The Black Book of Communism Debunked


By Maoist International Movement
First Edit by Leading Light Communist Organization
Second Edit by The Maoist Rebel

The Black Book of Communism, one of the largest most blatant distortions of history. The fraudulent death tolls contained in the book are the single most quoted anti-communist source in the world. The book not only bashes socialism and makes it out to be worse than fascism, it outright tries to portray fascism as a good thing.

The book is so biased and absolutely BS that in 2001 the Maoist International Movement informed Harvard University Press of its undeniable errors. As a result MIM actually got Harvard University Press’ Mark Kramer to admit that the book contained remedial math errors.

In the book it superficially tells of how all these people supposedly died in famines caused by the evil communists. Very telling, is how they leave out any comparison to famine deaths in capitalist countries so that we may compare. By doing this they claim that famines are a problem only in socialism.

The book also makes this big deal about premature deaths in communist countries, with no statistical comparisons of these deaths in capitalism. The reason why is of course that both the Soviet union and Revolutionary China doubled the life expectancies of their people.

The fact is, the deaths caused by communism are substantially less than the massive death tolls caused by capitalism.

The main weapon these bourgeois writers use is a complete lack of scientific thinking. Poverty under capitalism (a system of private property) kills by lack of food, a decent environment and adequate health care. Never does anyone every put capitalism up to its own analysis and judge it how it judges others. While it claims communism killed 100 million people, capitalism kills 100 million people every 8 to 12 years.

The one sided nature of the accusations are revealed in this quote on page 15: “our purpose here is not to devise some kind of macabre comparative system for crunching numbers.” Well no of course not, that would be giving context to an argument by comparing it to similar events.

Courtois (one of the writers) claims that Stalin became a fascist when he signed a pact with Hitler in 1939. He calls it a crime and then forgets to mention all the capitalist countries that signed agreements with Hitler. Poland, France and England all signed deals with Hitler, Stalin was actually the last one to do it.

When criticizing the Soviet Union they never mention the pro-Nazi uprisings, instead it is claimed that Soviet Union suppressed people for no reason. Then they turn and say people flocked to the pro-Nazi groups because of repression, but neglect to mention the pro-Nazi groups that existed in the capitalist countries. The capitalist countries must have been more repressive because the Nazi fifth columns overthrew entire countries nearly without effort. Those people must have really hated those oppressive capitalist regimes.

Well, the Soviet Union was not other thrown by pro-Nazi forces, in fact communist guerrillas in many countries gave the best resistance.

– In 1940 former Norwegian “Defence Minister” helped the Nazis overthrow the government of Norway.
– In 1940 Henri Philippe Petain, a former Command-in-chief lead the Nazi Vichy.
– Leopold III gave the Belgian to the Nazis without a fight.
– Sweden profited from Nazi gold taken from Jews killed in the Holocaust.
– Future US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles aided the Swedish government.
– Finland joined the Nazi side in 1941.
– Hungary and Bulgaria joined the Nazis with no contest.

The arrogance of Courtois is astounding. He points out how there were Nazi collaborators in the Soviet union, but fails to mention how entire capitalist counties outright supported the Nazis. This is another example of deliberately slanting history in favour of the fascists.

Ukrainian Famine

In the section on the Ukrainian famine claimed that Soviet grain requisitions must of caused mass starvation. Of course at no time did he mention the right of people living in cities not to starve to death.

Even though the property system was no longer the capitalist style, he continued to refer to the grain as the “fruit of their[peasants’] labor”that they were entitled to keep–omitting that some people work on much better land than others if there is no socialist cooperation to even out disparities in the means of production.

From 1923 to 1928 there was a free market in grain production. In 1928 the amount of grain that was sent to the cities to feed people dropped to 4.8 million tons from 6.8 million the previous year. This inability of the free market to meet human need is what compelled Stalin to collectivize agriculture. The market had already failed to deliver, a fact constantly over looked by many historians and the ignorance of anti-communism. The failure of capitalism is ignored, only the socialist reaction to a capitalist disaster is mentioned. Integrity is not something anti-communists have.

