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Attempting the Impossible - Calculating Capitalism's Death Toll

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Attempting the Impossible - Calculating Capitalism's Death Toll


While there have been other attempts to count up the number of deaths that can be attributed to Capitalism (to counter the figures presented in The Black Book of Communism as well other places), most noteably, determinatenegation's list and The Castroists' list, neither critique the methodology used by the the supporters of the "OMG Communism killed 70 trillion people!!1!" nor do they provide easy to verify sources. So while I think both lists are fabulous (and I may use parts), this post will be not only a critique of the methodology used by the other side, but also a more user friendly list.


When one sees one of those massive lists of the death toll of Communism on Tumblr (or other places), one inevitably see, if sources are included, the name RJ Rummel over and over and over again. In fact, Rummel is cited so often that even leftists use him (see determinatenegation's list). But who is RJ Rummel?

Rudolph Joseph Rummel is a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii and specializes in governmentality and the study of mass killings by governments, he calls "democide". But should we take Rummel's analysis seriously? I argue, no. His inflation of death tolls as well as critiques of his own definitions of "democracy" and "autocracy" leave much to be desired. But it is the first part I want to explore. There is an image series based off Rummel's figures called "Know True Evil" (photos here) wherein the death tolls for Stalin, Mao, and Hitler are counted up.

In order to show you that Rummel's figures are way off the wall, I will take a closer look at the dictator who's death toll has the highest consensus - Hitler. While it is true that there is some debate about whether the Holocaust occurred or how many people perished under the Third Reich, the overall historical consensus is more stable than Stalin or Mao's death toll which changes every year as a new book is published or new archives are explored. I think it's safe to say that the Holocaust is the most studied genocide in the Western world. (Any Holocaust deniers or Revisionists, I'm sorry. I'm not taking a stand either way, I just think Rummel is wrong)

So, let's begin. How many people does Rummel estimate died under the Third Reich? According to him...21 million. (To be more specific, Rummel says 20,946,000 during the span of 1933-1945 (x))


Rummel himself is actually kind enough to give a break down of who died where and because of what:


Let's just go down the list an analyze a few, shall we? According to Rummel, 220,000 homosexuals were killed in the Holocaust. Hmm, can that be correct? Well, neither the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), nor the Jewish Virtual Library, nor the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies cite a figure EVEN CLOSE to Rummel's. The most liberal estimate is that 15,000 died in concentration camps, but the historical consensus is 10,000 [1]. However, let's break that down.

During the period Rummel describes, there were an estimated 100,000 homosexuals living and arrested in Germany. Not all were tried, but most of the 50,000 who were, were sent to normal prison which did not mean death. And between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps [2]. This means that assuming 100% of the homosexuals in concentration camps died, AT MOST it was 15,000. But that is even questionable. According to the USHMM, "There are no known statistics for the number of homosexuals who died in the camps" [2]. That, however, is an understatement. The Nazis actually had no plan to exterminate homosexuals, merely reeducate them for they viewed homosexuality as something that is learned. In fact, the Jewish Virtual Library, citing Germany's top LGBT historian and professor of sociology Rüdiger Lautmann, says:
It does not appear that the Nazis ever set it as their goal to completely eradicate all homosexuals. Rather, it seems, the official policy was to either re-educate those homosexuals who were "behaviorally" and only occasionally homosexual and to block those who were "incurable" [3]
However, according to the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, "[a] figure of about 10,000 homosexuals is the one accepted by most scholars" [1].

This means that, assuming the MOST LIBERAL body count, Rummel's figures for homosexuals are inflated by over 1,300%. (Not to mention that Rummel makes up the existence of over 100,000 homosexuals because the USHMM indicates there were roughly 100,000 whereas Rummel says 220,000 died.)
But let's move on. Next Rummel says that 258,000 Gypsies died during the holocaust. On this point, Rummel is more correct. While the numbers don't add up, historians think that at least 200,000 died. But examining the German decrees and number of deportations, we get a different story.

