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.

I did a comprehensive overview of available estimates, including those by Conquest, and wrote a book, Lethal Politics, on Soviet democide to provide understanding and context for my figures. I calculate that the Communist regime, 1917-1987, murdered about 62,000,000 people, around 55,000,000 of them citizens (see Table 1.1 for a periodization of the deaths).

As for Stalin, when the holes in Conquest’s estimates are filled in, I calculate that Stalin murdered about 43,000,000 citizens and foreigners, over twice Conquest’s total. Therefore, the usual estimate of 20 million killed in Soviet democide is far off for the Soviet Union per se, and even less than half of the total Stalin alone murdered.

But, these are all statistics and hard to grasp. Compare my total of 62,000,000 for the Soviet Union and 43,000,000 for Stalin to the death from slavery of 37,000,000 during the 16th to the 19th century; or to the death of from 25,000,000 to 75,000,000 in the Black Death (bubonic plague), 1347-1351, that depopulated Europe.

Another way of looking at this is that the annual risk of a person under Soviet control being murdered by the regime was 1 out of 222. But, compare -- the annual risk of anyone in the world dying from war was 1 out of 5,556, from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day was 1 out of 278, from any cancer was 1 out of 357, or for an American to die in an auto accident was 1 out of 4,167.[1]

Now, I must ask, with perhaps an unconscious touch of outrage in my voice, why is this death by Marxism, so incredible and significant in its magnitude, unknown or unappreciated compared to the importance given slavery, cancer deaths, auto accident deaths, and so on. Especially, especially I must add again, when unlike cancer, auto accidents, and smoking, those deaths under Marxism in the Soviet Union were intentionally caused? They were murdered.

When you see again the figure of 20,000,000 deaths for Stalin or the Soviet Union, double or triple them in your mind.

fn1. Wilson, Richard and E. A. C. Crouch. "Risk Assessment and Comparisons: An Introduction." SCIENCE, Vol. 236 (April 17, 1987), pp. 267-270.

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Powerful blog today.

Many of my lefty friends make claims that capitalism killed nearly as many. I ask how and they can't quite tell me, but I am wondering if anyone has sources that back up their claims? They are, of course, easy to counter, but I want to see their "evidence."


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This analysis is missing one

This analysis is missing one essential point. It is not so much Stalin or communism, but the actual region. If it wasn’t Stalin, it would be someone else and probably under a different ideology.

Mike, you are still looking


you are still looking for evidence? There is plenty, why don't you start with this book: "Killing Hope"

Ivan, you're a tool. It was

Ivan, you're a tool. It was only a coincidence that massive death tolls accompanied Communism? I suppose it was all a coincidence that massive death tolls accompanied Nazism, too? Your reference is ludicrous, by the way.

Larry, have you have looked


have you have looked at the death toll brought on by Christianity?? It's incalculable! Communism-Stalinism pales in comparison!
And indeed, we are still suffering from the Christian dogma, scientific evidence of global warming is being ignored by the US administration awaiting the second coming of Christ. Yes, communism was bad, but don't be fooled that what is happening around you is better, just because you have a relative freedom (especially to consume).

BTW, have you read the William Blum's book or is it just a dismissal out of arrogant ignorance?


How does a post about the

How does a post about the amoutn of people killed from communism elicit a response on the number killed by christianity?

Stick to the point here, Communism vs Capitalism or Fascism or whatever other ism there is to compare..

Well Perry, if your

Well Perry, if your definiton of an ideology is based on its name ending in -ism, than clearly you won't have a chance to understand how much to THE point I am!

[...] Catallarchy » How

[...] Catallarchy » How Many Did Stalin Really Murder?

Dr. Rummel answers the question. [...]

Going back to the question

Going back to the question of how many, I like the estimate of Dr Rummel. But, lets look at this question a little differently: how many Stalin's murders were the result of USA starting the cold war? - which was responsible for tightening the ideological grip of communism.

Yes, blood is on you hands too, America.

:stupid: Remember, folks, if

:stupid: Remember, folks, if anyone in the world died, it was America/Christianity/Haliburton's fault. And if that little bit of enlightened sophistry doesn't work, we're relatively just as bad/hypocritical because somewhere someone killed someone in our names, while we make the pretense that we're the good guys. Therefore, we're worse than Stalin, because at least he was honest about being a homicidal maniac.:no::dizzy: Oh yeah, and the land made him do it!:dunce:

On the serious side, this was a much needed post, and I'm glad they brought you in to write it, Professor. I apologize on behalf of humanity that some are willing to excuse the purges by determining that ignoring CO2 buildup is somehow relative or worse than signing the executions of 60 million plus innocents.

"But, lets look at the

"But, lets look at the question a little differently: how many Stalin's murders were the result of USA starting the cold."

Zero. The US did not start the Cold War.

And even if it did, the amount would be precious little. The Cold War started in '47. Stalin died a few years later.

Your desire to whitewash the crimes of Stalin and smear Americans with a Stalinist blood libel, however, is observed and noted.

BTW, have you read William

BTW, have you read William Blum's book

Ah yes, William Blum - the author on Osama bin Laden's Suggested Reading List.

J. Stalin. O. Laden. Nice bunch of folks you fellow travel with. N. Chomsky and his ole' pal Pol Pot can't be far behind.

This analysis is missing one

This analysis is missing one essential point. It is not so much Stalin or communism, but the actual region. If it wasn't Stalin, it would be someone else and probably under a different ideology.

And yet, oddly, nearby but non-Stalinist Finland did not have a multi-million body death count.

And the Tsars killed considerably less and considerably more slowly than the Commissars, eventhough they governed the same region. When Lenin tried to overthrow the state, he was sent to the equivalent of Club Med, where he read books, went fishing, and worked on his tan. When Russians tried to overthrow Lenin, they were sent to the Gulag, or summarily shot.

And indeed we are still suffering from the Christian dogma, scientific evidence of global warming is being ignored by the US administration awaiting the second coming of Christ.

You are repeating a lie. The Administration is not ignoring GW because they are awaiting JC.

By the way, are the deaths attributable to global warming greater than or less than the deaths due to several decades of a de facto ban on DDT?

Have you looked at the death toll brought on by Christianity??

The deaths from the Inquisition, for example, were in the thousands and spread over several centuries. It takes an atheist with a messiah complex to kill in the millions over the span of a few years.

Love that second question mark, by the way. It's priceless, Dude. Don't change it. The doubble question mark suits you.

From experience I know, that

From experience I know, that trying to educate you folks is futile. You have a psychological need for bipolar resolutions, in which you can identify some kind of a label (your favorite –isms) or a person responsible for it all (Stalin, Hitler) with absolutely no interest in understanding all the intricacies and the complexities beneath these conflicts. Then, you top it off with a nice pat on the back for the job well done and on with your Godly mission to liberate another oppressed region of the world. It feels so good to spread democracy and enable all the poor suckers around the world to enjoy your way of life. I often reflect on the differences in general populations under different social systems. One would think, that people under a communist oppression would have a pretty narrow-minded view of what is going on, since information was suppressed. On the other hand, people living in a free democratic society would have a well-informed view, right? WRONG folks! Americans, in general, are far more ignorant and brainwashed than people in ex-Soviet Union. Just reflect on this for a while: the most powerful nation in the world and the complete absence of any wrongdoing. Doesn't that feel just a little pathological, to believe yourselves to be such worldly saints?? ;)