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By R.J. Rummel


This is a report of the statistical results from a project on comparative genocide and mass-murder in this century. Most probably near 170,000,000 people have been murdered in cold-blood by governments, well over three-quarters by absolutist regimes. The most such killing was done by the Soviet Union (near 62,000,000 people), the communist government of China is second (near 35,000,000), followed by Nazi Germany (almost 21,000,000), and Nationalist China (some 10,000,000). Lesser megamurderers include WWII Japan, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, WWI Turkey, communist Vietnam, post-WWII Poland, Pakistan, and communist Yugoslavia. The most intense democide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where they killed over 30 percent of their subjects in less than four years. The best predictor of this killing is regime power. The more arbitrary power a regime has, the less democratic it is, the more likely it will kill its subjects or foreigners. The conclusion is that power kills, absolute power kills absolutely.

This is a report of research that began in 1986 on genocide and mass murder (called democide) in this century. All cases were covered, whether by state regimes, quasi states (such as the White army controlled territories during the Russian civil war), or groups. The statistics involved such obvious cases as the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian genocide by the Young Turk regime of Turkey, the Soviet gulag, or Iraq's gassing of their Kurds, to less known cases, such as forced labor deaths in European colonies or the working to death of indebted labor on Mexican haciendas in the early part of this century. Indeed, I attempted to document and estimate any cases in which a regime or self-governing group intentionally killed an unarmed person or was responsible for their death in a way that would be normally categorized as murder, such as machine gunning of prisoners of war or the deaths of inmates from deprivation and hard labor in gulag.

Some preliminary comments on the statistics to be presented may help to evaluate them and avoid misunderstanding. First, they are based on almost 8,200 estimates of war, domestic violence, genocide, mass murder, and other relevant data, recorded from over a thousand sources. Over 4,200 consolidations and calculations were then done on these estimates and all were organized into appendix tables totaling more than 18,100 rows. These give the subject of an estimate (such as of the number of communists and sympathizers killed by the Indonesian Army and affiliates), the estimate (450,000-500,000 killed), the period covered (October 1965 to 1966?), the source (Crouch, 1978, p. 155n.52), and notes on the estimate (from Admiral Sudoma, head of Kopkamtib). All this together comprised one estimate and one row in a published or forthcoming table of estimates. The consolidations of estimates for a particular case, subject, or period also were given, as well as were the calculations on the estimates. The intent was to be as explicit and public as possible so that others can evaluate, correct, and build on this work.1 Here I am simply summarizing the more important results of these calculations.

Second, since estimates of democide are very uncertain2 and often propagandistic, I generally calculated a low to high range of probable democide, the low being the sum of lowest estimates across events for a regime and the high being a similar sum.3 In this way I tried to bracket the most probable figure, which I then judged or calculated based on the central thrust, objectivity, and quality of the estimates. However, many of the following figures will seem so precise as to belie this cautious approach. The reason for this apparent precision lies in the method by which they were determined, which often involved calculations on dozens and sometime hundreds of estimates. The democide I give here for, say Cambodia, was then the outcome of all these calculations, including polynomial regressions of estimates of her population for each year from the early 60s to late 1980s. I have rounded off to thousands, but I let the rest of the figures stand as they came out of the calculations. In nonquantitative presentations I simply round them off to the nearest hundreds of thousands or millions.

Third, much of this democide occurred during wartime and may appear to be confused with war-deaths. I have gone to great pains to separate battle-dead or those dying in the wake of war from genocide and mass murder. The Holocaust during the Second and genocide of the Armenians during the First World War are easy cases of this separation. So is the reprisal killings of Czechs or Yugoslavs by the Nazis, or those who died in German concentration camps during the war. Some cases are not so easy, as of American and British indiscriminate bombing of urban populations during the Second World War or the British food blockade of Levant in the First World War which caused many deaths from starvation and malnutrition. And then there are Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have followed this approach in classifying those killed or dying in war as either war-dead or democide. If these deaths would be considered a war crime--if they are now internationally outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, they are counted as democide. This would include deaths from the indiscriminate atomic bombings

Fourth, some may be uncomfortable with the use of the term murder when applied to the actions of a government. I am using this term descriptively in a well defined sense, as the intentional killing of an unarmed and nonphysically threatening person, or the responsibility for a person's death such that it is as though intended (as deaths from overwork and deprivation in forced labor camps or on plantations). This definition excludes combat deaths during war or military action, noncombatants that die as a by-product of military action, and excludes capital punishment for what would normally be capital crimes, such as murder.

