Communism's Infamous Death Toll

Communism's Infamous Death Toll

A rebuttal to the argument "communism killed x amount of people"

Supposedly one reason why communism is a bad idea is because communism entails the mass slaughter of millions. Communism (supposedly) means installing a blood thirsty dictator who will kill anyone they deem inconvenient enough. The supposed basis for this argument is that the self-styled "communist" states in the 20th century (Soviet Union, ect.) murdered millions and millions of people. For those of us who think communism could possibly be a revolutionary alternative to capitalism, it is important for us to analyze this claim since it is boasted non-stop by the promoters of the status-quo.

To start with, we should avoid trying to engage in apologia for the "communist states". These states were created through a process of counterrevolution where after overthrowing the old rulers, the masses of people were tamed and brought under communist party rule. This rule entailed the same old exploitation of labor that authentic communism would set out to abolish. The masses of people had no control over the production process, it's product, or the organization of society. Class division remained and thus the communist state was a tool to enforce class oppression. It matters very little that the ruling class was an amalgamation of high communist officials instead of shareholders of large enterprises. Despite this, we don't have to, nor should we, concede to the narrative of communist regimes being exceptionally murderous.

Those who make this argument would like us to believe that "capitalist democracies" would never be so ruthless. This kind of human toll is the specific nature of communist and Fascist states (which are very often equated by this line of argument). The reality is that all states are murderous by nature. Any state whether "democratic", Fascist, or "communist" can only exist through violent repression. The nature of the state is to enforce territorial control through regulation of the use of weapons and violence, and the accumulation of a more powerful apparatus over time that displaces local authorities.1 This naturally entails murder on a horrifying scale. Let's take the world's premier "capitalist democracy" as an example.

The United States was created when European forces arrived at the landmass the U.S. state now controls, which was already populated by native peoples. The Europeans wanted land and labor so that they could feed the needs of the expanding world capitalist system. Thus they enacted a systematic campaign of extermination on the native people. They used "scorched earth" policies to destroy the land base the natives depended on and weaponized disease to rack up a higher death count. Millions of natives were killed in what amounted to nothing less than a genocide. The native population was decimated and remains so to this day.

Let's take another example, a close ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia. This state is a theocracy which uses public maimings, and executions to punish those who step out of line. Any investigation into the death count racked up by the Saudi religious police would yield absolutely garish results, religious police, by the way, who are trained by Britain, another "capitalist democracy". Here, an exorcise will further illustrate the point.

Take all of the U.S. Presidents and British Prime Ministers that were in power for the entire duration of Stalin's ten year in power from the late 20s to the early 50s, and rack up the collective deaths they are responsible for directly and indirectly via the second world war, state repression of black people, late days of the British empire, the start of the Korean war, ect. It is completely impossible that their collective death toll would not out way that of Stalin's 20 million.

Singling out the communist states for being murderous, in order to defend capitalist states, is point blank, preposterous. Then of coarse there is the problem of inflating the actual numbers. If one attributes an 80 million death toll to Stalin, for example, (which some do) then you might as well state that the death toll is as high as 100 million, and keep arbitrarily increasing the numbers from there.

This aside, we, as those who want to argue for some kind of "communism" as a revolutionary alternative to capitalism, have to deal with the very real fact that regimes claiming "communism" carried out the dirty work that all states do. As mentioned above, the death toll Stalin bore direct and indirect responsibility for is something on the order of 20 million.2 If we want a new society, without the miseries of capitalism, we can't settle for being just as bad as every existing capitalist society. So what do we make of the legacy of the "communist states".

Ultimately, you can define words however you want, but communism as a revolutionary vision for an alternative to capitalism, had essentially nothing to do with the social structure of the communist states. Even according to Marx a communist society would be organized as a commonwealth of associated labor. Production is freely carried out to meet people's needs and people organize the society in this free association, therefore coercive apparatuses such as the state are absent. As Marx's closest political colleague, Frederick Engels, put it; "the administration of people will be replaced by the administration of things".3 Clearly this is not the type of society which existed in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, ect.

The question is then; "what were the communist states"? This question is quite open ended and I endeavor to answer it in my upcoming book "The Communist States: From Lenin To Pol Pot". I will provide the simple explanation in this article. Broadly capitalism can be defined by "investment for return in the sphere of production". This means that a group of people with the finances to do so invest in means of production, labor, and raw materials to produce items that can be sold on the market. Hopefully the sale of these items will bring a monetary return called "profit". Despite the fact that we are suppose to believe that the communist states were something completely alien to capitalism (even self-proclaimed communists, or socialists would have us believe this), they were in fact, capitalist to the core.

Productive enterprises still bought means of production, raw materials, and labor. They still used these things to produce finished products that they sold on the market for financial gain. The only difference is that these enterprises were state owned rather than by private share holders. Here are some facts about the Soviet Union to illustrate this. The Great purge that lead to the deaths of thousands of people was financed with 85 million rubles.4 The officials in charge of the economic ministries of the Soviet Union bought of the officials of other (for instance regulatory) apparatuses with money and services.5 Stalin introduced a "packet" system, essentially inflation of pay for high officials which was common in the "communist states".6

In conclusion, if "communism" just means state-capitalism, like it did in the communist states, then yes, communism should be left in the dust bin of history. However, for us communism is a completely new society which replaces capitalism all together, rather than just a move from private to state controlled capitalism. While it is certainly true that the communist states are stained with the blood of oppressed people, so to are capitalist "democracies". It is for this reason that we oppose state-capitalism and the mirage of "capitalist democracy" and work for a completely new society, for libertarian communism.

1. The Rise of the States-System, Wallerstein, 2004
2. The Soviet Century, Lewin
3. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels
4. The Soviet Century, Lewin
5. ibid
6. State-Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, Buick & Crump

State-Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, Buick & Crump
Colonization and Decolonization, Zig Zag
Saudi Arabia Uncovered, 2016

Posted By

Jun 6 2019 01:46



  • "we oppose state-capitalism and the mirage of "capitalist democracy" and work for a completely new society, for libertarian communism"

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