It's May Day, while Communist regimes celebrated this day, others mourn. Specifically there are claims that communist governments have killed 80 to 100 million people in the last 100 years. Are communist governments directly responsible for over 80 million deaths? (directly means killed via execution, internment, work camps, etc. but would not count deaths theoretically due to a weakened economy)

Communism. In less than 100 years, Communism has claimed more than 100 million lives. Today, it continues to enslave one-fifth of the world's people.

  • 12
    Would the deaths caused by the massive famine induced by Pol Pot's agricultural "reforms" count?
    – Lagerbaer
    May 1, 2012 at 23:39
  • 32
    Can we find a better word than "directly"? No-one ever had a death certificate with "communism" as the cause of death. Even being executed by a government that happens to be communist isn't (alone) evidence that communism itself is involved in the death.
    – Oddthinking
    May 2, 2012 at 0:06
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    And just to add to the confusion: Is it that these people are being killed because the government is communist, or because there is a fascist cult of personality behind the communist government. I think that a lot of people who bring out this claim also attempt to conflate it with other agendas of laying blame at the feet of the ideology inherent in communism instead of looking at the whole picture. And why only communist governments? There are other totalitarian (almost opposite of the ideal of communism) that have killed a great number of people. May 2, 2012 at 11:00
  • 10
    @vartec true, but also keep in mind that what Stalin and these "cult of personality" individuals were running was really not communism in the same way as some of these clueless young people may be supporting. You brought up WWII, keep in mind that Japan also had a total disregard for life, and they were not communist. Again, it's a many layers of nuance type of question that this questions seems to deal with. Very hard to nail down reliably, hence why the "simple" answer of 80 million is so widely accepted. Humans generally don't want to think too hard on unpleasantness like this. May 2, 2012 at 11:13
  • 6
    @LarianLeQuella, I suspect that the subtext for questions like this is the (equally impossible-to-pin-down) similar claims about 'religion causing most wars'.
    – Benjol
    May 2, 2012 at 12:36

2 Answers 2


The Black Book of Communism has communist government death totals at:

  • U.S.S.R.: 20 million deaths
  • China: 65 million deaths
  • Vietnam: 1 million deaths
  • North Korea: 2 million deaths
  • Cambodia: 2 million deaths
  • Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths
  • Latin America: 150,000 deaths
  • Africa: 1.7 million deaths
  • Afghanistan: 1.5 million deaths

This totals just over 94 million. These are the deaths committed by government agents against citizens of their own country.

This source estimates the Chinese number between 50 and 78 million deaths and the Soviet number at 23 million which is similar in magnitude to the source above.

  • 8
    The question isn't "Is capitalism better than communism", it's "are these numbers correct" May 4, 2012 at 11:49
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    The bit about the US is disingenuous; in many of those wars, both sides were aided and abetted by foreign powers - in most cases, US and USSR. By this same logic, perhaps these 20-30m people should also be on communist's body count. The source also comes across as clearly biased: "The U.S. is responsible for between 1 and 1.8 million deaths during the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, by luring the Soviet Union into invading that nation." - so, the Russians did the killing, but the victims end up on the US body count ? May 7, 2012 at 9:36
  • 8
    @Muro, sources (Black book, for example) include famine victims into the total of USSR death count. I think OP pointed out that he wouldn't count deaths caused by weakened economy. Anyway, it's hard to analyze those numbers without the list of causes of death. Personally, I wouldn't count famine and civil war victims as kills. May 8, 2012 at 5:23
  • 20
    I don't think that the Black Book of Communism can be considered a reliable source, since it clearly has an agenda. Furthermore, these stats seem to include all the indirect deaths that can be attributed to communist governments (famines, "collateral damage" from wars). Famines are clearly included in the USSR and Chinese totals, and I found estimates of 100,000 killed by the gov't in Afghanistan (afghanistan-analysts.org/…).
    – adam.r
    Dec 20, 2013 at 7:38
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    The inclusion of indirect deaths requires that we ask "what was the alternative"; consequently, it relies on ideological interpretations and opens the door for partisan grandstanding. For instance, socialists would blame the US gov't for homeless people dying of hypothermia or others dying for lack of access to medical care. Ultimately, this entire line of questioning reeks of partisan grandstanding... gloating over a defeated enemy as a way to distract attention from the failings of our own society (as Muro apparently understands).
    – adam.r
    Dec 20, 2013 at 7:42

It highly depends how to count. Black Book of Communism is good example. Should you count famines, civil war deaths, second world war deportations deaths? Should be this considered as killed by communist governments? Should you consider tens millions died in British India as victims of constitutional monarchy? Should you consider lifes saved by communist governments? Life expectancy on Cuba, for example, is still one of the highest in Latin America.

For example if we take numbers for USSR from Black Book as true and remove deaths related to wars, revolutions, famine remain number will be in order of magnitude lower.

So if by killed by communist governments you mean actually killed civil people - no, it's not true.

If you mean died in wars, famines, revolutions - it's close to true (see @Muro answer for details). For comparison - i doesn't have accurate sources, but I'm pretty sure that if you counts victims of other types of governments (like parliamentary democracy or monarchy) in that way you will got also very big numbers.

  • I'd certainly argue for including famine deaths, but it would indeed be useful to include context. The British caused a significant number of Indian deaths from famine during WW2 (perhaps by incompetence) for example. Even with context, though, we might see that communists make bigger mistakes.
    – matt_black
    Jan 28, 2013 at 19:19
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    The numbers in the "Black book" are absurd fabrications, inflated beyond any limits of sanity. The famine deaths in the USSR in the famine year 1932 are about 3 million, the demographic drop is 6-7 million, and this includes postponed births. Likewise in China during the great leap, the 60 million is demographic, mostly babies not born, but the famines lasted 3 years. The distribution situation was better as there was no armed conflict, and the government acknowledged the famine, so the number of actual deaths indeterminate, but probably on the order of 10 million (China is big).
    – Ron Maimon
    Aug 8, 2016 at 17:30

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