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Victims of the Bolsheviks


Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2010 20 Seiten

Geschichte Europa - and. Länder - Zeitalter Weltkriege




1 The Russian Civil War and the great famine

2 The crusade against religion and Stalin’s rise to power

3 The Holodomor

4 A decade of purges

5 The Great Terror

6 The Gulags

7 The Second World War

8 The last years of Bolshevik terror

9 Conclusions



It has been 65 years since the end of the Second World War. Since this time, Adolf Hitler his National Socialists and their crimes against Jews, Gypsies and other people, have been documented, studied and investigated by thousands of scholars from dozens of nations. Countless books have been written about Nazi crimes and every month television shows new and still shocking documentaries on the Holocaust. While historical studies have examined almost every aspect of Nazi genocide and terror in the decades since 1945, they apparently neglected all similar acts done by other nations. Compared to the vast literature available about the Third Reich and its crimes, even today very little can be found about Italian crimes in Ethiopia, while works about Japanese atrocities in China are almost nonexistent. Though people did not know any details, they at least knew that terrible things had happened in the areas under Japanese and, to a much lesser extent, Italian control. This was not the case with communist countries, especially the Soviet Union. Not until the late 1960s, half a century after the Bolshevik Revolution, did the public in the Western hemisphere have any idea about the size and magnitude of Bolshevik crimes. Full realisation however came not with the research works of Robert Conquest or the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but twenty years later with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Writes British historian Norman Davies

“Eventually, when the USSR finally collapsed, it turned out that […] Conquest had been pretty close to the truth all along, and that the victims of Stalin’s rule were to be counted not in the hundreds or thousands, or even millions, but in tens of millions.”[1]

Despite overwhelming evidence, even today many people refuse to accept the numbers presented by Conquest, Solzhenitsyn or the Black Book of Communism, and flatly deny Bolshevik crimes. Reading the reviews for the Black Book on, one can only react with disgust and disbelief. One particularly stubborn denier of Bolshevik crimes wrote:

I cannot resist the temptation to report the total number of prisoners (political AND common) who died (execution, disease, hunger, etc.) in the Soviet prisons, gulags, labor camps, etc. in the period 1934-1953: not 10 or 20 or 60 million, but 1.053.829 persons. […] The above is just one example of the inconsistency of the "Black Book of Communism". Other chapters (for example those concerning China) are even more deceiving ... they would match better in a book of science fiction.[2]

Although a very interesting question arises from this comment. Could it be that the number presented by the reviewer is right? How many victims did Bolshevik terror claim in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe? At first glance the question appears trivial. After four decades of research, and 20 years after the opening of the Russian archives there should be a definite answer. In fact, there is not. Estimates range from less than one to almost 70 million.[3] The goal of this work is to give an overview of all the Bolshevik victims from 1917-1953, to find out which of the various estimates are the most realistic and to present the most likely number of people that have been killed, deported or sent to the Gulags by Soviet authorities during this time period.

1 The Russian Civil War and the great famine

From the very beginning of the Russian Civil War, when Lenin and his Bolsheviks tried to seize power, it became clear that they represented an unprecedented force of violence. While there had been 3932 executions in the Russian Empire between 1825-1917 (for political beliefs and activities), the Bolsheviks surpassed this number in March 1918, after they had been in power for only four months.[4] Unfortunately, this was just the beginning. For three years, from early 1918 to early 1921, a war for power was fought in Russia that would eclipse even the horrors experienced during the First World War. On one side stood the White tsarist armies, which wanted to restore the empire, on the other side under Lenin stood the Bolsheviks which wanted to destroy the old order and to install socialism in Russia. Already in the early stages of the war, certain social groups like the upper class, royalty, members of the church and the bourgeoisie had been classified by the Bolsheviks as class enemies.

They were seen as enemies of the people that had to be eliminated. To achieve this, the All Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat the Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage, (short Cheka) was founded. In 1918 thousands of so called class enemies had already been killed by this organization. Alone in two months of official Red Terror, from September to October 1918, the Cheka killed around 15 000 people.[5] The conditions under Bolshevik rule were so bitter and cruel that soon revolts and rebellions erupted throughout the whole country. All were put down brutally. The revenge of the victors was beyond comprehension. In March 1919 between 3000 and 5000 people were killed by the Bolsheviks in Astrakhan in less than a week. In Rostov-on-Don around 1000 people were executed in January 1920 alone, while between 3000 and 5000 people perished in Kharkiv from February to December 1919. Another 3000 people were murdered in Kyiv from February to August 1919, in Armavir, a small town in Kuban, between 2000-3000 from August to December 1920.[6] Similar acts of terror took place in almost every larger city throughout the entire future Soviet Union.

