- Hardcover: 858 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674076087
- ISBN-13: 978-0674076082
- Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 2 x 10.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 160 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression
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When it was first published in France in 1997, Le livre noir du Communisme touched off a storm of controversy that continues to rage today. Even some of his contributors shied away from chief editor Stéphane Courtois's conclusion that Communism, in all its many forms, was morally no better than Nazism; the two totalitarian systems, Courtois argued, were far better at killing than at governing, as the world learned to its sorrow.
Communism did kill, Courtois and his fellow historians demonstrate, with ruthless efficiency: 25 million in Russia during the Bolshevik and Stalinist eras, perhaps 65 million in China under the eyes of Mao Zedong, 2 million in Cambodia, millions more Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America--an astonishingly high toll of victims. This freely expressed penchant for homicide, Courtois maintains, was no accident, but an integral trait of a philosophy, and a practical politics, that promised to erase class distinctions by erasing classes and the living humans that populated them. Courtois and his contributors document Communism's crimes in numbing detail, moving from country to country, revolution to revolution. The figures they offer will likely provoke argument, if not among cliometricians then among the ideologically inclined. So, too, will Courtois's suggestion that those who hold Lenin, Trotsky, and Ho Chi Minh in anything other than contempt are dupes, witting or not, of a murderous school of thought--one that, while in retreat around the world, still has many adherents. A thought-provoking work of history and social criticism, The Black Book of Communism fully merits the broadest possible readership and discussion. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In France, this damning reckoning of communism's worldwide legacy was a bestseller that sparked passionate arguments among intellectuals of the Left. Essentially a body count of communism's victims in the 20th century, the book draws heavily from recently opened Soviet archives. The verdict: communism was responsible for between 85 million and 100 million deaths in the century. In France, both sales and controversy were fueled, as Martin Malia notes in the foreword, by editor Courtois's specific comparison of communism's "class genocide" with Nazism's "race genocide." Courtois, the director of research at the prestigious Centre Research National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and editor of the journal Communisme, along with the other distinguished French and European contributors, delivers a fact-based, mostly Russia-centered wallop that will be hard to refute: town burnings, mass deportations, property seizures, family separations, mass murders, planned faminesAall chillingly documented from conception to implementation. The book is divided into five sections. The first and largest takes readers from the "Paradoxes of the October Revolution" through "Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System" to "The Exit from Stalinism." Seeing the U.S.S.R. as "the cradle of all modern Communism," the book's other four sections document the horrors of the Iron Curtain countries, Soviet-backed agitation in Asia and the Americas, and the Third World's often violent embrace of the system. A conclusionA"Why?"Aby Courtois, points to a bureaucratic, "purely abstract vision of death, massacre and human catastrophe" rooted in Lenin's compulsion to effect ideals by any means necessary. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The book began with the rise of the Bolsheviks and Lenin's (1870-1924) and the Red Terror. Readers should know that the Bolsheviks faced civil war against the Whites (those opposed to the Bolsheviks), White Terror, and war with the Polish. These wars did not end until the early 1920s, and the Red Terror was excessive which even Lenin admitted later.
Stalin (1878-195e) succeeded Lenin, and Stalin never saw a mass purge he did not like. Stalin's purges began with his massive famine murder against the Kulaks and other Ukrainians from 1928-1934) which claimed between seven million and eleven million people. Dolot's book titled EXECUTION BY HUNGER gives readers the actual means of execution. Stalin claimed that he "liquidated" seventeen million Ukrainians when Stalin was at the Yalta Conference in 1945. This may be exaggerated as Stalin was drunk at the time.
Stalin followed the famine purge with more purges. In 1934, Stalin had the popular leader of the Leningrad Communist Party assassinated. The propaganda ploy was that plots were in motion orchestrated by traitors, British agents, and capitalists. All of Lenin's faithful surviving followers were either shot or sent the concentration camps. Since Stalin's Five Year Plans did not work, plant managers and engineers were arrested for sabotage and called "wreckers" of the economy. When the Stalinoids started to run out of "criminals," innocent people were arrested as class enemies. Others were arrested for not being enthusiastic enough for the Revolution-and Stalin. The authors mentioned an incident whereby a mechanic did not tighten a bolt. The other workers and managers were arrested as wreckers and saboteurs. Stalin also had Red Army officers due to Stalin's paranoia. Some historians claim that had Stalin not slowed the purges in 1938, he did so "just in time." If the purges had stopped, the Soviets would have lost 40% of their population.
When WW II ended in 1945, Russians and Westerners thought the purges would stop. Yet, Stalin had the leaders of Leningrad purged. Stalin ordered purges in Eastern Europe specially in Poland. When the Germans could not eliminate all of the Catholic clergy and dignitaries, Stalin tried to do so. Yet, Stalin was aware of strong Polish Catholic ties, and he said that trying to impose Communism on the Polish was akin to putting saddles on cows. The Polish Communist secret police took dissidents and anyone seen as a threat to police basements for severe beating and torture. Hungarian Communist Secret Police arrested innocent people and especially Jewish people. The Hungarian secret police were particularly abusive toward women for which some paid a ghastly price in the 1956 Hungarian Rebellion. Stalin's post WW II purges were aimed at Jewish people especially the Doctors Plot which only ended with Stalin's death. What frustrated Stalin was the fact that Communist Tito thwarted Stalin's attempted. In other words, Communist Tito purged the purgers.
The authors mentioned Communist regimes in Africa and Latin America. While these regimes did not get much attention, the Communists took advantage of corrupt, incompetent political systems. The authors wrote about Castro's (1928-present) control of Cuba when he outsmarted the corrupt Batista. Che Geuvera (1926-1967) made a similar effort in Bolivia but failed at the cost of his life.
The authors also did not omit Asia. Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) outsmarted Chang Kai-shek (1897-1975). Chang's regime was also corrupt and inept. The Communists' control of China, North Korea, and Vietnam was actually latent nationalism against imperialism. Mao was obviously no saint. One page 463, the authors had a map of Chinese Communist concentration camps. The attempt of Mao's Great Leap Forward (1958) was an economic disaster. Mao's Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s was a complete failure. The fanatical Red Guards used mass mob violence and murder. The Red Guards were so out of control that civil war erupted and the Chinese Red Army had to restore "law-and-order"-and sanity.
Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) got control of North Vietnam and his troops eventually defeated the French and the Americans. Ho's successors replaced the very corrupt and incredibly stupid South Vietnamese leaders. Of course Ho and his leaders had their own secret police and concentration camps. What the authors should have done is write how the Asian revolutions were more a response to end imperialism/colonialism. Events in Cambodia were the result of US diplomatic blunders with brought the murderous Pol Pot regime to power.
What us a revolutinary? Dostoevsky described a revolutionary "...and he carries on living only so that he can ensure the destruction of society." While the book is long, it is well written and documented. The index is complete. With all calls for "detention" camps for those who are different and the calls for building walls, this book is a reminder what can happen when people want power and no rights. The book is solid.
The author has an interesting perspective on the question of whether or not the terror of Communism can be compared to that of Nazism. Apparently, the very idea of comparing the two is taboo in genteel society. It seems that the anointed and noble Communists commit murder in the name of ridding the world of war and poverty whilst killers of boorish and ignoble stripe are vile and evil simply because they are at least dumb enough to make no such pretensions. He poses the question this way: Is it right to excuse terror when performed under the color of abolishing war and poverty, or is the excusing wrong precisely because the terror is perpetrated in the name of abolishing war and poverty.
I believe it was in the book "Witness" by Whitaker Chambers where this same question is presented comparing the noble terror of Communism with that of boorish Nazism. Chambers, when talking with other former communists, to test the veracity of their break with the faith, he would ask, "What is Communism"? If they answered, "Communism is Fascism". Then he knew that this person has truly broken with the religion.
It seems many are attracted to collectivist ideologies because these political cults claim to hold the secret to ending the two great scourges of poverty and war. To achieve his noble goal the true believer can then justify any means necessary, even if it produces famine and war far beyond anything that has gone before. The goal is so noble that no amount of other people’s blood and suffering can cause the true believer to question a single tenant of the faith.
It seems mankind has always been plagued by these murder cults but none has had such noble ideals, which may explain why the holy men of Communism have been able to get away with racking up a body count of such scale with little or no complaint or even complacency and collaboration from those on the outside. Outsiders who also believe in the eradication of poverty and war may feel compelled to give these monsters a pass because of their shared and noble goals.