Sunday, December 18, 2005

Quantifying the Human Cost of Communism Part I

Every so often I get asked about how many people did Stalin kill. It is impossible to give an exact number because the records are of course incomplete. There is also the question of exactly what categories of death one counts. But, enough data exists to give a rough estimate. The categories I think should be counted towards arriving at a total death toll due to the murderous actions of the Stalin regime include deaths from deprivation in labor camps, deportation trains, special settlements and the artificial famine of 1932 to 1933 as well as executions. Many revisionists seeking to reduce the Soviet death toll in comparison to Nazi crimes seek to dismiss this last category of deaths as something other than state directed mass murder. Chief among these revisionists are Mark Tauger, Barbara Green and Stephen Wheatcroft. The last of these revisionists also seeks to minimize the moral gravity of Stalin's other crimes as well. His claim that Soviet executions during the Great Purges were a lesser crime than Nazi killings because the former were "legal" and the later "illegal" makes no sense what so ever. Both were "legal" under the regimes they took place under. Likewise both would be "illegal" under the system of international law that evolved after World War II. His dismissal of deaths in Soviet labor camps as "manslaughter" rather than murder while claiming that deaths from the same causes in Nazi camps was "murder" also makes no sense. So my series of posts on the subject of mortality in the USSR due to Soviet repression will not be making any such distinctions. In my opinion such revisionists of Stalin's crimes are far worse than David Irving because they teach Soviet history in western Universities without any protests from so called "anti-revisionists."


Chris O'Byrne said...

So how many people did Stalin kill?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Around 15 million, but I haven't gotten to that part yet.

J. Otto Pohl said...

No, I sent 75 job applications out before I got the blog and only got one interview. I don't think anybody on any of the search committees has ever read this blog. It would have been nice if my applications ever got far enough for them to google me. But, I don't think they got past the lack of teaching experience.

Chris O'Byrne said...

I was being facetious, you were supposed to tell me go fly a kite (or something equally offensive)!

But thank you, GP (Guru Pohl). Your patience with smart-ass students such as myself should be proof of your ability to teach.

Nathanael said...

The three posts (so far) are really great work. I'm glad that historians are jettisoning the apologetics and looking at the Stalinist system straight on.

One statement, however, has been eating at me:

"Many revisionists seeking to reduce the Soviet death toll in comparison to Nazi crimes seek to dismiss this last category of deaths as something other than state directed mass murder."

I understand what you are saying, but the statement treads dangerously close to the Historikerstreit. It could be that I am reading this through the lens of someone who works on Germany, which is inadequate to dealing with Soviet history. I guess I am wondering how comparable the Gulag and Auschwitz are, and whether numbers of deaths are an adequate measure of the barbarity of either? (I hope none of that sounded bitchy.)

J. Otto Pohl said...

Nathanael: Thanks for stopping by. Your comment has three different points. Each of which probably deserve a lengthy response on their own to properly deal with. But, I am going to try and be brief.

First, this series is just meant to put up a rough estimate of Stalin's victims. The statement you quote testifies to that. I am including the victims of the Holodomor. I consider it state directed murder in contrast to Wheatcroft who dismisses it as "manslaughter." It is quite evident from his writing that this downgrading is motivated by a desire to prevent the number of Soviet murder victims from exceeding those of Nazi Germany. That is the only reason I even mentioned Nazi Germany.

Second, I am not going to try and trash through a comparison of Nazi and Soviet crimes. This meaningless debate has retarded scholarship for decades. At this point I consider it to be a colossol waste of time and resources to even bother with the question of whether the Gulag and Auschwitz are comparable. There are far more interesting comparisons regarding Soviet crimes that can be made.

On your final point I agree completely.