All along some of the fiercest resistance to doing the right thing centred in the Ukraine and Werth says the Ukrainian famine was the largest death toll Stalin was responsible for. The Ukraine is the equivalent of the U.S. “breadbasket”–states like Iowa or Kansas. Werth admitted as much in a concluding throw-away sentence:

“The richest and most dynamic agricultural regions, which had the most to offer the state and the most to lose in the extortionate system of enforced collectivization, were precisely the regions worst affected by the great famine of 1932-33.”

The fact that these areas were the equivalent of Iowa should have been a clue that having the peasants just keep their food was not an option that should have been suggested lightly.

In 1929, more than 3,200 Soviet civil servants suffered terrorist attacks. 1,300 riots spread through the countryside in the years 1928-9. That is one indication of the class war going on. They had a history behind them of a movement called the “Greens” that also resisted requisition of food to the city.

In the midst of this sort of political resistance, many Ukrainians resisted delivering grain to the state. Werth says that in response, Stalin starved 4 million of them to death in 1932-3 for a total of 6 million when other regions of the Soviet Union are counted for being in a similar situation.

In fact other bourgeois media like “Village Voice” of January 12, 1988 has already debunked the idea that there was this massive Ukrainian famine. It was tremendously exaggerated and was mostly created by Ukrainian fascists. The paper caught them in the act of fraud in propaganda creation.

Robert Conquest who did this grea work in the supposed Ukrainian famine collected all his “information” from Nazi collaborators and fiction books. The Nazis are hardly a reliable source of information. The sources and invented numbers were so fraudulent that the Village Voice referred to the famine as a “hoax.”

Where Werth and Courtois agree is that the political choice of some peasants to resist delivering grain to the state is not an act of violence in itself against the city-dwellers; even though realistically, food has to come from farmland, especially the Ukraine and other lands in question. They speak of the land as if it were only the property of peasants who live on it. When peasants cut back their work only to grow their own grain and contrary to law, Werth and Courtois defend them. Indeed, Werth comes out openly in saying his approach depends on not recognizing Soviet law. He said that “‘destruction of Soviet property’” and other items including “‘speculation’” should not be counted as crimes.(p. 206) In contrast, we socialists are happy to deport such Ukrainian people as they were deported by Stalin and replace them with people who will do something with the fertile land–because people’s lives are at stake and we see political games played by Ukrainians on breadbasket land as violence against city-dwellers.

The case of the Ukrainian breadbasket land is also important in reminding us why we have to oppose “local control” perfected under Tito’s “market socialism” in Yugoslavia and also adopted by anarchists in Spain. After a revolution implementing “local control,” people who happen to live on gold mines will become rich. People who live on the best land will have an easier time farming, and so on. “Local control” cannot be thought of as socialism, just a switch of owners. The central government has to play some role or the means of production are not truly socialist. Only when that day comes when people cooperate economically across large distances without coercion or reward will it be possible to take an easy-going approach to dividing up resources at the local level, because no one would think of hurting people in the rest of the country or the world based on their fortunate local position.

Stalin did not gain from starving Ukrainian peasants, unlike the way capitalist speculators who hoard food gain when peasants starve. To say that Stalin did gain is a simple projection of life under capitalism to life under socialism where often the politicians also personally gain from development, weapons or other deals they broker politically.

In contrast the most bourgeois peasants in the USSR known as kulaks did gain monetarily and personally from speculation in grain by letting the cities starve. Stalin did not himself benefit from the New Economic Policy (NEP) that allowed the free market in grain. It was the peasants in the countryside actually trying to increase their own power for personal gain, so our critic has the accusation against Stalin completely upside-down.

