Op-ed by Denis Churilov for FRN
People who say that Stalin killed three (five? six? twenty eight!?) times more people than Hitler haven’t grown up beyond elementary Cold War propaganda.
We know the exact number of people who fell victim of the so called Stalin repressions these days, with all the dynamics already taken apart by researchers month by month. The NKVD were documenting everything they were doing pretty pedantically for internal use, and all their archives have been studied thoroughly throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s (since they became open for historians and statisticians during the Perestroika years), most notably by the international research group led by Zemskov.
As such, we know that the GULAG population reached its historic maximum in the post-War time, in the year 1950 (2,561,351 people). The percentage of “politically repressed” out of the total number of inmates reached its maximum of 59% in 1945-1946 (many people were accused of Nazi collaboration, often rightly so, after occupied territories were liberated).
By the way, many people don’t seem to realise it these days, but GULAGs were correctional labour camps, where inmates were working (sometimes they were even paid for their labour), with the results of their labour being used by the government/society. Even though, in the majority of cases, working conditions were tough, GULAGs weren’t “death camps” (unless you believe in fiction written by Solzhenitsyn), and any comparison to the Nazi concentration camps (many of which were specifically built to eliminate people in large quantities) should be viewed as nothing but ahistorical nonsense.
As for those who were sentenced to death for “counter-revolutionary” actions (which often included any serious crimes against the state, e. g. armed robberies during or shortly after the Civil War, large scale fund embezzlement, and such), between 1921 and 1953, around 800 thousands were sentenced to death by shooting in addition to around 600 thousand who died in prisons/GULAGs due to illnesses and harsh conditions. Therefore, the total number of people who died as a result of political repressions during Stalin’s rule is around 1.4 million (over nearly 33 years).
Obviously, there were also people who died during the civil war in the late 1910s and the 1920s, as well as those who fell victim to the famines in the early 1930s (and, no, those famines weren’t engineered), but attributing those deaths to Stalin (as Marxism/Socialism/Communism/etc) would be fallacious, as both sides in the civil war were equally brutal to each other. Besides, civil wars and famines are not exclusive to the history of Soviet Russia (or even to the history of Russia in general).
The total Soviet population increased by about 50 million during Stalin’s era despite WWII…
So, when we look at the EMPIRICAL, verifiable data, we see that there were 2.5 million people locked up in GULAGs during the worst times.
As a side note for comparison, there were 2,220,300 adults in US federal and state prisons in 2013, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that’s not including people who were on probation and parole. Unlike Stalin’s Soviet Union, the modern day United States hasn’t experienced any major revolutions/regime changes, civil wars or foreign invasions in over 140 years.
How does Stalin compare to Hitler? Well, the general estimates give a figure of around 6 million Jews (Jews alone!) exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. And that not including the people who died as a result of Nazi military aggression against other states. The Soviet Union, for instance, lost up to 27 million lives due to the Nazi invasion.
Stalinism stands nowhere near Hitlerism/Nazism in terms of death-toll figures.
There’s also one crucial point that many people fail to understand about history, either deliberately or due to the fact that no one bothered to explain it to them. Unlike Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s regime was exterminating millions of people based on their ethnicity ON PURPOSE. Yes, Stalin was a merciless dictator responsible for the deaths of many innocent people, even though some would argue that, given all the tragic complexities of those times, Stalinism saved Russia from far worse tragedies that could’ve happened if the country failed to stabilise and industrialise in time. Stalin wasn’t killing people just for the sake of it – again, repressions and mass executions have been happening during and after every major civil war throughout the entire history of mankind, but Hitler was a whole different level of pure evil. Genocide was a deliberate, ideological function of Nazism. Look into the works of Himmler, the ideas expressed by Goebbels, or even Hitler’s own Mein Kampf. People who happened to rule Germany back then were all pretty explicit about their views, making them into official policies and facilitating one of the worst genocides in modern history.
Again, those who died under Stalin died because of historical tragedy, like people who died during and after the French Revolution, when authorities introduced guillotine to behead people faster, or during the land reforms in England, or during the American Civil War. But people who died under Hitler, those who died during the Holocaust, they were the victims of direct, DELIBERATE genocide that was directed against people based on their ethnicity.
Not being able to see the difference between the two requires a special kind of intellectual dishonesty and moral underdevelopment.
So, was Stalin responsible for more deaths than Hitler? No, neither empirical research nor inferential analysis (e. g. looking into demographic data and its dynamics over the years) support this assertion. And causally comparing the victims of Stalinism to the victims of Nazism is like comparing a lethal traffic accident on a busy road to a deliberate, cold-minded killing spree.
Besides, there’s only one logical step between saying that Stalin was worse than Hitler and saying that Hitler was better than Stalin. Not surprisingly, most of the “communism death toll” nonsense is really just old Goebbels propaganda repackaged by Cold War think tanks to slander the Soviet Union.
Sadly, too many people still believe this balderdash.