In 1938, Heinrich Himmler issued a decree to fight what he saw as the "gypsy plague" which directly resulted in 2,000 gypsies being placed in concentration camps. Following that in 1939, the Reich stepped up its efforts and 2,300 gypsies were deported to ghettos (not concentration camps). In 1941, 5,000 gypsies were deported to ghettos. Then, in 1943, shit went down. Himmler issued the "Auschwitz Order" and 23,000 gypsies were sent there. Assuming all 7,300 who lived in ghettos survived, they were sent to Auschwitz [4].

This means, assuming there were no deaths along the way and a 100% fatality rate, according to the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (and the numbers above), 32,300 died.

Now I, unlike Rummel, want to be intellectually honest and thus will add this: the final sentence from the Danish Center, while providing no statistics to back it up, says "However, historians now believe that at least 200,000 gypsies fell victim to the Nazi persecution" [4]. But given the lack of data on their part and their own numbers, assuming a 100% death rate, adding up to only 32,300, that is what I will go with.

Given that, Rummel's figures for Gypsies are inflated by over 600%.

Hell, according to Rummel 40 million people died in Soviet Gulags when "that is twice the number of people that ever experienced the gulag [5] and twenty times the number of documented gulag deaths"[6]

Since I don't want this post to turn into an attempt to disprove the holocaust, I will stop there but I will leave you with a rhetorical question regarding Rummel - if he has managed to inflate the death tolls of groups where there is information available (and I can find it very easily) by hundreds of percents, how reliable do you think he is when it comes to information that is NOT easily available, a la Mao's China or Stalin's Russia? And even if the figures are a tad higher than I found, they don't make up for the huge percent inflation and assumptions Rummel makes about the most studied genocide in history.

So please, please please please, stop using Rummel as a source. (And if you are a Holocaust Denier or Revisionist, you better not be using Rummel because he says Hitler killed 21 million people)


No matter what, when someone talks about Communism being bad, they always bring up their ace in the hole...The Black Book of Communism. Hell, even the name sounds scary. But don't let that fool you, this book is one of the most historically inaccurate books about Communism one can come across. I honestly don't know where to begin because there are SO MANY criticisms of the book.

The first, and most obvious, deals with the death toll that the book posits. The book, written by professor Stéphane Courtois, tries to posit that there have been about 100 million deaths due to Communism. Two of the book's main contributors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, publicly stated that Courtois either inflated numbers for the purpose of achieving his goal of 100 million or that he cut corners and ignored deaths in some places [7]. What's more, the book's absurdly high numbers and lack of historical documentation sparked controversy from the Maoist International Movement who wrote the publisher (Harvard University Press) and actually got the publisher, Mark Kramer, "to admit that the book contained remedial math errors"[8].

Additionally, of the 100 million deaths, most are due to famine which, assuming the figures are actually correct, are the result of mismanagement and stupidity as opposed to government malevolence. One of the top American historians on the Soviet Union under Stalin, J. Arch Getty, argues that the equivalence cannot be fairly made because democide implies a deliberate act of government murder whereas the famines where caused by stupidity as opposed to a systemic plan (I will speak more on this in a second) [9].

What's more, the famine-genocide question is still a hotly debated topic and some scholars maintain that the data used to calculate the figures are incomplete and contain errors and omissions [10]. However, assuming that the figures are accurate, the death toll of capitalism is going to outweigh this anyway.


So now to the main point of this post - to try to create a list of the number of victims that have fallen prey to global capitalism. Before I continue however, an important note must be made: unlike the death tolls associated with Communism (which are caused by regimes themselves), the deaths caused by capitalism are usually the result of capitalist constructions, be they systemic poverty, imperialism, Atlantic and post-Atlantic slavery, etc. In order to head off any potential critiques of this post when I mention things like "Hurricane Katrina" or "Poverty in the US" for example, I will be explaining how each of the incidents in question can be attributed to capitalism (both in neo-liberal capitalism or strict corporate capitalism).

Another thing I must note is that anarcho-Capitalists will be quick to say "well, it's the fact that the government was involved - that's the issue!". However this is not true. The "for profit" logic of capitalism has both lead to the following atrocities and has been used by governments, overtly or not, to commit the following crimes. So yes, governments may have done the following, but the logic and justification behind capitalism has created the conditions for the following.

And finally, as one last kick to anarcho-Capitalists, anarcho-Capitalism has never been implemented and thus there is no body count for that, but full Communism a la Marx hasn't either. According to Marx, there will be an "end of history" wherein the state withers away and that is pure Communism, the rest is State Communism (much like State Capitalism) or Socialism. Two can play at the "it's never been implemented, wahhhh!!1!" game.

So, let's begin.

A fitting place to start would be the history of the United States from 2014 all the way back to 1776. Just to set up the framework, I will state a topic, in this case the United States, and then create bullet points with the issues in question and explaining them as needed.

The United States
    • 5 years of drone strikes used to maintain US military dominance in the Middle East for the purpose of securing trade routes and oil reserves - 2,400 dead [11][12]
    • Syrian Civil War caused by the US' funding of Syrian rebels as well as the terrorist organization Al Nusra in an attempt to overthrow the Syrian government [13][14][15][16] - at least 146,000 dead [17][18]
    • US Funded and NATO Intervention in Libya for the sake of overthrowing the government and getting oil [19][20][21] - estimates range from 10,000 by the deniers, to 50,000 by the rebels. The commonly accepted number by the US is 30,000 dead [22][23]
    • United States backed government of Sri Lanka for the sake of maintaining trade routes and neo-liberal foothold in southern Asia - 100,000 dead (some sources say 40,000 not including the huge numbers of civilians) [24][25]
    • The War in Iraq which was for the sake of gaining oil controlling petroleum exports [26][27] and with the interest of advancing US imperialism [28] - most recent study indicates 500,000 dead Iraqis and 4,500 dead US soldiers [29][30][31]
    • The War in Afghanistan - 2,000 dead US soldiers and 20,000 civilians [32][33]
    • US bombing of Pakistan for the War on Terror and to maintain our imperial dominance abroad - 50,000 dead [34]
    • US and Mexican War on Drugs to maintain a monopoly and to support military spending as well as drug cartel violence for profit - 47,000 dead [35]
    • Operation Desert Storm (First Gulf War) which was for the sake of maintaining dominance in the Middle East as well as for imperialistic reasons [36][37][38][39] - 158,000 Iraqis [40] - 75,000 US Soldiers dead from the War and Gulf War Syndrome [41]
    • US Sanctions against Iraq from 1990-2012 - 3,300,000 [42]
    • Iran-Iraq War where the United States funded both sides in an attempt to have each wipe the other out - about 1,500,000 [43][44][45]
    • The War in Vietnam to "beat Communism" and maintain an Asian sphere of influence - 3,800,000 Vietnamese between 1955-1984 [46] about 58,000 US soldiers [47] about 200,000 in Laos [48] about 300,000 in Cambodia [49] it's hard to calculate Agent Orange deaths but up to 4,800,000 people were exposed [50] and 100,000 US soldiers killed themselves [51]
    • Korean War to "beat Communism" and maintain dominance in Asia - 54,000 US soldiers [52] and about 5,000,000 Koreans died [53]

      The United States in Latin America and the Third World
      • "El Bloqueo" AKA. The Cuban Embargo - one of the more insidious forms of siege warfare of modernity [54][55] - this is one of the more difficult numbers to come up with so I will give you what I have and then add a commentary - 47,000 children dead [56] and the Embargo has stifled medical technology and lead to the deaths of tons more. The numbers are uncalculatable [57]. Here are some statistics:
      • As a result, in a few years the effects on consumption by the general population were in evidence: daily caloric consumption, for example, dropped 34 percent, and protein intake plummeted 40 percent between 1989 and the worst year of the crisis, 1993. [58]
      • What's worse, the Embargo is NOT aimed at the elites, but at the civilians of Cuba. The elites are isolated from the effects and so the poorest of the poor see the impacts. [55][58][59] To me, El Bloqueo is one of most heinous crimes the United States has engaged in.
      • Former CIA Station Chief in Angola in 1976, covert agent, and the highest level CIA officer to testify to Congress, John Stockwell, tells a grisly tale of US involvement in foreign countries for the sake of money and geopolitics. He cites covert operations in Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, to name a few. Over the course of his testimony and lecture he extensively researched the actions he was involved in and figured out that given the bombings of water supplies and other essential infrastructure, the invasions, the coups, etc. in third world countries, the United States, on its quest for empire, has been responsible for 6,000,000 deaths. Just let that soak in. According to the official story of the Holocaust, that's how many Jews were killed. This is an unheard genocide against the third world FOR PROFIT and FOR POWER.[60] If you read nothing else or watch nothing else, read/watch his lecture.

      Genocides and Other Mass Deaths

        • Poverty. One of the most overlooked causes of death today is something called "structural violence" - that is, violence against the bottom rungs of society in order to make a profit. Structural violence can occur due to lack of medical care, slashing of wages, gentrification, etc. But without a doubt, structural violence is the largest killer WORLDWIDE. Studies performed by Canadian researches Gernot Kohler and Norman Alcock published under the title "An Empirical Table of Structural Violence" found that 18,000,000 people die each year due to systemic poverty [61][62].

          To put this into perspective, allow me to quote professor of Psychiatry James Gilligan (emphasis is my own):
        Comparing this frequency of deaths from structural violence to the frequency of those caused by major military and political violence, such as World War II (an estimated 49 million military and civilian deaths, including those by genocide—or about eight million per year, 1939-1945), the Indonesian massacre of 1965-66 (perhaps 575,000) deaths), the Vietnam war (possibly two million, 1954-1973), and even a hypothetical nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (232 million), it was clear that even war cannot begin to compare with structural violence, which continues year after year. In other words, every fifteen years, on the average, as many people die because of relative poverty as would be killed by the Nazi genocide of the Jews over a six-year period. This is, in effect, the equivalent of an ongoing, unending, in fact accelerating, thermonuclear war, or genocide, perpetrated on the weak and poor every year of every decade, throughout the world. [62]
        • This is recurring violence that happens year after year after year, the scale of which is unprecedented. Hell, if one takes Rummel's and The Black Book of Communism's claims seriously, structural violence has killed more people in JUST the 21st century, than Communism.
        • The Genocide of the Native Americans - according to professor of ethics Ward Churchill, over 10,000,000 Native Americans were slaughtered [63] and other studies by historian and professor David Stannard indicate that the number is closer to 100,000,000 if one includes South America (Churchill only looks at North America). *To avoid any conflict, I will split the difference in my final calculation and use 50,000,000 [64]
        • Slavery (not just White slavery) - over 1200 years of Arab slave trading and then 500 years of European slave trading amounts to over 100,000,000 people enslaved and killed (there were about 80,000,000 that would just be slaves)[65]
        • Children Killed by Preventable Diseases yearly - 5,000,000 [66]
        • Children Killed by Hunger daily - 17,000 (multiplying to get a year so 17,000*365=6,205,000) [67]

          And I have left off a thousand tiny events like factories collapsing due to unsafe regulations, Hurricane Katrina, the rape of women in Maquiladoras, and I even left off the two World Wars so there will be no debate about whether those were capitalism vs. communism. But the fact of the matter is, the sheer number of people that have died due to unseen violence and structural violence over the years is obscene. But all one has to do is look at the data and look at the world around you.

          Ignoring other big wars due to capitalism and only focusing on US action and only including one year for things that are systemic (ie. poverty), which is being really damn conservative because Japan engaged in brutal imperialism, we get a total of 205,000,000 killed directly or indirectly because of capitalism.

          So please, before you go waving Rummel around or you throw around "look how many people Communism killed!!", think for a second and look at the data.

          Note: This is by no means a complete list and I, just like everyone else, am prone to errors. But I feel like the fact that every number is sourced at least once and easily verifiable speaks for itself. If you have an issue, please let me know.


          For more information on Rummel, see:
          7: Le Monde, 14 November 1997
          9: Getty, J Arch (Mar 2000), "The Black book of Communism: Nazism & Communicsm have the same totalitarian roots" (text), The Atlantic Monthly (Boston: Hackvan) 285 (3): 113.

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