Admissions Regarding the Soviet Union

1. Citing the work of an A. Blum, Werth no longer believes Stalin masterminded the Kirov assassination in 1934. It was the killing of Kirov that resulted in a swing in Soviet public opinion toward a crackdown on “dissent” as World War II was progressing, notably the Japanese invasion of China in 1931 and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

2. Werth correctly believes Robert Conquest’s work on the “Great Terror” to be exaggerated, MIM would say fictional.

3. According to Werth, the 85% of executions after the Civil War in the Soviet Union and while Stalin was still alive (1922 to 1953), occurred in the “Great Terror,” also sometimes referred to as the “Purges” of 1936-1938. However, Werth says the number of executions has been vastly exaggerated. The number was 681,692.

While everyone agrees that the majority of executions occurred in the 1936-1938 period–while the Soviet Union and Germany were already fighting each other in Spain– the numbers range wildly. Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko said that the “Great Terror” was responsible for 19 million deaths from 1935 to 1941, while Werth says the figure is 720,000. This is just an indication of how wildly the bourgeoisie speculates against Stalin.

4. Purges in the Red Army prior to World War II were previously exaggerated and affected 30,000 out of 178,000 relevant cadres.

5. Documented cases occurred where all Mensheviks said to be shot were not shot but imprisoned.

6. The famous Ukrainian anarchist Makhno organized bloody programs against the Jews in 1919, just as Lenin charged. A picture continues to emerge of only Bolsheviks in the Ukraine as not anti-Semitic.(p. 96)(11)

7. Also contrary to some anarchists today who paint the anarchists as blameless, Werth points out that rebellion and class war against the Bolsheviks did continue into 1921. The Kronstadt rebellion did not occur in a context of social peace.

8. According to Courtois and a co-author, in 1937, Trotsky went to the French police to get French communist Jacques Duclos in trouble, despite having no evidence against him for a murder Trotsky wanted avenged. Trotsky relied on the French police to find the evidence and conduct the investigation.

China: More Botched Numbers

To their credit, the authors admitted that their criticisms of Asian communists and therefore most of their criticism of communism is speculative.(p. 459) The reason is that they would like the governments there to fall so that they can see the archives before they pass judgement.

In total the entire Black Book details 100 million deaths by communism, most of that supposedly caused by the Great Leap Forward. its claim is that 43 million people were killed. This supposed number comes from the highest possible estimate by Roderick MacFarquhar’s book.

Contrary to MacFarquhar who details all the actions the Communist Party took and how Mao made public self-criticism, Margolin says Mao refused to admit a problem during the Great Leap.(p. 464) He then goes on to list wartime atrocities in World War II by the communists.

In what is the most glaring piece of lying (which Harvard University Press claims is an error) MacFarquhar who misplaced a decimal in his writing to claim that Mao killed 10 times more people. We can only hope it was the editors or translators who introduced the errors, but there were numerous basic mathematical errors in his chapter and no matter how one slices it, the chapter does not reflect well on the authors and editors.

“This last province [Anhui], in north-central China, was the worst affected of all. In 1960 the death rate soared to 68 percent from its normal level at around 15 percent, while the birth rate fell to 11 percent from its previous average of 30 percent. As a result the population fell by around 2 million people (6 percent of the total) in a single year.”(p. 492)

The above is such a bungle that it is difficult to sort out all the errors and curiously enough, it refers to Margolin’s biggest accusation at the provincial level. The first number is actually 68.58 per thousand. 68 percent is 68 per hundred. Once again, we have an error overestimating by a factor of 10. What is worse is the stupidity in saying that the mortality rate was 68 percent but only 6 percent died! In this way Margolin exceeds the stupidity of MacFarquhar’s mistake. Of course, the birth rates are similarly exaggerated by a factor of 10.

In more obvious moralistic “have your cake and eat it too,” Margolin denounces the regime in China for creating a situation where “the birth rate fell to almost zero as women were unable to conceive because of malnutrition.”(p. 494) He does not realize that if that is true, his death toll must be very low, much less than the 20 million lower end estimate he uses. It’s clear that he has never sat down to think through questions like what goes into creating a life expectancy figure.

