Everyone is aware of how costly in lives and
material a war can be, and for good reason many scholars,
researchers, intellectuals, and interested citizens
therefore focus on how war might be prevented. Few,
however, are aware of even a more deadly scourge, that is
genocide and mass murder. The recent events in Rwanda have
for a moment riveted attention on a genocide that within a
few months has cost at least 500,000 lives. But if history
is any guide, memory of this genocide will soon disappear
and attention will refocus on the horrors of war. Yet in
this century, genocide and mass murder has killed about
170,000,000 people, or over four times all those killed
from battle in all this century's international and
domestic wars. Communism, that is communist nations, have
been responsible for most of this killing. Itself, this one
ideology, has murdered about three times those battle
killed in war.
        I wrote the following on the death toll from
communism and am distributing it on the internet. It is
clear that an enemy far worse than war itself is
totalitarianism (which includes Nazi Germany). And, as I
point out, the solution is the universalization of civil
and political rights, that is, liberal democracy.
8 October, 1994

How Many Have Communists Murdered?

R. J. Rummel
Professor of Political Science
University of Hawaii

Based on R.J.Rummel, Death By Government (New Brunswick,
NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994)

        With the passing of communism into history as an
ideological alternative to democracy it is time to do some
accounting of its human costs.
Few would deny any longer that communism--Marxism-Leninism
and its variants--meant in practice bloody terrorism,
deadly purges, lethal gulags and forced labor, fatal
deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions
and show trials, and genocide. It is also widely known that
as a result millions of innocent people have been murdered
in cold blood. Yet there has been virtually no concentrated
statistical work on what this total might be.
        For about eight years I have been sifting through
thousands of sources trying to determine the extent of
democide (genocide and mass murder) in this century. As a
result of that effort I am able to give some conservative
figures on what is an unrivaled communist hecatomb, and to
compare this to overall world totals.
        First, however, I should clarify the term
democide. It means for governments what murder means for an
individual under municipal law. It is the premeditated
killing of a person in cold blood, or causing the death of
a person through reckless and wanton disregard for their
life. Thus, a government incarcerating people in a prison
under such deadly conditions that they die in a few years
is murder by the state--democide--as would parents letting
a child die from malnutrition and exposure be murder. So
would government forced labor that kills a person within
months or a couple of years be murder. So would government
created famines that then are ignored or knowingly
aggravated by government action be murder of those who
starve to death. And obviously, extrajudicial executions,
death by torture, government massacres, and all genocidal
killing be murder. However, judicial executions for crimes
the internationally would be considered capital offenses,
such as for murder or treason (as long as it is clear that
these are not fabricated for the purpose of executing the
accused, as in communist show trials), is not democide. Nor
is democide the killing of enemy soldiers in combat or of
armed rebels, nor of noncombatants as a result of military
action against military targets.
        With this understanding of democide, the following
lists all communist governments that have committed any
form of democide and gives their estimated total domestic
and foreign democide and its annual rate (the percent of a
government's domestic population murdered per year). It
also shows the total for communist guerrillas (including
quasi-governments, as of the Mao soviets in China prior to
the communist victory in 1949) and the world total for all
governments and guerrillas (including such
quasi-governments as of the White Armies during the Russian
civil war in 1917-1922).
        Each line in the list gives, in order, the
communist regime or group, years in existence up through
1987, amount of democide in thousands, and the annual rate
of democide in percent. The world total democide of all
regimes and groups, whether communist or not.

Afghanistan     1978-87 228             .157
Albania 1944-87 100             .118
Angola  1975-87 125             .302
Bulgaria        1944-87 222             .062
Cambodia        1975-79 2,035           8.161
Cambodia        1979-87 230             .398
China           1949-87 35,236  .120
Cuba            1959-87 73              .028
Czech.  1948-68 65              .024
Ethiopia        1974-87 725             .162
Germany,E.      1948-87 70              .011
Grenada 1983            0.106           NA
Hungary 1948-87 27              .007
Korea, North    1948-87 1,663           .250
Laos (PDR)      1975-87 56              .124
Mongolia        1926-87 100             .187
Mozambique      1975-87 198             .123
Nicaragua       1979-87 5               .020
Poland  1948-87 22              .002
Rumania 1948-87 435             .055
USSR            1917-87 61,911  .422
Vietnam 1945-87 1,670           .105
Yemen, S.       1967-87 1               .002
Yugoslavia      1944-87 1,072           .118

