Excerpts from the ‘The Black Book of Communism: Crime, Terror, Repression’
( Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England 1999 )
..Many archives and witnesses prove conclusively that terror has always been one of the basic ingredients of modern Communism. Let us abandon once and for all the idea that the execution of hostages by firing squads, the slaughter of rebellious workers, and the forced starvation of the peasantry were only short-term “accidents” peculiar to a specific country or era. Our approach will encompass all geographic areas and focus on crime as a defining characteristic of the Communist system throughout its existence.
Exactly what crimes are we going to examine? Communism has committed a multitude of crimes not only against individual human beings but also against world civilization and national cultures. Stalin demolished dozens of churches in Moscow; Nicolae Ceau^escu destroyed the historical heart of Bucharest to give free rein to his megalomania; Pol Pot dismantled the Phnom Penh cathedral stone by stone and allowed the jungle to take over the temples of Angkor Wat; and during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, priceless treasures were smashed or burned by the Red Guards. Yet however terrible this destruction may ultimately prove for the nations in question and for humanity as a whole, how does it compare with the mass murder of human beings —of men, women, and children?
Thus we have delimited crimes against civilians as the essence of the phenomenon of terror. These crimes tend to fit a recognizable pattern even if the practices vary to some extent by regime. The pattern includes execution by various means, such as firing squads, hanging, drowning, battering, and, in certain cases, gassing, poisoning, or “car accidents”; destruction of the population by starvation, through man-made famine, the withholding of food, or both; deportation, through which death can occur in transit (either through physical exhaustion or through confinement in an enclosed space), at one’splace of residence, or through forced labor (exhaustion, illness, hunger, cold).
Periods described as times of “civil war” are more complex — it is not always easy to distinguish between events caused by fighting between rulers and rebels and events that can properly be described only as a massacre of the civilian population.
Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere. The following rough approximation, based on unofficial estimates, gives some sense of the scale and gravity of these crimes:
U.S.S.R.: 20 million deaths
China: 65 million deaths
Vietnam: 1 million deaths
North Korea: 2 million deaths
Cambodia: 2 million deaths
Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths
Latin America: 150,000 deaths
Africa: 1.7 million deaths
Afghanistan: 1.5 million deaths
The international Communist movement and Communist parties not in
power: about 10,000 deaths
The total approaches 100 million people killed.
The immense number of deaths conceals some wide disparities according to context. Unquestionably, if we approach these figures in terms of relativeweight, first place goes to Cambodia, where Pol Pot, in three and a half years, engaged in the most atrocious slaughter, through torture and widespread famine, of about one-fourth of the country’s total population. However, China’s experience under Mao is unprecedented in terms of the sheer number of people who lost their lives. As for the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, the blood turns cold at its venture into planned, logical, and “politically correct” mass slaughter.
…One cannot help noticing the strong contrast between the study of Nazi and Communist crimes. The victors of 1945 legitimately made Nazi crimes and especially the genocide of the Jews — the central focus of their condemnation of Nazism. A number of researchers around the world have been working on these issues for decades. Thousands of books and dozens of films — most notably Night arid Fog, Shoah, Sophie’s Choice, and Schmdlers List— have been devoted to the subject. Raul Hilberg, to name but one example, has centered his major work upon a detailed description of the methods used to put Jews to death in the Third Reich.
Yet scholars have neglected the crimes committed by the Communists. While names such as Himmler and Eichmann are recognized around the world as bywords for twentieth-century barbarism, the names of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, Genrikh Yagoda, and Nikolai Ezhov languish in obscurity. As for Lenin, Mao,Ho Chi Minn, and even Stalin, they have always enjoyed a surprising reverence.
A French government agency, the National Lottery, was crazy enough to use Stalin and Mao in one of its advertising campaigns. Would anyone even dare to come up with the idea of featuring Hitler or Goebbels in commercials?
The extraordinary attention paid to Hitler’s crimes is entirely justified. It respects the wishes of the surviving witnesses, it satisfies the needs of researchers trying to understand these events, and it reflects the desire of moral and political authorities to strengthen democratic values. But the revelations concerning Communist crimes cause barely a stir. Why is there such an awkward silence from politicians? Why such a deafening silence from the academic world regarding the Communist catastrophe, which touched the lives of about one-third of humanity on four continents during a period spanning eighty years? Why is there such widespread reluctance to make such a crucial factor as crime — mass crime, systematic crime, and crime against humanity — a central factor in the analysis of Communism? Is this really something that is beyond human understanding? Or are we talking: about a refusal to scrutinize the subject too closely for fear of learning the truth about it?
…….The first turning point in the official recognition of Communist crimes came on the evening of 24 February 1956, when First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev took the podium at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the CPSU The proceedings were conducted behind closed doors; only delegates to the Congress were present. In absolute silence, stunned by what they were hearing, the delegates listened as the first secretary of the Party systematically dismantled the image of the “little father of the peoples,” of the “genius Stalin,” who for thirty years had been the hero of world Communism. This report, immortalized as Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech,” was one of the watersheds in the life of contemporary Communism.
For the first time, a high-ranking Communist leader had officially acknowledged, albeit only as a tactical concession, that the regime that assumed power in 1917 had undergone a criminal “deviation.” Khrushchev’s motivations for breaking one of the great taboos of the Soviet regime were numerous. Khrushchev’s primary aim was to attribute the crimes of Communism only to Stalin, thus circumscribing the evil, and to eradicate it once and for all in an effort to salvage the Communist regime. A determination to carry out an attack on Stalin’s clique, which stood in the way of Khrushchev’s power and believed in the methods practiced by their former boss, entered equally into his decision. Beginning in June 1957, these men were systematically removed from office…