Democide is a term revived and redefined by the political scientist R. J. Rummel as “the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder.” Rummel created the term as an extended concept to include forms of government murder that are not covered by the term genocide, and it has become accepted among other scholars. Rummel presents his definition without referencing any previous uses, but the term democide was defined and used in English more than 40 years earlier by Theodore Abel. In the 20th century, democide passed war as the leading cause of non-natural death (according to Rummel).
Rummel’s counts 43 million deaths due to democide inside and outside the Soviet Union during Stalin’s regime. This is much higher than an often quoted figure of 20 million. Rummel has responded that the 20 million estimate is based on a figure from Robert Conquest‘s 1968 book The Great Terror, and that Conquest’s qualifier “almost certainly too low” is usually forgotten. Conquest’s calculations excluded camp deaths before 1936 and after 1950, executions from 1939–1953, 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. Moreover, the Holodomor that killed 5 million in 1932–1934 is also not included.
His research shows that the death toll from democide is far greater than the death toll from war. After studying over 8,000 reports of government-caused deaths, Rummel estimates that there have been 262 million victims of democide in the last century. According to his figures, six times as many people have died from the inflictions of people working for governments than have died in battle.
One of his main findings is that liberal democracies have much less democide than authoritarian regimes. He argues that there is a relation between political power and democide. Political mass murder grows increasingly common as political power becomes unconstrained. At the other end of the scale, where power is diffuse, checked, and balanced, political violence is a rarity. According to Rummel, “The more power a regime has, the more likely people will be killed. This is a major reason for promoting freedom.” Rummel concludes that concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth.”
Several other researchers have found similar results. “Numerous researchers point out that democratic norms and political structures constrain elite decisions about the use of repression against their citizens whereas autocratic elites are not so constrained. Once in place, democratic institutions — even partial ones — reduce the likelihood of armed conflict and all but eliminate the risk that it will lead to geno/politicide.”
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