ensure that he would have a free hand in foreign policy are, singly or even taken together, simply not convincing. Since Stalin destroyed both the records and most of the high officials involved, we will probably never know precisely what led to the purges and terror. Rational and policy considerations undoubtedly there were, but any persuasive explanation of this era must take account of Stalin's personality and outlook. Much of what occurred only makes sense if it stemmed in part from the disturbed mentality, pathological cruelty, and extreme paranoia of Stalin himself. Insecure, despite having established a dictatorship over the party and country, hostile and defensive when confronted with criticism of the excesses of collectivization and the sacrifices required by high-tempo industrialization, and deeply suspicious that past, present, and even yet unknown future opponents were plotting against him, Stalin began to act as a person beleaguered. He soon struck back at enemies, real or imaginary.[50]

Historian Helen Rappaport describes Nikolay Yezhov, the bureaucrat in charge of the NKVD during the Great Purge, as a physically diminutive figure of "limited intelligence" and "narrow political understanding. ... Like other instigators of mass murder throughout history, [he] compensated for his lack of physical stature with a pathological cruelty and the use of brute terror."[51]

Comparison to other mass killings

Daniel Goldhagen argues that 20th century Communist regimes "have killed more people than any other regime type."[52] Other scholars in the fields of Communist studies and genocide studies, such as Steven Rosefielde, Benjamin Valentino, and R.J. Rummel, have come to similar conclusions.[53] [2][26] Rosefielde states that it is possible the "Red Holocaust" killed more non-combatants than "Ha Shoah" and "Japan's Asian holocaust" combined, and "was at least as heinous, given the singularity of Hitler's genocide." Rosefielde also notes that "while it is fashionable to mitigate the Red Holocaust by observing that capitalism killed millions of colonials in the twentieth century, primarily through man-made famines, no inventory of such felonious negligent homicides comes close to the Red Holocaust total."[53]

States where mass killings have occurred

Soviet Union

After the Soviet Union dissolved, evidence from the Soviet archives became available, containing official records of the execution of approximately 800,000 prisoners under Stalin for either political or criminal offenses, around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulags and some 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement – for a total of about 3 million officially recorded victims in these categories.[54]

Estimates on the number of deaths brought about by Stalin's rule are hotly debated by scholars in the field of Soviet and communist studies.[55][56] The published results vary depending on the time when the estimate was made, on the criteria and methods used for the estimates, and sources available for estimates. Some historians attempt to make separate estimates for different periods of the Soviet history, with casualties for the Stalinist period varying from 8 to 61 million.[57][Full citation needed] [58][Full citation needed][59][Full citation needed][60][page needed][61][page needed][62][page needed] Several scholars, among them Stalin biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore, former Politburo member Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev and the director of Yale's "Annals of Communism" series Jonathan Brent, put the death toll at about 20 million.[63][64][65][66][67][68][69] Robert Conquest, in the latest revision (2007) of his book The Great Terror, estimates that while exact numbers will never be certain, the communist leaders of the USSR were responsible for no fewer than 15 million deaths.[70]

According to Stephen G. Wheatcroft, Stalin's regime can be charged with causing the "purposive deaths" of about a million people, although the number of deaths caused by the regime's "criminal neglect" and "ruthlessness" was considerably higher, and perhaps exceed Hitler's.[4] Wheatcroft excludes all famine deaths as "purposive deaths," and claims those that do qualify fit more closely the category of "execution" rather than "murder."[4] However, some of the actions of Stalin's regime, not only those during the Holodomor but also Dekulakization and targeted campaigns against particular ethnic groups, can be considered as genocide, [71] [72] at least in its loose definition.[73]

Genocide scholar Adam Jones claims that "there is very little in the record of human experience to match the violence unleashed between 1917, when the Bolsheviks took power, and 1953, when Joseph Stalin died and the Soviet Union moved to adopt a more restrained and largely non-murderous domestic policy." He notes the exceptions being the Khmer Rouge (in relative terms) and Mao's rule in China (in absolute terms).[74]

Red Terror

During the Russian Civil War, both sides unleashed terror campaigns (the Red and White Terrors). The Red Terror culminated in the summary execution of tens of thousands of "enemies of the people" by the political police, the Cheka.[75][copyright violation?][volume & issue needed][76][77][78] Many victims were 'bourgeois hostages' rounded up and held in readiness for summary execution in reprisal for any alleged counter-revolutionary provocation.[79] Many were put to death during and after the suppression of revolts, such as the Kronstadt rebellion and the Tambov Rebellion. Professor Donald Rayfield claims that "the repression that followed the rebellions in Kronstadt and Tambov alone resulted in tens of thousands of executions."[80] A large number of Orthodox clergymen were also killed.[81][82]

The policy of decossackization amounted to an attempt by Soviet leaders to "eliminate, exterminate, and deport the population of a whole territory," according to Nicolas Werth.[83] In the early months of 1919, some 10,000 to 12,000 Cossacks were executed[84][85][verification needed] and many more deported after their villages were razed to the ground.[86]

Great purge (Yezhovshchina)

Stalin's attempts to solidify his position as leader of the Soviet Union lead to an escalation in detentions and executions of various people, climaxing in 1937–38 (a period sometimes referred to as the "Yezhovshchina," or Yezhov era), and continuing until Stalin's death in 1953. Around 700,000 of these were executed by a gunshot to the back of the head,[87] others perished from beatings and torture while in "investigative custody"[88] and in the Gulag due to starvation, disease, exposure and overwork.[89]

Arrests were typically made citing counter-revolutionary laws, which included failure to report treasonous actions and, in an amendment added in 1937, failing to fulfill one's appointed duties. In the cases investigated by the State Security Department of the NKVD (GUGB NKVD) October 1936 – November 1938, at least 1,710,000 people were arrested and 724,000 people executed.[90]

Vynnytsa, Ukraine, June 1943. Mass graves dating from 1937–38 opened up and hundreds of bodies exhumed for identification by family members.[91]

Regarding the persecution of clergy, Michael Ellman has stated that "...the 1937–38 terror against the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and of other religions (Binner & Junge 2004) might also qualify as genocide".[73] Citing church documents, Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev has estimated that over 100,000 priests, monks and nuns were executed during this time.[92]

Former "kulaks" and their families made up the majority of victims, with 669,929 people arrested and 376,202 executed.[93]

National operations of the NKVD

In 1930s, the NKVD conducted a series of National operations, which targeted some "national contingents" suspected in counter-revolutionary activity.[73] A total of 350,000 were arrested and 247,157 were executed.[94] Of these, the Polish operation, which targeted the members of already non-existing Polska Organizacja Wojskowa appears to have been the largest, with 140,000 arrests and 111,000 executions.[73] Although these operation might well constitute genocide as defined by the UN convention,[73] or "a mini-genocide" according to Montefiore,[94] there is as yet no authoritative ruling on the legal characterisation of these events.[73]

Great purge in Mongolia

In the summer and autumn of 1937, Stalin sent NKVD agents to the Mongolian People's Republic and engineered a Mongolian Great Terror[95] in which some 22,000[96] and 35,000[97] people were executed. Around 18,000 victims were Buddhist lamas.[96]

Soviet killings during WWII

Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lviv, June 1941.

In September 1939, following the Soviet invasion of Poland, NKVD task forces started removing "Soviet-hostile elements" from the conquered territories.[98] The NKVD systematically practiced torture, which often resulted in death.[99][100]

The most notorious killings occurred in the spring of 1940, when the NKVD executed some 21,857 Polish POWs and intellectual leaders in what has become known as the Katyn massacre.[101][102][103] According to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, 150,000 Polish citizens perished due to Soviet repression during the war.[104][105]

Plaque on the building of Government of Estonia, Toompea, commemorating government members killed by communist terror

Executions were also carried out after the annexation of the Baltic states.[106] And during the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa, the NKVD and attached units of the Red Army massacred prisoners and political opponents by the tens of thousands before fleeing from the advancing Axis forces.[107]

