Cover image for The black book of communism : crimes, terror, repression
The black book of communism : crimes, terror, repression
Courtois, Stéphane, 1947-
Uniform Title:
Livre noir du communisme. English.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xx, 858 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HX44 .L59 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Already famous throughout Europe, this international bestseller plumbs recently opened archives in the former Soviet bloc to reveal the actual, practical accomplishments of Communism around the world: terror, torture, famine, mass deportations, and massacres. Astonishing in the sheer detail it amasses, the book is the first comprehensive attempt to catalogue and analyze the crimes of Communism over seventy years.

"Revolutions, like trees, must be judged by their fruit," Ignazio Silone wrote, and this is the standard the authors apply to the Communist experience--in the China of "the Great Helmsman," Kim Il Sung's Korea, Vietnam under "Uncle Ho" and Cuba under Castro, Ethiopia under Mengistu, Angola under Neto, and Afghanistan under Najibullah. The authors, all distinguished scholars based in Europe, document Communist crimes against humanity, but also crimes against national and universal culture, from Stalin's destruction of hundreds of churches in Moscow to Ceausescu's leveling of the historic heart of Bucharest to the widescale devastation visited on Chinese culture by Mao's Red Guards.

As the death toll mounts--as many as 25 million in the former Soviet Union, 65 million in China, 1.7 million in Cambodia, and on and on--the authors systematically show how and why, wherever the millenarian ideology of Communism was established, it quickly led to crime, terror, and repression. An extraordinary accounting, this book amply documents the unparalleled position and significance of Communism in the hierarchy of violence that is the history of the twentieth century.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Tabulators of the Red Terror from its inception in 1918 down to its vestigial continuation in such countries as North Korea and Cuba, the authors instigated an intellectual ruckus in France, a curious reception for this dry ledger of death. It was not, apparently, the recitation of killings that irked the left in France but Courtois' condemnation of Leninist regimes as criminal enterprises. That stance challenged the left's deeply seated tenets that communism, despite excesses, was progressive; that Stalinism was an effect of one personality, not an entire system; and that moral indictments of communism are mitigated by the unique evil of the Nazism it defeated. For even adumbrating a moral equivalence of the tyrannical -isms, Courtois' introduction was denounced as anti-Semitic by a Le Monde editorialist. History communism may be, but a comprehensive historical accounting has yet to be undertaken because academic historians tend to loathe such accounting as being subjective. But since 1989, the raw documentary material necessary to just discover what happened, let alone interpret it, has begun to emerge. This volume merely chronicles and quotes the draconian decrees and secret police reports that sanctioned mass executions, deportations, and the establishment of concentration camps; implemented the collectivization of land, which invariably caused famines that starved millions; or formulated plans for wars of aggression, as in Korea. Whether this work will agitate U.S. citizens as much as it has the French seems doubtful, but there remain precincts in the U.S. where it could ignite debate, especially among those who stubbornly cleave to a belief that Lenin, Mao, and Pol Pot were aberrations rather than the essence of communism. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

In France, this damning reckoning of communism's worldwide legacy was a bestseller that sparked passionate arguments among intellectuals of the Left. Essentially a body count of communism's victims in the 20th century, the book draws heavily from recently opened Soviet archives. The verdict: communism was responsible for between 85 million and 100 million deaths in the century. In France, both sales and controversy were fueled, as Martin Malia notes in the foreword, by editor Courtois's specific comparison of communism's "class genocide" with Nazism's "race genocide." Courtois, the director of research at the prestigious Centre Research National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and editor of the journal Communisme, along with the other distinguished French and European contributors, delivers a fact-based, mostly Russia-centered wallop that will be hard to refute: town burnings, mass deportations, property seizures, family separations, mass murders, planned faminesÄall chillingly documented from conception to implementation. The book is divided into five sections. The first and largest takes readers from the "Paradoxes of the October Revolution" through "Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System" to "The Exit from Stalinism." Seeing the U.S.S.R. as "the cradle of all modern Communism," the book's other four sections document the horrors of the Iron Curtain countries, Soviet-backed agitation in Asia and the Americas, and the Third World's often violent embrace of the system. A conclusionÄ"Why?"Äby Courtois, points to a bureaucratic, "purely abstract vision of death, massacre and human catastrophe" rooted in Lenin's compulsion to effect ideals by any means necessary. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Courtois, director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), leads the efforts of major scholars associated with the CNRS, who drew on recently opened Soviet archives to track the atrocities of communism worldwide over the last century. Concluding that communism's death toll stands at 85 to 100 million, they wonder forcefully why such "class genocide" is excused more easily than the Nazis' "race genocide." This book burned a hole in the French Left when it was published--and also hit the best sellers lists. Not easy reading, but a seminal document. (LJ 11/1/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Martin MaliaStephane CourtoisNicolas WerthStephane Courtois and Jean-Louis Panne and Remi KaufferStephane Courtois and Jean-Louis PanneStephane Courtois and Jean-Louis PanneRemi KaufferAndrzej Paczkowski and Karel BartosekAndrzej PaczkowskiKarel BartosekJean-Louis Margolin and Pierre RigoulotJean-Louis MargolinPierre RigoulotJean-Louis MargolinJean-Louis MargolinPascal Fontaine and Yves Santamaria and Sylvain BoulouquePascal FontaineYves SantamariaSylvain BoulouqueStephane Courtois
Foreword: The Uses of Atrocityp. ix
Introduction: The Crimes of Communismp. 1
Part I A State against Its People: Violence, Repression, and Terror in the Soviet Unionp. 33
1 Paradoxes and Misunderstandings Surrounding the October Revolutionp. 39
2 The Iron Fist of the Dictatorship of the Proletariatp. 53
3 The Red Terrorp. 71
4 The Dirty Warp. 81
5 From Tambov to the Great Faminep. 108
6 From the Truce to the Great Turning Pointp. 132
7 Forced Collectivization and Dekulakizationp. 146
8 The Great Faminep. 159
9 Socially Foreign Elements and the Cycles of Repressionp. 169
10 The Great Terror (1936-1938)p. 184
11 The Empire of the Campsp. 203
12 The Other Side of Victoryp. 216
13 Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag Systemp. 232
14 The Last Conspiracyp. 242
15 The Exit from Stalinismp. 250
Conclusionp. 261
Part II Word Revolution, Civil War, and Terrorp. 269
16 The Comintern in Actionp. 271
17 The Shadow of the NKVD in Spainp. 333
18 Communism and Terrorismp. 353
Part III The Other Europe: Victim of Communismp. 361
19 Poland, the "Enemy Nation"p. 363
20 Central and Southeastern Europep. 394
Part IV Communism in Asia: Between Reeducation and Massacrep. 457
Introductionp. 459
21 China: A Long March into Nightp. 463
22 Crimes, Terror, and Secrecy in North Koreap. 547
23 Vietnam and Laos: The Impasse of War Communismp. 565
24 Cambodia: The Country of Disconcerting Crimesp. 577
Conclusionp. 636
Select Bibliography for Asiap. 642
Part V The Third Worldp. 645
25 Communism in Latin Americap. 647
26 Afrocommunism: Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambiquep. 683
27 Communism in Afghanistanp. 705
Conclusion: Why?p. 727
Notesp. 759
Indexp. 823
About the Authorsp. 857