Belated May Day acknowledgment

As regular readers of this weblog know, besides my interest in skepticism, the debunking of quackery, surgery, and cancer research (all of which I regularly blog about), I have a deep interest in the Holocaust and an unrelenting contempt for Nazis and fascism in all its forms, both of which lead me to write fairly frequently about these topics and which drive my desire to debunk Holocaust deniers.

However, with May Day having come and gone, let us not forget the death toll of the other major totalitarian belief system of the last century, Communism. A round-up of articles on the victims of Communist and Stalinism was posted on Catallarchy on May Day (which I unfortunately only just noticed last night). Although a few of the articles are hit-or-miss as far as quality goes, most are quite good. Of particular interest to me was this article by Rudolph J Rummel, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii and a finalist for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, who has made his life's work the study of what he terms "democide," which he defines as "the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder." He has concluded that approximately 170 million people were victims of democide during the 20th century. He even classifies the regimes who did these murders into what he terms "mega-murderers" (regimes that killed more than 1,000,000 people) and "deka-mega-murderers" (regimes that killed more than 10,000,000 people, which include the Soviet Union, Communist China, the Nazi regime, and the nationalist Chinese regime between 1926-1945). His main theme is that power kills, and from that follows one of his other themes, namely that democracies, although not immune from violence, tend to be far less likely to be capable of such large scale murder because they have checks on the government power that is necessary for such murder to become possible. Although this view has been criticized as idealistic and overly dismissive of other potential explanations for the observations presented, Professor Rummel marshals a great deal of evidence to support his thesis, and he has his defenders.

Unfortunately, not unexpectedly, certain white supremacist neo-Nazi white supremacists have tried to use Professor Rummel's attack on Communist democide in a "they were worse" justification (one typical--and disgusting--comment regarding Rummel's estimate of Stalin's democide: "43 million? Why, it puts their [the Nazis'] paltry, imaginary 6 million [Jews] to shame"). They seem to think that the simple observation that Communists killed more people over their much longer history somehow excuses the mass murder by their favorite fascist regime, the Nazis. Lest any neo-Nazis think that by his emphasis on the sheer scale of Communist killing during the 20th century Professor Rummel is somehow deemphasizing Nazi atrocities or implying that the Nazis were not as bad, such is not the case, as is shown in another of his writings:
Moreover, even though the Nazis hardly matched the democide of the Soviets and Communist Chinese as shown in Table 1.3, they proportionally killed more. Figure 1.2 illustrates this. The annual odds of being killed by the Nazis during their occupation were almost two-and-a-half times that of Soviet citizens being slain by their government since 1917; over nine times that for Chinese living in Communist China after 1949. In competition for who can murder proportionally the most human beings, the Japanese militarists come closest. The annual odds of being killed by the Japanese during their occupation of China, Korea, Indonesia, Burma, Indochina, and elsewhere in Asia was one in 101. Given the years and population available to this gang of megamurderers, the Nazis have been the most lethal murderers; and Japanese militarists next deadliest.
In other words, the Nazis killed a considerably larger proportion per year of the people who were unfortunate enough to fall under their dominion than did the Soviet regime. Bottom line: Both were totalitarian regimes that killed large numbers of their own subjects.

I highly recommend that you check out Professor Rummel's website (which I've used as a resource for years) and blog (which I only just discovered last night) and peruse the statistics on his website, many of which were taken from his books, Power Kills and Death by Government. It should be mandatory reading (as well as a great resource for statistics on government-sanctioned murder) for anyone who opposes totalitarianism, whether it originates from the left or the right.


  1. I'm not so sure about this guy. I've only read the introduction on his website, I'll go back and read more later, but it doesn't sit well with me.

    He doesn't really define what he means by freedom. His conclusions on war and famine are just not right, and his suggestion that freedom promotes scientific advancement ignores the fact that war also promotes scientific advancement.

  2. I cited Ian Kershaw in my replies to your Hitler post, Orac, and I'll do so again here as I saw him tackling the numbers-based approach to Hitler/Stalin comparisons the other night.

    His take - and for what it's worth I agree, more-or-less - is that to compare the relative evils of Hitler's Nazism and Stalin's Communism on the basis of death tolls is to miss the point completely. The difference is not quantitative but qualitative: Stalin was undoubtedly an evil man, brutal and uncompromising, but the philosophical principle which he represented was not of itself greatly divergent from civilized morality. Communism's intent was to better the world, to improve the lot of man. In Stalin's power-hungry (and devastatingly incompetent) hands the instruments by which that was supposed to be achieved became tools for repression and murder, but it was the scale and ruthlessness of his efforts, more than the intent per se, that differentiated the man from other insalubrious political leaders of modern times. Hitler, on the other hand, represented a total disavowal of the morality of modern civilization; his murders were not simply an attempt to secure his power but to eradicate an entire people from the earth. He did not want to improve peoples’ lot but institutionalize and embed a complete new morality (if one can call it that) where human life of itself has no intrinsic value or meaning at all.

  3. edit: the philosophical principle which Stalin ostensibly represented...

    I'm not an apologist for either Stalin or Communism. Living as I do in an ex-Communist country I am very familiar with the extensive evils of that system, and regard it as irrelevant as to whether those arose from integral flaws to the philosophy or from the mistakes and corruption of its proponents. And Stalin was just... evil.

  4. Your comment about the qualitative difference is well-taken. Having read Kershaw's biography of Hitler and some of his other works, perhaps I should have mentioned that comparison.

    The qualitative difference was more a matter of how the Nazis systematically built a veritable industrialized, organized, and bureaucratic killing apparatus whose purpose was to eliminate people whom the Nazis considered racial enemies. These people were the Nazi regime's enemies on the basis of birth, not politics, and they could not save themselves by "converting" to Nazi-ism or renouncing their Jewishness. Hitler's goal was either to remove them from the Reich, or, failing that, to exterminate them and render the Reich "Jew-free." Stalin's killing was more a byproduct of his desire to have total control; it was political opponents and groups who resisted collectivization that were targeted. It was sometimes possible to escape persecution and death by ceasing to resist. It is, however, interesting to note, though, that many of Stalin's purges of the 1930's were of those known to be loyal to him, as a means of keeping others in fear.

    As for your other comment, I think that part of Rummel's theme is that Communism itself (and any other system in which the state has such power unchecked by its subjects) is very much prone to evolve into a repressive system that kills its subjects.

  5. If you get a chance, have a look at Kershaw's OU speech - delivered live on UK TV last night. He took the opportunity to deal explicitly with this comparison & made, I think, a compelling case (one I don't feel competent to precis here, I'm afraid).

  6. Do you have a link to the speech?


    Contains links to mp3 and transcript.


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