• thewonder
    In the way way back when RevLeft was still active, I got into a debate with a somewhat notorious Marxist-Leninist about his claim that Leon Trotsky had been collaborating with the Third Reich. To my sheer horror, as evidence to support this, he cited court documents from none other than the Trial of Twenty One, the infamous trail of Grigory Zinoviev, the last of the "Moscow Show Trials". We, then, got into a debate about the death toll of the regime of Josef Stalin.

    At that point, I decided to barter with him. I began with oft-cited twenty million and was eventually widdled down to eight million. He started with one and conceded to three. I felt that it'd be unethical to give an estimate below seven, and, so, let our sleeping dogs lie there.

    I, later, became deeply troubled by this experience. I felt that, by bartering with death toll statistics, I had given credibility to the claim, "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.", oft attributed to Stalin.

    I, personally, happen to think the death toll for Stalin's regime is a bit higher than seven million, at probably around eighteen million. It, however, seems to me to be logistically improbable for him to have been able to kill too many more.

    I generally feel so inclined to err on the side of caution when giving an estimate for any given humanitarian catastrophe. There, however, seems to be a problem with this line of reasoning, as, once the death toll for so-called "Communism" begins to reach the upper register of one-hundred million, the Holocaust seems fairly trivial by comparison, as, to my best recollection, the total number of people that the Nazis systematically eliminated is estimated as being between eleven and fifteen and three-fifths million, with the obvious figure of six million Jews, of which we are thankfully not so lacking in serious historical scholarship in regards to for it to be a matter of debate. If you consider the Third Reich as more or less totally responsible for the war casualties, at between seventy and seventy-eight million, all of which, of course, is according to Wikipedia, whom, due to the consistency that I suspect for such pages to be defaced and the care that the people who write them have to present accurate information, I would contend is actually a better source of information than most academic journals in these regards, you'll end up with between eighty-one and ninety-three and three-fifths of a million people, a number that happens to be curiously close to the Black Book of Communism estimate of beyond ninety-four million.

    Within historiography, there seems to be a relative consensus of the figures for Stalin at between around ten and twenty million. Though there are still Marxist-Leninists apologists in the world, I would contend that, regardless as to what figure most will cite, in part, due to that he was officially denounced by Nikita Khrushchev, there is only so much of a predicament that apologists for Stalin any longer present, though that may, to some degree, be challenged within the Russian Federation today, as many are so inclined to think of the scope of Stalin's atrocities to be overblown and characteristic of "Western propaganda". For all intensive purposes, however, I have faith in that the correct interpretation of Stalin's political legacy, that of an abject dictator, will come to be commonly understood and accepted.

    What about Mao Zedong?

    Something that you often hear people say in defense of Mao is that the Great Chinese Famine was unintentional, which is true an extent. Mao did not intentional starve the Chinese people in the same manner that Josef Stalin did during the Holodomor, but he did willfully attempt to industrialize the People's Republic at the same catastrophic rate that he had witnessed the Soviet Union fail in doing and was, at best, criminally negligent.

    A trouble with discounting the famine statistics is that they do happen to be where the bulk of Mao's death toll comes from. At least, as per the Chinese records, fifteen million people died because and upwards of fifty-five million people did. It is my entirely speculative opinion that between twenty and forty million people died, which I generally cite as around thirty.

    A rather spurious defense of either Stalin or Mao is that they only killed more people due to having larger populations. If you, however, adjust the respective estimates to the population size of the various countries, the numbers are fairly comparable to the number of people systematically eliminated by the Nazis. It also stands to common reason that a government who is in control over a larger population bears a greater responsibility to their subjects. Another defense is that they were in control for longer than Adolf Hitler, which, again, adjusting presents a slightly lower rate of murder, but is still fairly comparable. It, again, ought to be argued that the duration of time that what I have no qualms with categorizing as a totalitarian regime is irrelevant. That some form of political repression or another lasts longer only really makes it that much worse. What is a fair comparative analysis is to suggest that the Nazis were more virulent, which I don't think that anyone could reasonably deny. In so far that anyone finds it useful to compare the regimes, which I would caution against to a certain extent, as each one of them is fairly particular, that is something that should be taken into consideration.

