Only rarely does an eight hundred page book of essays cause a national controversy - only when the nation is France and the tome is a condemnation of the crimes of Communism.
The Black Book of Communism offers a single thesis - that Communism as practiced in Europe and Asia was a massively criminal system, existing in a state of war against its own people. Only once the people surrendered all their power did Communism end its periodic terrors. The Black Book draws up a list of charges against Communism, most noticeably its staggering death toll, but also the prison camps present in every Communist country, the massive deportation of racial minorities, and the loss of human liberty and dignity under the control of a totalitarian state.
The simple number of deaths provides perhaps the most unanswerable argument against Communism. The editor, Stephane Courtois, thus offers an approximate count of the dead:
U.S.S.R: 20 million deaths
China: 65 million deaths
Vietnam: 1 million deaths
North Korea: 2 million deaths
Cambodia: 2 million deaths
Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths
Latin America, Africa, and Afghanistan: 3.4 million deaths
Total: nearly 100 million deaths
Title: The Black Book of Communism
Authors:Stephane Courtons, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin Binding:Hard-Cover, black and whites photo section, 858 pages Price:$37.50
Thus Courtois's equivalence of Communism and Nazism caused a stir in a country where the Communists have been the members of every leftist coalition since World War II. Citing the Black Book, the French right walked out of Parliament when Lionel Jospin called on Communist support to create a coalition. But the message of the Black Book goes beyond partisan infighting.
The first section, on the Soviet Union, forms the longest and heaviest part of the book because of the relative openness of the Russian archives. Nicolas Werth, the author, argues that from Lenin's founding of the secret police to Stalin's last plans for a second, anti-Semitic Great Terror, the Soviet Union existed by virtue of its willingness to kill, deport, and imprison without mercy any enemies of Communist power.
By showing the essential continuity of Lenin's and Stalin's policies, the Black Book finally puts to rest the myth of the good Lenin and the evil Stalin who perverted his plans. In fact, Lenin anticipated many of Stalin's innovations in murder - the systematic use of starvation, the mass deportation of racial minorities, and the practice of taking hostages to ensure good behavior. Lenin ordered hostages to be taken from the families of workers in critical industries, such as those who cleaned snow from the railroad tracks: "And if the lines aren't swept properly, the hostages are to be shot."
Stalin's repression of the peasants in 1930-31 merely ended a long struggle between the Communists and the peasantry that began in 1917. At that time, the Communist government began to requisition food from the farms to ensure a steady supply to the cities, often taking more than the tsar had required in taxes. In several areas of the Soviet Union, including the Ukraine, the Party set requisitions so high that to meet them would have condemned the peasantry to starvation. Not surprisingly, the peasants rebelled, leading the Red Army to hunt them down by massacring the families of the soldiers who refused to surrender.
While Stalin's aims of collectivization differed from Lenin's, his means were much the same. From the peasants who resisted collectivization, Stalin required even the seed grain for the next year's crop, causing a famine in the most prosperous areas.
Just Another Day in Paradise
People of the USSR walk past fellow citizzens who died of starvation, part of 100 million casualties chalked up to communism
Jean-Louis Margolin's sections on China and Cambodia form the meat of the rest of the book. With the archives still closed, the accounts are each far shorter than for Russia, but both reveal equal or greater atrocities. In China alone, 6 to 10 million died directly from Communist actions, perhaps 20 million died while languishing in China's system of concentration camps, and anywhere from 20 to 43 million starved to death during the famine of the ill-named Great Leap Forward. One understands the surprise of Deng Xiaoping when he noted that thousands dead in Tiananmen Square paled next to China's recent past.
The Great Leap Forward in 1959-61 formed Communism's greatest display of criminal hubris: Mao decreed that thousands of farms combine into single units in which everything was to be communal, bringing true Communism within reach. Local leaders announced the breaking of one record after another, while the national party raised goals yet higher. Communities, in anticipation of the coming great harvest, consumed all of their food reserves.
The harvest, however, fell far short of expectations, shrinking by a third over the year before. Mao had encouraged the peasants to plant many seeds close together to show social solidarity, and as a result, most of the plants died. The state, however, continued to take its share of the crop - over half in 1959. In Henan province, whole communities decided to kill and eat children in order to survive.
For two years, as famine raged over every single province in China, Mao urged that the Great Leap Forward be taken farther still. His power base was now so tied up with its success that China increased its exports of grain and refused U.S. food aid. Not until 1961 was Mao overruled and the famine ended.
The Black Book makes similar lists of deaths and repressions for Eastern Europe, Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam, Africa, Cuba, and Afghanistan. Even mentioning the worst atrocities of each country would require space far beyond a single article. But ultimately the Black Book not only refutes the unrepentant Communists, but makes obscene the casual claims of moral equivalence and the appeals to the universal goals of Marxism.
As the authors argue, Marxism is no more a universal philosophy than Aryan racial supremacy is. Communism sought the liberation of the proletariat from the bourgeois bloodsuckers - which meant, in practice the murder of the bourgeoisie, and then of the better-off peasants. In Asian Communism, an inverse caste system developed based on the social origins of one's ancestors, with the sin of bourgeois ancestry passed down from father to son. Just as Nazism excluded the Jews from the circle of humanity based on their racial origins, Communism excluded the bourgeoisie and their descendents based on their class origins.
Not the Holocaust
Mass graves with starved and executed dead littered Eastern Europe
That is the answer to moral equivalence, to those who consider the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII proof that democracy is no better than the system that produced the Soviet Gulag. Liberal democracy, the system of private property, equality before the law, and government by consent, must indeed be the highest aspiration of human dignity. The Black Book of Communism shows the reality of the Utopia that proved it to be so.