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Template:Infobox book The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression is a book which describes a history of repressions, both political and civilian, by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, and artificial famines. The book was originally published in 1997 in France under the title Le Livre noir du communisme: Crimes, terreur, répression by Éditions Robert Laffont. In the United States it is published by Harvard University Press.[1] The book was authored by several European academics and edited by Stéphane Courtois.[2]


Estimated number of victims

In the introduction, editor Stéphane Courtois states that "...Communist regimes...turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". He cites a death toll which totals 94 million, not counting the "excess deaths" (decrease of the population due to lower than-expected birth rates). The breakdown of the number of deaths given by Courtois is as follows:

Courtois claims that Communist regimes are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. The statistics of victims includes executions, intentional destruction of population by starvation, and deaths resulting from deportations, physical confinement, or through forced labor.

Soviet repressions

Repressions and famines occurring in the Soviet Union under the regimes of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin described in the book include:

Comparison of Communism and Nazism

Courtois considers Communism and Nazism slightly different totalitarian systems. He claims that Communist regimes have killed "approximately 100 million people in contrast to the approximately 25 million victims of Nazis".[5] Courtois claims that Nazi Germany's methods of mass extermination were adopted from Soviet methods. As an example, he cites Nazi state official Rudolf Höss who organized the infamous death camp in Auschwitz. According to Höss,[5]

"The Reich Security Head Office issued to the commandants a full collection of reports concerning the Russian concentration camps. These described in great detail the conditions in, and organization of, the Russian camps, as supplied by former prisoners who had managed to escape. Great emphasis was placed on the fact that the Russians, by their massive employment of forced labor, had destroyed whole peoples".

Courtois argues that the Soviet genocides of peoples living in the Caucasus and exterminations of large social groups in Russia were not very much different from similar policies by Nazis. Both Communist and Nazi systems deemed "a part of humanity unworthy of existence. The difference is that the Communist model is based on the class system, the Nazi model on race and territory."[5] Courtois stated that[6]

"The "genocide of a "class" may well be tantamount to the genocide of a "race" - the deliberate starvation of a child of a Ukrainian kulak as a result of the famine caused by Stalin's regime "is equal to" the starvation of a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto as a result of the famine caused by the Nazi regime".

He also added that "after 1945 the Jewish genocide became a byword for modern barbarism, the epitome of twentieth-century mass terror... more recently, a single-minded focus on the Jewish genocide in an attempt to characterize the Holocaust as a unique atrocity has also prevented the assessment of other episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world. After all, it seems scarcely plausible that the victors who had helped bring about the destruction of a genocidal apparatus might themselves have put the very same methods into practice. When faced with this paradox, people generally preferred to bury their heads in sand."


The book has evoked a wide variety of responses, ranging from enthusiastic support to severe criticism.


The Black Book of Communism received praise in a number of publications in the United States and Britain, including the Times Literary Supplement, New York Times Book Review, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The New Republic, National Review and The Weekly Standard.[7] Some reviewers compared the book to The Black Book, a documentary record of the Nazi atrocities by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman.[8] The phrase "livre noir" has however been frequently used for more than a century in France.[9]

According to review by historian Tony Judt in The New York Times:[7] "The myth of the well-intentioned founders--the good czar Lenin betrayed by his evil heirs--has been laid to rest for good. No one will any longer be able to claim ignorance or uncertainty about the criminal nature of Communism"

Anne Applebaum, journalist and author of Gulag: A History[7] described the book as "a serious, scholarly history of Communist crimes in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Africa, and Latin America...The Black Book does indeed surpass many of its predecessors in conveying the grand scale of the Communist tragedy, thanks to its authors' extensive use of the newly opened archives of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe."

Martin Malia, writing for the Times Literary Supplement[7], described the book as "the publishing sensation in France.. detailing Communism's crimes from Russia in 1917 to Afghanistan in 1989...[The Black Book of Communism] gives a balance sheet of our present knowledge of Communism's human costs, archivally based where possible, and otherwise drawing on the best secondary works, and with due allowance for the difficulties of quantification."

The Council of Europe based its Resolution 1481, which condemned totalitarian communist regimés, upon the figures from the book.


Estimated number of victims

Estimates for the number of victims in the Soviet Union range between 3.5 and 60 million[10][11], and those for Mao Zedong's China range between 19.5 and 75 million.[10] The authors of the Black Book defend their estimates for the Soviet Union (20 million) and Eastern Europe (1 million) by stating that they made use of sources that were not available to previous researchers.[citation needed] At the same time, the authors acknowledge that the estimates from China and other nations still ruled by communist parties are uncertain since their archives are still closed. French journalist Gilles Perrault, writing in an op-ed in Le Monde diplomatique has accused the authors of having used incorrect data and of having manipulated figures.[12]

Some of the estimates given in the Black Book have been deemed "too conservative" by some scholars. For example, regarding the Soviet famine of 1946-48, Michael Ellman writes:

"In their ‘black book’, Courtois et al. (1997, pp. 258–64) do discuss the famine. The number of victims they give, however, while correct (‘at least 500,000’) is formulated in an extremely conservative way, since the actual number of victims was much larger." (1,000,000 to 1,500,000 excess deaths according to Ellman)[13]

Argument that the book is one-sided

Some pointed out that the book's account of violence is one-sided. Amir Weiner of Stanford University characterizes the "Black Book" as seriously flawed, inconsistent, and prone to mere provocation. In particular, the authors are said to savage Marxist ideology.[14] The methodology of the authors has been criticized. Alexander Dallin writes that moral, legal, or political judgement hardly depends on the number of victims.[15] It is also argued that a similar chronicle of violence and death tolls can be constructed from an examination of colonialism and capitalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, the Black Book's attribution of 1 million deaths in Vietnam to Communism while ignoring the U.S. role has been criticized as a methodological flaw.[16]

Critics have argued that capitalist countries could be held responsible for a similar number of deaths. Noam Chomsky, for example, writes that Amartya Sen in the early 1980s estimated the excess of mortality in India over China due to the latter's "relatively equitable distribution of medical resources" at close to 4 million a year. Chomsky therefore argues that, "suppos[ing] we now apply the methodology of the Black Book and its reviewers" to India, "the democratic capitalist 'experiment' has caused more deaths than in the entire history of ... Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, and tens of millions more since, in India alone."[17]

Journalist Daniel Singer has also criticized the Black Book for discussing the faults of communist states while ignoring their positive achievements; he says that "if you look at Communism as merely the story of crimes, terror and repression, to borrow the subtitle of the Black Book, you are missing the point." According to him, "The Soviet Union did not rest on the gulag alone. There was also enthusiasm, construction, the spread of education and social advancement for millions." He also argues that if communism can be blamed for famines, capitalism should be blamed for most or all deaths from poverty in the world at the present time.[18]

Historian Ján Křen said in interview that when Karel Bartošek and other co-authors found out the book "is heading towards conjectural shallowness, in which communism is reduced to terror only, there was a bad conflict, which couldn't be solved, because agreement was signed and Stephane Courtois pressured them".[19]

Disputing the "terror-famine" thesis

Historian J. Arch Getty noted that famine accounted for a significant part of Courtois's 100 million death toll. He believes that these famines were caused by the "stupidity or incompetence of the regime," and that the deaths resulting from the famines, as well as other deaths that "resulted directly or indirectly from government policy," should not be counted as if they were equivalent to intentional murders and executions.[20]

Mark Tauger disagrees with the authors' thesis that the famine of 1933 was artificial and genocidal. Tauger asserts that the authors' interpretation of the famine contains errors, misconceptions, and omissions that invalidate their arguments.[21] Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and several historians of the period (such as Dmitri Volkogonov and Aleksandr Bushkov) also developed the views according to which the famine was not racially and politically motivated (which also represents the official stance of the Russian government). However, the historian James Mace wrote that Mark Tauger's view of the famine "is not taken seriously by either Russians or Ukrainians who have studied the topic."[22] Moreover, Stephen Wheatcroft, author of The Years of Hunger, claims Tauger's view represents the opposite extreme in arguing the famine was totally accidental.[23]

Professor Alexander Dallin said the authors make no attempt to differentiate between intended crimes such as the Moscow show trials and policy choices that had unintended consequences such as the Chinese famine.[15]

Disputing the comparison of Nazism and Communism

Vladimir Tismăneanu, in his review of the Black Book in the journal "Human Rights Review", argued that the Black Book's comparison between Communism and Nazism was both morally and scholarly justifiable.[24] Others however have rejected the comparison.[25]

Two of the Black Book's contributors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, sparked a debate in France when they publicly disassociated themselves from Courtois's statements in the introduction about the scale of Communist terror. They felt that he was being obsessed with arriving at a total of 100 million victims. They instead estimated that Communism has claimed between 65 and 93 million lives.[26] They also rejected his equation of Soviet repression with Nazi genocide. Werth said there was still a qualitative difference between Nazism and Communism. He told Le Monde, "Death camps did not exist in the Soviet Union",[27] and "The more you compare Communism and Nazism, the more the differences are obvious."[28]

The Black Book's assessment is consistent with the anti-communist[29] Tony Judt who in his book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (in the words of The American Conservative magazine) "makes plain that for many Soviet citizens, life under the Nazis was better than life under the communists".[29]

Courtois' insists that the Holocaust was "actively commemorated" thanks to the efforts of the "international Jewish community" and that a "single-minded focus on the Jewish genocide... has prevented an assessment of other episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world."[30]

Some scholars hold Courtois' anti-Communism responsible for historical revisionism and accuse him of blurring the memory of Vichy and Nazi crimes. During the trial of convicted war criminal Maurice Papon, Papon's lawyer attempted to introduce the Black Book into evidence. Holocaust historian Annette Wievriorka argued that the Black Book attempted to substitute the memory of Communism for the memory of Nazi crimes and displace accounts of Nazi atrocities.[31]

See also


  1. Ronit Lenṭin, Mike Dennis, Eva Kolinsky (2003). Representing the Shoah for the Twenty-first Century. Berghahn Books. p. 217. ISBN 1571818022.
  2. List of authors: Martin Malia wrote the foreword to the English edition.
  3. While in the book itself, Nicolas Werth mentions 15.
  4. While in the book itself, Jean-Louis Margolin mentions half this number.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Black book, Introduction, page 15.
  6. Black book, Introduction, page 9.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Harvard University Press: The Black Book of Communism : Crimes, Terror, Repression by Stéphane Courtois". Retrieved 2008-02-24.
  8. Henry Rousso (edt), Stalinism and Nazism: History and Memory Compared (2004), ISBN 0-8032-3945-9, p. xiii
  9. , for example, Un livre noir: diplomatie d'avant-guerre d'après les documents des archives russes: novembre 1910, juillet 1914, Paris, Librairie du travail, 1922.
  10. 10.0 10.1 [1]
  11. Ponton, G. (1994) The Soviet Era.
  12. "Communisme, les falsifications d’un « livre noir »", Gilles Perrault, Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1997
  13. Michael Ellman, The 1947 Soviet Famine and the Entitlement Approach to Famines Cambridge Journal of Economics 24 (2000): 603-630.
  14. Amir Weiner, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Winter, 2002), pp. 450-452
  15. 15.0 15.1 Alexander Dallin, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 4
  16. Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience By Paul Le Blanc, Dennis Brutus
  17. Chomsky, Noam (2000): Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, pp. 177-178, Pluto Press, ISBN 978-0745317083.
  18. "Exploiting a Tragedy, or Le Rouge en Noir". Archived from the original on 2008-02-18. Retrieved 2008-02-24.
  19. "Ještě jednou o Karlu Bartoškovi (czech)". Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  20. J Arch Getty, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston: Mar 2000. Vol.285, Iss. 3; pg. 113, 4 pgs
  21. [2]
  22. James Mace, Intellectual Europe on Ukrainian Genocide, The Day, October 21, 2003
  23. Wheatcroft, S. G. TOWARDS EXPLAINING SOVIET FAMINE OF 1931-3: POLITICAL AND NATURAL FACTORS IN PERSPECTIVE, Food and Foodways, 2004, 12:2, 107 — 136
  24. Vladimir Tismaneanu, Communism and the human condition: Reflections on the Black Book of Communism, Human Rights Review, Vol 2, Nbr 2, January 2001, Springer Netherlands
  25. Omer Bartov, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, Volume 3, Number 2, Spring 2002, pp. 281-302
  26. Le Monde, 14 November 1997
  27. J Arch Getty, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston: Mar 2000.Vol.285, Iss. 3; pg. 113, 4 pgs [3]
  28. Le Monde, 21 September 2000
  29. 29.0 29.1 [4]
  30. International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (PDF). Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, Chapter 13. Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority). Retrieved 2008-10-14.
  31. Richard Joseph Golsan,French Writers and the Politics of Complicity

Further reading

External links

bg:Черната книга на комунизма cs:Černá kniha komunismu da:Kommunismens sorte bog de:Das Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus et:Kommunismi must raamat es:El libro negro del comunismo eo:La nigra libro de la komunismo fr:Le Livre noir du communisme hr:Crna knjiga komunizma is:Svartbók kommúnismans it:Il libro nero del comunismo hu:A kommunizmus fekete könyve nl:Het zwartboek van het communisme no:Kommunismens svartebok pl:Czarna księga komunizmu pt:O Livro Negro do Comunismo ro:Cartea neagră a comunismului ru:Чёрная книга коммунизма sk:Čierna kniha komunizmu fi:Kommunismin musta kirja sv:Kommunismens svarta bok tr:Komünizmin Kara Kitabı uk:Чорна книга комунізму vi:Le Livre noir du communisme zh:共產主義黑皮書

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