The Red Plague

R. J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus at the Univerisity of Hawaii, writes about the size of the sheer numbers of the victims of communism during the 20th century. He is the author of Death by Government, and his website provides the evidence in detail for what he writes here.

The bubonic plague that in 1347-1353 depopulated Europe has horrified historians and surely all those who have read about it. Death. Death everywhere.
Cities and towns devastated. Whole families of several generations gone. About 25,000,000 people perished.

Yet, we have had a different kind of plague in the last century, one over four times more deadly, and historians shy away from writing about it. Indeed, most contemporaries did not even know it was occurring, for the media and politicians that were not affected by it, tended to ignore it. It was a Red Plague. A plague of democide.

As the concept of murder defines individual killing in domestic society, democide is murder by government, and includes genocide, massacres, politicide, atrocities, assassinations, extrajudicial executions, and so on. And it is focusing on this democide, rather than the genocide that is one of its components, which uncovers the true dimensions of the Red Plague that inflicted humanity, even in the life of many readers.

For about eight years, I sifted through thousands of sources trying to determine the extent of democide in this century. Because of that effort (see my Death By Government and Statistics of Democide), I am able to give some conservative figures on what is an unrivaled communist hecatomb, a Red Plague, and to compare this to overall world totals.

Table 1 below lists all communist governments that have committed any form of democide and gives their estimated low, mid-estimate (what I call the prudent estimate), and estimated high. 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.

Of course, even though systematically determined and calculated, all these figures 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 Table 1 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 massacres).

As you can see, the total mid-estimate is about 110,286,000, an incredible total. It is around 65 percent of all democide over the same period, and is about three times greater than all the international and domestic war deaths, including the two world wars, Vietnam, Korea, and the Iran-Iraq War, to mention the bloodiest. This is the Red Plague driven by ideological fervor. The Black Plague, carried by fleas from rats and not by ideology, killed a quarter of the number the communists murdered.

There is much to dwell on in the table, if your stomach is up to it, and I will only note the most incredible estimates. The Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all time, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these (I know you’ve read the toll as 20,000,000, but it was only for the 1930s and has been mistaken applied to Stalin’s full and bloody reign 1928-1953). Most of the Soviet 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 (I excluded the great famine of 1959 to about 1961 as nondemocidal – it alone cost about 27,000,000 lives). 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 henchmen 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 2 to 1.

How can we understand all this killing by communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology with the absolute power. Communists believed that they knew the truth, absolutely. They 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 from 1932-3) and communist China (about 27,000,000 dead from 1959-61, as mentioned). 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 understandably, something like 35,000,000 people fled communist countries as refugees. It is as though the countries of Argentina or Columbia had been totally emptied of all their people. This was an unparalleled vote against the utopian pretensions of Marxism.

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 misery. Those who disagreed with this worldview and even with some of the proper interpretations of Marx and Lenin were, without a scintilla of doubt, wrong. After all, did not Marx, Lenin, 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 instrument 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 Table 1. The result was the Red Plague.

Communism has been the greatest social engineering experiment of all time. It failed utterly and in doing so it probably killed the number of men, women, and children, totaled in Table 1, 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 democratic freedom and assuring a democratic peace.

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Communist states merely

Communist states merely confirm a general rule; collectivist ideologies when unchecked invariably lead to a lot of dead bodies.

Of course not Hus, you are

Of course not Hus, you are safe and secure in an ignorance supported by your government and community.

Ideology of any flavour, Nazism aside, doesn't typically condone, rationalize or promote genocide or mass murder.

But the problem in this whole thread is the confusion between ideology and governments.

Democratic battles have killed thousands of people as well as battles for Nazism and Communism.

The Phillipines had/has perpetrated the mass murder of hundreds of Communist rebels all in the name of Democracy.

Look, I'm not going to condemn Capitalistic Democracy based upon things that have or will be done in its name. It's merits and/or failings can be found easily within it's political philosophy, as it can in Communism.