Sadly, the Bolsheviks were capable of even greater crimes. At the end of 1920 they executed more than 50 000 refugees in the Crimea in less than two months. Over 200 000 refuges had gathered there trying to get away from the Bolsheviks. Luckily the other 150 000 people managed to escaped via the Black Sea ports before the Red Army arrived.[7] But even this slaughter wasn’t the climax of Bolshevik terror. The greatest group of victims of Lenin and his followers in the Civil War were the Don Cossacks. Under the Tsar the Don Cossacks enjoyed certain privileges and many of them had been landowners. Seeing what the Bolsheviks did to landowners, they allied themselves with the White tsarist armies. Some 8000 Don Cossacks had been killed as early as February 1919, before the Bolsheviks had to retreat from advancing White forces. With the defeat of the White armies however, the Don Cossacks experienced the full wrath of the Bolsheviks. In the course of the so called de-Cossackization, (i.e. the planned annihilation of the Cossacks as a social class) between 300 000 and 500 000 Don Cossacks were killed or deported in the years 1919/20, out of a total population of 3 million.[8]

After the Bolsheviks defeated the White armies, and “dealt” with the Don Cossacks, their attention shifted to the peasants. Since the early stages of the civil war one peasant rebellion had followed the other. Eventually, rebellion against Bolshevik oppression spread like a firestorm throughout the whole country. At its height peasant armies controlled entire provinces. In the province of Tambov, (western Siberia) for example, the Bolsheviks held only the city of Tambov itself. To break all resistance the Bolsheviks once again did what they could best, applied terror. Whole villages were attacked with poison gas, burned to the ground or completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of people died during the fighting, thousands upon thousands were executed by the authorities, while tens of thousands of people were deported to newly build concentration camps.[9] The decisive event that did end the peasant rebellions however was not Bolshevik intervention, but the great famine of the years 1921/22.

At the very least 5 million people perished.[10] It could be argued that the famine was a natural one and that the Bolsheviks had nothing to do with it. After all, there had been seven years of world and civil war and the agricultural areas of the former Russian Empire in the Ukraine, the Volga and Kazakhstan, were so devastated that agricultural production collapsed. However, if one examines what happened before and during the famine more closely, it is hard to see how the Bolsheviks could not be blamed for the consequences. Lenin and his followers were supporters of famine. They saw in it as a means to break the peasant resistance. Nicolas Werth writes:

Despite the bad harvest of 1920, 10 Million pudy [one pudy=16.38 kilogram] had been requisitioned [by the Bolsheviks] that year. All grain stocks, even the future harvest, had been seized. Numerous peasants had had virtually nothing to eat since January 1921.The mortality rate had immediately increased in February. In the space of two to three months, riots and revolts against the regime had effectively stopped […].[11]

Almost nothing was done by the government to help the starving. In the summer of 1922 when the famine affected 30 million people, the so called All-Russian Committee for Aid to the Starving could assure an irregular supply for only 3 million, while international organisations like the Red Cross, the Quakers and the American Relief Association supplied 11 million people every day.[12] If there is still any doubt about the responsibility of the Bolsheviks for this famine one should look back at the last one. During the famine of 1891, the authorities fought extremely hard to save lives and “only” between 400 000 and 500 000 people died.[13] While the number of people dying in the famine in 1891 is still astronomically high, the number of victims is less than 10% for the famine of 1921/22. Even after seven years of world and civil war, it is hard to see why a natural famine should suddenly kill ten times more people then the last one.


[1] Norman Davies, Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory (London 2006), p. 66.


reviews/0674076087/ref=cm_cr_pr_link_9?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&pageNumber=9&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending, September 6 2010

[3] Václav Veber, Stalinovo impérium: Rusko 1924-1953 (Praha 2003), pp. 137,139.

[4] Stéphane Courtois (ed.) The Black Book of Communism: crimes, terror, repression (London 1999), pp. 13-14.

[5] Ibid., pp. 77-78.

[6] Courtois, The Black Book of Communisms, pp. 88,106.

[7] Jörg Baberowski, Der rote Terror: Die Geschichte des Stalinismus (München 2003), p. 41.

[8] Courtois, The Black Book of Communism, pp. 98-102.

[9] Ibid., pp. 108-118.

[10] Courtois, The Black Book of Communism, pp.123; Václav Veber, Leninova vláda: Rusko 1917-1924 (Praha 2003), p. 92.

[11] Courtois, The Black Book of Communism, p. 120.

[12] Ibid., pp. 122-123.

[13] Ibid., p. 123.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
473 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Wien – Geschichte
Victims Bolsheviks



Titel: Victims of the Bolsheviks