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The Black Book of Communism

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression is a book authored by several European academics and edited by St phane Courtois,[1] which describes a history of repressions, both political and civilian, by Communist states, including genocides, 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, r pression by ditions Robert Laffont. In the United States it is published by Harvard University Press.[2]



Estimated number of victims

In the introduction, editor St phane Courtois asserts that "...Communist regimes... turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". He claims that a death toll totals 94 million, not counting the "excess deaths" (decrease of the population due to lower than-expected birth rates). The breakdown of the number of deaths given by Courtois is as follows:

Courtois 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, famine, deaths resulting from deportations, physical confinement, or through forced labor.

Soviet repressions

Repressions and famines occurring in the Soviet Union under the regime of Joseph Stalin described in the book include:

Comparison of Communism and Nazism

Courtois considers Communism and Nazism slightly different totalitarian systems. He claims that Communist regimes have killed "approximately 100 million people in contrast to the approximately 25 million victims of Nazis". Courtois claims that Nazi Germany's methods of mass extermination were adopted from Soviet methods. As an example, he cites Nazi state official Rudolf H ss who organized the infamous death camp in Auschwitz. According to H ss,

Courtois argues that the Soviet genocides of peoples living in the Caucasus and exterminations of large social groups in Russia 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

He added that


The book has evoked a wide variety of responses, ranging from enthusiastic support to severe criticism.


The Black Book of Communism received praise in a number of publications in the United States and Britain, including the Times Literary Supplement, New York Times Book Review, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The New Republic, National Review and The Weekly Standard.[5] Some reviewers compared the book to The Black Book, a documentary record of the Nazi atrocities by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman.[6]

According to review by historian Tony Judt in The New York Times:[5] "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"

Anne Applebaum, journalist and author of Gulag: A History[5] described the book as "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, writing for the Times Literary Supplement,[5] described the book as "the publishing sensation in France... 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."

The Council of Europe based its Resolution 1481, which condemned totalitarian communist regim s, upon the figures from the book.


Estimated number of victims

Left-wing French journalist Gilles Perrault, writing in an op-ed in Le Monde diplomatique has accused the authors of having used incorrect data and of having manipulated figures.[7]

Some of the estimates given in the Black Book have been deemed "too conservative" by some scholars. For example, regarding the Soviet famine of 1946 48, Michael Ellman writes:

Conflation of Marxism with regimes claiming to be Marxist

Defenders of Marxist principles argue that the various movements and governments around the world which have claimed to be socialist or communist were fundamentally anti-Marxist, i.e the working class did not exercise political power nor were they based on an international revolutionary program. "Based on the supposition of an unbroken continuity between the Russian Revolution, Leninism and Stalinism, Courtois lumped together in a completely ahistorical fashion the victims of diverse Stalinist, Maoist and national liberation movements. Together with victims of various wars Courtois assembled a total sum of 100 million dead which he argued could all be attributed to Communism. His conclusion: the Communist movement was even worse than fascism."

Argument that the book is one-sided

Some pointed out that the book's account of violence 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 savage Marxist ideology.[8] The methodology of the authors has been criticized. Alexander Dallin writes that moral, legal, or political judgement hardly depends on the number of victims.[9] It is also argued that a similar chronicle of violence and death tolls can be constructed from an examination of colonialism and capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, the Black Book's attribution of 1 million deaths in Vietnam to Communism while ignoring the U.S. role has been criticized as a methodological flaw.[10]

Critics have argued that capitalist countries could be held responsible for a similar number of deaths. Noam Chomsky, for example, writes that Amartya Sen in the early 1980s estimated the excess of mortality in India over China due to the latter's "relatively equitable distribution of medical resources" at close to 4 million a year. Chomsky therefore argues that, "suppos[ing] we now apply the methodology of the Black Book and its reviewers" to India, "the democratic capitalist 'experiment' has caused more deaths than in the entire history of... Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, and tens of millions more since, in India alone."[11]

Journalist Daniel Singer has also criticized the Black Book for discussing the faults of communist states while ignoring their positive achievements; he says 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." According to him, "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.[12]

Historian J n K en said in interview that when Karel Barto ek and other co-authors found out the book "is heading towards conjectural shallowness, in which communism is reduced to terror only, there was a bad conflict, which couldn't be solved, because agreement was signed and Stephane Courtois pressured them".[13]

Disputing the "terror-famine" thesis

Historian J. Arch Getty noted that famine accounted for a significant part 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.[14]

Mark Tauger disagrees with the authors' thesis that the famine of 1933 was artificial and genocidal. Tauger asserts that the authors' interpretation of the famine contains errors, misconceptions, and omissions that invalidate their arguments.[15] Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and several historians of the period (such as Dmitri Volkogonov and Aleksandr Bushkov) also developed the views according to which the famine was not racially and politically motivated (which also represents the official stance of the Russian government). However, the historian James Mace wrote that Mark Tauger's view of the famine "is not taken seriously by either Russians or Ukrainians who have studied the topic."[16] Moreover, Stephen Wheatcroft, author of The Years of Hunger, claims Tauger's view represents the opposite extreme in arguing the famine was totally accidental.[17]

Professor Alexander Dallin said the authors 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.[9]

Disputing the comparison of Nazism and Communism

Although Vladimir Tism neanu argued that the Black Books comparison between Communism and Nazism was both morally and scholarly justifiable.[18] others have rejected the comparison.[19] Two of the Black Books 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 killed. They also argued that, based on the results of their studies one can estimate the total number of the victims of the Communist abuse in between 65 and 93 million.[20] They also rejected his equation of Soviet repression with Nazi genocide. Werth said there was still a qualitative difference between Nazism and Communism. He told Le Monde, "Death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union",[14] and "The more you compare Communism and Nazism, the more the differences are obvious."[21] Courtois' insists that the Holocaust was "actively commemorated" thanks to the efforts of the "international Jewish community" and that a "single-minded focus on the Jewish genocide... has prevented an assessment of other episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world."[22] Some scholars hold Courtois' anti-Communism responsible for historical revisionism and accuse him of blurring the memory of Vichy and Nazi crimes. During the trial of convicted war criminal Maurice Papon, Papon's lawyer attempted to introduce the Black Book into evidence. Holocaust historian Annette Wievriorka argued that the Black Book attempted to substitute the memory of Communism for the memory of Nazi crimes and displace accounts of Nazi atrocities.[23]

German edition

The German edition contains an additional chapter on the Soviet-backed communist regime in East Germany, titled "Die Aufarbeitung des Sozialismus in der DDR". It consists of two sub chapters, "Politische Verbrechen in der DDR" by Ehrhart Neubert, and "Vom schwierigen Umgang mit der Wahrnehmung" by Joachim Gauck.[24]

See also


Further reading

  • , hardcover, 858 pp.
  • 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 pp., ISBN 1-932236-78-3.

External links

bg: cs: ern kniha komunismu da:Kommunismens sorte bog de:Das Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus et:Kommunismi must raamat es:El libro negro del comunismo eo:La nigra libro de la komunismo fr:Le Livre noir du communisme hr:Crna knjiga komunizma is:Svartb k komm nismans it:Il libro nero del comunismo hu:A kommunizmus fekete k nyve nl:Het zwartboek van het communisme no:Kommunismens svartebok pl:Czarna ksi ga komunizmu pt:O Livro Negro do Comunismo ro:Cartea neagr a comunismului ru: sk: ierna kniha komunizmu fi:Kommunismin musta kirja sv:Kommunismens svarta bok tr:Kom nizmin Kara Kitab uk: vi:Le Livre noir du communisme zh:

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