reviewed by MC5, February 2000
The Black Book came out in France in 1997 and has provoked a storm of controversy since then. Now it has reached the shores of the English- speaking nations in translation through the dubious editorial choice of Harvard University Press.
MIM has already rebutted this book in the context of struggling against Internet fascists in 1999. Our challenge to the proponents of the book was: " our critics become emotional and can't use their methods to both sides of anything. The thread started because it was about famine only in allegedly socialist countries. The only problem was that they left out famine in the capitalist countries to give us a comparison!"(1)
Our fascist critics trumpeted this book against us all over the Internet as if something new were said. They cited the 100 million death toll in the introduction as the main message. Yet it remains that it is an 856 page book and there are no statistical comparisons of premature deaths between capitalist and socialist countries anywhere in the book, just as MIM charged all along. The reason is simple: the Communists doubled the life expectancies of the people of the Soviet Union and China. That is the overall picture. It does not mean there were not civil wars or executions, including some unjust ones, but overall, the violence of communism is less than that of capitalism, by far.
The simple scientific link missing in the minds of our critics is the link between poverty under a system of private property and death. Poverty under capitalism causes death from lack of food, a decent environment and adequate health care. Twist and turn as it might, the pre-scientific intelligentsia will never treat this fact in a systematic and thereby scientific manner despite 800 page wailings.
It turns out that the capitalists have a Black Book of Capitalism forthcoming. It is like Lenin said about the capitalists bidding for the rope contract for the hanging of their class. We hope it teaches the people how a life expectancy is calculated and why it is superior to tallying millions of deaths in selective patches the way our critics do. The death toll for capitalism reaches 100 million from starvation alone, every 8 to 12 years as MIM has already discussed in its essays on this available on our FAQ web page. It is a measure of general ignorance of the public that purchases monopoly capitalist periodicals and the conscious evil of some intellectuals that the Black Book could create any stir at all with its 100 million figure while so many more die each decade under capitalism.
Overall, somehow or another, the Black Book of Communism has managed to raise the debate one notch. It is a measure of the success of the class struggle that the reactionary intelligentsia felt compelled to write an 854 page book touching on the death toll of communism. By seeking to put a number on the premature deaths caused by communist movements in the 20th century, the pre-scientific intelligentsia who wrote the book brought the subject right to the edge of science before recoiling in horror and retreating to atemporal moral dogmas more fit for inner spiritual reflection than discussion in public.
What is not scientific cannot produce unity, so the anti-communist authors split as the book went to press. Werth and Margolin --the authors of the Soviet, Chinese and other sections of the book disagreed with Stephane Courtois who introduced the book. Courtois suggested in the only comparison in the book that the communist movement was responsible for 100 million deaths, while the Nazis were only responsible for 25 million (p. 15) (which obviously excludes some of the more than 22 million Soviet peoples who died at the hands of Nazis, mostly civilians or the six million Jews or the millions of others of other nations including the Germans themselves.) Werth and Margolin reportedly said that Courtois inflated the figures to arrive at 100 million as the total death toll for communism.
The communism versus Nazism comparison was the only comparison of figures offered in the book and it is mostly a comparison of war time deaths with some extra and invented famine deaths thrown in on the Soviet side, which we will address further in the essay below. The Nazism vs. all communism comparison is easily recognized as absurd just on the basis that communism ruled in more countries decades longer. More importantly it is absurd, because the most deaths occur from the steady grind of daily life, not in war, and the Black Book of Communism simply does not compare life expectancy in ordinary life under socialism and capitalism--thereby whitewashing capitalist starvation, poor distribution of health services and environmental degradation.
More intelligent anti-communists realized that Courtois's mistakes as exposed by his co-authors might encourage the readers to undertake comparisons of death tolls and adopt a scientific approach. In addition, they knew that the masses would realize that the Nazis were stopped at millions killed instead of billions because of the Soviet troops who stopped the Nazis. Thus Courtois was aiming at the masses reading the uncritical filter of the monopoly capitalist media while Werth and Margolin were worried that some intellectuals might notice the huge holes in Courtois's story.
Courtois obviously believes that tactically speaking, the media will buy anything anti- communist, because it is too ignorant or bought-off to do otherwise. So the question in the minds of the pre- scientific intelligentsia like Courtois becomes "how aggressively should we rehabilitate Nazism and attack communism?"
As MIM has long said, there is nothing scientific about fascism. It is simply an ideology justifying open repression on behalf of capitalism. Hence, it is no surprise that intellectuals will never be able to put forward coherent, consistent and detailed books on fascism's behalf. The authors are largely ex-communists who had thought communism is some kind of purified Christianity. They never understood the science involved in supporting communism. The anti-communists can take advantage of religious mysticism, selective humyn-rights absolutism and the relativism of post- modernism that is so trendy today, but they themselves can never put forward a coherent and historically detailed line themselves, for the same reasons that one religion can never conquer the whole world.
The introduction by Courtois demonstrates that he is one intellectual who consciously manipulates the pre- scientific sentiments of the masses and other intellectuals. When it comes to communism, he correctly says, "there will always be some nitpickers who maintain that actual Communism has nothing in common with theoretical communism."(p. 2) Yet he goes on to say, "Of course it would be absurd to claim the doctrines expounded prior to Jesus Christ, during the Renaissance, or even in the nineteenth century were responsible for events in the twentieth century."(p.2 ) In his own mind, Courtois believes it is wrong to do to Jesus what he is doing to the communists by holding up some idealized scheme and measuring it against real life.
We agree that anyone who counter-poses a dogma goal to a reality is going to make numerous mistakes. We can only compare realities with realities and decide which reality is closer to the goal. Comparing "actual" life and "theory" is really ethical dogmatism and has nothing in common with scientific Marxism- Leninism-Maoism. "Theory" does not mean our long-range goals of what is right and wrong. Theory is the body of ideas that accurately describe how the world works in its vast mesh of cause and effect and change. Christians and other religious people are liable to substitute "Heaven" for "theory" and assume that Marx's "communism" plays the same role as "Heaven" in their own thought. Not surprisingly they then find communism in practice to be flawed and hypocritical.
Courtois ends up quoting the same Catholic Church that supported the fascist Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany for his moral basis.(p. 29) His last sentence in the introduction quotes, "thou shalt not kill."(p. 31) In return, the Cardinal Mindszenty foundation put up a favorable review of Courtois's book on the web.
For this reason, Courtois feels justified when he says "our purpose here is not to devise some kind of macabre comparative system for crunching numbers."(p. 15) We can only hope he contracts HIV and decides to forgo the "number crunching" and thus takes chicken soup instead of protease inhibitors.
Courtois is also the perfect case of what Stalin called a "social-fascist." Claiming to be a social-democrat, Courtois has been attacked for fascist sympathies widely. Le Pen is his greatest admirer. It is so striking that it is not only defenders of Stalin who have noticed Courtois's benefit to fascism. Even the social-democratic "Le Monde" in France had some complainers with regard to fellow social-democrat Courtois.(p. xvii)
Courtois attempts to blame Stalin for contaminating himself by signing a pact with Hitler in 1939.(pp. 5, 22) He says it was a crime. No where does he mention all the pacts that the capitalist countries signed with Hitler before Stalin did. It is typical in that most of the book's distortions are by omission of comparative context.
The Polish signed in 1934 and the French and British of course had their Munich appeasement in 1938. In 1938, Stalin offered to attack Hitler over Czechoslavakia if either England or France sided with him and if the Polish granted passage through their territory. Instead, what happened is Poland took a slice of Czechoslavakia--the Teschen district--in a deal with the Nazis.(3) The fact that Stalin was the last to sign a pact with Hitler is not mentioned by Courtois, because by his own logic, the capitalist countries would be guilty of greater crimes than the socialist countries.
Supposedly these are the scholars, but it is MIM explaining the comparative context once again. Our readers should ask whose standards of scholarship are fairer, MIM Notes's or the bourgeois scholars'. These bourgeois scholars do not even mention the capitalist countries' agreements with Hitler while citing Stalin for "crimes" for signing agreements. This same Courtois does not mention anywhere why Hitler's crimes stopped at the supposed 25 million mark--Soviet troops who defeated him--and these are supposedly historians. They are simply revisionist historians taking advantage of the youth for whom World War II is very distant.
Nor does Courtois or Werth mention the numerous and successful pro-Nazi rebellions throughout Europe when they talk about there being no reason to repress anyone in the Soviet Union and when they talk about how bad conditions in the USSR were that they drove people into the arms of the Nazis. If so, conditions were even worse in the capitalist countries, because Nazi fifth columns overthrew those European governments outright and paralyzed the anti- fascist fighting ability of all continental Europe except for the Soviet Union and mostly communist guerrillas in other countries.
The term "quisling" arose because of a former Norwegian "Defense Minister" who helped the Nazis overthrow the government of Norway in 1940--Vidkun Quisling. In France, in 1940, Henri Philippe Petain, a former Command-in-chief who achieved that post in 1917 headed a Nazi collaborator government in France seated in Vichy. Even the French bourgeoisie agreed he had to receive life imprisonment after World War II. The Belgian Leopold III surrendered his country to the Nazis unconditionally and was dubbed a collaborator.(3) In Sweden, the family that owned half of all the country profited from Nazi gold taken from Jews killed in the Holocaust. Assisting that family in the legal matters was the U.$. future Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles--and of course, the Swedish government.(4) Not surprisingly, Finland joined the Nazi side in 1941, but less known is that the French premier Edouard Daladier had to resign in March, 1940, because his opposition to attacking the Soviet Union in Finland was unpopular! That's correct: the French public and portions of the bourgeoisie wanted to attack the Soviet Union, not Germany in an effort to get on Hitler's good side! Hungary and Bulgaria joined the Axis powers outright and made war against the Allies--greatly assisting Hitler in his invasion of the Soviet Union.
In all the above countries overrun in part by internal Nazism, there was also resistance to Nazism, but the point remains that Courtois and Werth failed to mention them while downplaying the threat of Nazi collaborators in the Soviet Union. If they wish to speak for the "humyn-rights" of Nazis and their collaborators, they should do so without denying that these sorts of fascists existed in the Soviet Union as they did everywhere in Europe. To do as Courtois and Werth do is distortion of the facts to suit a religious agenda of humyn-rights for fascists.
Karel Bartosek came closer to the truth saying "the repression was especially severe in countries that had sent troops to fight against the Soviet Union--Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia--where the NKVD deported hundreds of thousands to the Soviet gulags."(p. 394) However, contrary to the impression left by Bartosek (p. 397), Bulgaria also sided with the Nazis as can still be found in common encyclopedias.(3) It is indicative that Bartosek chose to stress the fact that Bulgaria did not send troops against the Soviet Union without mentioning that Bulgaria was occupying Soviet allies in Yugoslavia and Greece--after having received a piece of Romania through the offices of Hitler. There were active fascists in countries other than Italy, Germany and Japan, but the Cold War historians needed to whitewash fascism in Europe, especially Eastern Europe in order to vilify Stalin.
For his part, Nicolas Werth wrote a whole chapter exonerating the peoples who sided with Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union and listed their executions in the midst of war as crimes counting against communism. Apparently the context of being in a war is not relevant to these selectively timeless historical moralists. Adam Shatz found Werth's position to be too much as well, thus proving that not all historical commentators at this time are asleep while speaking: "His lament for the fate of the Vlasovtsky is particularly bizarre. Named after their leader, Andrei Vlasov, the Vlasovtsky were a group of Russian prisoners of war who defected to the German side in 1942. 'On the basis of his anti-Stalinist convictions,' writes Werth credulously, 'Vlasov agreed to collaborate with the Nazis to free his country from the tyranny of the Bolsheviks.' Vlasov paid with his life, and his 150,000 soldiers ended up wasting away in the gulag, an unhappy fate, to be sure. But it's hard to get worked up, as Werth does, over the imprisonment of traitors whose 'anti-Stalinist convictions' led them to embrace the Nazis."(5)
Having written about these Vlasov supporters and also about various Nazi centers that actually did exist in the Soviet Union amongst certain ethnicities (e.g. pp. 219-20, 223-4), Werth still says, "the elimination of potential and mythical 'fifth columnists' was at the heart of the Great Terror."(p. 202) As some of his own work shows, there was nothing "mythical" about the fifth column and the number that sided with Hitler was greater than the number that Stalin executed in the "Great Terror," according to Werth's own accounting.