People's Republic of China

The Chinese Communist Party came to power in China in 1949, when Chinese communist revolution ended a long and bloody civil war between communists and nationalists. There is a general consensus among historians that after Mao Zedong seized power, his policies and political purges caused directly or indirectly the deaths of tens of millions of people.[108][109] Based on the Soviets' experience, Mao considered violence necessary to achieve an ideal society derived from Marxism and planned and executed violence on a grand scale.[110][111]

Land reform and the suppression of counterrevolutionaries

The first large-scale killings under Mao took place during land reform and the counterrevolutionary campaign. In official study materials published in 1948, Mao envisaged that "one-tenth of the peasants" (or about 50,000,000) "would have to be destroyed" to facilitate agrarian reform.[111] Actual numbers killed in land reform are believed to have been lower, but at least one million.[110][112]

The suppression of counterrevolutionaries targeted mainly former Kuomintang officials and intellectuals suspected of disloyalty.[113] At least 712,000 people were executed, 1,290,000 were imprisoned in labor camps and 1,200,000 were "subject to control at various times."[114]

The Great Leap Forward

Benjamin Valentino says that the Great Leap Forward was a cause of the Great Chinese Famine, and that the worst effects of the famine were steered towards the regime's enemies.[115] Those labeled as "black elements" (religious leaders, rightists, rich peasants, etc.) in any earlier campaign died in the greatest numbers, as they were given the lowest priority in the allocation of food.[115] In Mao's Great Famine, historian Frank Dikötter writes that "coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the very foundation of the Great Leap Forward" and it "motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history."[116] His research in local and provincial Chinese archives indicates the death toll was at least 45 million, and that "In most cases the party knew very well that it was starving its own people to death."[117] In a secret meeting at Shanghai in 1959, Mao issued the order to procure one third of all grain from the countryside. He said: “When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”[117] Dikötter estimates that at least 2.5 million people were summarily killed or tortured to death during this period.[118]

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Sinologists Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals estimate that between 750,000 and 1.5 million people were killed in the violence of the Cultural Revolution, in rural China alone.[119] Mao's Red Guards were given carte blanche to abuse and kill the revolution's enemies.[120] For example, in August 1966, over 100 teachers were murdered by their students in western Beijing alone.[121]

Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea)

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

Helen Fein, a genocide scholar, notes that, although Cambodian leaders declared adherence to an exotic version of agrarian communist doctrine, the xenophobic ideology of the Khmer Rouge regime resembles more a phenomenon of national socialism, or fascism.[122] Daniel Goldhagen explains that the Khmer Rouge were xenophobic because they believed the Khmer were "the one authentic people capable of building true communism."[123] Sociologist Martin Shaw described the Cambodian genocide as "the purest genocide of the Cold War era".[124]

The Killing Fields were a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Vietnam War. At least 200,000 people were executed by the Khmer Rouge[125] (while estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.4 to 2.2 million out of a population of around 7 million).[126]

Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge) experienced serious hardships due to the effects of war and disrupted economic activity. According to Michael Vickery, 740,800 people in Cambodia in a population of about 7 million died due to disease, overwork, and political repression.[127] Other estimates suggest approximately 1.7 million and it is described by the Yale University Cambodian Genocide Program as "one of the worst human tragedies of the last century."[128]

Researcher Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia suggests that the death toll was between 2 and 2.5 million, with a "most likely" figure of 2.2 million. After 5 years of researching some 20,000 grave sites, he concludes that "these mass graves contain the remains of 1,112,829 victims of execution."[127] Following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime, the their coalition parters, which included former Khmer Rouge members, received aid and assistance from the United States government.

Steven Rosefielde claims that Democratic Kampuchea was the deadliest of all communist regimes on a per capita basis, primarily because it "lacked a viable productive core" and "failed to set boundaries on mass murder."[129]

In 1997 the Cambodian Government asked the United Nations assistance in setting up a genocide tribunal.[130][131][132] The investigating judges were presented with the names of five possible suspects by the prosecution on 18 July 2007.[130] On 19 September 2007 Nuon Chea, second in command of the Khmer Rouge and its most senior surviving member, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but not charged with genocide. He will face Cambodian and foreign judges at the special genocide tribunal.[133]

Infants were fatally smashed against the Chankiri Tree (Killing Tree) at Choeung Ek, Cambodia.[134]


Mass killings have also occurred in Vietnam,[135] North Korea[136] and Romania.[137] It has been suggested that there may also have been other mass killings (on a smaller scale) in communist states such as Bulgaria and East Germany, although lack of documentation prevents definitive judgement about the scale of these events and the motives of the perpetrators.[138]

According to Benjamin Valentino, most regimes that described themselves as Communist did not commit mass killings;[2] however, some mass killings may have occurred in some Eastern European countries, although, due to insufficient documentary evidence it is impossible to make a definitive judgement about the scale, intentionality and the causes of those events.[139]


Between 50,000 and 100,000 people may have been killed in Bulgaria beginning in 1944 as part of agricultural collectivization and political repression.[138]

East Germany

Between 80,000 and 100,000 people may have been killed in East Germany beginning in 1945 as part of political repression by the Soviet Union.[138]


Between 60,000 and 300,000 people may have been killed in Romania beginning in 1945 as part of agricultural collectivization and political repression.[138]

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

In his book Statistics of Democide, Rudolph Rummel estimates that from 710,000 to slightly over 3,500,000 people have been murdered in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea between 1948 through 1987.[140] Steven Rosefielde stresses that the Red Holocaust "still persists in North Korea" as Kim Jong Il "refuses to abandon mass killing."[141]

Democratic Republic of Vietnam

In the early 1950s, the Communist government in North Vietnam launched a land reform, which, according to Steven Rosefielde, was "aimed at exterminating class enemies."[142] Victims were chosen in an arbitrary manner, following a quota of four to five percent.[143] Torture was used on a wide scale, so much so that by 1954 Ho Chi Minh became concerned, and had it banned.[143] It is estimated that some 50,000[143] to 172,000[142] people perished in the campaigns against wealthy farmers and landowners. Rosefielde discusses much higher estimates that range from 200,000 to 900,000, which includes summary executions of National People's Party members.[142]

People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Amnesty International estimates that a total of half a million people were killed during the Red Terror of 1977 and 1978[144][145][146] During the terror groups of people were herded into churches that were then burned down, and women were subjected to systematic rape by soldiers.[147] The Save the Children Fund reported that the victims of the Red Terror included not only adults, but 1,000 or more children, mostly aged between eleven and thirteen, whose corpses were left in the streets of Addis Ababa.[144] Mengistu himself is alleged to have killed political opponents with his bare hands.[148]


During the period of the short lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919 the Lenin Boys committed crimes against the political opponents. After the Word War II, the communist State Protection Authority maintained concentration camps and committed mass genocides.


Democratic Republic of Afghanistan

Although it is frequently considered as an example of communist genocide, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan represents a borderline case, according to Frank Wayman and Atsushi Tago.[12] Prior to the Soviet invasion, the PDPA executed between 10,000 and 27,000 people, mostly at Pul-e-Charkhi prison.[149][150][151] After the invasion in 1979, The Soviets installed the puppet government of Babrak Karmal, but it was never clearly stabilized as a communist regime and was in a constant state of war. By 1987, about 80% of the country's territory was permanently controlled by neither the pro-Communist government (and supporting Soviet troops) nor by the armed opposition. To tip the balance, the Soviet Union used a tactic that was a combination of "scorched earth" policy and "migratory genocide": by systematically burning the crops and destroying villages in rebel provinces, as well as by reprisal bombing of entire villages suspected of harbouring or supporting the resistance, the Soviets tried to force the local population to move to the Soviet controlled territory, thereby depriving the armed opposition of their support.[152] By the time the Soviets withdrew in 1988, 1 to 1.5 million people had been killed, mostly Afghan civilians, and one-third of Afghanistan's population had been displaced.[153][not in citation given] M. Hassan Kakar argued that "the Afghans are among the latest victims of genocide by a superpower."[154] Mass graves of executed prisoners have been exhumed dating back to the Soviet era.[155]

Soviet famine of 1932–1933

Within the Soviet Union, forced changes in agricultural policies (collectivization) and droughts caused the Soviet famine of 1932–1933.[156][dead link][157][158][159] The famine was most severe in the Ukrainian SSR, where it is often referenced as the Holodomor. A significant portion of the famine victims (3–3.5 million) were Ukrainians while the total number of victims in the Soviet Union is estimated to be 6 – 8 millions.[160][161][verification needed][162]

