The Black Book of Communism
|The Black Book of Communism|
Book cover of The Black Book of Communism
|Author(s)||Stéphane Courtois (ed.)
|Original title||Le Livre noir du communisme|
|Publisher||Harvard University Press|
|Publication date||6 November 1997|
|Published in English||8 October 1999|
The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression is a book written by several European academics and edited by Stéphane Courtois, which documents 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, répression by Éditions Robert Laffont. In the United States it is published by Harvard University Press. The German edition, published by Piper Verlag, includes a chapter written by Joachim Gauck, who later went on to be President of Germany.
|This section requires expansion with: What other chapters are about. (October 2012)|
Estimated number of victims
In the introduction, editor Stéphane Courtois states that "...Communist regimes... turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". He claims that a death toll totals 94 million. The breakdown of the number of deaths given by Courtois is as follows:
- 65 million in the People's Republic of China
- 20 million in the Soviet Union
- 2 million in Cambodia
- 2 million in North Korea
- 1.7 million in Africa
- 1.5 million in Afghanistan
- 1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
- 1 million in Vietnam
- 150,000 in Latin America (mainly Cuba)
- 10,000 deaths "resulting from actions of the international Communist movement and Communist parties not in power."
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.
- the executions of tens of thousands of hostages and prisoners
- the murder of hundreds of thousands of rebellious workers and peasants from 1918 to 1922
- 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 killed 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, Moldavians and people from the Baltic Republics 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. (see also Population transfer in the Soviet Union)
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 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 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
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.
He added that
after 1945 the Jewish genocide became a byword for modern barbarism, the epitome of twentieth-century mass terror... more recently, a single-minded focus on the Jewish genocide in an attempt to characterize the Holocaust as a unique atrocity has also prevented the assessment of other episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world. After all, it seems scarcely plausible that the victors who had helped bring about the destruction of a genocidal apparatus might themselves have put the very same methods into practice. When faced with this paradox, people generally preferred to bury their heads in sand.
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.
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. Some reviewers compared the book to The Black Book, a documentary record of the Nazi atrocities by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman.
According to review by historian Tony Judt in The New York Times: "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 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, 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 authors of the book have been criticized for historical inaccuracies. Concerning Nicolas Werth's section about Russia, Professor Peter Kenez of the University of California wrote about what he says are historical inaccurate statements
Werth can also be an extremely careless historian. He gives the number of Bolsheviks in October 1917 as 2,000, which is a ridiculous underestimate. He quotes from a letter of Lenin to Aleksandr Shliapnikov and gives the date as 17 October 1917; the letter could hardly have originated at that time, since in it Lenin talks about the need to defeat the Tsarist government, and turn the war into a civil conflict. He gives credit to the Austro-Hungarian rather than the German army for the conquest of Poland in 1915. He describes the Provisional Government as "elected." He incorrectly writes that the peasant rebels during the civil war did more harm to the Reds than to the Whites, and so on...Mr. Paczkowski, who wrote the chapter on Poland, immediately lost my confidence in his objectivity when he wrote on the second page of his essay: “In the summer of 1920, Lenin launched a Red Army offensive against Warsaw.” It is not simply a matter of opinion, but a fact that it was Pilsudski, the Polish hero of independence, who attacked and the Red Army perhaps inadvisably, pursued the Poles.
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. On the other hand, some of the estimates given in the Black Book have been deemed "too conservative". For example, regarding the Soviet famine of 1946–48, Michael Ellman writes:
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 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.
In his review of the book, historian Jean-Jacques Becker also criticized Courtois' numbers as rather arbitrary and as having "zero historical value" (Fr. "La valeur historique est nulle") for adding up deaths due to disparate phenomena (Fr. "additionner des carottes et des navets", i.e. adding apples and oranges). Becker went further and accused Courtois of being an activist (Fr. "combattant").
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. The methodology of the authors has been criticized. Alexander Dallin writes that moral, legal, or political judgement hardly depends on the number of victims. It is also argued[by whom?] 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 according to "New left" and Trotskyist historian Paul Le Blanc.[page needed]
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."
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.
Historian Ján Křen said in interview that when Karel Bartošek 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".
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.
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. 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." Moreover, Stephen Wheatcroft, author of The Years of Hunger, claims Tauger's view represents the opposite extreme in arguing the famine was totally accidental.
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.
Disputing the comparison of Nazism and Communism
Werth and Margolin rejected the 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", and "The more you compare Communism and Nazism, the more the differences are obvious."
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."
Some scholars[who?] 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.
- Criticisms of communism
- The Black Book of Capitalism
- The Black Book of Capitalism: A farewell to the market economy
- The Black Book of Colonialism
- The Great Terror
- The Gulag Archipelago
- Mass killings under Communist regimes
- Mao's Great Famine
- The Soviet Story
- *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.
- 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, Université Paris X.
- 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.
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- Werth et al. Margolin, pp. 9–10.
- Werth et al. Margolin, p. 15.
- Werth et al. Margolin, p. 9.
- Stéphane Courtois, Joachim Gauck, Ehrhart Neubert et al., Das Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus. Unterdrückung, Verbrechen und Terror. (1998) Piper Verlag, München 2004, ISBN 3-492-04053-5
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- Peter Kenez, "Little Black Book", Feed Magazine, 30 November 1999. http://web.archive.org/web/20011123075720/http://www.feedmag.com/templates/search.php3?mode=subject&mode_id=9&batch=4
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- The numbers were 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 excess deaths according to Ellman ([Michael] (2000), "The 1947 Soviet Famine and the Entitlement Approach to Famines", Cambridge Journal of Economics 24: 603–30).
- Le Monde, 14 November 1997
- « Le Livre noir du communisme : de la polémique à la compréhension », Vingtième siècle. Revue d'histoire, n° 59, juillet-septembre 1998, p. 178. En ligne sur Persée
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- Tauger, Chapter 20 for Roter Holocaust book (PDF), WVU.
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- Werth, Nicolas (October 1999), Courtois, Stéphane, ed., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, pp. 92–97; 116–21, ISBN 978-0-674-07608-2, hardcover, 858 pp.
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