There are many sources claiming that Stalin killed between 20 and 60 million people. A few articles with this claim:

In February 1989, two years before the fall of the Soviet Union, a research paper by Georgian historian Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev published in the weekly tabloid Argumenti i Fakti estimated that the death toll directly attributable to Stalin’s rule amounted to some 20 million lives (on top of the estimated 20 million Soviet troops and civilians who perished in the Second World War), for a total tally of 40 million.

How Many People Did Joseph Stalin Kill?

The figure comes from the book by Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Macmillan 1968). In his appendix on casualty figures, he reviews a number of estimates of those that were killed under Stalin, and calculates that the number of executions 1936 to 1938 was probably about 1,000,000; that from 1936 to 1950 about 12,000,000 died in the camps; and 3,500,000 died in the 1930-1936 collectivization. Overall, he concludes:

Thus we get a figure of 20 million dead, which is almost certainly too low and might require an increase of 50 percent or so, as the debit balance of the Stalin regime for twenty-three years.

How Many Did Stalin Really Murder

With this understood, the Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto.

How many did communist regimes murder?

Were more than 10 million people intentionally killed under Stalin's rule? In what way?

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    Leave the question as OP had it, your addition of quotes is useless, and you left out the biggest Russian demographic catastrophe (important for comparison when evaluating demographic data), which wasn't in the 1930s, it was in the 1990s. The OP is pointing out that the death rates reported in the media are completely ridiculous given the USSR population at the time of 160 million, and this is an important and correct (although obvious) observation. The levels of killing reported in the media for Stalinist Russia are those of Cambodia under Pol Pot. They are laughably absurd.
    – Ron Maimon
    Aug 5, 2016 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


According to Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Killed More?, by Timothy David Snyder, who is a history professor at Yale University specializing in eastern Europe:

Judging from the Soviet records we now have, the number of people who died in the Gulag between 1933 and 1945, while both Stalin and Hitler were in power, was on the order of a million, perhaps a bit more. The total figure for the entire Stalinist period is likely between two million and three million. The Great Terror and other shooting actions killed no more than a million people, probably a bit fewer. The largest human catastrophe of Stalinism was the famine of 1930–1933, in which more than five million people died.

Of those who starved, the 3.3 million or so inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine who died in 1932 and 1933 were victims of a deliberate killing policy related to nationality. In early 1930, Stalin had announced his intention to “liquidate” prosperous peasants (“kulaks”) as a class so that the state could control agriculture and use capital extracted from the countryside to build industry. Tens of thousands of people were shot by Soviet state police and hundreds of thousands deported. Those who remained lost their land and often went hungry as the state requisitioned food for export. The first victims of starvation were the nomads of Soviet Kazakhstan, where about 1.3 million people died. The famine spread to Soviet Russia and peaked in Soviet Ukraine. Stalin requisitioned grain in Soviet Ukraine knowing that such a policy would kill millions. Blaming Ukrainians for the failure of his own policy, he ordered a series of measures—such as sealing the borders of that Soviet republic—that ensured mass death.

In 1937, as his vision of modernization faltered, Stalin ordered the Great Terror. Because we now have the killing orders and the death quotas, inaccessible so long as the Soviet Union existed, we now know that the number of victims was not in the millions. We also know that, as in the early 1930s, the main victims were the peasants, many of them survivors of hunger and of concentration camps. The highest Soviet authorities ordered 386,798 people shot in the “Kulak Operation” of 1937–1938. The other major “enemies” during these years were people belonging to national minorities who could be associated with states bordering the Soviet Union: some 247,157 Soviet citizens were killed by the NKVD in ethnic shooting actions.

In the largest of these, the “Polish Operation” that began in August 1937, 111,091 people accused of espionage for Poland were shot. In all, 682,691 people were killed during the Great Terror, to which might be added a few hundred thousand more Soviet citizens shot in smaller actions. The total figure of civilians deliberately killed under Stalinism, around six million, is of course horribly high. But it is far lower than the estimates of twenty million or more made before we had access to Soviet sources. At the same time, we see that the motives of these killing actions were sometimes far more often national, or even ethnic, than we had assumed. Indeed it was Stalin, not Hitler, who initiated the first ethnic killing campaigns in interwar Europe.


At the war’s end the Soviets killed tens of thousands of people in their own “reprisals,” especially in the Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine. Some 363,000 German soldiers died in Soviet captivity.


For the Soviets during the Stalin period, the analogous figures are approximately six million and nine million.

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    The famine is inflated by at least 50%, but except for the last sentence, this is within the bounds of reasonable discussion. The parts everyone agrees on is that stalin had about 1.5 million people executed, about half, 700,000, during the great terror, and the other half during the 1932 Ukraine resistance to collectivization. ACTUAL communists (not me) dispute that the Stalin government was responsible for the whole, they consider the great terror to be a power-grab by the NKVD, and it ended with the deposition and execution of Yezhov in 1939. They also consider the 1932 Kulak trials fair.
    – Ron Maimon
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:46
  • @RonMaimon I'm not see anything corresponding to "the figures for Germans killed postwar, the 500,000" in my answer or the source. Can you point out what you are referring to by that?
    – DavePhD
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:55
  • "Some 363,000 German soldiers died in Soviet captivity." Perhaps I misinterpreted this as overlapping with those Germans who died during deportation. Now that I think about it, they might be separate.
    – Ron Maimon
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:56
  • Is it just me, or does consistently stating that someone should mention a position, and consistently claiming one does not hold that same position.........come across as covering for the possibility that said person does hold that position? 1:38am musings of a madman Dec 13, 2016 at 7:38
  • You never answered the book's titular question. "analogous figures are approximately [Hitler:] six million and [Stalin:] nine million." ?
    – Mazura
    May 14, 2020 at 7:44

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