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How Many Did Stalin Really Murder?

R. J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus at the Univerisity of Hawaii, estimates the true number of deaths attributable to Joseph Stalin. He is the author of Death by Government, and his website provides the evidence in detail for what he writes here. For more information on the death toll from communism, see "The Red Plague". He blogs regularly at Democratic Peace.

May Day is coming up, which used to be a day of celebration in the Soviet Union with an impressive show of weapons and infinitely long parade of soldiers. Perhaps, then, it would be appropriate to pay special attention on this day to the human cost of communism in this symbolic home of Marxism, and worldwide. This blog is on Stalin and the Soviet Union.

By far, the consensus figure for those that Joseph Stalin murdered when he ruled the Soviet Union is 20,000,000. You probably have come across this many times. Just to see how numerous this total is, look up “Stalin” and “20 million” in Google, and you will get 183,000 links. Not all settle just on the 20,000,000. Some links will make this the upper and some the lower limit in a range. Yet, virtually no one who uses this estimate has gone to the source, for if they did and knew something about Soviet history, they would realize that the 20,000,000 is a gross under estimate of what is likely the Stalin's true human toll.

The figure comes from the book by Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Macmillan 1968). In his appendix on casualty figures, he reviews a number of estimates of those that were killed under Stalin, and calculates that the number of executions 1936 to 1938 was probably about 1,000,000; that from 1936 to 1950 about 12,000,000 died in the camps; and 3,500,000 died in the 1930-1936 collectivization. Overall, he concludes:

Thus we get a figure of 20 million dead, which is almost certainly too low and might require an increase of 50 percent or so, as the debit balance of the Stalin regime for twenty-three years.

In all the times I've seen Conquest’s 20,000,000 reported, not once do I recall seeing his qualification attached to it.

Considering that Stalin died in 1953, note what Conquest did not include -- camp deaths after 1950, and before 1936; executions 1939-53; the vast deportation of the people of captive nations into the camps, and their deaths 1939-1953; the massive deportation within the Soviet Union of minorities 1941-1944; and their deaths; and those the Soviet Red Army and secret police executed throughout Eastern Europe after their conquest during 1944-1945 is omitted. Moreover, omitted is the deadly Ukrainian famine Stalin purposely imposed on the region and that killed 5 million in 1932-1934. So, Conquest’s estimates are spotty and incomplete. Read more »

A Forgotten Odyssey

Romuald Lipinski is a survivor of the USSR, originally deported from Poland in the summer of 1941. He provides a general overview of the mass deportations from Poland to the USSR. A portion of his memoirs can be found here.

Public knowledge about deportations of Polish citizens from the territory occupied by Soviet Russia in 1939 is next to nil. Somehow, the world wants to forget about it. And yet, if we consider the size of the mass of people deported, it is an event that deserves more attention. These deportations took place between February 1940 and June 1941. They were carried out right up until Germany invaded Russia. Through my private correspondence with a resident of Brest Litovsk, I learned that the Russians were in a process of transporting Poles to the train waiting for them at the railroad station when German troops were seen advancing towards the town. The Russians left their trucks and ran for their lives leaving everything and everybody behind them.

There have been several attempts to establish the number of Polish citizens in Soviet Russia as a result of hostilities between Poland and the Soviet Government. It is not an easy task. Nobody knows exactly how many died there as a result of malnutrition, disease, executions, and other reasons. According to Zbigniew S. Siemaszko[1], Polish citizens who found themselves in Soviet Russia during the period of September 1939 and June 1941 can be divided into the following into the following groups:

1. Military personnel - 184,000 (12 percent of the total)
2. Civilians, jailed by the Soviets - 250,000 (15 percent)
3. Civilians deported with families (specposielency - "special deportees") - 990,000 (60 percent)
4. Drafted into the Red Army after invasion in 1939 - 210,000 (13 percent)

Total 1,634,000.

It is well known that about 22,500 of Polish officers were murdered by the NKVD. Officers, including 41 generals, were imprisoned in several locations: Starobielsk, Oshtashkovo and Kozielsk, Griazoviec and Pavlishchev Bor. About 4,500 of them were found in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, in a mass graves, each killed with a single shot in the back of the head. The graves were discovered by Germans when they occupied that area. Soviet authorities denied that the executions were carried out by the NKVD, but an international commission established that they took place sometimes in spring of 1940, thus at a time when this area was under Soviet jurisdiction. During the Nuremberg Trials, the Katyn massacre was on the agenda, but at the insistence of the Soviet government, there was no judgment in this case “due to lack of evidence”. The fate of the remaining 18,000 officers was never determined, and to this day, remains a mystery. Some sources say that they were loaded on barges and sunk in the North Sea. The enlisted men were placed in various locations, mainly as miners and road builders. Read more »

The Road To Hell Was Paved With Bad Intentions

Professor Bryan Caplan of the Department of Economics at George Mason University writes about the double standard in the treatment of communist atrocities relative to their Nazi counterparts. He maintains a website at which he hosts an online Museum of Communism and blogs at EconLog. Look for his book on voter irrationality next year.

Like the Nazis, the Communists murdered tens of millions. But even today, few people hold both movements in equal contempt. Citizens of the West remain largely ignorant of the crimes of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. But even those who know what happened shy away from the thesis that the two movements were morally equivalent. Why is this?

Admittedly, there are a few who still deny that the death counts were really comparable. Seumas Milne, in a recent editorial in the Guardian, manages to get the Soviet death toll down by almost a factor of ten by excluding the man-made famines of Lenin and Stalin. This is an underwhelming response, however: Is it any surprise that the Germans mass murdered in a cold, methodical way, while the Russians mass murdered in a chaotic, barbaric way?

One might also argue that the Nazis were worse because they had a higher death rate. Hitler packed the bulk of his crimes into a six year period; Lenin and Stalin together spread theirs out over thirty six. Perhaps this shows that if the Nazis had won, they would have been even worse than the Communists. But this projection is shaky. Hitler waited for six years and the cover to war to start killing millions; the Communists started killing millions almost immediately, and continued during peacetime. Hitler's peace might have been even bloodier than Stalin's peace, but it's anybody's guess. Read more »

A Different Kind of Soviet Labor Camp: Solzhenitsyn\'s <i>The First Circle</i>

Clara is a senior majoring in economics at Barnard College in New York. She is a regular contributor to the blog Liberty Belles.

The First Circle by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney
Bantam Books: New York, 1968. 674 pages.

The First Circle is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s fictionalized account of life inside a special kind of Soviet prison under Joseph Stalin’s communist regime. In this institution, called a sharashka, inmates are set to work all day – not at manual labor, but at the sorts of tasks that use their scientific and technical education to develop technology for the Soviet state. With the novel’s title, Solzhenitsyn draws a comparison between the sharashka and the least horrific of nine circles of Hell as described in Dante’s Inferno. Inmates in the research institution are well fed and well rested – not at all ill-treated, compared to prisoners in most Soviet work camps. No, these are “cushiony institutions where the snarl of the camp struggle for existence [is] not heard” (58). The prisoners have almost no contact with the outside world, however. Their time and labor belong to Stalin and to the faceless bureaucracy; ultimately, their very souls are chained to the sharashka’s workbenches.

The plot of The First Circle traces the stories of several sharashka inmates and their loved ones. Solzhenitsyn interweaves their stories, drawing implicit comparisons, conveying the similarities of their frustrating struggles against Stalin’s totalitarian rule. Using examples from the lives of each character, Solzhenitsyn shows the grim realities of life in the Soviet Union of that era. The police arrest men in the middle of the night – intellectuals, dissidents – and condemn their families to a lifetime of handicapped employment prospects. Everyone must watch what he says and who is listening.

In an early chapter, a man makes an anonymous phone call to warn a scientist that he has run afoul of the regime. It is a gripping scene: The scientist’s wife refuses to take the caller seriously. They argue as the wife demands to know more information, and the caller says only that there will be danger. Despite the concerned friend’s efforts, this scientist is later arrested by the Secret Police. In the mid-20th century Soviet Union, late-night seizures without warning – often with very little basis for the arrests – were common under Stalin’s regime. People informed on their neighbors and family members. Thought-crime was, well, an actual crime. Solzhenitsyn himself was arrested as a result of “disrespectful remarks about Stalin” made in private letters written to a friend, according to the author’s autobiography on the Nobel Prize website.

Dispatching the Secret Police to arrest every citizen-critic not only created a climate of fear, but it wasted resources. Inefficiencies in the Soviet system extended to every aspect of life: social, political and economic realms. Often in The First Circle, these problems stemmed from the nature of the central government’s inflexibility. The sharashka, the setting for much of the book, presents a microcosm of the Stalinist empire surrounding it. The out-of-touch bureaucracy imposes arbitrary rules, which underlings enforce long after they have outlasted their expediency. Unnecessary secrecy divides several of the prisoners’ research units. Inmates who create an invention or the solution to a technological problem receive handsome rewards – and, sometimes, their freedom – while others who have worked with just as much dedication, and for as many years, receive nothing. The result of this uneven reward system: Prisoners try desperately to attach themselves to successful research units. Cunning, not merit, is the key factor as they compete, trying to game the system, jockeying for the best spots – even in prison. Read more »

In The Proletariat\'s Paradise

Brangelina Shrugged

Says Variety:

Ayn Rand's most ambitious novel may finally be brought to the bigscreen after years of false starts.

Lionsgate has picked up worldwide distribution rights to "Atlas Shrugged" from Howard and Karen Baldwin ("Ray"), who will produce with John Aglialoro.

Old Mugabe Had a Farm

Karma made a visit to Zimbabwe, as Mugabe suddenly realizes that violent government takeover of white Zimbabwean farms six years ago might've been an ill-conceived idea.

Also... photos of Chavez-Mugabe thuglove here.

Don\'t Tread on Heff

Keeping you "abreast" of the situation in Indonesia: Skin mags are causing quite a stir.

Rioting over cartoons is, like, so last season.

(OK, to be fair, the disturbances for the Playboy were obviously mild and small compared to the cartoon fiasco - at least for now - and some Indonesians were understandably disappointed that their magazine editions actually don't contain nude photos)

American Dreaming

Late night musings:

I’ll be the first to admit that I have mixed feelings about illegal immigration, immigration laws, border patrolling and the like. Furthermore, I won’t claim to know the exact ins-and-outs of the current laws with regard to immigration and what D.C. has up its sleeve for “stopping” the flow of illegals into the US. Read more »

C\'est La Vie

And in the 'Least Surprising News of the Week' department, France caved in to the student protestors (rioters).

911 Is a Joke

Madness in Motown:

Five-year-old Robert Turner's mother had collapsed on the floor, and he was scared, but he knew what to do. He called 911 for help.

Even so, the Detroit boy was twice scolded by a dispatcher who told him to stop playing around.



A study out of UC Berkeley (where else?) claims that "resilient, self-reliant" toddlers grow up to become liberals.

Unless the penchant for self-reliance goes awry as they grow into adulthood, maybe they're talking about this kind of liberals.

French Street Unrest du Jour

France can't seem to get a break lately. Fresh off Parisian suburban violence in November, we turn our attention to student mayhem over a proposed government bill that will "allow" businesses to fire young workers within two years of hiring. The root of these recent disturbances is, of course, the insistence of entitlement.

Says Thomas Sowell: Read more »

At the Brink

In an event that should probably get more widespread media coverage, a massive demonstration took place in Bahrain against sectarian Shia-Sunni violence yesterday. Gateway Pundit has coverage and plenty of good links and photos.

More from the BBC on the fragile situation following the shrine bombing in Iraq, as well as some reaction. Read more »

Mountain of Awards

Brokeback Mountain is getting so many Oscar award nominations tomorrow night because its two main lead characters are homosexual men. Replace one of the men with a woman - keeping the same script, same direction, same production - and this film recieves mixed reviews, is blandly referred to as a "chick flick", does so-so at the box office, and would already be collecting dust on the Blockbuster Video shelves.

There. I said it. Read more »

Promises, Redux

Back in November, I talked about the Kalamazoo Promise, a local program in Kalamazoo, MI, where wealthy donors committed to paying each Kalamazoo high school student's college tuition. Read more »

We Can Handle The Truth

The Boston Phoenix gives us a refreshingly and brutally honest editorial on why they won't reprint the Mother of All Cartoons.

There are three reasons not to publish the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed with his turban styled as a bomb ... and the other images that have sparked violent protests and deaths throughout Europe, the Middle East, West Asia, and Indonesia:

Toon In, Toon Out

Trouble way Down Under:

New Zealand diplomats in Muslim countries have been warned to take precautions against possible threats to staff and property.

The Danish. New Zealanders. Who woulda thought? Read more »

Quotes of the Day

From BBC's Talking Point on the cartoons and the subsequent meltdowns:

We live in a nanny state were we suffer excessive political correctness. The state tells us to be tolerant of other beliefs. It’s a two way progression, we are told to respect their beliefs - what about respecting ours? We have our freedom of speech - our ancestors fought for that, we have lost so much in the past few years at least allow us to keep that. - Simon, London

Superbowl Commercial Predictions

1. At least four (4) commercials will incorporate “talking” animals, two of which will feature talking chimps/apes/monkeys that will be made to look intellectually superior to their human counterparts in the commercial.
2. A serious drama actor or an old stodgy politician will do something either self-deprecating or risqué that goes against his usual image.
3. Several beer commercials will feature a man making a complete fool of himself at a bar while trying to impress a woman. Read more »