SUBTOTAL        1900-87 106,267 .477
GUERRILLAS      1900-87 4,019           NA
TOTAL   1900-87 110,286 .477
WORLD TOTAL     1900-87 169,199 .235

        Of course, even though systematically determined
and calculated, all these figures and their graph are only
rough approximations. Even were we to have total access to
all communist archives we still would not be able to
calculate precisely how many the communists murdered.
Consider that even in spite of the archival statistics and
detailed reports of survivors, the best experts still
disagree by over 40 percent on the total number  of Jews
killed by the Nazis. We cannot expect near this accuracy
for the victims of communism. We can, however, get a
probable order of magnitude and a relative approximation of
these deaths within a most likely range. And that is what
the figures in list are meant to be. Their apparent
precision is only due to the total for most communist
governments being the summation of dozens of subtotals (as
of forced labor deaths each year) and calculations (as in
extrapolating scholarly estimates of executions or
        With this understood, the Soviet Union appears the
greatest megamurderer of all, apparently killing near
61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost
43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around
39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and
transit thereto. Communist China up to 1987, but mainly
from 1949 through the cultural revolution, which alone may
have seen over 1,000,000 murdered, is the second worst
megamurderer. Then there are the lesser megamurderers, such
as North Korea and Tito's Yugoslavia.
        Obviously the population that is available to kill
will make a big difference in the total democide, and thus
the annual percentage rate of democide is revealing. By
far, the most deadly of all communist countries and,
indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the
Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some
2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978
out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual
rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds
of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot's rule of
slightly over just over 2 to 1.
        In sum the communist probably have murdered
something like 110,000,000, or near two-thirds of all those
killed by all governments, quasi-governments, and
guerrillas from 1900 to 1987. Of course, the world total
itself it shocking. It is several times the 38,000,000
battle-dead that have been killed in all this century's
international and domestic wars. Yet the probable number of
murders by the Soviet Union alone--one communist country--
well surpasses this cost of war. And those murders of
communist China almost equal it.
        I should note that communist forced labor was
particularly deadly, killing about 53,000,000 people. It
not only accounts for half the deaths under communism, but
is close to the world total of almost 59,000,000, which
also includes colonial forced labor deaths (as in German,
Portuguese, and Spanish colonies). Communists also
committed genocide, to be sure, killing almost 12,000,000
people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity, is
about a quarter of the world total . Communists are much
less disposed to massacre then were many other noncommunist
governments (such as the Japanese military during World War
II, or the Nationalist Chinese government from 1928 to
1949). Communists were much more discriminating in their
killing overall, even to the extent that in the Soviet
Union, communist China, and Vietnam, at least, they used a
quota system. Top officials would order local officials to
kill a certain number of "enemies of the people,"
"rightists", or "tyrants".
        How can we understand all this killing by
communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology
with absolute power. Communists believed that they knew the
truth, absolutely. The believed that they knew through
Marxism what would bring about the greatest human welfare
and happiness. And they believed that power, the
dictatorship of the proletariat, must be used to tear down
the old feudal or capitalist order and rebuild society and
culture to realize this utopia. Nothing must stand in the
way of its achievement. Government--the Communist
Party--was thus above any law. All institutions, cultural
norms, traditions, and sentiments were expendable. And the
people were as though lumber and bricks, to be used in
building the new world.
        Constructing this utopia was seen as though a war
on poverty, exploitation, imperialism, and inequality. And
for the greater good, as in a real war, people are killed.
And thus this war for the communist utopia had its
necessary enemy casualties, the clergy, bourgeoisie,
capitalists, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries, rightists,
tyrants, rich, landlords, and noncombatants that
unfortunately got caught in the battle. In a war millions
may die, but the cause may be well justified, as in the
defeat of Hitler and an utterly racist Nazism. And to many
communists, the cause of a communist utopia was such as to
justify all the deaths. The irony of this is that communism
in practice, even after decades of total control, did not
improve the lot of the average person, but usually made
