The Black Book of Communism

The Black Book of Communism

"The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression" is a book which describes a history of repressions, both political and civilian, by Communist states, including extrajudicial executions, deportations, and artificial famines. The book was originally published in 1997 in France under the title, "Le Livre noir du communisme : Crimes, terreur, répression". In the United States it is published by Harvard University Presscite book
author= Ronit Lenṭin, Mike Dennis, Eva Kolinsky
title= Representing the Shoah for the Twenty-first Century
publisher= Berghahn Books
year= 2003
pages= p217
isbn= 1571818022


The book was authored by several European academics and specialists(p. 857-8) and edited by Stéphane Courtois.
*Stéphane Courtois is a director of research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS).
*Nicolas Werth is a researcher at the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Présent (IHTP) in Paris.
*Jean-Louis Panné is a specialist on the international Communist movement.
*Andrzej Paczkowski is the deputy director of the Institute for Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a member of the archival commission for the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs.
*Karel Bartošek (1930–2004) was a historian from the Czech Republic, and a researcher at IHTP. [cite web
title=Bartošek Karel

*Jean-Louis Margolin is a lecturer at the Université de Provence and a researcher as the Research Institute on Southeast Asia.
*Sylvain Boulougue is a research associate at GEODE, .
*Pascal Fontaine is a journalist with a special knowledge of Latin America.
*Rémi Kauffer is a specialist in the history of intelligence, terrorism, and clandestine operations.
*Pierre Rigoulet is a researcher at the Institut d'Histoire Sociale.
*Yves Santamaria is a historian.

Martin Malia wrote the foreword to the English edition.


The introduction, by editor Stéphane Courtois, asserts that "...Communist regimes...turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government" . Using unofficial estimates he cites a death toll which totals 94 million , not counting the "excess deaths" (decrease of the population due to lower than the expected birth rate). The breakdown of the number of deaths given by Courtois is as follows:
*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
*10,000 deaths "resulting from actions of the international communist movement and communist parties not in power."(p. 4)The book claims that Communist regimes are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. The statistics of victims includes executions, intentional destruction of population by starvation, and deaths resulting from deportations, physical confinement, or through forced labor. It does not include "excess deaths" due to higher mortality or lower birth rates than expected of the population.

A more detailed listing of the accusations of repressions committed in the Soviet Union under the regimes of Lenin and Stalin described in the book include:
*the executions of tens of thousands of hostages and prisoners, and the murder of hundreds of thousands of rebellious workers and peasants from 1918 to 1922 (See also: Red Terror)
*the Russian famine of 1921, which caused the death of 5 million people
*the extermination and deportation of the Don Cossacks in 1920
*the murder of tens of thousands in concentration camps in the period between 1918 and 1930
*the Great Purge which put out of existence almost 690,000 people
*the deportation of 2 million so-called "kulaks" from 1930 to 1932
*the deaths of 4 million Ukrainians (Holodomor) and 2 million others during the famine of 1932 and 1933
*the deportations of Poles, Ukrainians, Balts, Moldavians and Bessarabians from 1939 to 1941 and from 1944 to 1945
*the deportation of the Volga Germans in 1941
*the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1943
*the deportation of the Chechens in 1944
*the deportation of the Ingush in 1944.(p. 9-10) (See also: Population transfer in the Soviet Union)


The conclusion by Stéphane Courtois attempts to explain the repressions.


Unsurprisingly, because of the nature of the subject matter it deals with, the book has evoked a wide variety of responses, ranging from enthusiastic support to severe criticism.


"The Black Book of Communism" received praise from American and British mainstream media, including the "Times Literary Supplement", "New York Times Book Review", "Library Journal", "Kirkus Reviews", "The New Republic", "National Review" and "The Weekly Standard".cite web
title=Harvard University Press: The Black Book of Communism : Crimes, Terror, Repression by Stéphane Courtois

Historian Tony Judt, reviewing the book for "The New York Times":

An 800-page compendium of the crimes of Communist regimes worldwide, recorded and analyzed in ghastly detail by a team of scholars. The facts and figures, some of them well known, others newly confirmed in hitherto inaccessible archives, are irrefutable. The myth of the well-intentioned founders--the good czar Lenin betrayed by his evil heirs--has been laid to rest for good. No one will any longer be able to claim ignorance or uncertainty about the criminal nature of Communism, and those who had begun to forget will be forced to remember anew.

Anne Applebaum, journalist and author of "":

A serious, scholarly history of Communist crimes in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Africa, and Latin America...The Black Book does indeed surpass many of its predecessors in conveying the grand scale of the Communist tragedy, thanks to its authors' extensive use of the newly opened archives of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Martin Malia, Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, writing for the Times Literary Supplement:

The publishing sensation in France this winter (1999) has been an austere academic tome, Le Livre Noir du Communisme, detailing Communism's crimes from Russia in 1917 to Afghanistan in 1989... [The Black Book of Communism] gives a balance sheet of our present knowledge of Communism's human costs, archivally based where possible, and otherwise drawing on the best secondary works, and with due allowance for the difficulties of quantification. Yet austere though this inventory is, its cumulative impact is overwhelming. At the same time, the book advances a number of important analytical points.


Questioning the estimated number of victims

There is no consensus among historians about the number of repression victims in the Communist countries. Some of them put the number of deaths higher than in Black Book, but others say that the number is lower. For instance, the estimates for Joseph Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union range between 3.5 and 60 million, [] [Ponton, G. (1994) "The Soviet Era."] and those for Mao Zedong's China range between 19.5 and 75 million [] . The authors of the "Black Book" defend their estimates for the Soviet Union (20 million) and Eastern Europe (1 million) by stating that they made use of sources that were not available to previous researchers (the archives mentioned above). At the same time, the authors acknowledge that the estimates from China and other nations still ruled by communist parties are uncertain since their archives are still closed. French journalist Gilles Perrault, writing in an op-ed in "Le Monde diplomatique" has accused the author of having used incorrect data and of having manipulated figures. [ [ "Communisme, les falsifications d’un « livre noir »"] , Gilles Perrault, "Le Monde Diplomatique", December 1997]

Argument that some deaths were unintentional

A revisionist historian J. Arch Getty Orlando Figes "The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia", 2007, ISBN 0-08050-7461-9. ] noted that famine accounted for more than half of Courtois's 100 million death toll. He believes that these famines were caused by the "stupidity or incompetence of the regime," and that the deaths resulting from the famines, as well as other deaths that "resulted directly or indirectly from government policy," should not be counted as if they were equivalent to intentional murders and executions. [J Arch Getty, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston: Mar 2000. Vol.285, Iss. 3; pg. 113, 4 pgs ] . Another UCLA professor, Mark Tauger, also disagrees with the author's thesis that the Holodomor was an artifical famine and genocide [,%20Chapter%20for%20Roter%20Holocaust%20book%20b.pdf] This is an ongoing controversy among historians. For example Robert Conquest sees this famine, the Holodomor, as intentional.

Argument that described political systems were not "communist"

Critics of the "Black Book" have alleged that it uses the umbrella term "communism" to refer to a wide variety of different systems, and that it "arbitrarily throws together completely different historical phenomena such as the civil war of 1918-21, the forced collectivisation and the Great Terror in the Soviet Union, the rule of Mao in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia, the military government of Ethiopia as well as various Latin American political movements, from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to the 'Shining Path' in Peru." [] While not necessarily disputing the communist nature of the aforementioned countries, the French newspaper "Le Monde diplomatique" has argued that local history and traditions also played an important role in each country [] .

In the introduction to the "Black Book", Stéphane Courtois argued that "there will always be some nitpickers who maintain that actual communism has nothing in common with theoretical communism."(p. 2) For the purpose of the book, a communist state is defined as a one-party state where the ruling party openly proclaims its adherence to Marxism-Leninism.

Courtois writes in the conclusion that belief in Marxist ideology, with its claims of scientific truth and utopian ultimate society, justified and contributed to the mass terror. According to Courtois, mass terror was the only way for a regime only supported by a small minority to stay in power and apply its radically different "scientific" doctrines. He argues that in Communism there also exists a form of social Darwinism where obsolete and damaging social institutions and classes are to be replaced by a utopian society and in essence a new human species (the "new man"). Eliminating such damaging and inferior obstacles is thus seen as both scientific and justified.

Argument that the book is one-sided

Amir Weiner of Stanford University characterizes the "Black Book" as seriously flawed, inconsistent, and prone to mere provocation. In particular, the authors are said to salvage Marxist ideology. [Amir Weiner, "Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Winter, 2002), pp. 450-452" ] The methodology of the authors has been criticized. Alexander Dallin writes that moral, legal, or political judgment hardly depends on the number of victims. The authors are said to make no attempt to differentiate between intended crimes such as the Moscow show trials and policy choices that had unintended consequences such as the Chinese famine. Dallin finds that there is not a satisfactory analysis or explanation of the behavior of communist governments. [Alexander Dallin, "Slavic Review", Vol. 59, No. 4]

Another criticism of the "Black Book" is the charge that it discusses the communist states alone, without making any sort of comparison to capitalist states. Critics have argued that capitalist countries could be held responsible for just as many deaths as communist states, or perhaps more (see "The Black Book of Capitalism") [ [ "The Misnamed 'Black Book of Communism'"] - World Socialist website.] [ [ "Communisme, les falsifications d’un « livre noir »"] , Gilles Perrault, "Le Monde Diplomatique", December 1997] Noam Chomsky writes that Amartya Sen in the early 80s estimated "the excess of mortality" in India over China to be close to 4 million a year. Chomsky therefore argues that in India alone, the democratic capitalist "experiment" since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of Communism everywhere. [ [ Counting the Bodies] - Noam Chomsky, "Spectrezine" magazine.]

Marxist journalist Daniel Singer also criticises the "Black Book" for discussing the faults of communist states while ignoring their positive achievements; he argues that "if you look at Communism as merely the story of crimes, terror and repression, to borrow the subtitle of the Black Book, you are missing the point. The Soviet Union did not rest on the gulag alone. There was also enthusiasm, construction, the spread of education and social advancement for millions." He also argues that if communism can be blamed for famines, capitalism should be blamed for most or all deaths from poverty in the world at the present time. [cite web
title=Exploiting a Tragedy, or Le Rouge en Noir

Comparison of Communism and Nazism

Courtois in the introduction wrote that Communist regimes have killed "approximately 100 million people in contrast to the approximately 25 million victims of Nazis" "Black book", Introduction, page 15.] . He claimed, using archive documents to support his view, that Nazi Germany's methods of mass extermination were adopted from Soviet methods. As an example, Courtois cited Nazi state official Rudolf Höss who organized the infamous death camp in Auschwitz. According to Höss, :"The Reich Security Head Office issued to the commandants a full collection of reports concerning the Russian concentration camps. These described in great detail the conditions in, and organization of, the Russian camps, as supplied by former prisoners who had managed to escape. Great emphasis was placed on the fact that the Russians, by their massive employment of forced labor, had destroyed whole peoples"."

Courtois also alleged Soviet genocides of peoples living in the Caucasus and exterminations of large social groups in Russia that were not very much different from similar policies by Nazis. Both Communist and Nazi systems deemed "a part of humanity unworthy of existence. The difference is that the Communist model is based on the class system, the Nazi model on race and territory." . Courtois stated that "Black book", Introduction, page 9.]

:"The "genocide of a "class" may well be tantamount to the genocide of a "race" - the deliberate starvation of a child of a Ukrainian kulak as a result of the famine caused by Stalin's regime "is equal to" the starvation of a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto as a result of the famine caused by the Nazi regime"."

French author Gilles Perrault, writing in "Le Monde diplomatique" has described the comparison between communism and Nazism as "disgraceful" [ [ "Communisme, les falsifications d’un « livre noir »"] , Gilles Perrault, "Le Monde Diplomatique", December 1997] . However other authors, such as Vladimir Tismăneanu, in his review of the book in the journal "Human Rights Review", contend that the "Black Book"'s comparison is both morally and scholarly justifiable: [Vladimir Tismaneanu, "Communism and the human condition: Reflections on the Black Book of Communism", Human Rights Review, Vol 2, Nbr 2, January 2001, Springer Netherlands] :"The most important point that needs to be made is that both regimes (radical Leninism or Stalinism and Nazism) were genocidal. Analytical distinctions between them are certainly important, and sometimes Courtois does not emphasize them sufficiently, but the commonality in terms of complete contempt for the bourgeois state of law, human rights, and the universality of humankind regardless of spurious race and class distinctions is in my view beyond doubt"."

Two of the "Black Book"'s contributors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, sparked a debate in France when they publicly disassociated themselves from Courtois's statements in the introduction about the scale of Communist terror. They felt that he was being obsessed with arriving at a total of 100 million victims. They instead estimated that Communism has claimed between 65 and 93 million lives ["Le Monde", 14 November 1997] . They rejected his equation of Soviet repression with Nazi genocide. Werth, a well-regarded French specialist on the Soviet Union whose sections in the Black Book on the Soviet Communists are sobering and damning, said there was still a qualitative difference between Nazism and Communism. He told "Le Monde", "Death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union" [J Arch Getty, "The Atlantic Monthly", Boston: Mar 2000.Vol.285, Iss. 3; pg. 113, 4 pgs [] ] , and "The more you compare communism and nazism, the more the differences are obvious." ["Le Monde", 21 september 2000]


The book "Stalinism and Nazism: History and Memory Compared" argues that the title echoes that of Ilya Ehrenburg's and Vasily Grossman's documentary record of the Nazi atrocities, "The Black Book". [Henry Rousso (edt), "Stalinism and Nazism: History and Memory Compared" (2004), ISBN 0803239459, p. xiii]


See also

*Criticisms of communism
*Anne Applebaum
*Robert Conquest
*Richard Pipes
*Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
*R.J. Rummel
*Communist terrorism
*Victims of Communism Memorial
*"The Gulag Archipelago"
*"The Great Terror"
*"Darkness at Noon"
*"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"
*"The Black Book of Capitalism"
*"The Black Book of Colonialism"

Further reading

* Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois, "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression", Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7
* Anne Applebaum, foreword, Paul Hollander, introduction and editor, "From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence And Repression in Communist Studies", Intercollegiate Studies Institute (April 17, 2006), hardcover, 760 pages, ISBN 1-932236-78-3

External links

* [ Extracts by the publisher from many different reviews]
* [ Reviews on]
* [ Review - Journal of American History]
* Philippe Bourrinet, [ "Du bon usage des livres noirs"]
* Noam Chomsky, [ "Counting the Bodies"] , Spectre No. 9
* Laurent Joffrin, [ "Sauver Lénine?"] , "Libération", December 17, 1997
* Gilles Perrault, [ "Communisme, les falsifications d'un «livre noir»"] , "Le Monde diplomatique"
* Ronald Radosh, [ "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression"] , review on, February 2000
* Ulrich Rippert, [ "A political evaluation of 'Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus'"] , on World Socialist Web Site, July 15, 1998 (a Trotskyist critique)

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