Finally, this is a report and not a research article and I have only cited my past and forthcoming publications from which these results are taken. Be assured, that I covered and cited the literature as fully as I could in these sources, and went beyond the statistics to write an historical analysis on each case of democide that exceeded 1,000,000 dead.

So that the reader will have some idea of what the estimates underlying the results look like, I have given in the Appendix some of the estimates for the Cambodian Khmer Rouge democide. Each published table presenting the full estimates for one of the results to be given ran for dozens of pages and in some cases over fifty pages. I had to write separate books for the USSR and Nazi Germany4 in order to present all the material underlying the final democide figures for them, and another book5 for Nationalist China and the PRC. The complex history of democide in Cambodia required a long chapter in Death by Government,6 and the presentation of the associated material given in the associated statistical volume7 ran to 845 lines of estimates, consolidations, and calculations.

Now for the overview. The principle conclusion emerging from previous work on the causes of war and this project is that power kills, absolute power kills absolutely. The more power a government has, the more it can act arbitrarily according to the whims and desires of the elite, the more it will make war on others and murder its foreign and domestic subjects. The more constrained the power of governments, the more it is diffused, checked and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit democide.8 At the extremes of power, totalitarian communist governments murder their people by the tens of millions, while many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute even serial murderers.

As listed in Table 1 , this century's megamurderers--those states killing in cold blood, aside from warfare, 1,000,000 or more men, women, and children--have murdered over 151,000,000 people, almost four times the almost 38,500,000 battle-dead for all this century's international and civil wars up to 1987. The most absolute Power, that is the communist U.S.S.R., China and preceding Mao guerrillas, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia, as well as Nazi Germany, account for near 128,000,000 of them, or 84 percent. No one of the remaining megamurderers, which include the regimes of Pakistan,9 wartime Japan, Nationalist China, Cambodia, communist Vietnam, post-War II Poland,10 and communist Yugoslavia, were democratic when it committed its democide.

Then there are the kilomurderers, or those states that have killed innocents by the tens or hundreds of thousands, the top five of which were the China Warlords (1917-1949), Atatürk's Turkey (1919-1923), the United Kingdom (primarily due to the 1914-1919 food blockade of the Central Powers and Levant in and after World War I, and the 1940-45 indiscriminate bombing of German cities), Portugal (1926-1982), and Indonesia (1965-87). These are shown in Table 1. Some lesser kilomurderers were communist Afghanistan, Angola, Albania, Rumania, and Ethiopia, as well as authoritarian Hungary, Burundi, Croatia (1941-44), Czechoslovakia (1945-46), Indonesia, Iraq, the Czar's Russia, and Uganda. For its indiscriminate bombing of German and Japanese civilians, the United States must also be included on this list. These and other kilomurderers add almost 15,000,000 people killed to the democide for this century.

As listed in Table 2, the most lethal regime in this century was that of the communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during 1975 through 1978. In less than four years of governing they exterminated over 31 percent of their men, women, and children; the odds of any Cambodian surviving these four long years was only about 2.2 to 1. As mentioned, the Appendix exemplifies some of the estimates of this killing.

The major and better known episodes and institutions for which these and other regimes were responsible are listed in Table 3. Far above all is

gulag--the Soviet slave-labor system created by Lenin and built up under Stalin. In some 70 years it likely chewed up almost 40,000,000 lives, over twice as many as probably died in some 400 years of the African slave trade, from capture to sale in an Arab, Oriental, or New World market.

In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hanged, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners. The dead even could conceivable be near a high of 360,000,000 people. This is as though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of absolute power and not germs.

Adding the human cost of war to this democide total, governments have violently killed over 203,000,000 people in this century. Table 4 breaks down this toll by type of regime. Figure 1 graphs the regime comparisons.