Later Courtois and Karel Bartosek want our hearts to bleed for the Germans who revolted against the Soviet occupation in 1953. (see photos & p. 439) After killing more than 22 million Soviet people, the Germans were lucky to be left alive. Had Stalin been as bad or worse, than Hitler, as Courtois says, no Germans would have been left alive to revolt.
Outside of the Great Leap in China, most of the accusations regard violence in the midst of war. Reading about Vietnam or the Soviet Union or Korea (which is still in a state of war), one would often be able to forget there was a war going on as atrocities were listed.
Anti-semitism and genocide more generally
By placing Nazism at one-quarter the danger of communism, Courtois rightly invoked a charge of anti- Semitism, even in the staid pages of the social- democratic "Le Monde."(p. xv) While Stalin fought a war against Nazis and toward communism, the goals of the Nazis were always for extermination of all but the master race, which did not even include all whites.
Given his sympathy for the Soviet fifth column in World War II, it is not surprising that Ukrainian fascists quote Werth on their web pages, in the midst of their anti-Semitic filth.(6) Kooky or un-rebutted anti- Semitism was just beneath the surface throughout the book (e.g., p. 86, p. 99). The whole title of the book comes from the title of a book about the holocaust of Jews by Nazis also titled Black Book.
One bourgeois reviewer said that France lagged far behind in recognizing anti-Semitism from World War II: "In fact, the Jewish genocide barely registered among French intellectuals until the late 1980s, when Raul Hilberg's seminal study, The Destruction of the European Jews, finally appeared in translation. The Russian gulag, as exposed by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, had received far more attention thanks to the new philosophers of the 1970s."(5)
Shatz went on to add: "After all, this was a country where, as the Princeton historian Anson Rabinbach observed in Dissent last year, 'the demand for a 'Nuremberg trial of communism' has a particular connotation, frequently reiterated by Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front, to justify not prosecuting French crimes of the Vichy era.' Since the book's publication coincided with Maurice Papon's trial on charges of Nazi collaboration during the Vichy years, French readers were invited to contemplate the notion that partisan resistance fighters, many of them communists and all of them in alliance with Soviet Russia, were on no firmer moral ground than a pro- fascist bureaucrat who sent Jewish women and children to the ovens."(5)
Shatz complains about Stalin's banning of a book that focussed on the Jews and World War II. Yet it is true that the Nazi genocide hit other ethnicities besides the Jews. The communists and Jews were only first in line for extermination by Hitler.
Even Nicolas Werth admitted this, if only in passing in the book and without impacting Courtois's conclusions obviously. "The barbarism of the Nazis created some reconciliation between the Soviet government and the people, in that Germany classed Russians as sub-humans destined for extermination or slavery."(p. 215) Also Courtois and a co-author correctly said, "Hitler considered that all Slavs were subhuman and hence were to be disposed of en masse."(p. 320) Given that most Russians were white, Werth and Courtois should have also said that Hitler planned on the extermination of the vast majority of the world's population. People seeking to equate Stalin and Hitler do so to whitewash racism and they take advantage of historical ignorance as Nazism recedes in time.
The Ukrainian famine
Throughout his essay, Werth talks about grain requisitions by the Soviet state as if grain so obtained disappeared and thereby caused rural starvation.(e.g. p. 121) No mention is made of city people's non-negotiable rights with regard to eating. Even though the property system was no longer the capitalist style, he continued to refer to the grain as the "fruit of their[peasants'] labor"(e.g. p. 66, p. 148) that they were entitled to keep--omitting that some people work on much better land than others if there is no socialist cooperation to even out disparities in the means of production.