their living conditions worse than before the revolution.
It is not by chance that the greatest famines have occurred
within the Soviet Union (about 5,000,000 dead during
1921-23 and 7,000,000 during 1932-3) and communist China
(about 27,000,000 dead from 1959-61). In total almost
55,000,000 people died in various communist famines and
associated diseases, a little over 10,000,000 of them from
democidal famine. This is as though the total population of
Turkey, Iran, or Thailand had been completely wiped out.
And that something like 35,000,000 people fled communist
countries as refugees, as though the countries of Argentina
or Columbia had been totally emptied of all their people,
was an unparalleled vote against the utopian pretensions of
        But communists could not be wrong. After all,
their knowledge was scientific, based on historical
materialism,  an understanding of the dialectical process
in nature and human society, and a materialist (and thus
realistic) view of nature. Marx has shown empirically where
society has been and why, and he and his interpreters
proved that it was destined for a communist end. No one
could prevent this, but only stand in the way and delay it
at the cost of more human miser y. Those who disagreed with
this world view and even with some of the proper
interpretations of Marx and Lenin were, without a scintilla
of doubt, wrong. After all, did not Marx or Lenin or Stalin
or Mao say that. . . . In other words, communism was like a
fanatical religion. It had its revealed text and chief
interpreters. It had its priests and their ritualistic
prose with all the answers. It had a heaven, and the proper
behavior to reach it. It had its appeal to faith. And it
had its crusade against nonbelievers.
        What made this secular religion so utterly lethal
was its seizure of all the state's instruments of force and
coercion and their immediate use to destroy or control all
independent sources of power, such as the church, the
professions, private businesses, schools, and, of course,
the family. The result is what we see in the above list.
        But communism does not stand alone in such mass
murder. We do have the example of Nazi Germany, which may
have itself murdered some 20,000,000 Jews, Poles,
Ukrainians, Russians, Yugoslavs, Frenchmen, and other
nationalities. Then there is the Nationalist government of
China under Chiang Kai-shek, which murdered near 10,000,000
Chinese from 1928 to 1949, and the Japanese militarists who
murdered almost 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians,
Indochinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and others during World
War II. And then we have the 1,000,000 or more Bengalis and
Hindus killed in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971 by
the Pakistan military. Nor should we forget the mass
expulsion of ethnic Germans and German citizens from
Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, particularly by
the Polish government as it seized the German Eastern
Territories, killing perhaps over 1,000,000 of them. Nor
should we ignore the 1,000,000 plus deaths in Mexico from
1900 to 1920, many of these poor Indians and peasants being
killed by forced labor on barbaric haciendas. And one could
go on and on to detail various kinds of noncommunist
        But what connects them all is this. As a
government's power is more unrestrained, as its power
reaches into all the corners of culture and society, and as
it is less democratic, then the more likely it is to kill
its own citizens. There is more than a correlation here. As
totalitarian power increases, democide multiplies until it
curves sharply upward when totalitarianism is near
absolute. As a governing elite has the power to do whatever
it wants, whether to satisfy its most personal desires, to
pursue what it believes is right and true, it may do so
whatever the cost in lives. In this case power is the
necessary condition for mass murder. Once an elite have it,
other causes and conditions can operated to bring about the
immediate genocide, terrorism, massacres, or whatever
killing an elite feels is warranted.
        Finally, at the extreme of totalitarian power we
have the greatest extreme of democide. Communist
governments have almost without exception wielded the most
absolute power and their greatest killing (such as during
Stalin's reign or the height of Mao's power) has taken
place when they have been in their own history most
totalitarian. As most communist governments underwent
increasing liberalization and a loosening of centralized
power in the 1960s through the 1980s, the pace of killing
dropped off sharply.
        Communism has been the greatest social engineering
experiment we have ever seen. It failed utterly and in
doing so it killed over 100,000,000 men, women, and
children in cold blood, not to mention the near 30,000,000
of its subjects that died in its often aggressive wars and
the rebellions it provoked. But there is a larger lesson to
be learned from this horrendous sacrifice to one ideology.
That is that no one can be trusted with power. The more
power the center has to impose the beliefs of an
ideological or religious elite or impose the whims of a
dictator, the more likely human lives are to be sacrificed.
This is but one reason, but perhaps the most important one,
for fostering liberal democracy.

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