Black Book of Communism

History Buffs- is this book reliable? Apparently there is much debate and speculation over the figures and assertions put forth in the book.

The reason I ask this is because of the group of conflicting views at (, i.e. “Accurate figures finally told” vs. “Right wing revisionism.”

So, what’s the Straight Dope? “The Black Book of Communism” by Courtois, reliable or not?

(Note: This may be better in GD or IMHO, but I’m starting it here)

I’m reading it now, so I’d like to see what folks have to say about it. However, I don’t think there’s any hope of keeping this out of GD, so I may as well move it now.

Well, the numbers for the big guys look accurate: 25M for the U.S.S.R. actually looks low, 65M for Mao’s China, 2M for Cambodia.

The numbers for some of the smaller countries may be more problematic. Did Ho Chi Minh really kill off 1,000,000 of his countrymen–or how many of those deaths were due to all the other issues surrounding the whole history of Viet Nam from 1920 through 1980?

More troubling to me is this quote from one review:

Excuse me? How did Zimbabwe and Egypt (particularly focusing on Nasser) get into that list? Given that anyone who opposed the original colonial powers (notably Britain and France) had to seek aid from the U.S.S.R. or China (since the U.S. routinely avoiding speaking harshly to its allies), such a claim is almost tautological. However, whatever complaints one may lodge against Nasser (and he is not without blemish), putting him in the same camp as Stalin and Mao is absurd.

The book may provide good factul data regarding a number of historical events, but I would tend to be wary of any conclusions it draws.

Yeah, or Iraq and Syria. Ba’athism* is not Communism; in fact, the Ba’athists in Iraq carried out purges and massacres of the Communists there. To be sure, both Syria and Iraq were generally in the Soviet orbit during the Cold War, but that no more makes them Communist than being in the Western camp made some of our less savory allies liberal capitalist democracies.
*The pan-Arab socialistic and nationalist movement rival branches of which still rule Syria and Iraq.

I haven’t read the book, let me start with that. I just want to comment on the figures I see before me. No comment on USSR or China. I don’t know any exact figures, but I know they are high for both. Absolutely disgusting.

As for Cambodia, I’d like to know what period of history they are using for their figures. If it is indeed Pol Pot that they are referring to, then I’d have to say: Pol Pot is not communist!
While Communists did fare pretty well in Cambodia for a while, Prince Siranhouk (I don’t know if I have this name right) was in and out of power for many years, and eventually the US got him out for good. The US then was instrumental in putting Pol Pot in power, because Pol Pot hated communists so much. So, if the 2 million from Cambodia are supposed to represent Pol Pot, I’d say we mostly have us to blame for that.

I am very very wary of the Ho Chi Minh figures. How many of these deaths are ARVN (Vietnamese troops trained by the US to fight the DRV and Viet Cong) soldiers? I know that the Viet Cong did kill civilians (mostly fat cats who had been selling out the people for decades- through French rule, Japanese rule, and then American rule). Figures I heard (roughly) when I took a couple college classes on the subject ranged somewhere around 250-400,000. Since Ho died before Vietnam was unified, I doubt they could be talking about post-war civilian deaths…

And, besides, the US killed millions upon millions of people in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 15 or so years that they had “interest” in the region. If you are going to use civilian death tolls as an admonishment of communist theory (which is hardly logical), I’d recommend compiling some tolls for America throughout its history.

I agree with your advice, tomndebb. Don’t subscribe to any conclusions the book makes without thoroughly examining them.

who doesn’t understand why there has to be conservative historical revisionism, as the great majority of history thus far has been conservative.


The Khmer Rouge was the armed wing of the “Communist Party of Kampuchea”. Pol Pot was a Communist, of the “radical Maoist” variety.

The Khmer Rouge was the communist party of Cambodia, and Pol Pot (who killed many many communists) co-opted the party when he came to power. He came to power b/c the US was satisfied with his hate of communists, dissidents, and revolutionaries.

Kind of like how Hitler was not a socialist, but he took over the National Socialist (Nazi) party.

I guess you take whatever avenues you can. If socialist or communist parties are popular enough to lull the masses into content but also weak enough to be easily co-opted, then they will be used.

I would not consider Pol Pot a communist, and I would attribute his reign of terror to colonialism more than communism.


Well, I agree that all true Scotsmen enjoy a good plate full of haggis.

I dunno…Pol Pot always seemed to be a Communist, with equal parts Maoism and craziness, and he did a bunch of Communist-like things, like abolishing religion and money, and forcing everybody onto collectives. If you have to compare him to somebody, compare him to Stalin, who killed a lot of Communists himself, btw.

OK…I’m convinced.


When he was a student in France, Pol Pot was one of the founders of the French Communist Party.

Most expert agree that Pol Pot aquired the leadership of the Cambodian communist party (KPRP) as early as 1963.

Pol Pot was a witness to and supporter of Maos “Great Leap Forward”, the attempt by the Chinese to accelerate the rate of progress toward a state of “pure communism”, which resulted in the deaths of at least 13 million Chinese.

I believe that your confusion stems from the fact that Pol Pot hated the Vietnamese. After the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia the US did, for a fact, support a coalition of anti-Vietnamese guerilla groups which included Pol Pot. We weren’t thrilled about this at the time, but there seemed to be no way to oppose the Vietnamese occupation without Pol Pot getting a slice of the pie.

But all of this came after the Pol Pot regime and the deaths of about 1.5 million Cambodians.

I can assure you that I can provide you with as much evidence as you would like that:

Pol Pot considered himself to be a communist.
Prince Sihanouk considered Pol Pot to be a communist.
The Vietnamese considered Pol Pot to be a communist.
The US considered Pol Pot to be a communist.
The Chinese considered Pol Pot to be a communist.
All true Scotsmen considered Pol Pot to be a communist.
The Russians considered Pol Pot to be a communist.
And, last but not least, the Albanians definitely considered Pol Pot to be a communist.

Are you sure you’re not confusing Pol Pot with Lon Nol. Lon Nol took power in Cambodia following a 1970 CIA-backed coup that overthrew Prince Sihanouk. He lasted until 1975, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over. About the nicest things one can say about Lon Nol are:
(1) He killed off fewer people than Po Pot (although maybe he was just a slow starter)
(2) His name’s a palindrome.

Don’t mistake the reviews for the book.

I can’t find any claim in my copy that even suggests that Ho Chi Minh killed 1,000,000 Vietnamese. (or 1,000,000 of anybody for that matter)
The book does discuss his purges of Trotskyites (numbering in the hundreds) and landowners (numbering in the the tens of thousands).


Again…the only mention I can find of Zimbabwe is in a discussion of the communist movement in Mozambique.

The only mention of Egypt/Nasser is one which states that communism is not responsible for the Algerian nationalist movement because (amongst other things) they were supplied with arms by Egypt/Nasser.

Daoloth -

In looking over the reviews, I would hazard a guess that about 25% of those people have actually read the book. (just my opinion)

So, Zigaretten, what’s your take on the book? Accurate?

Yes…on the whole the book is accurate and fairly well documented. Just keep in mind that in some areas you’re dealing with estimates which involve millions of people and are based on very scanty data. Obviously, there is lots of room for error and no one really knows the true numbers.

But, just as it doesn’t matter if estimates of the holocaust are off by ten or twenty percent, exact numbers aren’t important in this subject either. The important thing is the general idea.

Also…a lot of people seem to be complaining that the book is a very one sided look at the subject of communism. Well, based on the books title and subject matter, I kind of suspect that it is meant to be a one sided account. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as they don’t pretend that they are presenting a balanced picture of the subject, which they don’t.

My only real complaint is that it’s a very big subject for 800 little pages. Oh, and everybody is free to have thier own opinion of the conclusions, as with any book.

Hello all,

I feel that, as a contributor to GD, it is important for me to concede when I am wrong.

Thus, my claims that Pol Pot was not a communist were wrong. I am not sure how or when I got the idea that he was not a communist. All I had to do was check back into a book I have read three or four times to find that I was wrong (Marilyn Young “The Vietnam Wars.”) I apologize for being so adamant without checking my sources first. I rarely look for cites when I post, which may be something I need to work on. Memory can be a tricky thing.

But, just to add something more to the apology…I had also claimed that the US was intregral in Pol Pot’s keeping of power.

In finding that I was wrong, I stumbled upon the facts for this, if anyone wants them.

“Brzezinski’s (Carter’s National Security Advisor) policy towards Vietnam forced the country into the embrace of the Soviet Union, thus justifying America’s ongoing economic war against Vietnam and drawing harsh lessons for other nationalist aspirants. American support for Chinese policy in Cambodia salvaged the defeated remanants of Pol Pot’s forces and put them back into the field against the Vietnamese army of occupation so as to ‘bleed Vietnam.’” Marilyn Young, pg. 312.