From 1923 to 1928, the peasants had a free market in grain. Yet, the bourgeois peasants blew their chance in 1928, because grain delivered to the cities was down to 4.8 million tons from 6.8 million the previous year. That spurred Stalin to favor collectivization of agriculture.(p. 142) No doubt, had Stalin let the peasants keep their grain, Courtois and Werth would have blamed Stalin for the starvation of people in the cities instead--unless Stalin changed the system to capitalism, in which case an 8 digit figure of peasants could die each year to this day without the bourgeois propagandists uttering a peep. Whether people starved in cities or in the countryside, Stalin was going to be blamed by these critics.
All along some of the fiercest resistance to doing the right thing centered in the Ukraine and Werth says the Ukrainian famine was the largest death toll Stalin was responsible for. The Ukraine is the equivalent of the U.$. "breadbasket"--states like Iowa or Kansas. Werth admitted as much in a concluding throw-away sentence: "The richest and most dynamic agricultural regions, which had the most to offer the state and the most to lose in the extortionate system of enforced collectivization, were precisely the regions worst affected by the great famine of 1932-33."(p. 168) The fact that these areas were the equivalent of Iowa should have been a clue that having the peasants just keep their food was not an option that should have been suggested lightly.
In 1929, more than 3,200 Soviet civil servants suffered terrorist attacks.(p. 145) 1,300 riots spread through the countryside in the years 1928-9. That is one indication of the class war going on. They had a history behind them of a movement called the "Greens" that also resisted requisition of food to the city.(p. 81-, p. 91- )
In the midst of this sort of political resistance, many Ukrainians resisted delivering grain to the state. Werth says that in response, Stalin starved 4 million of them to death in 1932-3 for a total of 6 million when other regions of the Soviet Union are counted for being in a similar situation.(p. 146)
New York's newspaper the "Village Voice" of January 12, 1988 has already debunked the claims about the Ukrainian famine, as being wildly exaggerated and as having been created by fascist Ukrainians, in some cases caught in the act of fraud in propaganda creation.(7) Ludo Martens has also debunked poet, fiction-writer and government official Robert Conquest for his use of Nazi sources, Nazi collaborator sources and fiction books to buttress his most widely cited story of the Ukrainian famine.(8) 80,000 Ukrainians served in the Nazi army including some in the SS and that is the kind of humyn material that gets wide quotation.(p. 244)
Hence, while some people may have starved in the Ukraine, Werth's numbers are inflated to the point where the Village Voice referred to the famine as a "hoax." Nonetheless, Werth touches on the political choices some Ukrainians made. He quotes an alleged Stalin letter that MIM did not check on (because it was consistent with the times) as saying "the workers in your district--not just your district, but in many districts--went on strike, carried out acts of sabotage, and were prepared to leave workers from the Red Army without bread!"(p. 166) From MIM's point of view, even if all the fascist propaganda were true, Stalin would have been correct to take harsh measures against those who disobeyed the law, cut back their farming and generally acted as the spoiled and privileged owners of the best farming land.
Where Werth and Courtois agree is that the political choice of some peasants to resist delivering grain to the state is not an act of violence in itself against the city-dwellers; even though realistically, food has to come from farmland, especially the Ukraine and other lands in question. They speak of the land as if it were only the property of peasants who live on it. When peasants cut back their work only to grow their own grain and contrary to law, Werth and Courtois defend them. Indeed, Werth comes out openly in saying his approach depends on not recognizing Soviet law. He said that "'destruction of Soviet property'" and other items including "'speculation'" should not be counted as crimes.(p. 206) In contrast, we socialists are happy to deport such Ukrainian people as they were deported by Stalin and replace them with people who will do something with the fertile land--because people's lives are at stake and we see political games played by Ukrainians on breadbasket land as violence against city-dwellers.
The case of the Ukrainian breadbasket land is also important in reminding us why we have to oppose "local control" perfected under Tito's "market socialism" in Yugoslavia and also adopted by anarchists in Spain. After a revolution implementing "local control," people who happen to live on gold mines will become rich. People who live on the best land will have an easier time farming, and so on. "Local control" cannot be thought of as socialism, just a switch of owners. The central government has to play some role or the means of production are not truly socialist. Only when that day comes when people cooperate economically across large distances without coercion or reward will it be possible to take an easy-going approach to dividing up resources at the local level, because no one would think of hurting people in the rest of the country or the world based on their fortunate local position.
At a MIM Stalin talk coming out on CD, one critic from the audience said that Stalin induced the Ukrainian famine "for his own power." When asked what Stalin used that power for, the critic had nothing to say. In the capitalist countries, the sights of the masses are lowered to persynal gain, such that when they see someone with vast power and no persynal gain, they have no idea what to say. Stalin did not gain from starving Ukrainian peasants, unlike the way capitalist speculators who hoard food gain when peasants starve. To say that Stalin did gain is a simple projection of life under capitalism to life under socialism where often the politicians also persynally gain from development, weapons or other deals they broker politically.
In contrast the most bourgeois peasants in the USSR known as kulaks did gain monetarily and persynally from speculation in grain by letting the cities starve. Stalin did not himself benefit from the New Economic Policy (NEP) that allowed the free market in grain. It was the peasants in the countryside actually trying to increase their own power for persynal gain, so our critic has the accusation against Stalin completely upside-down.
In no way are Courtois and Werth correct in equating the holocaust of Jews with the starvation of some peasants who sat on fertile land and decided not to obey the law or cooperate in a new economic system. They chose to cut back their work and hide their grain despite knowing what targets of production they were to reach and despite having come closer to meeting them in the past. It is not that Werth ever claimed these peasants were struck by typhoon or drought. They had a choice, unlike the Jews who are born Jews according to the racial theories of the Nazis.
Since Werth says that Stalin's single largest crime was the alleged Ukrainian famine,(p. 263) our readers should note it carefully and decide how much credibility the overall criticism of the Soviet Union under Stalin has.
Admissions regarding the Soviet Union
As intellectuals, these fascist and fascist-leaning intellectuals could not help trying to distinguish themselves from historical simpletons. What is more, they claim to do so based on the study of the most recently released Soviet archives.
1. Citing the work of an A. Blum, Werth no longer believes Stalin masterminded the Kirov assassination in 1934. It was the killing of Kirov that resulted in a swing in Soviet public opinion toward a crackdown on "dissent" as World War II was progressing, notably the Japanese invasion of China in 1931 and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.
2. Werth correctly believes Robert Conquest's work on the "Great Terror" to be exaggerated, (p. 185) MIM would say fictional.
3. According to Werth, the 85% of executions after the Civil War in the Soviet Union and while Stalin was still alive (1922 to 1953), occurred in the "Great Terror," also sometimes referred to as the "Purges" of 1936-1938.(9) However, Werth says the number of executions has been vastly exaggerated. The number was 681,692.(p. 191)
While everyone agrees that the majority of executions occurred in the 1936-1938 period--while the Soviet Union and Germany were already fighting each other in Spain-- the numbers range wildly. Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko said that the "Great Terror" was responsible for 19 million deaths from 1935 to 1941, (10) while Werth says the figure is 720,000.(p. 206) This is just an indication of how wildly the bourgeoisie speculates against Stalin.
4. Purges in the Red Army prior to World War II were previously exaggerated and affected 30,000 out of 178,000 relevant cadres.(p. 198)
5. Documented cases occurred where all Mensheviks said to be shot were not shot but imprisoned.(p. 262)
Embarrassments to others in the anti-Stalin swamp
Because the bourgeoisie rushes to attack Stalin from an immense number of improbable angles, it is not surprising that its statements stand in contradiction all the time, even 47 years after Stalin's death. Like prison cellmates with 47 years to practice their alibis, the bourgeoisie still can't come up with a consistent story.
1. Werth's essay tends to confirm that Bukharin was in fact a Liberal in the right-wing of the Communist Party with links to Yagoda, a security chief under Stalin. In 1918, Bukharin was criticizing the Cheka (internal security that arose in civil war) for its "'excessive zeal of an organization filled with criminals, sadists, and degenerate elements from the lumpenproletariat.'"(p. 79)
In 1924, Bukharin again wrote to the head of the ex- Cheka then called the GPU. His name was Felix Dzerzhinksy. "'It is my belief that we should now progress to a more liberal form of Soviet power: less repression, more legality, more open discussions, more responsibility at local levels.'"(p. 134) The other major Bolshevik leaders disagreed with Bukharin.
2. The famous Ukrainian anarchist Makhno organized bloody pograms against the Jews in 1919, just as Lenin charged. A picture continues to emerge of only Bolsheviks in the Ukraine as not anti-Semitic.(p. 96)(11)
3. Also contrary to some anarchists today who paint the anarchists as blameless, Werth points out that rebellion and class war against the Bolsheviks did continue into 1921. The Kronstadt rebellion did not occur in a context of social peace.
4. According to Courtois and a co-author, in 1937, Trotsky went to the French police to get French communist Jacques Duclos in trouble, despite having no evidence against him for a murder Trotsky wanted avenged. Trotsky relied on the French police to find the evidence and conduct the investigation.(p. 307)
China: more botched numbers
To their credit, the authors admitted that their criticisms of Asian communists and therefore most of their criticism of communism is speculative.(p. 459) The reason is that they would like the governments there to fall so that they can see the archives before they pass judgement.
The largest part of the 100 million deaths they are attributing to communism comes from the Great Leap, where they use the upper end of a range of estimates--43 million deaths. MIM recently reviewed this literature again in MIM Notes 203, since Harvard professor Roderick MacFarquhar's book just came out in paperback.
Contrary to MacFarquhar who details all the actions the Communist Party took and how Mao made public self- criticism, Margolin says Mao refused to admit a problem during the Great Leap.(p. 464) He then goes on to list wartime atrocities in World War II by the communists.
Even more than MacFarquhar who misplaced a decimal in his single largest accusation against Mao to make it 10 times worse than it was, Margolin leaves us seriously questioning his basic quantitative skills. We can only hope it was the editors or translators who introduced the errors, but there were numerous basic mathematical errors in his chapter and no matter how one slices it, the chapter does not reflect well on the authors and editors.
"This last province [Anhui], in north-central China, was the worst affected of all. In 1960 the death rate soared to 68 percent from its normal level at around 15 percent, while the birth rate fell to 11 percent from its previous average of 30 percent. As a result the population fell by around 2 million people (6 percent of the total) in a single year."(p. 492)
The above is such a bungle that it is difficult to sort out all the errors and curiously enough, it refers to Margolin's biggest accusation at the provincial level. The first number is actually 68.58 per thousand. 68 percent is 68 per hundred. Once again, we have an error overestimating by a factor of 10. What is worse is the stupidity in saying that the mortality rate was 68 percent but only 6 percent died! In this way Margolin exceeds the stupidity of MacFarquhar's mistake. Of course, the birth rates are similarly exaggerated by a factor of 10. At least MacFarquhar correctly reported these figures in a table in his third volume.(12)
In more obvious moralistic "have your cake and eat it too," Margolin denounces the regime in China for creating a situation where "the birth rate fell to almost zero as women were unable to conceive because of malnutrition."(p. 494) He does not realize that if that is true, his death toll must be very low, much less than the 20 million lower end estimate he uses. It's clear that he has never sat down to think through questions like what goes into creating a life expectancy figure.
Further exceeding MacFarquhar by covering more years with his ignorance, Margolin says "For the entire country, the death rate rose from 11 percent in 1957 to 15 percent in 1959 and 1961, peaking at 29 percent in 1960. Birth rates fell from 33 percent in 1957 to 18 percent in 1961."(p. 495)
Given this sort of record it is not surprising Margolin also botched the imprisonment rate figures where he momentarily got on the right track before falling off (and actually compared the imprisonment figures with the U$A's and found them equal in his own error-prone way). (p. 541) He apparently is OK with reporting 8 digit figures raw and re-reporting percentages, but anything actually involving his own understanding of division is suspect.
At one point saying that the peasants were too weak to harvest grain rotting on the farms, (p. 493) Margolin also says that once capitalist-style organization came into place, the peasants quickly ended the famine. (p. 496) Which was it Margolin? Were the peasants too weak as the Great Leap went on to harvest or just needing capitalist incentives? Nor does Margolin seem to flinch at saying the worst year was actually 1961,(p. 491) after the Great Leap had ended and widescale private farming and systems tantamount to it had come into play.
It is obvious that Margolin likes to study history, but his quantitative skills are so lacking it is no wonder that he came out against communism. His essay along with MacFarquhar's error introduces further doubt into the basic competence of the people doing bourgeois academic research on the Great Leap. Anyone with any experience in mortality figures, life expectancies or statistics and the slightest knowledge of the Great Leap from any perspective should have caught Margolin's mistakes right away and should have known off the top of their heads that what he was saying was impossible. Anyone with a high school education should have caught the mistakes if studying carefully. When talking about China with its large population and the potential for 8 digit famines, it is essential that an author be comfortable with numbers.
With regard to the charge of 100 million dead from communism, 85 million are from the Soviet Union and China, 20 million from the Soviet Union and 65 million from China.(p. 4) As we have just shown the crucial lynchpins to that argument concern a famine reported by Nazi collaborators in the Ukraine and a Great Leap toll where repeated and obvious arithmetic errors were published in the book. Together these two items account for 49 million dead out of 100 million alleged victims.
The book goes on to treat other countries as well, but those countries are all said to stem from the Leninist "genetic code." Many of these other regimes that Courtois et. al. attack are not communist and as usual they omit significant facts such as the landslide Sandinista victory's portion of the population (not just the voters) won in a bourgeois style election (p. 670) or the fact that their notion of "responsible" for deaths in the case of the Sendero Luminoso refers mostly to indiscriminate killings carried out by the government but which the Sendero Luminoso is "responsible" for because they started a civil war.(p. 680)
The Black Book sold 70,000 copies in four weeks in France.(13) Of course, the Wall Street Journal endorsed it as well as most of the rest of the bourgeois press. There are 175 entries in an Internet search using the "Google" search engine. Many of the book reviews can be seen by visiting MIM's bookstore under reviewed books and going to the Amazon bookstore link for the Black Book. The positive reviews can be taken as an indication of the lack of historical knowledge of some, the weak quantitative skills of others and the overall conscious distortion of the bourgeoisie. In the end, MIM agrees that Courtois has recognized the truth about the media: it will buy anything anti-communist.
Despite his correct recognition of the nature of the monopoly capitalist media, Courtois will fail in his goal, because the truth regarding the overall situation is already widely available and cannot be excised from history by selective compilations of statistics or gruesome detail of death on one side of the capitalism versus communism conflict. Despite the whinings of the Solzhenitsyns, Khruschevs and other intellectuals and former party members, nothing will eradicate the fact that the average persyn lived longer under socialism than under capitalism.(14)
2. I thank HC88 for the following reference: William Shirer, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 296, 526, 563f.
9. http://www.humanite.presse.fr/journal/1997/1997- 12/1997-12-10/1997-12-10-054.html
10. See our article on this at http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/faq/stalindeaths.html
11. For some examples of the half-assed anarchists who continue to support Makhno against Lenin, unfortunately we have to refer to some of the better anarchists including the Rage Against the Machine, the International Workers of the World http://iww.org/~jah/russia-rev-anar.html, the web site www.spunk.org and burn.ucsd.edu.
12. Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural
Revolution: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-1966, vol.
3, pb., (NY: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 7-8.
14. We suggest readers follow the following links: http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/wim/mythsofmao.html
For the latest in our letters to Harvard University Press on this problem and a list of links go to, our most recent web page on this subject
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