Democide is a term coined by American political scientist Rudolph Rummel to describe "the intentional killing of an unarmed or disarmed person by government agents acting in their authoritative capacity and pursuant to government policy or high command." According to Rummel, this definition covers a wide range of deaths, including forced labor and concentration camp victims, killings by mercenaries and unofficial private groups, extrajudicial summary killings, and mass deaths due to governmental acts of criminal omission and neglect, such as in deliberate famines like the Holodomor, as well as killings by de facto governments, i.e. killings during a civil war. This definition covers any murder of any number of persons by any government.
Rummel created democide as an extended term to include forms of government murder not covered by genocide. According to Rummel, democide surpassed war as the leading cause of non-natural death in the 20th century.
Democide is the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder. Democide is not necessarily the elimination of entire cultural groups but rather groups within the country that the government feels need to be eradicated for political reasons and due to claimed future threats.
According to Rummel, genocide has three different meanings. The ordinary meaning is murder by government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial or religious group membership. The legal meaning of genocide refers to the international treaty on genocide, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This also includes nonlethal acts that in the end eliminate or greatly hinder the group. Looking back on history, one can see the different variations of democides that have occurred, but it still consists of acts of killing or mass murder. The generalized meaning of genocide is similar to the ordinary meaning but also includes government killings of political opponents or otherwise intentional murder. In order to avoid confusion over which meaning is intended, Rummel created democide for this third meaning.
In "How Many Did Communist Regimes Murder?", Rummel wrote:
First, however, I should clarify the term democide. It means for governments what murder means for an individual under municipal law. It is the premeditated killing of a person in cold blood, or causing the death of a person through reckless and wanton disregard for their life. Thus, a government incarcerating people in a prison under such deadly conditions that they die in a few years is murder by the state—democide—as would parents letting a child die from malnutrition and exposure be murder. So would government forced labor that kills a person within months or a couple of years be murder. So would government created famines that then are ignored or knowingly aggravated by government action be murder of those who starve to death. And obviously, extrajudicial executions, death by torture, government massacres, and all genocidal killing be murder. However, judicial executions for crimes that internationally would be considered capital offenses, such as for murder or treason (as long as it is clear that these are not fabricated for the purpose of executing the accused, as in communist show trials), are not democide. Nor is democide the killing of enemy soldiers in combat or of armed rebels, nor of noncombatants as a result of military action against military targets.
In his work and research, Rummel distinguished between colonial, democratic, and authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. He defined totalitarianism as follows:
There is much confusion about what is meant by totalitarian in the literature, including the denial that such systems even exist. I define a totalitarian state as one with a system of government that is unlimited constitutionally or by countervailing powers in society (such as by a church, rural gentry, labor unions, or regional powers); is not held responsible to the public by periodic secret and competitive elections; and employs its unlimited power to control all aspects of society, including the family, religion, education, business, private property, and social relationships. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union was thus totalitarian, as was Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Hitler's Germany, and U Ne Win's Burma. Totalitarianism is then a political ideology for which a totalitarian government is the agency for realizing its ends. Thus, totalitarianism characterizes such ideologies as state socialism (as in Burma), Marxism-Leninism as in former East Germany, and Nazism. Even revolutionary Moslem Iran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1978–79 has been totalitarian—here totalitarianism was married to Moslem fundamentalism. In short, totalitarianism is the ideology of absolute power. State socialism, communism, Nazism, fascism, and Moslem fundamentalism have been some of its recent raiments. Totalitarian governments have been its agency. The state, with its international legal sovereignty and independence, has been its base. As will be pointed out, mortacracy is the result.
In his estimates, Rudolph Rummel relied mostly on historical accounts, an approach that rarely provides accuracy compared with contemporary academic opinion. In the case of Mexican democide, Rummel wrote that while "these figures amount to little more than informed guesses", he thought "there is enough evidence to at least indict these authoritarian regimes for megamurder." According to Rummel, his research showed that the death toll from democide is far greater than the death toll from war. After studying over 8,000 reports of government-caused deaths, Rummel estimated that there have been 262 million victims of democide in the last century. According to his figures, six times as many people have died from the actions of people working for governments than have died in battle. One of his main findings was that democracies have much less democide than authoritarian regimes. Rummel argued that there is a relation between political power and democide. Political mass murder grows increasingly common as political power becomes unconstrained. At the other end of the scale, where power is diffuse, checked, and balanced, political violence is a rarity. According to Rummel, "[t]he more power a regime has, the more likely people will be killed. This is a major reason for promoting freedom." Rummel argued that "concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth."
Rummel's estimates, especially about Communist democide, typically included a wide range and cannot be considered determinative. Rummel calculated nearly 43 million deaths due to democide inside and outside the Soviet Union during Stalin's regime. This is much higher than an often quoted figure in the popular press of 20 million, or a 2010s scholarly figure of 9 million. Rummel responded that the 20 million estimate is based on a figure from Robert Conquest's The Great Terror and that Conquest's qualifier "almost certainly too low" is usually forgotten. For Rummell, Conquest's calculations excluded camp deaths before 1936 and after 1950, executions (1939–1953), the forced population transfer in the Soviet Union (1939–1953), the deportation within the Soviet Union of minorities (1941–1944), and those the Soviet Red Army and Cheka (the secret police) executed throughout Eastern Europe after their conquest during the 1944–1945 period. Moreover, the Holodomor that killed 5 million in 1932–1934 (according to Rummel) is also not included. According to Rummel, forced labor, executions, and concentration camps were responsible for over one million deaths in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from 1948 to 1987. After decades of research in the state archives, most scholars say that Stalin's regime killed between 6 and 9 million, which is considerably less than originally thought, while Nazi Germany killed at least 11 million, which is in line with previous estimates.
Some researchers have found similar results to Rummel's. One commented that "[n]umerous researchers point out that democratic norms and political structures constrain elite decisions about the use of repression against their citizens whereas autocratic elites are not so constrained. Once in place, democratic institutions—even partial ones—reduce the likelihood of armed conflict and all but eliminate the risk that it will lead to geno/politicide."[failed verification]
Researchers often give widely different estimates of mass killings or mass murders. They use different definitions, methodology, and sources, with some including battle deaths in their calculations. Klas-Göran Karlsson prefers using crimes against humanity to include "the direct mass killings of politically undesirable elements, as well as forced deportations and forced labour." Karlsson acknowledges that the term may be misleading in the sense that Communist regimes targeted groups of their own citizens, but he considers it useful as a broad legal term which emphasizes attacks on civilian populations, and because the offenses demean humanity as a whole. Michael Mann and Jacques Sémelin believe that crimes against humanity is more appropriate than genocide or politicide when speaking of killings or violence by Communist regimes.
The concept has been applied by Rummel to Communist regimes. According to Klas-Göran Karlsson, discussion of number of victims of Communist regimes have been "extremely extensive and ideologically biased." Any attempt to estimate a total number depends greatly on definitions, ranging from a low of 10–20 millions to as high as 110 millions. Attempts at documenting and estimating killings by Communist regimes have been made by several authors, scholars, and anti-communist organizations. In 1987, Rudolph Rummel's book Death by Government Rummel estimated that 148 million were killed by Communist governments from 1917 to 1987. The list of Communist countries with more than 1 million estimated victims included China at 76,702,000 (1949–1987), the Soviet Union at 61,911,000 (1917–1987), Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979) at 2,035,000, Vietnam (1945–1987) at 1,670,000, Poland (1945–1987) at 1,585,000, North Korea (1948–1987) at 1,563,000, and Yugoslavia (1945–1987) at 1,072,000.
Rummel's numbers should not be considered factual, as they are inflated. In 1993, Rummel wrote: "Even were we to have total access to all communist archives we still would not be able to calculate precisely how many the communists murdered. Consider that even in spite of the archival statistics and detailed reports of survivors, the best experts still disagree by over 40 percent on the total number of Jews killed by the Nazis. We cannot expect near this accuracy for the victims of communism. We can, however, get a probable order of magnitude and a relative approximation of these deaths within a most likely range." In 1994, Rummel updated his estimates for Communist regimes at about 110 million people, foreign and domestic, killed by Communist democide from 1900 to 1987. Due to additional information about Mao Zedong's culpability in the Great Chinese Famine according to Mao: The Unknown Story, a 2005 book authored by Jon Halliday and Jung Chang, Rummel revised upward his total for Communist democide to about 148 million, using their estimate of 38 million famine deaths.