    The second great point of contention in an analysis of Mao's legacy is the number of people killed during the Cultural Revolution. The statistics range from one to twenty million. It'd seem, to me, to be irresponsible to give a figure below three, despite that the only mandated minimum is four-hundred thousand, which, again, I believe to be an official Chinese figure of some sort. I would even suggest that you shouldn't go below seven million. I, again, personally think it to be a bit higher at around between ten and twenty million, if not even trending towards the latter.

    I have thusly given eighteen million to Stalin, which is higher than most, and around between thirty and sixty million to Mao, which, if we are to consider other campaigns of his, I think that we can add another five to ten to arrive at between thirty-five and seventy million, which is slightly, but significantly lower than the estimates that Wikipedia lists. Personally, I suspect for Mao to be responsible for around fifty million deaths.

    The total Allied war casualties for the Second World War, of whom we do only have the Nazis to blame for, is around fifty-five million, added to the number of people whom they systematically eliminated leaves us with sixty-six to seventy-one million, a set of numbers within the ballpark of my estimates for Stalin and Mao at sixty-eight million, which is how you should never let someone convince you that the astronomical figures for authoritarian Communist regimes leaves Fascism as a drop in the bucket by comparison.

    From this, we can deduce that totalitarianism is catastrophic and terrible. I, of course, want to say a lot of things with the figures that I present and, due to both the both the obvious difficulties in calculating the Communist statistics, namely that they didn't necessarily keep good records and are notorious for having fabricated or destroyed them, and what, to me, as respective estimates for the Soviet Union throughout its history and Mao's regime range from six to sixty-one million or forty to eighty million, is an obvious lack of serious historical scholarship.

    Having presented you with all of this information, I should also like to open the floor to a more general discussion on death toll arguments themselves. A cursory search of this sort of thing online will disinter some of the worst forms of apologetics and lesser evilism. There's also the question of such comparative analysis more broadly, as the concept of totalitarianism was used during the Cold War to transform anti-Fascist sentiment into anti-Communist sentiment, something was even materially supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. To me, the catastrophe of Twentieth Century history ought to elicit an understanding of the need for human rights in the prevention of genocide and other crimes against humanity. When statistics are generated to suit historical opinion or pulled out of hat in various forms of apologia, everything, it seems, becomes permissible via an appeal to the lowest common denominator of what we consider to be politically acceptable. Arguments about death tolls, it seems, are where the dreams of good society go to die.
  • thewonder
    Something that could also be done in, again, a rather spurious defense of either Stalin or Mao is to incorporate both the population size and rate of murder, to which, I think, it important to point out that there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics". That the Nazis effectuated the Final Solution, the purpose of which was to eliminate ostensive races and other sectors of the population, aside from killing communists, which they actually began first, is unique to the regime, and, so, I would again stress the virulence of the Third Reich as a difference between them, though the regimes of Stalin and Mao were also quite vengeful. I'd also like to point out a difference between the comparison and equivalence. It's quite obvious that Marxism-Leninism or, for brevity's sake, Maoism, and Nazism radically differ.

    I also forgot to point out that around eighty-five percent of Chinese citizens said that the pros of Mao's regime outweighed the cons in 2013, and, so, the concern over apologetics in his regard, I think, is a good bit more pressing than that of Stalin. It's not like it's the job of the West to deprogram and reeducate the Chinese populace, however. That poll also happens to have been conducted by Global Times, the state-run newspaper in China, and, so, its quite possible that people there were unwilling to give another response and that the data is inaccurate. I would, however, imagine that there are a lot of people in China today who do still view Mao somewhat favorably, which, I think, can only really be chalked up to his cult of personality and the political repression that still exists there.
  • Thunderballs
    the Holocaust seems fairly trivial by comparisonthewonder

    That's a pretty cruel statement. Why did your aquaintance think Trotski collaborated with the nazis? Wasn't he in Mexico and didn't he condemn the non-agression pact of Stalin and Hitler?
  • thewonder

    Grigory Zinoviev, in a somewhat mistaken fear for his life, as he was going to die no matter what, and, in all likelihood, under torture, confessed to that Leon Trotsky had been collaborating with Fascists during the infamous Moscow Show Trials, which my opponent, in full sincerity, considered as good evidence of the longstanding Marxist-Leninist slander that he had been doing so.

    That's a pretty cruel statement.Thunderballs
    Though I fear levelling too much of a charge against certain historians by saying so, I think it quite likely that organizations like the Central Intelligence Agency have used to upper estimates of the so-called "Communist" death toll to justify the policy of containment, with all of the coup d'états and arming, training, and funding of Neo-Fascist terrorist cells and the like that came along with it.

    I do, however, think that a lot of people who come up with these figures, in good faith, just tend to err on the side of not leaving any of the victims out. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's figures in The Gulag Archipelago are considerably high, which I think due to his thesis that Marxism-Leninism was a mere continuation of the so-called "War Communism" of Vladimir Lenin. He very much so wanted to reject the idea that Nikita Khrushchev explicitly endorsed in his famous 1956 denunciation of Stalin, that Lenin was venerable, but Stalin guilty of crimes against humanity. He was right to do so, but, the idea that Stalin's reign was a natural consequence of Lenin's, I think, by that Stalin was notorious for the purging of "Old Bolsheviks", namely through the aforementioned Show Trials, and that they quite radically differed in terms of the economic direction of the country, with Lenin's New Economic Policy and Stalin's forced collectivization, as well as the extraordinary change in the scope of the repression from the Red Terror to the Great Terror, it'd be difficult to characterize Stalin's reign as anything other than a departure from that of Lenin's.

    In short, I think that Lenin was fairly autocratic and that there is no reason to celebrate his legacy, as well as that he did quite clearly set in course to motion the series of events that would lead to Stalin's rule, but that Stalin's reign was somewhat uniquely dictatorial.
  • thewonder
    I should also like to point out that I have been saying "so-called "Communist" regimes" not because, like this author, I consider for authoritarian Communism in either the Soviet Union of the People's Republic of China to have been "state capitalism", which I think is another form of denial, but merely due to the poverty of American discourse, where socialism and communism are totally interchangeable and anyone to the significant left of its center can be accused of either.
  • thewonder
    I mixed Zinoviev up with Bukharin, which I might have done in my essay on Lenin that I also posted here, as it was Zinoviev who confessed in regards to Trotsky during the Trial of Sixteen, the first of the Moscow Show Trials, which were the documents presented in this particular encounter. Nikolai Bukharin's testimony was what began the early dissident movement in the Soviet Union, as no one could believe that he had attempted to assassinate Lenin and Stalin, poison Maxim Gorky, had been engaged in espionage, with whom, I can only speculate would have been the Great Britain, though I don't think that they even gave another party, and, most notably, perhaps, had attempted to partition the Soviet Union to be divided amongst Great Britain, Germany, and Japan.

    A clarification:

    I did correctly cite Bukharin as the person to have testified during the Trial of Twenty-One in The Spectre of Communism. I merely confused him and Zinoviev in that it is Bukharin who we, at least, know to have been tortured before his trial in the above post. To clear up any confusion, Zinoviev is where the supposed evidence for that Trotsky was collaborating with Fascists comes from and Bukharin, due to the incredulous nature of his testimony, is how dissent within the Soviet Union began to take hold.
  • unenlightened
    Apparently, a woman is murdered by a man every 3 days in the UK. I blame the government.

    Apparently Churchill was responsible for the famine in India

    But i wonder if the conspiracy to undermine the science about smoking and lung cancer, and the similar one about asbestos and emphysema, are up there with the megadeath score?

    But what are these arguments you speak of? Is there a Megadeath competition or something? If you are wondering which are the goodies and which are the baddies, I can give you a hint - the angels are the goodies, and the humans are the baddies.
  • thewonder
    Apparently, a woman is murdered by a man every 3 days in the UK. I blame the government.unenlightened

    Sure, but 122 people a year does sort of pale in comparison to the scope of the aforementioned atrocities, not that that isn't a serious social plight.

    Apparently Churchill was responsible for the famine in Indiaunenlightened

    ...and he should have been held accountable for that, as it did constitute something like a genocide.

    But i wonder if the conspiracy to undermine the science about smoking and lung cancer, and the similar one about asbestos and emphysema, are up there with the megadeath score?unenlightened

    This is a rather glib answer, but, to my estimation, all communists smoke.

    But what are these arguments you speak of? Is there a Megadeath competition or something?unenlightened

    For some, I am sure. There are probably Nazis who paradoxically overestimate the scope of the Holocaust and Second World War just to claim that Mao, in point of fact, can not lay claim to the largest scale mass killing in human history. I bet that there's someone in the German underground who you could find at a Peter Murphy show with a t-shirt that says something like "WORLDWIDE GENOCIDE" who'd lament that the communists now get all of the credit for the largest scale human atrocity.
  • unenlightened
    Sure, but 122 people a year does sort of pale in comparison to the scope of the aforementioned atrocities, not that that isn't a serious social plight.thewonder

    How many years, one has to ask? I seem to remember the old 303 bolt action rifle was replaced by I forget which semi automatic because someone calculated that if the Chinese people were lined up to be shot, the job would never be finished. This is surely the crucial other half of the statistics - the replacement rate.

    Is this the sort of argument you want to have? Actually, I'm bored already, don't bother to reply.
  • thewonder

    I don't know that I am, though.

    Sure, you can throw calculative assessments at any country in the West and, if you go back far enough into the only so bygone eras of colonialism, you can probably tally up some figures that are fairly comparable to totalitarian regimes in the Twentieth Century, but the oft-given counterargument of the ostensive death toll of capitalism, invoked by such dismissive statements, is a form of denial. Sure, perhaps the United Kingdom and the United States aren't subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, but, within the West, there really hasn't been anything remotely comparable to the concentration camps there. You can always cite the genocide in the Congo led by Leopold II of Belgium as a Western example of comparable scope, as I am so inclined to agree with the figure of ten million and you ought to at that, as, in Belgium, when Leopold III happened to have been a Nazi collaborator, the aristocracy there does seem to believe that it still ought to have some role in the political process, but, if we are going to relegate our discourse to the Twentieth Century exclusively, there is no comparison to be made between what you could call "social murder", a quite serious issue in its own right, and the crimes against humanity perpetuated by totalitarian states.

    Statistics on the deaths of millions don't change due to this or that person's partisan politics. You can dismiss these claims again if you like, but, if we're going to cast our lot with Stalin and Mao just so that Jeremy Corbyn can win an election, then, I do kind of feel like we ought to reassess our priorities and attitude towards human rights.
  • thewonder
    Speaking of genocide, the term itself poses a certain predicament, as what happened in the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China, though there were actual cases of the systemic elimination of ethnic minorities undertaken by both regimes, could moreso be characterized as either politicide or democide, which, to my estimation, is, but, isn't necessarily prohibited by international law, at least, as it seems, proceeding from the Geneva Convention. There's the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and all kinds of human rights law guaranteed by the United Nations, but there doesn't quite seem to be the same kind of prohibitions established akin to those against genocide in the wake of the Second World War.
  • thewonder
    I'm just going to keep talking into the void, as I think that, at least, historically, the systemic elimination of entire sectors of the global populace is kind of the most important issue of our time and I do feel like a lot of people are grossly mistaken in these regards. When we talk about Maoist China, for instance, you will find people, at least, on the internet, who have nothing to do with either Mao Zedong Thought or Marxism-Leninism-Maosim, the two primary schools of thought under his regime, who will claim that these numbers have been fabricated by the West and even proceed to laud Mao's regime out of an appeal to some only so well meaning cultural relativism, which is kind of a serious problem, as the totalitarianism then has carried over into the authoritarianism there now.

    Then, of course, there is the legacy of Stalin. It took a very long time for us leftists to do away with Marxist-Leninist sentiment and we really don't want for it to come back. The Right, however, on just about any given occasion, is willing to invoke the Black Book of Communism in more or less any political debate, which has led some, in, again, an only so well meaning appeal to some form of egalitarianism, to try and show that Stalin was only so much of dictator, which is just not true, as he is one of three case examples of just that. As much as I think that r/Communism should be ignored at all costs, as well as that I think it rather characteristic of the former, RevLeft, to have created the situation for this article to exist, which is to say that that place only gave credibility to the claim that "hell is other people", as it was one of the few web forums in the world where the denial of the mass extermination of millions was effectively tacitly encouraged, such developments within the Left do kind of have an effect upon the popular imagination.

