Stalin: Bad, very bad. No, even worse than that …

gulag railroad

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. His demise did not end the Soviet internal reign of terror that had gripped the nation for decades, but it would eventually bring a lessening of the effects of the murderous regime.

A commonly accepted figure for the number of individuals Stalin murdered while in power is 20 million.

However, as Rudolph J. Rummel, the late professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, wrote a decade ago, that figure woeful undercounts the number of Soviets and foreigners who met their demise as a result of Stalin’s rule.

According to Rummel, the 20 million figure comes from a 1968 book by Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties.

“In his appendix on casualty figures, (Conquest) 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, (Conquest) 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.’”

Part of the problem is that Conquest’s qualification adding another 10 million lives to Stalin’s total is rarely mentioned, although over the past 10 years this has happened a little more often.

In addition, Rummel, who spent his career assembling data on collective violence and war with a view toward helping their resolution or elimination, wrote that Conquest’s estimate was incomplete:

Conquest did not include labor camp deaths from 1922 to 1936 and between 1950 to 1953, executions between 1939 and 1953; the vast deportation of the people of captive nations into the camps, and their deaths 1939-1953; the massive deportation within the Soviet Union of minorities 1941-1944; and their deaths; and those the Soviet Red Army and secret police executed throughout Eastern Europe after their conquest during 1944-1945 is omitted. Moreover, omitted is the deadly Ukrainian famine, the Holodomor, Stalin purposely imposed on the region that claimed killed 5 million in 1932-1934.

Rummel estimated Stalin murdered about 43 million citizens and foreigners.

Hitler, by comparison, usually gets credit for about 30 million deaths, while Mao Zedong is said to have murdered 60 million.

Other well-known historical bad dudes include King Leopold II of Belgian, who was responsible for the deaths of approximately 8 million Congolese; Hideki Tojo of Japan, 5 million; Pol Pot of Cambodia, at least 1.7 million; Saddam Hussein, approximately 600,000; and Idi Amin of Uganda, as many as 500,000.

Consider that Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet, reviled as a murderous despot, is said to be responsible for approximately 3,000 deaths, making him a mere piker by the standards of those listed above. That is, of course, small consolation to the families of those he made “disappear.”

And mere numbers, no matter how large, are an abstraction. For anyone wanting to get a fuller idea of the Soviet death machine in action, consider picking up The Gulag Archipelago; The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s; Stalin’s Genocides; and Gareth Jones: Eyewitness to the Holodomor.

(Top: A rail line being built through snow by Gulag prisoners, possibly from the Solovki prison camp, on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea .)

Chile plans new investigation into death of Pablo Neruda

Pablo_Neruda_(1966)

More than 40 years after noted poet, diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda died, Chilean officials say they will begin a fresh inquiry into his death.

Neruda, a Nobel Prize winner considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, died on Sept. 23, 1973, less than two weeks after the military coup that ushered Gen. Augusto Pinochet into power.

Government spokesman Francisco Ugas said there are indications that Neruda could have been poisoned.

Neruda’s body was exhumed in April 2013 and tests conducted on his remains, but no indication of poison was found at that time. However, more tests are planned with scientists looking for traces of inorganic or heavy metals, according to the BBC.

The upcoming investigation will seek to detect cellular or protein damage caused by chemical agents. Previous tests  focused specifically on the discovery of toxins, according to the BBC.

“There is initial evidence that he was poisoned and in that sense the signs point to the intervention of specific agents,” said Ugas, who is head of the government’s human rights department.

Neruda’s death certificate says he died of prostate cancer.

Neruda was a member of Chile’s Communist Party and lawmaker who held diplomatic posts in France, Spain and Mexico. He was a staunch supporter of deposed President Salvador Allende and it was believed he would become a thorn in the side of Pinochet’s regime.

Neruda was hospitalized with cancer at the time of Pinochet’s coup. Pinochet denied permission for Neruda’s funeral to be made a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.

(Top: Pablo Neruda recording his poetry at the U.S. Library of Congress in 1966. Source: Wikipedia.)

Allende to be reburied in private service

Former Chilean President Salvador Allende will be reburied privately out of respect for victims of this past weekend’s plane crash at Robinson Crusoe Island, Agence France-Presse reported.

The remains of Allende, who died in a bloody 1973 military coup, were exhumed in May and examined in a bid to unravel mysteries surrounding his death.

Experts concluded he committed suicide, and was not murdered as had been alleged.

Allende, Chile’s first Socialist president, ruled from 1970 to 1973. He was originally scheduled to be reburied Sept. 4 in a public ceremony scheduled to coincide with the 41th anniversary of the elections that swept him into office, according to the wire service.

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