Now, democracies themselves are responsible for some of the democide. Almost all of this is foreign democide during war, and mainly those enemy civilians killed in indiscriminate urban bombing, as of Germany and Japan in World War II. It also includes 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 Boar War, civilian deaths due to starvation during the aforementioned British blockade, 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. All this killing of foreigners by democracies may seem to violate the principle that power kills, absolute power kills absolutely, but really underlines it. For in each case, the killing was carried out in secret, behind a conscious cover of lies and deceit by those agencies and power-holders involved. All were shielded by tight censorship of the press and control of journalists. Even the indiscriminate bombing of German cities by the British was disguised before the House of Commons and in press releases as attacks on German military targets. That the general strategic bombing policy was to attack working men's homes was kept secret still long after the war.

And finally, Figure 2 (one of the most important comparisons on democide and power produced by this project) displays the range of democide estimates for each regime, that is, level of power. As mentioned over 8,100 estimates of democide from over a thousand sources were collected to arrive at a most likely low and high for democide committed by 219 regimes or groups. The totals that have been displayed in previous figures have been the sum of conservatively determined mid-totals in this range. Figure 2 then presents for each type of regime, such as the authoritarian, this range resulting from the sum of all the lows and highs for all the democide of all regimes of that type. The difference between the three resulting ranges drawn in the figure can only be understood in terms of power.11 As the arbitrary power of regimes increase left to right in the figure, the range of their democide jumps accordingly and to such a great extent that the low democide for the authoritarian regime is above the democratic high, and the authoritarian high is below the totalitarian low.

The empirical and theoretical conclusion from these and other results is clear. The way to virtually eliminate genocide and mass murder appears to be through restricting and checking power. This means to foster democratic freedom. This is the ultimate conclusion of this project. 


* From the pre-publisher edited manuscript of R.J. Rummel, "Power, Genocide and Mass Murder," Journal of Peace Research 31 (no.1, 1994): 1-10.

1. The estimates, sources, calculations, and the historical context are given in Rummel (1990, 1991, 1992, forthcoming 1994, forthcoming 1997).

2. After decades of scholarly research in the German archives, study of reports and official documents of other involved countries, and interviews with participants and survivors, the best estimates of the Holocaust still vary by over 40 percent.

3. Impossible or absurd estimates were ignored, such as Khmer Rouge K. R. Leng Sary's estimate that only 30,000 died under the Khmer Rouge from want (Kampuchea in the ..., 1982, p. 63). See the Appendix.

4. Rummel (1990, 1992).

5. Rummel (1991).

6. Rummel (1994).

7. Rummel (1997).

8. This finding holds up through a variety of multivariate analyzes comprising over a hundred different kinds of political, cultural, social, and economic variables. All considered, including the partial correlations [on the nature of correlation, see Understanding Correlation], regression analysis, and the independent dimensions defined through factor analysis [on factor analysis, see "Understanding Factor Analysis"], a measure of democracy versus totalitarian regimes and measures of war and rebellion are the best independent predictors of democide. See Rummel (1997).

9. The democide by the Pakistan regime was almost entirely carried out in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971.

10. This democide by the post-World War II Polish government was in the former Eastern German territories seized by Poland, and primarily involved the outright murder of ethnic and Reich Germans living there or their death by starvation and deprivation before or after their expulsion from the territories.

11. This is further supported by multivariate linear and curvilinear analysis. See Rummel (1997).


Rummel, R. J., 1990. LETHAL POLITICS: SOVIET GENOCIDE AND MASS MURDER SINCE 1917. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

___________, 1991. CHINA'S BLOODY CENTURY: GENOCIDE AND MASS MURDER SINCE 1900. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

___________, 1992. DEMOCIDE: NAZI GENOCIDE AND MASS MURDER. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

___________, 1994. Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers [in press].

___________, 1997. STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE. GENOCIDE AND MASS MURDER SINCE 1900. Chalottesville, Virginia: Center for National Security Law, University of Virginia.

Small, M., and Singer, J. David, 1976. 'The War-proneness of Democratic Regimes, 1816-1965', JERUSALEM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, VOL. 1, Summer, pp. 50-69.

_________________________, 1982. RESORT TO ARMS: INTERNATIONAL AND CIVIL WARS 1816-1980. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.

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