This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.

Maoist Internationalist Movement

MIM responds to Black Book of Communism editor Mark Kramer

From Maoist Internationalist Movement, (MIM) [email protected]
February 27th, 2001

On February 26th, the Maoist Internationalist Movement won a partial victory when the editor and translator of the "Black Book of Communism" admitted misplacement of decimal points in the chapter on China by Jean-Louis Margolin. Those misplaced decimals caused deaths in the Great Leap movement led by Mao to be overestimated by a minimum of a factor of 10. Below is the letter from Kramer and MIM's response, which presses Harvard University Press for more factual corrections. To keep abreast of this issue, set your web browser to:

*****February 26th letter from Kramer************

Harvard University Press sent me your e-mail correspondence about The Black Book of Communism. The points you raise in No. 1 and No. 2 are certainly correct. My original translation of these passages used the European symbol for "per thousand" (as the French edition did), but evidently the typesetter wasn't accustomed to the symbol and read it as "percent" rather than "per thousand." I should have noticed the erroneous switch when I looked over the galley proofs. I appreciate your drawing the misprint to our attention. It will be fixed in the next printing of the book.

Best regards,

Mark Kramer
Director, Harvard Project on Cold War Studies
Senior Associate, Davis Center for Russian Studies
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

February 27, 2001

Dear Mark Kramer, ed. & Gail Graves, Harvard University Press:

We received Mark Kramer's letter of February 26th agreeing to fix the most egregious errors in the "Black Book of Communism" that claimed that 15% of the people of China died in a single year in the Great Leap and 29% in 1960. (p. 495) Since the note did not indicate what would be done before the next printing of the book, we would like to inquire if you can publish an erratum before the next printing, at least on your web site.

Expansion of point 2 from original letter

Our original letter to you is now available permanently at .

Since you have agreed to correct points 1 and 2, we would like to expand point 2, which is more of the same thing on page 495: "Under normal conditions, mortality in the countryside was between 30 and 60 percent higher than in the cities. In 1960 it doubled, climbing from 14 percent to 29 percent." Again, if it were us, we would simply admit the whole chapter is a botch. Readers will have difficulty having confidence in any of the percentages reported.

Continuation on point 4

As for our original letter, we would still like to press you on point 4, the question of imprisonment in the United States and China being "more or less identical" (p. 541) since it is one of the few situations where you tried to compare socialist countries or ex-socialist countries with capitalist countries other than where you compare a few years under Nazi Germany with 70 years of socialism in larger countries. Again, by your own printing, 0.5% of China was in prison, but in 1997 the figure for the United States was 0.645% according to the U.S. Government. That's not even to ask you to account for China's relatively youthful demographics, since at least in the United States, street crime as defined by the FBI gets committed disproportionately by the youth. The difference between 0.5% and 0.645% is so great that we found 40 countries listed in UN statistics that have lower imprisonment rates than 145 per 100,000.

We think within your own reasoning you should recognize that you made a mistake here, an important one given the subject of the book. The difference in incarceration rates makes a difference to hundreds of thousands of people each year imprisoned in the United States who would not be imprisoned, if only the United States had the lower imprisonment rate of other countries.

However, in addition to your own reasoning, which should suffice, there is an emerging consensus even from non-communist sources that the United States is in fact the world's leading imprisonment leader per capita of the last generation, with the exception being a brief state of emergency under Boris Yeltsin. In this regard, we are concerned that while attacking us Maoists, Harvard University Press prints as fact something which is not fact and can be readily gleaned from U.S. government and common Western media sources. Atlantic Monthly in December 1998 suggests that the United States is holding half a million more prisoners than China total--an absolute statistic not even considering China's larger population. Hence it seems to us Maoists that this argument should have occurred within the non-communist world before it came to us.

Point 6: non-violent land reform?

We have some more inaccuracies in Margolin's chapter to report that further lead us to believe that Harvard University Press has not taken adequate measures to check the works that it publishes. If a writer is to make sweeping generalizations in many areas, as the writers of the "Black Book" do, then it seems to us that a full-time academic press such as Harvard's should contact experts in those areas of generalization. No?

In terms of sheer enormity, after the Great Leap and incarceration rate errors in the "Black Book of Communism" is the error that "Other countries in the region--Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea--where the distribution of land was even more inequitable carried out equally radical agrarian reforms in the same period with considerably greater success. As far as we know, there was not a single death associated with those reforms, and people were compensated more or less satisfactorily for their losses."(p. 480)

While wildly inaccurate in many ways, this statement is also either completely misinformed or horribly callous and we will call our criticism point 6. The United States had just dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and land reform was carried out by U.S. armed forces against a class which the U.S. government consciously recognized as feudal, militarist and responsible for the attack on the United States by Japan. While we support land reform enthusiastically, including in Japan, we would never be so callous as to say it came at no cost! While every suicide and lost porcelain collection ("Black Book of Communism," p. 527) counts against Mao and communism according to Margolin, we learn from Margolin that capitalist East Asia just so happened to have a pacifist land reform after Mao succeeded with his. That's absurd, and the failure of land reform in Indonesia, the Philippines, India etc. are the proof that what Mao and other East Asian communists did was the key to successful land reform.

What is more, Harvard University Press could have caught this error about people "compensated more or less satisfactorily for their losses" in Japan's case merely by consulting with other government-funded Harvard scholars, such as Dwight Perkins, Michael Roemer, Donald R. Snodgrass and their Duke colleague Malcolm Gillis. "Land reform in Japan was carried out by U.S. Occupation forces. . . Compensation of landlords was provided for in legislation, but inflation soon had the effect of sharply reducing the real value of the amounts offered. As a result Japanese land reform also amounted to confiscation of landlord land with little compensation."(1) There are other senior Harvard pro- U.S. scholars who said the Japanese land reform was "tantamount to expropriation," because of inflation.(2) The fact that land reform occurred under bayonet is not a question of theory, and again, we cite bourgeois scholars, no communists. From the beginning, the U.S. Occupation executed seven leaders of the ruling elite, as one might expect in an occupation. To explain these events, bourgeois doyen Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig said conservative Americans had become radical revolutionaries--at least in Japan.

Likewise, in Korea, President Rhee fired his agricultural minister in 1948 for favoring too much land reform, and land reform had to come about--and only partially at first--by U.S. military decree March 22, 1948 and before 1948 through peasant revolt inspired by land reform in the North. During the interim period between World War II and the Korean War, the North had land reform by 1946, but the South did not. In 1946, the Chicago Sun reported that hundreds of thousands or millions of peasants participated in the revolt for land reform in the South. Syngman Rhee organized massacres in response. Scholar George McCune referred to the repression in one locale as "'the Taegu slaugther.'"(3)

The reactionary fight against land reform in the South even in the words of the U.S. General William Dean "'consisted of largely of burning the house of anyone the constabulary (army) or police even suspected of harbouring or co-operating with guerrillas.'"(4) Later during the Korean War, the North continued to attract support by its program of land reform. While the communists of the North and the guerrillas occupied almost the entire Korean peninsula before the United States landed, land reform took hold--again, in the midst of war--not without "a single death" as Margolin says. Summary execution of villagers by reactionaries included the "Koch'ang Incident."(5)

The only factors cutting back violence in land reform in Korea were 1) the fact that the 7% of Seoul that left Seoul when the communists took over during the Korean War was disproportionately upper class and fled to Pusan, the very southern tip of the peninsula, so was not around to fight peasant tenants; 2) landlords seeing which way the wind had blown thanks to Mao and also the communists and peasant rebels in Korea were selling their land cheap to peasants or evicting them for not buying. So not every expropriation of individual landlords was violent, but the context was war and revolution that broke the back of the landlord class.

As for Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek may not have suffered military defeat had he taken up land reform before he fled to Taiwan. Once there he merely learned his lesson under U.S. pressure, which was simply a rational recognition of what Mao had done. Even the World Bank has admitted that "Korea and Taiwan (China) began land reform under broadly similar circumstances. In both cases, authoritarian governments facing a communist threat were dependent on the assistance of the United States, whose advisers urged them to adopt more egalitarian land holding." (6) Land reform in Taiwan was the result of revolutionary violence on the mainland and should not be counted separately. In both southern Korea and Taiwan, rulers had been associated more with rhetoric for land reform than actual implementation before Mao's successes, so for Margolin to say that land reform in these places was "equally radical" as in Mao's China is already misleading. The assertion that these land reforms in Korea, Japan and Taiwan were non-violent and compensated is simply factually wrong on both counts and on a theoretical plane, Mao figures decisively in their success, as other U.S. client states without powerful communist movements threatening had relatively failed land reform and modernization.

1. Malcolm Gillis, Dwight H. Perkins, Michael Roemer & Donald R. Snodgrass, Economics of Development, 3rd ed., (NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992), pp. 497-98.

2. John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer & Albert M. Craig, East Asia: Tradition & Transformation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978), p. 822.

3. Jon Halliday, "The Political Background" Korea North and South: The Deepening Crisis, Gavin McCormack and Mark Selden, eds., (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1978), p. 49.

4. Ibid., p. 51.

5. Ibid., p. 56.

6. B21.html

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Maoist Internationalist Movement

See MIM's review of the Black Book of Communism from February 2000

See all the links in this matter in chronological order

See the initial correspondence between MIM and Harvard University Press

See and sign the petition to Harvard University Press

Read another example of the epidemic of misplaced decimal points on the Great Leap: Harvard Government Chair Roderick MacFarquhar

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