Reviews of new books
Start Page: 99-100
Subject Terms: Nonfiction Communism Crime History
Lauber reviews "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression" edited by
Nicholas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek et al, and translated
by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer.
Copyright HELDREF PUBLICATIONS Spring 2000
Courtois, Stephane, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, and
Jean-Louis Margolin, eds.
Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression Trans. Jonathan Murphy and
Harvard University Press 858 pp., $37.50, ISBN 0-674-07608-7 Publication Date:
it appeared in France in 1997, this first attempt to spell out the crimes of
communism in the
twentieth century created a sensation that continues to ring throughout the world. The authors, all
distinguished European scholars, are led by Stephane Courtois, director of research at the Centre
National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and editor of the journal Communisme, who wrote the
introduction and conclusion, as well as the chapter on the Comintern. The book is divided into five parts,
each written by at least one specialist in the field.
the introduction, Courtois presents the book's main purpose: to document the
criminal dimensions of
the worldwide communist movement using archival material recently made available by the collapse of
the Soviet Union. As a standard for evaluation, the authors adopted the definitions established in 1945 at
the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, where three major legal categories were identified: crimes against
peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Examination of the Soviet regime of Lenin and Stalin,
along with the worldwide communist movement that patterned itself on the Soviet Union, not only
reveals crimes that fit each of these categories, but in quantities that far outstrip Nazism during its brief
but deadly reign.
1, totaling fifteen chapters and one-fourth of the entire book, analyzes the
Communist system that
evolved in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin. It is written by Nicolas Werth, a member of the
Paris Institute for Contemporary History and an authority on Russia and the Soviet Union. Access to the
newly opened archives has enabled Werth to identify and clarify cycles of violence that engulfed the
Soviet state from 1917 to 1953, becoming an important element of Soviet Communism and thus a
central feature of world communism. The first cycle is associated with the civil war of 1918-1920, when
violence became a daily occurrence as the Bolsheviks struggled to hold on to power. The second cycle
appeared with the Stalin revolution of the 1930s, with its forced collectivization, war against the
peasantry, Great Tenor, and forced deportations. To Werth, the continuity between the Leninist and
Stalinist cycles of violence is clear, as Stalin built upon the ideas and institutions introduced by Lenin
after 1917, especially during the important civil war, when state-sponsored violence became integral to
Lenin's brand of Communism.
2, "World Revolution, Civil War, and Tenor," is written by Courtois,
Jean-Louis Panne, and Remi
Kauffer and first covers the history of the Comintern, the instrument through which the Soviet Union
imposed its structure and control on the international communist movement. Then, chapters on the civil
wars in China and Spain and the Soviet role in international terrorism continue to illustrate the role of
violence in the external push of communism beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.
3, "The Other Europe: Victim of Communism," treats the former satellite
states of the USSR.
Andrzej Paczkowski, former deputy director of the Institute for Political Studies of the Polish Academy
of Sciences, contributes the chapter on Poland, the "enemy state" of Soviet Russia. Beginning with an
overview of the period from 1917 to 1944, in which he analyzes the various attempts to subvert the
Polish government during and after the 1920 war, Paczkowski discusses the Katyn massacre and the
tactics of the NKVD in Soviet-occupied regions of the country after 1939. However, most of the
chapter is devoted to the repression earned out by the Polish Communist government from 1944 to
1989, when mass terror was used in varying degrees of intensity. Appended to this chapter is a selected
bibliography of archival material applicable just to Poland and available only since 1989.
and southeastern Europe is analyzed by the Czech historian Karel Bartosek. He
political trials patterned after those in Stalin's Russia, systematic destruction of civil society, the extensive
concentration camp system, and the role played by the Red Army after World War II in imposing
communism and maintaining Soviet control.
communism is the subject of part 4. Communism in this region is set apart from
counterpart by the fact that most regimes (North Korea is the main exception) established themselves
without outside help and built independent political systems with strong nationalistic foundations. Since
most of these regimes are still in power, archival material is not available. Even so, the same central
features of Soviet Communism are evident: state-sponsored terror, the use of concentration camps, and
forced social engineering.
largest of these states is, of course, China, where Mao Zedong developed his
own brand of
communism. This chapter is written by Jean-Louis Margolin, who shows that the violence associated
with Maoism came in part from its association with Leninism-Stalinism but also had roots in the barracks
mentality and tradition of violence that marked Chinese communism from the start. The merger of those
two trends resulted in crimes against the Chinese people that reached mind-boggling proportions during
and after the period of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
and Pierre Rigoulot argue that the same elements can be found in the other communist
in North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. However, it seems that the Khmer Rouge regime in
Cambodia is an exception in the extent and intensity of that violence, marking a regime that took social
engineering to extremes. Again, a select bibliography of Asian materials is attached.
5, by Pascal Fontaine, Yves Santamaria, and Sylvain Boulouque, treats the Third
chapters on Latin America, including Cuba, Nicaragua, and Peru; the Afrocommunism of Ethiopia,
Angola, and Mozambique; and the unique case of Afghanistan, where Soviet military intervention
exacerbated the already violent nature of the local communist regime.
the conclusion, Courtois addresses the obvious question: With all of its idealism
at the start, why did
Communism turn into a bloody dictatorship? And why did crimes become a part of the very fabric of the
system? Courtois sees the answer in the tradition of violence throughout Russian history, the violence
associated with the World War I, the role of Lenin in emphasizing the use of terror and violence to hold
on to power, and the role of Stalin in the violent transformation of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, Once
established, these concepts of terror and coercion became emblematic of all communist regimes.
is an important book for anyone interested in understanding the role of communism
in the twentieth
century; it expands on the work of such authors as Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The final body count
reaches an incomprehensible 85-100 million! The Nazi regime, responsible for an estimated 25 million
deaths in its relatively short but brutal career, pales by comparison. Photographs, maps, and an
extensive general bibliography add to the value and readability of this extraordinary work. That the
authors are all associated with the intellectual Left makes it even more interesting and valuable.
JACK M. LAUBER
University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire