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Mass killings under Communist regimes refers to the use of large scale mass killing, carried out by a few communist regimes (notably the Soviet Union under Stalin, the Chinese cultural revolution, and the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the name of utopian social engineering. The extent to which these killings can be attributed to the ideological commitment of the governments (and thereby be a product of a certain kind of communism) is in dispute.

Academic Analyses[edit]

Academic works theorising mass killing by Communists have tended to view single incidents in single states. Valentino theorises that a common structure unites Soviet, Chinese and Cambodian mass killings: the defence of a utopian and shared version of radical communism.[1] Valentino's theory has been used in other works, but is contentious, as other authors claim there is no common link between various incidents where communists have been responsible for mass killing.

John N. Gray, a British political philosopher and author, formerly School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, wrote in his 1990 book Post-Liberalism: Studies in Political Thought "that the political creation of an artificial terror-famine with genocidal results is not a phenomenon restricted to the historical context of Russia and the Ukraine in the Thirties, but is a feature of Communist policy to this day, as evidenced in the sixties in Tibet and now in Ethiopia. The socialist genocide of small, "primitive" peoples, such as the Kalmucks and many others, has been a recurrent element in polices at several stages in the development of Soviet and Chinese totalitarianism." Gray goes on to state "that communist policy in this respect faithfully reproduces classical Marxism, which had an explicit and pronounced contempt for "small, backward and reactionary peoples - no less than for the peasantry as a class and a form of social life".[2]

George G. Watson,[3] veteran anti-communist[4] a historian of literature holding a fellowship at St. John's College at the University of Cambridge,[4][5] claims in his book 'The Lost Literature of Socialism[6] that an 1849 article by Friedrich Engels published in Marx's journal Neue Rheinische Zeitung[7] is evidence that "[t]he 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."[6] Watson further claims, "[i]n the European century that began in the 1840s, from Engel's article of 1849 down to the death of Hitler, everyone who advocated genocide called himself a socialist, and no exception has been found."[8]

Watson's claims have not been echoed in scholarly articles on the history of genocide. Grant, reviewing Watson for The Review of English Studies savaged Watson for "dubious evidence" and poor citation and for characterising "a kind of cultural genocide; but it is not obvious, at least from Watson's citations, that actual mass killing [...] is in question."[4](558) Grant's judgement is harsh, "in his preface Watson is clear: 'they [Marx and Engels] wanted whole races to be killed'. But he nowhere shows that they did."[4](559) Finally, Grant takes Watson to task for failing to define his key criterion: socialism, "Watson claims it [socialism] is exemplified not only by self-confessed socialists but also by Tories, fascists, Nazis, royalists, and Louis Napoleon [...] and at worst, anything at odds with his own classical liberalism."[4](559)

Soviet Union[edit]

See also Great purge

The Holodomor genocide question[edit]

Child victim of the Holodomor.
Cemetery of Buzuluk, December 1921. This and other photos[9] of victims of Russian famine of 1921 as well as the Great Depression in the United States[10] have been used for visual effects[11] in publications and exhibits advocating a theory of intentional starvation of Ukrainian peasants in 1932-33.[12]Template:Full cite

Within the Soviet Union change in agricultural policies and severe droughts caused the Soviet famine of 1932–1933.[13][14][15][16] The famine was most severely in the Ukrainian SSR, which until 1930s enjoyed benefits of the Bolshevik policy of Ukrainization. A significant portion of the famine victims (3-3.5 million) were the Ukrainians. At the time, the Soviet government tried to suppress information about the famine and the Western powers demonstrated their indifference (in contrast to what happened during famines of 1921 and 1947). 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, and thus may fall under the legal definition of genocide.[13][14][17][18][19]

in 2002 the Ukranian President Kuchma signed a presidential decree asserting that the famine of 1932-33 had in fact been 'genocide' against the Ukrainian nation. A parliamentary resolution in 2003 reiterated this view. In November 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill branding the Holodomor an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.[20] As of March 2008, the Ukraine and between eleven and nineteen other governments.[21] The Russia government vehemently rejects the idea of the Holodomor as genocide., as well as in Ukraine which was accused of politicization of the tragedy, outright propaganda and fabrication of documents[10]

Economist Michael Ellman argues that the actions of the Soviet regime from 1930-34, from the standpoint of international criminal law, "clearly constitutes . . . a series of crimes against humanity" and perhaps even genocide, but only if a more relaxed definition of the term is adopted. Regarding the Kazakh case[clarification needed], Ellman believes this could be an example of ‘negligent genocide,’ but this falls outside the scope of the UN convention.[22]

Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed in April 2008 that the accusation of the Holodomor being genocide was created decades later after the event and Ukrainian efforts to have the famine recognized as genocide is an act of historical revisionism that has now surpassed the level of Bolshevik agitprop.[23][24]

National operations of the NKVD[edit]

According to professor Michael Ellman, the National operations of the NKVD, which targeted "national contingents" (foreign ethnicities), such as Poles, Ethnic Germans, Koreans, etc, may constitute genocide as defined by the UN convention.[22] A total of 350,000 were arrested and 247,157 were executed.[25] Of these, the Polish operation appears to have been the largest, with 140,000 arrests and 111,000 executions out of a (Polish) population of 636,000. Stalin biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore concurs with this view, and referred to the Polish operation as 'a mini-genocide.'[26]

Persecution of Russian Orthodox Clergy[edit]

Regarding the persecution of clergy, Professor Michael Ellman states "...the 1937 – 38 terror against the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and of other religions (Binner & Junge 2004) might also qualify as genocide as defined in the Convention (‘killing members of the group . . . with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a . . . religious group’)."[22] Citing church documents, Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev has estimated that over 100,000 priests, monks and nuns were executed during this time.[27]

People's Republic of China[edit]

See also the Cultural Revolution

In China, it is alleged that Mao Zedong's policies and political purges, such as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and Zhen Fan, Shu Fan movement, brought about the deaths of some 40 to 70 million people.[28][29]

In 1960, drought and other bad weather affected 55 percent of the cultivated land in China, while in the north an estimated 60% of agricultural land received no rain at all.[30] The Encyclopædia Britannica yearbooks from 1958 to 1962 also reported abnormal weather, followed by droughts and floods. Close planting, the idea of Ukrainian pseudo-scientist Trofim Lysenko.[31] had been implemented. The density of seedlings was at first tripled and then doubled again, according to the theory, plants of the same species would not compete with each other. In practice they did, which stunted growth and resulted in lower yields. Lysenko's colleague's theory encouraged peasants across China to plow deeply into the soil (up to 1 or 2 meters). They believed the most fertile soil was deep in the earth, allowing extra strong root growth. However, useless rocks, soil, and sand were driven up instead, burying the topsoil. Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, had reorganized the workforce; millions of agricultural worker had joined the iron and steel production workforce.

As a result of these factors, year over year grain production in China dropped by 15% in 1959. By 1960, it was at 70% of its 1958 level. There was no recovery until 1962, after the Great Leap Forward ended.[32]

According to government statistics, there were 15 million excess deaths in this period. Unofficial estimates vary, but are often considerably higher. Yang Jisheng, a former Xinhua News Agency reporter who spent over ten years gathering information available to no other scholars, estimates a toll of 36 million.[33]

Professors and scholars of the famine, who do not use the word 'genocide' to describe it, but rather more neutral terms, such as "abnormal deaths", have estimated that they number between 17 million to 50 million. Some western analysts such as Patricia Buckley Ebrey estimate that about 20-40 million people had died of starvation caused by bad government policy and natural disasters. J. Banister estimates this number is about 23 million. Li Chengrui, a former minister of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, estimated 22 million (1998). His estimation was based on Ansley J. Coale and Jiang Zhenghua's estimation of 17 million. Cao Shuji estimated 32.5 million.

Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea)[edit]

See also Khmer Rouge

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

Sociologist Martin Shaw described the Cambodian genocide as "the purest genocide of the Cold War era".[34]

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[35] (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).[36]

Democratic Kampuchea 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.[37] 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."[38] 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."[37]

In 1997 the Cambodian Government asked the United Nations assistance in setting up a genocide tribunal.[39][40][41] The investigating judges were presented with the names of five possible suspects by the prosecution on 18 July 2007.[39] 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.[42]

Legal sanctions and accusations of "genocide"[edit]

While Ethiopia's former ruler Mengistu has been convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by an Ethiopian court, and the highest ranking surviving member of the Khmer Rouge has been charged with those crimes,[43][44][42] no communist country or governing body has ever been convicted of genocide.[citation needed]

Charges of genocide have been brought against a Khmer Rouge leader. One conviction for genocide has been obtained against a communist leader, Ethiopian Mengistu Haile Mariam;[45] 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.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Valentino, Benjamin (2005). "Communist mass killings: The Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia" In Final solutions: mass killing and genocide in the twentieth century. Cornell University Press. pp. 99-100. ISBN 0801472733. 99-101.
  2. ^ Gray, John. Totalitarianism at the crossroads. Ellen Frankel Paul (Editor). Transaction Publisher, 1990
  3. ^ "College profile for George Watson". St. John's College of Cambridge University. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Robert Grant, "Review: The Lost Literature of Socialism" The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 50, No. 200 (Nov., 1999), pp. 557-559
  5. ^ Master and Fellows of St John's College. Retrieved on September 25, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Watson, George, The Lost Literature of Socialism, page 77. James Clarke & Co., 1998. ISBN 0718829867, 9780718829865, 112 pages
  7. ^ Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung, January 1849. Retrieved on September 25, 2009.
  8. ^ Watson, George, The Lost Literature of Socialism, page 80. James Clarke & Co., 1998. ISBN 0718829867, 9780718829865, 112 pages
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ In Search of a SOVIET HOLOCAUST A 55-Year-Old Famine Feeds the Right By Jeff Coplon Village Voice (New York City), January 12, 1988
  12. ^ Dr. Hennadii Boriak, Director General of the State Committee of Archives in Ukraine «The Ukrainian Famine of 1933: Sources and Source Publications»
  13. ^ a b Dr. David Marples, The great famine debate goes on..., ExpressNews (University of Alberta), originally published in Edmonton Journal, November 30, 2005
  14. ^ a b Stanislav Kulchytsky, "Holodomor of 1932–1933 as genocide: the gaps in the proof", Den, February 17, 2007, in Russian, in Ukrainian
  15. ^ С. Уиткрофт (Stephen G. Wheatcroft), "О демографических свидетельствах трагедии советской деревни в 1931—1933 гг." (On demographic evidence of the tragedy of the Soviet village in 1931-1833), "Трагедия советской деревни: Коллективизация и раскулачивание 1927-1939 гг.: Документы и материалы. Том 3. Конец 1930-1933 гг.", Российская политическая энциклопедия, 2001, ISBN 5-8243-0225-1, с. 885, Приложение № 2
  16. ^ 'Stalinism' was a collective responsibility - Kremlin papers, The News in Brief, University of Melbourne, 19 June 1998, Vol 7 No 22
  17. ^ 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."
  18. ^ Yaroslav Bilinsky (1999). "Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933 Genocide?". Journal of Genocide Research. 1 (2): 147–156. doi:10.1080/14623529908413948. 
  19. ^ Stanislav Kulchytsky, "Holodomor-33: Why and how?", Zerkalo Nedeli, November 25December 1, 2006, in Russian, in Ukrainian.
  20. ^ Jan Maksymiuk, "Ukraine: Parliament Recognizes Soviet-Era Famine As Genocide", RFE/RL, November 29, 2006
  21. ^ 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")
  22. ^ a b c Michael Ellman, Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932-33 Revisited Europe-Asia Studies, Routledge. Vol. 59, No. 4, June 2007, 663-693. PDF file
  23. ^ Nobel winner accuses Ukrainian authorities of 'historical revisionism' Russia Today Retrieved on April 10, 2008
  24. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Alexander (2008-04-02). "Поссорить родные народы??". Izvestia (in Russian). Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  25. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Knopf, 2004 ISBN 1-4000-4230-5 p. 229
  26. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar. Vintage Books, New York 2003. Vintage ISBN 1-4000-7678-1 page 229.
  27. ^ Alexander N. Yakovlev (2002). A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Yale University Press. p. 165.  See also: Richard Pipes (2001). Communism: A History. Modern Library Chronicles. p. 66. 
  28. ^ Short, Philip (2001). Mao: A Life. Owl Books. p. 631. ISBN 0805066381. ; Chang, Jung and Halliday, Jon. Mao: The Unknown Story. Jonathan Cape, London, 2005. ISBN 0-224-07126-2 p. 3; Rummel, R. J. China’s Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 Transaction Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0-88738-417-X p. 205: In light of recent evidence, Rummel has increased Mao's democide toll to 77 million. See also: "Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm". Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  29. ^ Fenby, Jonathan. Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present. Ecco, 2008. ISBN 0-06-166116-3 p. 351"Mao’s responsibility for the extinction of anywhere from 40 to 70 million lives brands him as a mass killer greater than Hitler or Stalin, his indifference to the suffering and the loss of humans breathtaking."
  30. ^ Asia times online
  31. ^ The People's Republic of China 1949-76, second edition, Michael Lynch (London: Hodder Education, 2008), p. 57
  32. ^ "What caused the great Chinese famine?" (PDF). 2000-01-01. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  33. ^ "A hunger for the truth: A new book, banned on the mainland, is becoming the definitive account of the Great Famine.",, 7 July 2008
  34. ^ Theory of the Global State: Globality as Unfinished Revolution by Martin Shaw, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp 141, ISBN 9780521597302
  35. ^ Chandler, David. The Killing Fields. At The Digital Archive Of Cambodian Holocaust Survivors. [1]
  36. ^ Peace Pledge Union Information -- Talking about genocides -- Cambodia 1975 -- the genocide.
  37. ^ a b Sharp, Bruce (2005-04-01). "Counting Hell: The Death Toll of the Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia". Retrieved 2006-07-05.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  38. ^ The CGP, 1994-2008 Cambodian Genocide Program, Yale University
  39. ^ a b Doyle, Kevin. Putting the Khmer Rouge on Trial, Time, July 26, 2007
  40. ^ MacKinnon, Ian Crisis talks to save Khmer Rouge trial, The Guardian, 7 March 2007
  41. ^ The Khmer Rouge Trial Task Forc, Royal Cambodian Government
  42. ^ a b Staff, Senior Khmer Rouge leader charged, BBC 19 September 2007
  43. ^ "BBC, "Mengistu found guilty of genocide," 12 December 2006". 
  44. ^ Backgrounders: Ethiopian Dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam Human Rights Watch, 1999
  45. ^ Tsegaye Tadesse. Verdict due for Ethiopia's ex-dictator Mengistu Reuters, 2006
  46. ^ Barbara Harff, "Recognizing Genocides and Politicides", in Genocide Watch 27 (Helen Fein ed., 1992) pp.37,38

References and Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]