Further exceeding MacFarquhar by covering more years with his ignorance, Margolin says “For the entire country, the death rate rose from 11 percent in 1957 to 15 percent in 1959 and 1961, peaking at 29 percent in 1960. Birth rates fell from 33 percent in 1957 to 18 percent in 1961.”(p. 495)

He even contradicts himself when he makes the claim that peasants were too weak to harvest grain (p. 493). Because he turns around an claims that once capitalist-style organization was re introduced, the peasants quickly ended the famine. (p. 496) Which was it Margolin? Were the peasants too weak as the Great Leap went on to harvest or just needing capitalist incentives? Nor does Margolin seem to flinch at saying the worst year was actually 1961,(p. 491) after the Great Leap had ended and wide scale private farming and systems tantamount to it had come into play.

These are basic mistakes that anyone doing proper research would notice right away. But unfortunately this book was designed to bash people and movements, not properly detail people and movements like a academically honest work would do.

With regard to the charge of 100 million dead from communism, 85 million are from the Soviet Union and China, 20 million from the Soviet Union and 65 million from China.(p. 4) As we have just shown the crucial lynchpins to that argument concern a famine reported by Nazi collaborators in the Ukraine and a Great Leap toll where repeated and obvious arithmetic errors were published in the book. Together these two items account for 49 million dead out of 100 million alleged victims.


The book goes on to treat other countries as well, but those countries are all said to stem from the Leninist “genetic code.” Many of these other regimes that Courtois attack are not communist and as usual they omit significant facts such as the landslide Sandinista victory’s portion of the population (not just the voters) won in a bourgeois style election (p. 670) or the fact that their notion of “responsible” for deaths in the case of the Sendero Luminoso refers mostly to indiscriminate killings carried out by the government but which the Sendero Luminoso is “responsible” for because they started a civil war.(p. 680)

The Black Book sold 70,000 copies in four weeks in France. Of course, the Wall Street Journal endorsed it as well as most of the rest of the bourgeois press. Many of the book reviews can be seen by visiting MIM’s bookstore under reviewed books and going to the Amazon bookstore link for the Black Book. The positive reviews can be taken as an indication of the lack of historical knowledge of some, the weak quantitative skills of others and the overall conscious distortion of the bourgeoisie. In the end, MIM agrees that Courtois has recognized the truth about the media: it will buy anything anti-communist.

Despite his correct recognition of the nature of the monopoly capitalist media, Courtois will fail in his goal, because the truth regarding the overall situation is already widely available and cannot be excised from history by selective compilations of statistics or gruesome detail of death on one side of the capitalism versus communism conflict. Despite the whining of Khruschevs and other intellectuals and former party members, nothing will eradicate the fact that the average person lived longer under socialism than under capitalism.

Sources and Notes:

A nice list of these uninformed reviews can be found
at: . Short style
reviews can be found at:

Malcolm Gillis, Dwight H. Perkins, Michael Roemer & Donald R.
Snodgrass, Economics of Development, 3rd ed., (NY: W.W. Norton &
Company, 1992), pp. 497-98.

John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer & Albert M. Craig, East
Asia: Tradition & Transformation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1978), p. 822.

Jon Halliday, “The Political Background” Korea North and South:
The Deepening Crisis, Gavin McCormack and Mark Selden, eds., (NY:
Monthly Review Press, 1978), p. 49.

Ibid., p. 51. 5. Ibid., p. 56. 6. B21.html &CONTEXT=949783412.290127893&HIT _CONTEXT=942257934.934412361&HIT_NUM=1&hitnum=9
I thank HC88 for the following reference: William Shirer, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 296, 526, 563f. 12/1997-12-10/1997-12-10-054.html

See our article on this at

For some examples of the half-assed anarchists who continue to support Makhno against Lenin, unfortunately we have to refer to some of the better anarchists including the Rage Against the Machine, the International Workers of the World, the web site and

Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural
Revolution: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-1966, vol.
3, pb., (NY: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 7-8.

We suggest readers follow the following links: