cover image The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

Stephane Courtois. Harvard University Press, $49 (858pp) ISBN 978-0-674-07608-2

In France, this damning reckoning of communism's worldwide legacy was a bestseller that sparked passionate arguments among intellectuals of the Left. Essentially a body count of communism's victims in the 20th century, the book draws heavily from recently opened Soviet archives. The verdict: communism was responsible for between 85 million and 100 million deaths in the century. In France, both sales and controversy were fueled, as Martin Malia notes in the foreword, by editor Courtois's specific comparison of communism's ""class genocide"" with Nazism's ""race genocide."" Courtois, the director of research at the prestigious Centre Research National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and editor of the journal Communisme, along with the other distinguished French and European contributors, delivers a fact-based, mostly Russia-centered wallop that will be hard to refute: town burnings, mass deportations, property seizures, family separations, mass murders, planned famines--all chillingly documented from conception to implementation. The book is divided into five sections. The first and largest takes readers from the ""Paradoxes of the October Revolution"" through ""Apogee and Crisis in the Gulag System"" to ""The Exit from Stalinism."" Seeing the U.S.S.R. as ""the cradle of all modern Communism,"" the book's other four sections document the horrors of the Iron Curtain countries, Soviet-backed agitation in Asia and the Americas, and the Third World's often violent embrace of the system. A conclusion--""Why?""--by Courtois, points to a bureaucratic, ""purely abstract vision of death, massacre and human catastrophe"" rooted in Lenin's compulsion to effect ideals by any means necessary. (Oct.)