Some scholars have argued that the Stalinist policies that caused the famine may have been designed as an attack on the rise of Ukrainian nationalism,[163] and thus may fall under the legal definition of genocide (see Holodomor genocide question).[156][157][164][165][166] Economist Michael Ellman argues that the actions of the Soviet regime from 1930–34 constitutes "a series of crimes against humanity."[73] Benjamin Valentino notes that "there is strong evidence that Soviet authorities used hunger as a weapon to crush peasant resistance to collectivization" and that "deaths associated with these kinds of policies meet the criteria for mass killing."[167] Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University, asserts that in 1933 "Joseph Stalin was deliberately starving Ukraine" through a "heartless campaign of requisitions that began Europe's era of mass killing."[168]

Ukraine under Yuschenko's administration (2004–2010) has tried to make the world recognize the famine as a genocide,[169] a move which was supported by a number of foreign governments.[170] The Russian government has vehemently rejected the idea, accusing Yuschenko of politicization of the tragedy, outright propaganda, and fabrication of documents.[171] In 2010, Ukrainian president Yanukovich reversed Yuschenko's policies on Holodomor and, currently, both Ukraine and Russia consider the Holodomor a common tragedy of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, caused by "Stalin's totalitarian regime", rather than a deliberate act of genocide that targeted ethnic Ukrainians.[172] In a draft resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared the famine was caused by the "cruel and deliberate actions and policies of the Soviet regime" and was responsible for the deaths of "millions of innocent people" in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Russia. Relative to its population, Kazakhstan is believed to have been the most adversely affected.[172][173] Regarding the Kazakh case, Michael Ellman states that it "seems to be an example of ‘negligent genocide’ which falls outside the scope of the UN Convention (Schabas 2000, pp. 226 – 228)."[73]

Mass deportations of ethnic minorities

The Soviet government during Stalin's rule conducted a series of deportations on an enormous scale that significantly affected the ethnic map of the USSR. Deportations took place under extremely harsh conditions, often in cattle carriages, with hundreds of thousands of deportees dying en route.[174] Some experts estimate the number of deaths from the deportations in certain cases could be as high as one in three.[175][176] Regarding the fate of the Crimean Tatars, Amir Weiner of Stanford University writes that the policy could be classified as "ethnic cleansing". In the book Century of Genocide, Lyman H Legters writes "We cannot properly speak of a completed genocide, only of a process that was genocidal in its potentiality."[177]


According to The Black Book of Communism, the Chinese Communists carried out a cultural genocide against the Tibetans. Jean-Louis Margolin states that the killings were proportionally larger in Tibet than China proper, and that "one can legitimately speak of genocidal massacres because of the numbers involved."[178] According to the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, "Tibetans were not only shot, but also were beaten to death, crucified, burned alive, drowned, mutilated, starved, strangled, hanged, boiled alive, buried alive, drawn and quartered, and beheaded."[178]

Adam Jones, a Canadian scholar specializing in genocide, notes that after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Chinese authorized struggle sessions against reactionaries, during which "...communist cadres denounced, tortured, and frequently executed enemies of the people." These sessions resulted in 92,000 deaths out of a population of about 6 million. These deaths, Jones stresses, may be seen not only as a genocide but also as 'eliticide' – "targeting the better educated and leadership oriented elements among the Tibetan population."[179]

Inclusion of famine as killing

The journalist and author Seamus Milne has questioned whether deaths from famine should be considered equivalent to state killings, since the demographic data used to estimate famine deaths may not be reliable. He argues that, if they are to be, then Britain would have to be considered responsible for as many as 30 million deaths in India from famine during the 19th century, and laments that there has been "no such comprehensive indictment of the colonial record".[180]

Benjamin Valentino writes that, "Although not all the deaths due to famine in these cases were intentional, communist leaders directed the worst effects of famine against their suspected enemies and used hunger as a weapon to force millions of people to conform to the directives of the state."[181]

Daniel Goldhagen argues that in some cases, deaths from famine should not be distinguished from mass murder: "Whenever governments have not alleviated famine conditions, political leaders decided not to say no to mass death – in other words, they said yes." He claims that famine was either used or deliberately tolerated by the Soviets, the Germans, the communist Chinese, the British in Kenya, the Hausa against the Ibo in Nigeria, Khmer Rouge, communist North Koreans, Ethiopeans in Eritrea, Zimbabwe against regions of political opposition, and Political Islamists in southern Sudan and Darfur.[182]

Notable executioners

Major-General Vasili Blokhin, Stalin's chief executioner at Lubyanka prison, personally shot thousands of prisoners and is regarded by some historians as the most prolific executioner in history.[183][184]

Legal prosecution for genocide and genocide denial

Katyn 1943 exhumation. Photo by International Red Cross delegation.

While Ethiopia's former ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam has been convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by an Ethiopian court for his role in the Red Terror, and the highest ranking surviving member of the Khmer Rouge has been charged with those crimes,[133][185][186][187][188] no communist country or governing body has ever been convicted of genocide. Ethiopian law is distinct from the UN and other definitions in that it defines genocide as intent to wipe out political and not just ethnic groups. In this respect it closely resembles the distinction of politicide.[189]

According to the laws in Czech Republic the person who publicly denies, puts in doubt, approves or tries to justify Nazi or Communist genocide or other crimes of Nazis or Communists will be punished by prison of 6 months to 3 years.[190] In March 2005, the Polish Sejm unanimously requested Russia to classify the Katyn massacre, the execution of over 21,000 Polish POW's and intellectual leaders by Stalin's NKVD, as a crime of genocide.[191] Alexander Savenkov of the Prosecutor's General Office of the Russian Federation responded: "The version of genocide was examined, and it is my firm conviction that there is absolutely no basis to talk about this in judicial terms."[192] In March 2010, Memorial called upon Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to denounce the massacre as a crime against humanity.[193] On November 26, 2010, the Russian State Duma issued a declaration that archival material “not only unveils the scale of his horrific tragedy but also provides evidence that the Katyn crime was committed on direct orders from Stalin and other Soviet leaders."[194]

In August 2007, Arnold Meri, an Estonian Red Army veteran and cousin of former Estonian president Lennart Meri, faced charges of genocide by Estonian authorities for participating in the deportations of Estonians in Hiiumaa in 1949.[195][196] The trial was halted when Meri died March 27, 2009, at the age of 89. Meri denied the accusation, characterizing them as politically motivated defamation: "I do not consider myself guilty of genocide.", he said.[197]

On July 26, 2010, Kang Kek Iew (aka Comrade Duch), director of the S-21 prison camp in Democratic Kampuchea where more than 14,000 people were tortured and then murdered (mostly at nearby Choeung Ek), was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 35 years. His sentence was reduced to 19 in part because he's been behind bars for 11 years.[198]

See also


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  9. ^ Midlarsky (2005) Killing trap p.321.
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  161. ^ R.W. Davies and S.G. Wheatcroft, (2004) The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, volume 5. The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933 Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 401.[verification needed] For a review, see "Davies & Wheatcroft, 2004" (PDF). Warwick. 
  162. ^ Ellman, Michael (09 2005). "The Role of Leadership Perceptions and of Intent in the Soviet Famine of 1931–1934" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies (Routledge) 57 (6): 823–41. doi:10.1080/09668130500199392. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  163. ^ Amstutz, Mark R. (28 January 2005). International ethics: concepts, theories, and cases in global politics (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 96. ISBN 978-0742535831. 
  164. ^ Peter Finn, Aftermath of a Soviet Famine, The Washington Post, April 27, 2008, "There are no exact figures on how many died. Modern historians place the number between 2.5 million and 3.5 million. Yushchenko and others have said at least 10 million were killed."
  165. ^ Yaroslav Bilinsky (1999). "Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933 Genocide?". Journal of Genocide Research 1 (2): 147–156. doi:10.1080/14623529908413948. 
  166. ^ Stanislav Kulchytsky, "Holodomor-33: Why and how?", Zerkalo Nedeli, November 25 – December 1, 2006, in Russian, in Ukrainian.
  167. ^ Valentino (2005) Final solutions p. 99.
  168. ^ Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic Books, 2010. ISBN 0465002390 p. vii
  169. ^ Jan Maksymiuk, "Ukraine: Parliament Recognizes Soviet-Era Famine As Genocide", RFE/RL, November 29, 2006
  170. ^ 19 (according to Ukrainian BBC: "Латвія визнала Голодомор ґеноцидом"), 16 (according to Korrespondent, Russian edition: "После продолжительных дебатов Сейм Латвии признал Голодомор геноцидом украинцев"), "more than 10" (according to Korrespondent, Ukrainian edition: "Латвія визнала Голодомор 1932–33 рр. геноцидом українців")
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  174. ^ Boobbyer, Phillip (2000), The Stalin Era, Routledge, ISBN 0767900561 p. 130
  175. ^ In one estimate, based on a report by Lavrenti Beria to Joseph Stalin, 150,000 of 478,479 deported Ingush and Chechen people (or 31.3 percent) died within the first four years of the resettlement. See: Kleveman, Lutz. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. Jackson, Tenn.: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003. ISBN 0871139065. Another scholar puts the number of deaths at 22.7 percent: Extrapolating from NKVD records, 113,000 Ingush and Chechens died (3,000 before deportation, 10,000 during deportation, and 100,000 after resettlement) in the first three years of the resettlement out of 496,460 total deportees. See: Naimark, Norman M. Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. ISBN 0674009940. A third source says a quarter of the 650,000 deported Chechens, Ingush, Karachais and Kalmyks died within four years of resettlement. See: Mawdsley, Evan. The Stalin Years: The Soviet Union 1929–1953. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 0719063779. However, estimates of the number of deportees sometimes varies widely. Two scholars estimated the number of Chechen and Ingush deportees at 700,000, which would have the percentage estimates of deaths. See: Fischer, Ruth and Leggett, John C. Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party. Edison, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0878558225
  176. ^ Conquest, Robert. The Nation Killers. New York: Macmillan, 1970. ISBN 0333105753
  177. ^ Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons, Israel W. Charny. Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views. Garland, 1997 ISBN 0815323530 p. 120
  178. ^ a b Jean-Louis Margolin "China: a long march into night" in The Black Book pp. 545–546.
  179. ^ Jones (2010) Genocide pp. 95–96.
  180. ^ Milne, Seumas (2002-09-12). "The battle for history". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  181. ^ Valentino (2005) Final solutions p. 93–94.
  182. ^ Goldhagen (2009) Worse than War pp. 29–30.
  183. ^ Montefiore (2005) Court of the Red Tsar pp. 197–8, 334.
  184. ^ Parrish (1996) Lesser Terror p. 324.
  185. ^ "BBC, "Mengistu found guilty of genocide," 12 December 2006". BBC News. 2006-12-12. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  186. ^ Backgrounders: Ethiopian Dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam Human Rights Watch, 1999
  187. ^ Tsegaye Tadesse. Verdict due for Ethiopia's ex-dictator Mengistu Reuters, 2006
  188. ^ Court Sentences Mengistu to Death BBC, 26 May 2008.
  189. ^ Barbara Harff, "Recognizing Genocides and Politicides", in Genocide Watch 27 (Helen Fein ed., 1992) pp.37,38
  190. ^ "Expanding Holocaust Denial and Legislation". 
  191. ^ Polish government statement: Senate pays tribute to Katyn victims – 3/31/2005
  192. ^ Russia Says Katyn Executions Not Genocide
  193. ^ Memorial calls on Medvedev to denounce Katyn as crime against humanity
  194. ^ Ellen Barry. Russia: Stalin Called Responsible for Katyn Killings. The New York Times, November 26, 2010.
  195. ^ Entisen presidentin serkkua syytetään neuvostoajan kyydityksistäBaltic Guide
  196. ^ Estonian charged with Communist genocide International Herald Tribune, August 23, 2007
  197. ^ "Estonian war figure laid to rest". BBC News. 2009-04-02. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  198. ^ Sentence reduced for former Khmer Rouge prison chief. The Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2010


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