    As it concerns the ostensive death toll for capitalism, which came from many factions of the Left, including some Trotskyite circles, which only made so much sense to me, as the repudiation of these figures does play into the defense of a set of political philosophies proceeding from Marxism-Leninism, and some anti-capitalist circles, particularly those associated with Occupy, while you can cite the lack of universal healthcare in the general course of generating these numbers, it very clearly is not the case that other socio-economic plights did not exist particularly within the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, but, also, in a considerable number of nominally socialist regimes, some of which are still around in the world today. This is kind of a minority opinion within the Left, but the concept of "state capitalism" and these clearly unresearched figures on infographics designed to trivialize the mass extermination of entire sectors of the global populace on the part of Communist regimes really kind of is akin to a form of genocide denial. You may think that the Soviet Union and Maoist China were "Communist" in name only, which isn't actually even true, as the Soviet Union only considered for itself to be Socialist, but, in the former case, a person has created an entirely illusory scapegoat so as to shift the blame for crimes against humanity against a common enemy and, in the latter, they have fabricated, and I do, in good faith, sincerely doubt that any person citing these numbers has undertaken a historical analysis with any degree of rigor, which is to say that they are a fiction, statistics to make life in the West seem somehow analogous to that under totalitarian regimes, which is quite clearly a form of trivialization, and a phony one at that, as no person, given the choice, would emigrate from either the United States or the United Kingdom, for all of their many flaws, to the former Soviet Union.

    What I've also tried to argue against in the general course of this are two forms of Western exceptionalism, namely an optimistic and pessimistic one. Though there are times when it, perhaps, could be meaningfully invoked, we ought to be somewhat skeptical of this idea that the West is a bastion of freedom and democracy in the world, with American and British foreign policy and the tenuous relationship that the rest of Europe has to the ongoing project of decolonization as exemplary counter-examples. I also think that it does stand to common reason that the somewhat illusory threat of so-called "global communism", by no stretch of any imagination, justifies the collaboration with Fascists, Neo-Fascists, or other authoritarian right-wing regimes or paramilitary organizations.

    Being said, this idea that the quality of life in the so-called "West" isn't somehow better than that of more or less the rest of the world is just simply a lie. There are many contributing factors to this, as well as a certain cost in the quality of life elsewhere, but, even though the Democracy Index is compiled by the private organization, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a branch of The Economist Group, which does publish The Economist, we still kind of ought to think that, well, it is really better to score well than otherwise. You can take it with those grains of salt, but using the whole shaker is going a bit too far.

    Then there's the idea of "critical, but unconditional", the International Socialist Organization's words and not mine, "support". That was the stance that they, first, adopted in regards to the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab Spring, and, later, rather fervently extended to Hamas during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, though had tacitly supported them as such for more or less all of, at least, the oughts. For all that you can say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it just kind of is really the case that Hamas is not really all that great of an organization. Personally, I think that there ought to be a two-state solution, along what are often called the "'67 borders", that leads to an eventual one-state solution, wherein there are equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians, along with whomever else, and that Fatah is the only party there who is all that likely to agree to something like that, as it would be both a meaningful and effective peace process, but my opinions upon this matter are only really so relevant. The question of the ethical validity to critical, but unconditional support, becomes more apparent when you start to consider some of the more nefarious parties whom it could be extended to, such as the Taliban in the name of opposition to the War in Afghanistan or the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the name of opposition to the War on Terror. I happen to be a pacifist, and, so, see no real problem with opposition to the war, but, and this was something that was more common to Marxism-Leninism than Trotskyism, when you begin to defend war criminals under the auspice of "anti-imperialism", it does seem as if something has gone drastically wrong with the global discourse.

    That's kind of a lot of qualms that I just have with the Left, though. I bring them up because I think that these sort of things kind of begin with the reactionary apologetics levelled against the more vehement strains of anti-Communism. They just give them what they want, which is just another bad example.

    An aside:

    As it concerns the concept of "critical, but unconditional" support, every now and then, within the beaten way of politics, not that I agree with such logic too directly, I do feel a need to echo Ayn Rand's interpretation of Aristotle and say that A is A and contradictions do not exist, which, I should hope the Left will understand is not something that I do because of that I sympathize or even agree with Rand, which I emphatically do not, but merely out of my general disdain for most of it.

    A farewell:

    I feel as if I have gone on into the void about this for long enough to return to my rather quiet life as an academic. As always, so long, everyone!
  • TheMadFool
    Quality Of Life & Torture.

    In Hell, the body count [There are things far, far worse than death]

    Casilda Benegas-Gallego (b. 8 April 1907) is an Argentinian but Argentina's happiness index, let's just say, is not something Argentinians would want to talk about.
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.