Communist and Nazi Brutality by the Numbers

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Some time in the past week, I saw someone, on Twitter, I think, express the hope that one day, it would be just as socially unacceptable for someone to express sympathy for communism as it now is regarding Nazism. Coincidentally, I also ran across an answer to a question stemming from Andrew Jackson's culpability for the Trail of Tears. The reply reads in part:

It is also worth asking yourself why some statues are safer than others these days. (Image by Steve Harvey, via Unsplash, license.)
The following are [professor R.J.] Rummel's 12 most murderous regimes (from his article in the Encyclopedia of Genocide, 1999): (1) USSR, 62 million deaths, 1917-'87; (2) People's Republic of China, 35 million, 1949-'87; (3) Germany, 21 million, 1933-'45; (4) nationalist China, 10 million, 1928-'49; (5) Japan, 6 million, 1936-'45; (6) prerevolutionary Chinese communists ("Mao Soviets"), 3.5 million, 1923-'49; (7) Cambodia, 2 million, 1975-'79; (8) Turkey (Armenian genocide), 1.9 million, 1909-'18; (9) Vietnam, 1.7 million, 1945-'87; (10) Poland, 1.6 million, 1945-'48; (11) Pakistan, 1.5 million, 1958-'87; (12) Yugoslavia, 1.1 million, 1944-'87. Three additional "suspected megamurderers," as Rummel puts it, are North Korea, 1.7 million deaths, 1948-'87; Mexico, 1.4 million, 1900-'20; and czarist Russia, 1.1 million, 1900-'17.

Rummel goes on to identify the top nine killers: (1) Joseph Stalin, 43 million dead, 1929-'53; (2) Mao Tse-tung, 38 million, 1923-'76; (3) Adolf Hitler, 21 million, 1933-'45; (4) Chiang Kai-shek, 10 million, 1921-'48; (5) Vladimir Lenin, 4 million, 1917-'24; (6) Tojo Hideki (Japan), 4 million, 1941-'45; (7) Pol Pot, 2.4 million, 1968-'87; (8) Yahya Khan (Pakistan), 1.5 million, 1971; (9) Josip Broz, better known as Marshal Tito (Yugoslavia), 1.2 million, 1941-'80.
It is worth noting that these numbers do not include deaths from war -- which such regimes foment -- or that are due to their policies, such as Communist China's 20 million famine deaths from 1959 to 1962.

Nazi Germany ranks third in the number of "democides" -- behind two communist regimes.

To be clear, judging an ideology or its adherents is not as simple as counting the bodies of its victims, although it is highly relevant that communism had killed an average of a million people a year by the time of the widely-celebrated (!) centenary of the establishment of the Soviet Union. It would be ridiculous, for example, to rank communism as "more evil" than Nazism based on body count or proportion of the population killed: At this point, it is clear that both result in governments exterminating human beings. Furthermore, the deaths, alone, leave room for people to excuse the ideologies for not having been implemented faithfully or, much worse, praise them for being moral, but impractical.

Nazism excused the state robbing, injuring, and killing certain groups of people on the basis of their ancestry. Communism does so on the basis of the fact that some people own things that others do not. Theft, assault, and murder are wrong, no matter what the motive. Such crimes are not somehow purified by having been committed by the state in the name of "the people." Nor are they when motivated by an altruistic motive.

Speaking of altruism, Ayn Rand once said:
There are two moral questions which altruism lumps together into one "package-deal": (1) What are values? (2) Who should be the beneficiary of values? Altruism substitutes the second for the first; it evades the task of defining a code of moral values, thus leaving man, in fact, without moral guidance.

Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one's own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value -- and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes. ("Introduction", The Virtue of Selfishness, p. viii.) [bold added]
Until the slogan, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," is recognized as immoral, we will continue to see people evading and excusing the evil of communism, which is on a par with that of Nazism.

Nazism was wrong, not because it harmed members of ethnic groups, but because it harmed individual human beings. The same is true of communism, despite its posturing to the effect that harming one individual somehow benefits another.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

Before Slate Star Codex went offline the author discussed what he called isolated demands for rigor. This is when you're discussing an issue with someone and they demand you cite your sources--while at the same time they feel no need to demand that other claims (inevitably the ones that support their arguments) come with citations. The goal is to hide an attempt to control the conversation behind the appearance of intellectual rigor.

Something similar goes on in discussing ethics, particularly ethics of cultures. I suppose we can call it "isolated calls for moral perfection". When discussing the USA folks always bring up the treatment of the Native Americans, the use of atomic weapons, and other issues. These are serious issues, and I will never pretend our nation is morally perfect. Folks will also attempt to shut down speakers because of actions in the past or statements that today are deemed racist. But they never--NEVER--apply those standards to their own heroes. When was the last time you heard someone even admit Karl Marx was horribly racist even by the standards of his time? And as you pointed out, people who praise the USSR and Communist China ignore the fact that they've initiated the worst bloodbaths in human history.

Like with isolated calls for intellectual rigor, this has nothing to do with actual ethical concerns. It's entirely an attempt to control the conversation. The goal is to shame those who support capitalism and liberty. In a way, it's an admission that we who support liberty are the good guys in this conflict--they know that we're capable of shame, and that we take ethics seriously. Those who advocate for slavery and communism usually know these facts, they simply don't care. Ethics is just a game to them, to be used to shut down opponents but not to be taken seriously.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's an excellent point about using our decency against us in the last paragraph.

And I like the term "isolated demands for rigor." That could be useful to remember.


John Shepard said...

Also from Ayn Rand, almost 75 years ago:

"The root of the whole modern disaster is philosophical and moral. People are not embracing collectivism because they have accepted bad economics. They are accepting bad economics because they have embraced collectivism. You cannot reverse cause and effect. And you cannot destroy the cause by fighting the effect. That is as futile as trying to eliminate the symptoms of a disease without attacking its germs.

"Marxist (collectivist) economics have been blasted, refuted and discredited quite thoroughly. Capitalist (or individualist) economics have never been refuted. Yet people go right on accepting Marxism. If you look into the matter closely, you will see that most people know in a vague, uneasy way, that Marxist economics are screwy. Yet this does not stop them from advocating the same Marxist economics. Why?

"The reason is that economics he the same place in relation to the whole of a society's life as economic problems have in the life of a single individual. A man does not exist merely in order to earn a living; he earns a living in order to exist. . . . Economic activity per se has never been anybody's end or motive power. . . .

"And the same holds true of society and of men’s convictions about the proper economics of society. That which society accepts as its purpose and ideal (or to be exact, that which men think society should accept as its purpose and ideal) determines the kind of economics men will advocate and attempt to practice; since economics are only the means to an end.

"When the social goal chosen is by its very nature impossible and unworkable (such as collectivism), it is useless to point out to people that the means they’ve chosen to achieve it are unworkable. Such means go with such a goal; there are no others. You cannot make men abandon the means until you have persuaded them to abandon the goal.

. . .

"Here is the dilemma in which the public finds itself when listening to our conservatives: the public is told, in net effect, that collectivism is a noble, desirable ideal, but collectivist economics are impractical. In order to have a practical economy, that of capitalism, we must resign ourselves to an immoral society, that of individualism. This amounts to saying: you have a choice, you can be moral or you can be practical, but you can't be both. Given such a choice, men will always choose the moral, because it is preposterous to expect them to choose that which, by the speaker's own assertion, is evil. Men may be mistaken about what they think is good (and how mistaken they've been! And what lying they indulge in to deceive themselves about it!), but they will not accept evil with full, conscious intent and by definition.

"Nor will men accept the idea that a moral ideal is impossible, that it cannot be achieved in practice. (And they are right about that, too—it's a thoroughly unnatural proposition.) Therefore it is absolutely useless to tell them that Marxist economics are impractical, so long as you're also telling them in the same breath that Marxism is noble. They will merely say: "Well, if that's the ideal, and it cannot be achieved through the economics of capitalism, to hell with the economics of capitalism! If Marxist economics do not work, we'll find something that works. We must find it. So we'll go on experimenting. At least Marxism tries in the right direction, while capitalism doesn't even try to achieve the collectivist ideal. Capitalist economics do not even try to offer us a solution." "

— Ayn Rand, To Leonard Read February 28, 1946 (Founder of FEE: Foundation for Economic Education)

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for that timely excerpt, and the link to the full letter.

John Shepard said...

You're welcome, Gus.

Miss Rand understood why we're in the mess we're in, as most people attempt to address the problems as political or economic. Not deep enough, and they mostly have no inclination or desire to go deeper, into morality. The conservative embraced religion as their moral framework, so they are fundamentally opposed to rights, liberty and capitalism. The libertarians have dismissed even the need to be concerned about fundamental philosophical ideas, including morality, as they attempt to appeal to most people on the basis of superficial agreement with "liberty" and the idea that the initiation of the use of force is self-evidently wrong (it's not). How can one hope to fight those who are explicitly against rights, liberty and capitalism like that?

From Leonard Peikoff's 1980 talk "The Philosophic Basis of Capitalism" (still relevant all these years later):

"A united front means: Let's ignore fundamental differences; let's ignore fundamental questions; let's come together on the one thing we can agree on and go to the country with that regardless of what it depends on. . . .

"That is a fundamentally misguided attempt, because the whole issue rests on the foundation. I would much rather go to the country with a group who believed in reason and reality and selfishness and differed on everything else politically than the reverse, because then the fundamentals would set their own terms, and the most consistent ones, the pro-capitalists, would have no trouble winning. But to go with a hodgepodge on one thing like that, like liberty, it's ridiculous. You cannot even define what liberty is without a fundamental philosophy."

— Leonard Peikoff, "The Philosophic Basis of Capitalism" (1980)

Gus Van Horn said...

Also appreciated. Thanks again!