Deciding to take a purely irrational emotional stance against something is the reason why the Soviets AND the Americans almost destroyed the world so many times its impossible to count.

True, playing to the crowd is fun and it can give one an enormous emotional erection, but its juvenile, dangerous and just plain ignorant.

When people start wanting to debate the merits of Communist political philosophy vs. Capitalistic Democracy, then maybe we can have a mature discussion.

Until then you will simply look like another trailer park red-neck hopped up on the power you feel when a mob of fellow ignorant red-necks are swinging baseball bats behind you.

sorry, I shouldn't have said red-neck...

* cough cough *

brown shirts

Of course you're not going

Of course you're not going to "condemn Capitalistic Democracy based upon things that have or will be done in it's name", because you can't. It's the most humane and effective system out there. Next to it, Marxism can only look inept and murderous, whether you look at the intellectual basis or whether you look at the track record (and it's perfectly fair to look at the track record). Marxist statism has led to far greater state-directed murder than free-market liberalism because of its inherent centralization of power and lack of respect for the individual. It's also led to far more starvation because of its economic stupidity.

I fail to see how the

I fail to see how the starvation and homelessness rife today in the US, the crime and drug abuse, paedophilia, sex crimes, spousal abuse, religious intolerance, trigger fingerism, the exploitation of third world nations by huge multi-nationals, propping up murderous dictators and slowly poisoning and raping the environment as being the "most humane and effective system out there".

excuse me if I NEVER buy into that trite piece of garbage, regardless of anything else.

As a Marxist I simply do not recognize the states you name as being Communist. With the "possible" exception of Cuba. But they never had a chance against the economic power the US brought to bear on the puny island state from day one.

Marxism is the only path to "respect for the individual" because it is the only system that allows people to learn to respect themselves... and not cower in a trailer or cardboard box.

You've shown your complete ignorance of Marxism, it does not teach an "inherent centralization of power"... that's more an aspect of Leninism.

Get your ideologies straight.

Daniel, really mate, get back to your Social Studies class. Mrs. Green is going to give you detention and you have cub scouts tonight so you don't want your Mom waiting all afternoon in the SUV.

When anti-capitalists

When anti-capitalists criticize Nazi Germany as an example of a murderous capitalist democracy, defenders of capitalist democracies do not respond by drawing up numbers for the deaths committed by other types of governments. It wouldn’t even occur to them. Rather, they argue that any resemblance between Nazism (the National Socialist Workers’ Party) and capitalism and/or democracy is purely coincidental. Hitler did not justify his hatred of the Jews or his desire to invade other lands by citing the need to promote capitalism or democracy. His ideology was based on the superiority of the Aryan race and German people. Indeed, it was capitalist democracies that allied to fight Hitler (the Soviets, in contrast, were happy to carve up Poland with him, and were friendly to the Nazis until Hitler violated their non-aggression pact).

On the other hand, when the crimes against humanity by Soviet Russia, Communist China, etc., are the topic of discussion, Communists want to change the focus to other crimes committed by other governments, for the purpose of arguing that Stalin and Mao were perhaps not so bad in the grand scheme of things. This lends support to the notion that they do feel the need to defend these monsters, despite their claims that Stalin et al. were not “really” Communist.

The idea that somehow Western Communists disapproved of the USSR and others who attempted to put Communist ideas into practice is also belied by the following:

1) The Communist Party of the USA was pro-Germany during WWII, until Hitler invaded Russia; then it immediately became anti-Germany.

2) CPUSA conducted espionage activities for the USSR (e.g., getting nuclear secrets from sympathizers like Julius Rosenberg and Theodore Hall).

3) Leftist thinkers in the West admired the stated goals of the USSR and often minimized its atrocities. Arthur Schlesinger visited the Soviet Union in 1982 and sang its praises, saying that those who thought the USSR was in danger of collapse were “only kidding themselves.” John Kenneth Galbraith visited in 1984 and was similarly impressed, managing not to notice the barren store shelves; he helpfully explained that “the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast to the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.” (These men may not have been officially “Communist” themselves but they did have much sympathy for Communists, and the feeling appears to be mutual.)

4)Even today, Che Guevara, who helped initiate Castro’s gulag system and presided over Cuban show trials, tortures, and executions, is a hero to Marxists.

To be fair, there were some Socialists and Communists who were horrified by Stalin (George Orwell comes to mind). But Communists both in the United States and throughout the West largely followed the lead of the Soviet Union. The USSR claimed to be a workers’ paradise that had eliminated poverty and inequality; and people believe what they want to believe, for the most part. They cheered the USSR’s triumphs, feared for its future amid hostility from the United States, and bemoaned its collapse. Indeed, they credited Communism for bringing previously backward Russia into world superpower status. When Ronald Reagan called the USSR the “Evil Empire”, he was ridiculed by Communists and their fellow travelers. If Western Communists hated the USSR so much, they wouldn’t have covered up for it, praised it, or spied for it to the extent that they did.

fedwards, You are the one


You are the one who is clearly ignorant. That's why I CORRECTED you. *duh* :lol:

I'm waiting for the example that I asked for. How long are you are going to keep me waiting?

Everything else you wrote was either a troll or bordered on psycho-babble.

Do show us an example of a successful Marxist state.

FedWard, If Cuba can't


If Cuba can't "compete" against the U.S. that's clearly a sign that Cuba's system isn't very useful. Note that Cuba's best economic fortunes came when it was being propped up by the USSR.

Starvation is "rife" today

Starvation is "rife" today in the U.S.? Statistically, how much starvation is happening in the U.S. as of say 2004?

Homelessness is rife? Statisically, how much ... 2004?

I don't have a problem with drug use. Portraying the U.S. as a drug ridden dystopia was always a common fallacy protrayed by the Soviet press though.

As to the litany of other horribles, I'd ask the same questions as above as I did concerning starvation.

As to the horrible multi-nationals, "exploiting" the poor Third Worlders, well, providing economic oppurtunity isn't what I call exploitation.

Finally, the vast majority of planet has rejected Marxism due in part to its terrible fruits.

We have a doctrinaire

We have a doctrinaire Marxist who can't stand the fact that the world has moved on.


I have to ask, to believe in the semi-mystical, deterministic, historically erroneous notion of dialectical materialism?

Fedwards, "Ideology of any


"Ideology of any flavour, Nazism aside, doesn’t typically condone, rationalize or promote genocide or mass murder"

Except for communism as amply demonstrated by the figures above (see Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, etc...) It was the ideology of the communist governments that led to the slaughter. You can justify just about anything in the name of the common good.

As for debating the merits of communism vs. democratic capitalism you may want to compare and contract North Korea Vs. South Korea. On one side you have a genocidal, starving nation unable to feed itself, which will kill anyone who does not bow to the "collective" on the other you have a wealthy prosperous democracy.

By the way, the childish name calling at the end of your last post does not do much to advance your argument.

Starvation is not rife in

Starvation is not rife in the U.S. You must be pretty disconnected to say that it is.

Anyway, the U.S. is not as libertarian as it should be. I see that as the root of most of the problems you've listed.

Marxism is incapable of determining prices effectively. So it can't run an efficient economy any more than Leninism could. Without a system that can adequately price goods and services, severe shortages occur, including food. Marxism leads to starvation, which is hardly a condition in which individuals can learn to respect themselves.

David Masden is right in

David Masden is right in that the gilded age is indeed pro-business rather than lassez-faire. But many libertarians do hold it up as a paragon, which is why I criticize it as a libertarian ideal. But I think even without government help, the titans would have risen anyhow and their monopolies remain unbroken except through government action.

Fedwards, I am in agreement with your basic point (i.e., it is unfair to use the failures of Stalin to denigrate all forms of statism) but you go way out too far on the parity limb. No way can you say that Hitler is somehow a product of democracy in the same way that Stalin is a product of marxism. It just doesn't even compute. At the same time, everybody on the other side should at least acknowledge that Marx would be horrified if he knew of the mass murder and infliction of human misery that was committed in his name. We should not denigrate Marx for coming up with new ideas on how to organize the world. We should condemn Stalin and Mao for plowing on with disasterous policies just because of blind ideology, and it should be said, personal ego.

All followers of ideologies think that their is the one true path to wisdom while everything else is gobedygook.

Daniel Sanchez,
Take a look at the comments that are left on this very thread. Don't delude yourselves. It's not just the odd anarchist who believes that all state action is inherently bad.

Brandon Berg,
Isn't it interesting that libertarians are all about individualism, but when it comes to measuring gains by society, you are all of a sudden collectivists talking about the average wage increase. Well, to talk in economic terms, the marginal utility of a dollar is dependent on how much money you already have. Therefore if you care more about the welfare of people than the exulting in the magnificent economic achievements of the collective, you look at how the pie is divvied up as well as the size of the pie.

As for your assertion that the size of the pie was growing fast enough that the average (again, that average) poor person are still better off at the end of the gilded age than at the beginning, perhaps, but what's your point? There are other periods in more recent history where the pie grew and inequality fell, and others still where the pie was fairly stagnant in size and inequality grew. The rich is getting richer right now. How's our national savings rate coming along? Our goal should be figuring out how we can grow the pie and reduce inequality. Or are you going to assume that it can't be done because Milton Friedman said so?

And I'd be a little bit more careful about asserting that you are on firmer ground because you know how markets work. The Keynesians thought they had business cycles licked back in the 60s. They were full of hubris. The supply-side evangelist similarly thought tax cuts were going to end all our ills. They too ended up with eggs on their faces. Why should I believe the libertarians when they say that market solutions are ALWAYS better than government solutions? Especially when I can see with my own eyes that France is paying less for healthcare and gets everyone covered?

Hus, Unless you think that

Unless you think that allied governments are somehow illegitimate and not truly democratic, I don't see how the fact that hitler came into power without a majority of the vote diminishes fedward's point, even if I think he is wrong in other ways.

What we have now is crony capitalism and government backed givaways to big business. I would have a lot more respect for libertarians if they came out as vociferously against crooked deals like Halliburton kickbacks and enron as they are for dismantling social security. Cure capitalism first, then we can have a honest conversation about what level of socialism we should have.

Battlepanda, Ideas have


Ideas have consequences. That Marx would be or would not be horrified is beside the point.

As to average, etc. income, individualism and capitalism creates a virtuous circle where the individual profits as well as society; Smith made this argument after all. Further, its rather silly to state that keeping statistics on the average nature of a society is collectivist.

As to France, that must be why the NHI is facing a severe financial crisis, eh, which caused the French government to call for drastic reform, eh? That's because consumer choice and price competition between health-care insurers are frowned upon in France. The reforms call for higher taxes to fund the system and the implementation of state-run "managed care" along the lines of private-run managed care in the U.S. If you want to talk about France I can it all day; I am very familiar with the country, its politics, history, culture, etc.

bpanda: "Fedwards, I am in

"Fedwards, I am in agreement with your basic point (i.e., it is unfair to use the failures of Stalin to denigrate all forms of statism) but you go way out too far on the parity limb. No way can you say that Hitler is somehow a product of democracy in the same way that Stalin is a product of marxism."

The comparison, when the diatribes are based on government, is apt.

Stalin was authoritarian from before the very beginning, Lenin's last call was to prevent Stalin from attaining power, but because of the lapses (failings) in Lenin's system Stalin managed to wrest power from the Central Committee and Trotsky, Lenin's heir-apparent, and create the nightmare state he dreamed up.

Likewise, Hitler took a popular movement which played upon the sympathies and discontent of good honest Germans after World War 2 and managed to use democracy as the system that put him into power. The lapse in the democratic system in Germany at the time allowed Hitler to prevail, coalition or not, and enshrine himself as dictator.

Hitler's Nazi Germany is to Capitalist Democracy as Stalin's Soviet Union is to Communism.

I have difficulty seeing a

I have difficulty seeing a great dichotomy between either of the great totalitarian systems.
The idea that Fascism is more closely allied to liberal democracy is a lie promoted by Marxists. Communism and Fascism are brothers in the tyranny family.
Command economies such as Hitler’s and Stalin’s seem to work fairly well in war, because everyone has the same goal and waste is expected. Even the US during WWI and WWII had a lot of temporary government control of the means of production, rationing, price fixing, big bureaucracies, etc. None of this works particularly well in a peace time economy, which explains the eventual collapse of Soviet Russia and the impoverishment of every country, such as India, Argentina etc. that has tried too much of it. America would be better off with less of it but regulation and the stifling of competition is too politically attractive. Marxists with their 100% track record of failure have no way to impose their system other than by terror, regimentation, propaganda and other impediments to free exchange. It’s pretty obvious. Also, Fedwards, how does Marxism prevent pedophilia

Dave, libertarianism like

Dave, libertarianism like its 'left' mirror, anarchy, depends too much upon the good-will of the citizens.

Give Donald Trump a 9mm and no law and you think he'll share and share alike?

course, you'll say.. well, there'll be laws... who'll apply them? police... who'll pay the police? the people... who'll collect the money? umm... the government... ad infinitum right back to laisez faire democracy...

People used to call Communism a utopian dream... they never met you guys.

btw Dave, I never said Marxism would prevent paedophilia, don't try to diminish what I said.

What I said was that the statement of Capitalist Democracy being the "most humane and effective system out there" was trite and simply wrong. The state of affairs, crime and moral turpitude in evidence in the cess pit called the USA, the epitome of free market democracy, gives all evidence to that triteness.

"Marxists with their 100% track record of failure have no way to impose their system other than by terror, regimentation, propaganda and other impediments to free exchange."

all I have to say to that... McCarthyism... Reaganomics.

Yep... America never had to scare the sh&t out of it's people.

"Fed"- I just think you

"Fed"- I just think you can't blame all human failings on Capitalism nor expect Marxism to be the cure. I think the strength of a system allowing liberterianism is diffusion of power, monolithic systems produce tyrants. So do libertarian systems but they are little tyrants. But there is also room for some good guys to have power.

I'm sorry, didn't the U.S.

I'm sorry, didn't the U.S. kill like almost all the Native Americans, didn't we slaughter people in the philipeans? Don't our corporations starve and opress people south of the 33rd parralel? Don't we have more of our citizens waiting death in prison than any other country in the world? isnt like most of our political prisoners women? Don't our social programs tell us how to raise our children and even take them from our homes? Are we actually only free to do exactly what we are told? How many people were slaughtered to ensure this capitalist aparatus stays afloat? No, Communism is the wrong way to go, we need socialism without the state, governments are an uneccesary evil, that's why so many people all over the globe are realizing true anarchy is the key to having a peacefull society Hast la victoria siempre!

Professor Rummel: Bravo sir!

Professor Rummel:

Bravo sir! My colleagues and acquaintances indoctrinated with the Marxist ideology of colleges and even high schools, the "wisdom" of the labor unions and the sexy appeal of income redistribution and "free" health care for all have no idea that for this intellectually dishonest theory, over 100 million people were murdered (Stalin had anyone who retreated an inch in some WWII battles summarily shot-some in the back while they continued to fire at the Germans-they died by the tens of thousands at the hands of their own commanders while fighting FOR the Soviet Union!). They also have no idea about how easily any city, state or country could slip into the sickening mire of it all-and the only way that communism and socialism have ever kept going was through murderous force.

May we never taste that "freedom and equality" of Karl Marx nor Mao's "love from the barrel of a gun"