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Communism's Barbaric Cruelty By the Numbers

Communism's death toll overshadows other contemporary human cruelty.

Writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, A. Barton Hinkle remembers "A century of ghastly communist sadism," which started when a relatively small number of Bolshevik anarchists led by Vladimir Lenin managed to overthrow the Russian government of Alexander Kerensky in November 1917. As Hinkle writes, "while the Soviet Union is no more and communism has been discredited in most eyes for many years, it is hard even now to grasp the sheer scale of agony imposed by the brutal ideology of collectivism."

The Black Book of Communism, which came out in 1997, estimated that some 95 million people were either killed or made to starve to death in the communist attempt to create an egalitarian paradise on earth. Current research puts the number of victims of communism anywhere between 43 million and 162 million. As such, the original 100 million figure remains a remarkably accurate midway point. It is, also, a figure so large that people may have difficulty comprehending it without additional context. Leaving the (rightly) well-known example of the Holocaust aside, let us look at some other bywords for human cruelty.

For example, the Russian Empire was always seen as backward and tyrannical. As Orlando Figes noted in A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924, "from the perspective of the individual, it could be said that the single greatest difference between Russia and the West... was that in Western Europe citizens were generally free to do as they pleased so long as their activities had not been specifically prohibited by the state, while the people of Russia were not free to do anything unless the state had given them specific permission to do it. No subject of the Tsar, regardless of his rank or class, could sleep securely in his bed in the knowledge that his house would not be subject to a search, or he himself to arrest."

So, how bad was the backward and tyrannical Tsarist regime that was so reviled by its more sophisticated Western neighbors? Between 1825 and 1917, Stéphane Courtois notes in his introduction to The Black Book of Communism, "tsarism carried out 6,321 political executions (most of them during the revolution of 1905-1907), whereas in two months of official 'Red Terror' in the fall of 1918 Bolshevism achieved some 15,000." That's one way to put communism in perspective.

Or take another byword for savagery—the Inquisition. According to Professor Agostino Borromeo, a historian of Catholicism at the Sapienza University in Rome who authored a 783-page study of the Inquisition that was based on the Church's own records, "there were some 125,000 trials of suspected heretics in Spain... [between 1478 and 1834, but only] about 1 percent of the defendants (i.e., 1,250) were executed." The rate of killing varied across Europe. Of the 13,000 people tried by the inquisition in Portugal (1536-1821), 5.7 percent (i.e., 741) were executed.

Queen Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, who has come to be known as Bloody Mary for her attempt to restore Catholicism to England between 1553 and 1558, sent 280 dissenters to the stake. If we consider the communist era as the period between the birth of the Soviet Union in November 1917 and its dissolution in December 1991, the ideology killed, on average, 154 people every hour.

Lastly, consider apartheid, which the United Nations declared a "crime against humanity" in 1966. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was tasked by Nelson Mandela's government to provide a definitive account of apartheid abuses between 1960 and 1994, found (Volume 5, p. 232) that the "IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party—a black nationalist movement) remains the major perpetrator of killings on a national scale, being allegedly responsible for over 4,500 killings compared to 2,700 attributed to the SAP (white-dominated South African Police) and 1,300 to the ANC (African National Congress—another black nationalist movement)."

Personally, I find the above figures astonishingly low, but was unable to come up with other numbers from an equally authoritative source. (Also, keep in mind that the data does not include killings committed by the South African Defense Force). In any case, the inclusion of the SAP killings allows me to make one final comparison between communism and other murderous regimes of the last century.

As one of the pre-eminent historians of South African history, Hermann Giliomee writes in his 2012 book The Last Afrikaner Leaders: A Supreme Test of Power, in 1984, which was one of the most violent years during the struggle against apartheid, South Africa only had 1.4 policemen per 1,000 of population. A comparable figure in the United Kingdom was 2.4, 4.4 in Ulster and 5.7 in Algeria. In the USSR the number was 16 per 1,000.

Put in proper perspective, in other words, communism really does take the cake when it comes to the scale and intensity of human rights abuses.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Small collective price to pay for the promise of eventual utopia.

  • some guy||

    I mean, if you survive the mass starvation and political pogroms you might one day be an elite party member living the good life! Communism is kind of like the lottery, but everyone has to play and the stakes are higher. Exciting!

  • some guy||

    It's amazing that people have to keep revisiting this subject over and over again many decades after this conclusion became obvious. There's much more evidence of communism's/socialism's evils than there is of the moon landing and yet only the moon landing deniers are widely considered to be fools...

  • ||

    Amazing, I know.

    But we have to keep doing it.

    Not until every Che t-shirt is burned!

    Communism/socialism is an ideological aphrodisiac for vulnerable and shallow minds. We have to keep reminding of its violent and anti-humanist tendencies. Just look at how popular morons like Sanders are pointing directly to how close the intellectual 'limes' these ravaging and derelict ideologies are.

  • damikesc||

    Hell, "the paper of record" has been actively fellating the concept of Communism for weeks now. The only appreciable difference between Stalin and Hitler were body counts.

  • ||

    Dude, pick up a book. The Germans were posers compared to the Soviet death machine. When you are talking a magnitude of 10x in civilian deaths there is a significant difference.

    Now if you want to talk purely in terms of racist ideology, yeah, they were the same. Both were racists to the core.

  • ||

    Yup. That's why I am firmly against any policy purporting to "combat climate change" despite the ridiculous "anti-science" label. First, skepticism is the default when invoking the scientific method. Second, being on the opposite side from persons declaring collectivist goals is historically proven to be the much saner and safer option.

  • colorblindkid||

    More people were killed in 9/11 then in 400 years I'd the Inquisition. People never believe me when I say that.

  • John Donohue||

    Ok. Oh thank God, the Inquisition only killed a few people. Whew.

    Oh. The rest of the 125,000 they "tried?" Gee, I guess they were innocent and let go. Right? Exonerated and set free with no punishment, right?

    Oh. The millions they terrorized into compliance with God? ....... well gee, at least they didn't kill them.

    and yes, bitter, disgusted sarcasm

  • RabbitHead||

    If we are going to include the cowed, terrorized, tortured, and falsely imprisoned do you really think this will make communism come out looking better vs the inquisition?

    Of course the inquisition sucked, but be real; it was child's play compared to 20th century authoritarian socialist political repression.

  • DaveSs||

    Indeed

    At least 1.5 billion people were terrorized into silence or compliance by communist leaders.
    And who knows how many tens of millions of political prisoners/slave laborers.

  • ||

    Do some research on the topic. I have seen so many people imply that millions or billions have been killed in religious wars, but it is simply not true. Don't fear the fanatic, fear kings and governments.

  • Uncle Joe||

    Estimates for the death toll due to the Crusades is around 2-3 million. Another 6-12 million died during the Protestant-Catholic wars in the 16th & 17th Centuries. That's just the Eurocentric view. Add in wars in India, Asia & Africa during the Muslim Conquests, & it's a pretty staggering, especially given the much lower populations at the time.

    Any ideology can be twisted to excuse atrocities by the powerful. Fear priests who align themselves with the government, too.

  • ||

    "Any ideology can be twisted to excuse atrocities by the powerful."

    Yes, but history is clear that Marxist-Leninist atrocities are exponentially more deadly over time than those committed in the name of any other ideology.

  • ||

    "Any ideology can be twisted to excuse atrocities by the powerful."

    Yes, but history is clear that Marxist-Leninist atrocities are exponentially more deadly over time than those committed in the name of any other ideology.

  • Memory Hole||

    I think you could dig deeper into it all to find a more basic cause of all this human cruelty than communism. Tribalism, fear, revenge, sadism, good intentions: these are probably the more fundamental explanations for all the murder and death. We need to be careful how we examine these matters if only for our sake. Vanishing communism may not save humanity from the next manifestation of mass murder. We need to address the more basic causes.

  • MultiSlacker||

    You make a good point. Ideological extremism, in any form, always ends up with plenty of knee-jerks and quick fixes in the hopes that 'when this is all over' the ends will have justified the fuckery.

  • damikesc||

    It might not --- but nothing historically or sense ever approached the murder toll of Communism.

    I'm too lazy to run the numbers, but I assume Communism's death toll is in the range of the Black Death.

  • ||

    The black death wishes.

    I don't have definitive stats on plagues, Wikipedia estimates 75,000,000 in the 14th century, but i can confirm that the death toll for communism in the 20th century was 140,000,000. More than 6 times as many died at the hands of their own government than were killed in every war combined in that same century.

    Nature has not invented a better way to kill humans than communism.

  • Bra Ket||

    It seems overly reductionist to just blame human nature alone. Same with "collectivism" as a cause, as in the article. It is state ownership of the means of production combined with human nature that inevitably leads to the evils we saw.

    If that seems too narrow, on the other hand, it's because people are being intentionally pedantic. Or just stupid. Claiming to allow property rights but dictating or regulating how one is allowed to use them will have similarly bad results, to the degree that is effectively approximates collective control over economic behavior.

  • ||

    ^^this

  • Rockabilly||

    And yet fucking assholes walk around in t-shirt with images of Mao, Stalin, and Che.

    You can even buy a fucking Mao t-shirt on fucking Amazon.

    http://tinyurl.com/y8ll9wkx

    Damn, no Hitler t-shirts. Are they out of style?

  • MasterThief||

    Did Amazon also ban anything with a confederate flag or was that a different retailer?

  • Memory Hole||

    That's fucked up but illustrative of what humanity is up against. There's something about the way humans think that allows for this type of massive cognitive dissonance.

  • damikesc||

    For what it's worth, in 1864, the CSA was one of the oppressive governments in the world. They went full tyranny without a huge problem.

    Not as bad as Stalin/Hitler though.

  • lap83||

  • ||

    The Che shirts have really bothered me since I read a first-hand account of him shooting a 12 year old boy in front of his own father because the man wouldn't kneel for his own execution.

    What a fucking Hero of the People.

  • Bra Ket||

    Mass killings by "right wing" systems such as religions, monarchies, and racist govts, are "hate genocides". This is clearly way worse than ordinary genocides. Regardless how the numbers stack up.

  • damikesc||

    To paraphrase Ann Coulter, failings of the Left are failing of "America". Failings of the Right are failings of the right.

  • John Donohue||

    Is that sarcasm? Please say it is.

  • Brian||

    I called this years ago:

    I know of one rape accusation I college, and the event makes me more worried for black men than women. Seriously.

    A white woman I knew (let's call her Barbara) was just progressive and enlightened enough to be willing to enjoy some African man meat, but not quite enough of a diversity fan to actually admit it in public.

    So, when her black partner in coupling started bragging to everyone, she was too embarrassed to admit it. In her brilliance, the solution she came up with was (you guessed it): "I was raped!"

    Next thing you know, she's getting her ass kicked in a restroom by the black guy's sister, who knows her brother better than that.

    Have progressives accurately estimated the number of black men's lives they're going to ruin trying to better protect women? I already know that the feminists don't care.
  • Brian||

    That's unfortunate.

  • ||

    While it would be tempting to mock these people, it's now quite a shame and a classic case of unintended consequences.

    How could anyone with a sensible disposition could possibly think this whole idea would end well?

  • Uncle Joe||

    Nice roll up of racism & sexism you got there, pal. There's an intelligent conversation to be had about the problems with campus "justice" systems that often presume guilt, but it's pretty obvious you can't contribute.

  • Mike Masino||

    A free country that has lost its fear of socialism has lost its mooring, and I'm afraid we're reaching that point. I might be preaching to the choir, but marxism has devastated villagers, landowners, homosexuals, Cossacks, native Americans, political prisoners, union members, and the religious. And of these, around 85 million were killed. And these numbers include only PEACETIME deaths. Add war-related deaths, and the numbers skyrocket ( communiststats.com ).

  • Atanu Dey||

    The brilliant Robert Conquest:

    There was a great Marxist called Lenin
    Who did two or three million men in
    That's a lot to have done in
    But where he did one in,
    that grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

  • John Donohue||

    All three large Mesoamerican.Incan cultures were murderous dictatorships. Who knows how many millions were killed or enslaved prior to 1492, after which the Spanish picked up the killing ball and ran with it.

  • Chris Schnaubelt||

    Horrible. But I am a bit surprised at no mention of the Nazis.

  • DaveSs||

    The math isn't hard

    The Nazi's invaded Poland on Sept 1, 1939 and agreed to end the war on May 8th, 1945 which is 49,848 hours.

    At least 6m people intentionally murdered during the Holocaust / 49,848 is 121 per hour.
    If you want to also include Polish and and Russian civilians killed in occupied areas and during the sieges of major Russian cities, you can probably almost double the number, although Stalin certainly was also partly responsible for a good number of the civilian deaths in Russia during the war.

  • ||

    Stalin was responsible for a lot of the Soviet military deaths during the war, having purged the leadership of anyone with a shred of actual leadership ability.

  • Uncle Joe||

    Communism, like all Utopian ideals, gets subverted & perverted by those with a lust for power. Stalin & Mao had millions executed, but millions more died in famines caused by sheer incompetence & the callousness that prevents powerful people from admitting they were wrong.

    Of course, the Libertarian purists are as guilty of this as well.

  • ||

    Stalin had tens of millions executed. It is best not to underestumate the state's ability to kill citizens. He liked to sign the orders himself, so there is plenty of historical documentation to back that assertion.

    Of course, when a Libertarian purist won't admit he is wrong, the consequence is that he gets banned from the comments section.

  • swampwiz||

    And because of this history, socialism with civil rights is still bad, right?

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