Rummel's Communist death toll attempt has been followed by some authors and scholars. In 1999, historian Stéphane Courtois's controversial introduction to The Black Book of Communism gave a "rough approximation, based on unofficial estimates" approaching 100 million killed. In his foreword to the book, historian Martin Malia wrote that "a grand total of victims variously estimated by contributors to the volume at between 85 million and 100 million." In 2004, political scientist Benjamin Valentino stated that killings in the Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia alone ranged from a low of 21 million to a high of 70 million. Citing Rummel and others, Valentino stated that the "highest end of the plausible range of deaths attributed to communist regimes" was "up to 110 million." In 2009, comparative economics professor Steven Rosefielde's book Red Holocaust argued that Communism's internal contradictions caused the killings of "approximately 60 million people and perhaps tens of millions more." In 2011, self-described atrocitologist Matthew White published his rough total of Communist killings at 70 million, including "people who died under communist regimes from execution, labor camps, famine, ethnic cleansing, and desperate flight in leaky boats", with 26 million people additionally dying in "Communist-inspired wars". In 2014, professor Julia Strauss wrote that while there was the beginning of a scholarly consensus on figures of around 20 million killed in the Soviet Union and 2–3 million in Cambodia, there was no such consensus on numbers for China. In 2017, historian Stephen Kotkin wrote in The Wall Street Journal that 65 million people died prematurely under Communist regimes according to demographers, and those deaths were a result of "mass deportations, forced labor camps and police-state terror" but mostly "from starvation as a result of its cruel projects of social engineering."
The criticism of the estimates, especially those of Rummel and The Black Book of Communism, which made use of Rummel's estimates and analysis, are mostly focused on three aspects, namely that the estimates were based on sparse and incomplete data when significant errors are inevitable, that the figures were skewed to higher possible values, and that those dying at war and victims of civil wars, Holodomor, and other famines under Communist governments should not be counted. The body-counting has been criticized as ideologically motivated and inflated, for its methodology of counting excess deaths and ignoring lives saved by Communist modernization, and to score a political point to dismiss anti-capitalist and socialist politics, and engage in comparisons and equations with Nazism, which are described by scholars as Holocaust obfuscation, Holocaust trivialization, and anti-communist oversimplifications; the same body-counting can be easily applied to other ideologies or systems, such as capitalism and colonialism.
According to historian Anton Weiss-Wendt, any attempts to develop a universally-accepted terminology describing mass killings of non-combatants was a complete failure. Weiss-Wendt wrote that the field of comparative genocide studies has very "little consensus on defining principles such as definition of genocide, typology, application of a comparative method, and timeframe." In addition, the Communist grouping as applied by Courtois and Malia in The Black Book of Communism has been claimed to have no adequate explanation, and Malia is able to link disparate regimes, from radical Soviet industrialists to the anti-urbanists of the Khmer Rouge, under the guise of a "generic communism" category "defined everywhere down to the common denominator of party movements founded by intellectuals."
Estimates by Rummel for fascist or right-wing authoritarian regimes include Nazi Germany at 20,946,000 (1933–1945), Nationalist China (1925–1949) and later Taiwan (1949–1987) at 10,214,000, and Empire of Japan at 5,964,000 (1900–1945). Estimates for other regime-types include the Ottoman Empire at 1,883,000 (Greek genocide), Pakistan at 1,503,000 (1971 Bangladesh genocide), Porfiriato at somewhere between 600,000 and 3,000,000 and closer to 1,417,000 (1900–1920), and the Russian Empire at 1,066,000 (1900–1917).
Democide in Communist and Nationalist China, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union are characterized by Rummel as deka-megamurderers (128,168,000), while those in Cambodia, Japan, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia are characterized as the lesser megamurderers (19,178,000), and cases in Mexico, North Korea, and feudal Russia are characterized as suspected megamurderers (4,145,000). Rummel wrote that "even though the Nazis hardly matched the democide of the Soviets and Communist Chinese", they "proportionally killed more".
In response to David Stannard's figures about what he terms "the American Holocaust", Rummel estimated that over the centuries of European colonization about 2 million to 15 million American indigenous people were victims of democide, excluding military battles and unintentional deaths in Rummel's definition. Rummel wrote that "[e]ven if these figures are remotely true, then this still make this subjugation of the Americas one of the bloodier, centuries long, democides in world history." Rummel stated that his estimate for those killed by colonialism is 50,000,000 persons in the 20th century; this was revised upwards from his initial estimate of 815,000 dead.
While democratic regimes are considered by Rummel to be the least likely to commit democide and engage in wars per the democratic peace theory, Rummel wrote that "democracies themselves are responsible for some of this democide. Detailed estimates have yet to be made, but preliminarily work suggests that some 2,000,000 foreigners have been killed in cold blood by democracies." Foreign policy and secret services of democratic regimes "may also carry on subversive activities in other states, support deadly coups, and actually encourage or support rebel or military forces that are involved in democidal activities. Such was done, for example, by the American CIA in the 1952 coup against Iran Prime Minister Mossadeq and the 1973 coup against Chile's democratically elected President Allende by General Pinochet. Then there was the secret support given the military in El Salvador and Guatemala although they were slaughtering thousands of presumed communist supporters, and that of the Contras in their war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in spite of their atrocities. Particularly reprehensible was the covert support given to the Generals in Indonesia as they murdered hundreds of thousands of communists and others after the alleged attempted communist coup in 1965, and the continued secret support given to General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan of Pakistan even as he was involved in murdering over a million Bengalis in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)."
According to Rummel, examples of democratic democide would include "those killed in indiscriminate or civilian targeted city bombing, as of Germany and Japan in World War II. It would include the large scale massacres of Filipinos during the bloody American colonization of the Philippines at the beginning of this century, deaths in British concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer War, civilian deaths due to starvation during the British blockade of Germany in and after World War I, the rape and murder of helpless Chinese in and around Peking in 1900, the atrocities committed by Americans in Vietnam, the murder of helpless Algerians during the Algerian War by the French, and the unnatural deaths of German prisoners of war in French and American POW camps after World War II."
For decades, many historians counted Stalin' s victims in 'tens of millions', which was a figure supported by Solzhenitsyn. Since the collapse of the USSR, the lower estimates of the scale of the camps have been vindicated. The arguments about excess mortality are far more complex than normally believed. R. Conquest, The Great Terror: A Re-assessment (London, 1992) does not really get to grips with the new data and continues to present an exaggerated picture of the repression. The view of the 'revisionists' has been largely substantiated (J. Arch Getty & R. T. Manning (eds), Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (Cambridge, 1993)). The popular press, even TLS and The Independent, have contained erroneous journalistic articles that should not be cited in respectable academic articles.
His numbers are also inflated: Rummels claims that 350,000 Jews were killed in the Spanish Inquisition, which is 1.7 times higher than the actual Jewish population of Spain at that time.
The greatest source of post-war democide was communism (see the communist death toll).
At first sight, accusations that Hitler and Stalin mirrored each other as they 'conducted wars of annihilation against internal and external enemeis ... of class, race, and nation,' seem plausible. But such a perspective, in reality a recapitulation of the long-discredited totalitarian perspective equating Stalin's Soviet Union with Hitler's National Socialist Germany, is not tenable. It betrays a profound misunderstanding of the distinct natures of the Stalinist and Nazi regimes, which made them mortal enemies. Stalin's primary objective was to forge an autarkic, industrialized, multinational state, under the rubric of 'socialism in one country'. Nationalism and nation-building were on Stalin's agenda, not genocide; nor was it inherent in the construction of a non-capitalist, non-expansionary state—however draconian.
There is barely any other field of study that enjoys so little consensus on defining principles such as definition of genocide, typology, application of a comparative method, and timeframe. Considering that scholars have always put stress on prevention of genocide, comparative genocide studies have been a failure. Paradoxically, nobody has attempted so far to assess the field of comparative genocide studies as a whole. This is one of the reasons why those who define themselves as genocide scholars have not been able to detect the situation of crisis.
Whether all these cases, from Hungary to Afghanistan, have a single essence and thus deserve to be lumped together—just because they are labeled Marxist or communist—is a question the authors scarcely discuss.