When the topic of communism comes up in the US, most automatically dismiss it due to the tens or hundreds of millions who died at the hands of communist regimes.

As a counterpoint, some say that the amount of mass murder caused by capitalism is comparable. Thus, if mass deaths are used to dismiss communism, then capitalism also should be discredited.

Is the counterpoint premise valid, that capitalism has caused an equivalent amount of mass death as communism?

UPDATE: Since I cannot answer my own question, here is the relevant wiki article. The question has been investigated and communist regimes apparently have killed many more people than any other sort of regime.


Daniel Goldhagen argues that 20th century Communist regimes "have killed more people than any other regime type." Other scholars in the fields of Communist studies and genocide studies, such as Steven Rosefielde, Benjamin Valentino, and R.J. Rummel, have come to similar conclusions. Rosefielde states that it is possible the "Red Holocaust" killed more non-combatants than "Ha Shoah" and "Japan's Asian holocaust" combined, and "was at least as heinous, given the singularity of Hitler's genocide." Rosefielde also notes that "while it is fashionable to mitigate the Red Holocaust by observing that capitalism killed millions of colonials in the twentieth century, primarily through man-made famines, no inventory of such felonious negligent homicides comes close to the Red Holocaust total."

  • 1
    You might have to be slightly careful in defining your terms here, since it's relatively rare for a regime to explicitly define itself as capitalist, whereas "communist" is more common label for left-authorian movements.
    – origimbo
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 19:41
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    I downvoted this question because I don't think that such body count comparisons serve any purpose. First, how to count the victims of each ideology would be very subjective, because of the many people who die or have a reduced live expectancy due to secondary and tertiary effects of ideology-based decisions. And what about casualties which are results of decisions which are not actually influenced by ideology? Second, even if it were possible to calculate a bodycount, it would be meaningless to compare them directly because these ideologies were imposed on different numbers of people.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 19:53
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    Now "hundreds of millions" is exaggerated even by the standards of anticommunism.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 20:02
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    Capitalism and communism are economic models. Dictators can operate in either model and perform mass killings. No communist state has ever existed, so by one interpretation, the number of deaths caused by communism is 0.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 20:04
  • 6
    Its truly impossible to categorize these things. Is operation Linebacker II (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Linebacker_II) Capitalism deaths, Fight for Democracy deaths, imperialist deaths, or...other? Are deaths prior to communist Utopia considered deaths from communism, or are they deaths from dictators with failed communist implements? You can validly argue either side. Interesting musing, horrible question
    – Twelfth
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 20:27

2 Answers 2


It just so happens that at least three of the worst acts of genocide, Stalin's purges, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the cultural revolution in China, happened under the auspices of an ostensibly communist government.

However, there is nothing about either the communist or capitalist movements that encourages mass murder.

In actual practice, communist governments tend to be guided by a political elite, with the leaders chosen by a privileged few, while capitalist governments tend to be more democratic. So that prevalence of mass murderers may be more a result of the absence of direct accountability of the leaders (as in no direct elections) to the people, than anything.

You tend to behave better when you can be voted out of office.

  • Are you identifying capitalism with unlimited democracy?
    – origimbo
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 0:03
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    No, simply noting that capitalist countries tend to have a more representational form of government, while communist counties put 'the party' in charge of everything. True that a citizen can join the party, but at least in practice, there isn't a mechanism for dissent or disagreement available to the average citizen in a communist government.
    – tj1000
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 0:15
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    But historically some of the more egregious capitalist actors have been non-national, e.g. the Dutch and the British East India Companies.
    – origimbo
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 0:22
  • How about the genocide in the Americas after it's 'discovery' by Columbus? Does that not count? Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 11:48

This is at least as much a commentary rather than it is an answer, concerning what it would take to meaningfully count deaths attributable to a given grouping or category, such as capitalism vs. communism, monarchy vs. republic, religion vs. secularism, etc.

Certain variable details seem to be taken for granted in most such accountings and are often left undefined:

  1. How many people have lived where they would have died, (in a sense, were saved from death), due to a category's merits? Suppose grouping X's bodycount is i, but its lives saved is j, and j > i.

  2. If we let k = j - i, what would k be if neither grouping existed? Unless the groupings are each both all-encompassing and mutually exclusive, it seems like there would need to be at least a third agreed upon grouping whose numbers formed a fixed basis of comparison.

  3. An agreed upon human "life" to count. Definitions vary according to the size of the window that constitutes life, (when it starts and stops), its quality or relative value as measured by those in power, (i.e. slaves regarded as half-people, uncharismatic mutations, the sick and aged, outsiders, outlaws, enemies, militarily weaker populations with confiscatable possessions, those with "fates worse than death", et al), and whose lives, (responsibility for all of a wars' deaths might be attributed to the defeated). Equally valid metrics might be measured in people-years, (add up the ages), or total national body mass over time, (add up everyone's weight), or brain mass, (just suppose), or souls sent to heaven, (for highly-informed theocracies).

  4. Causes of death. Bullet and bomb deaths seem to be common metrics. Prisons, labor and internment camp deaths sometimes are counted, especially when these are uncommonly deadly. Man-made disaster deaths indirectly caused by a grouping's errors may be a common future metric. National diets, pastimes, industries, accounting practices, pets, and hygiene.

Any of these details, however odd, if clearly specified and enumerated might make for interesting (maybe even useful) numbers and comparisons. Granted some or many combinations of such data would be by default complete nonsense, but the labor alone involved in compiling such data tells a lot about the beliefs and hopes of those who commissioned that labor and those who invoke such numbers. The same way that the Egyptian Pyramids may not be useful in the way its designers had hoped, but that are still useful to us today for reasons those designers might not have foreseen.

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