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New Left Review I/219, September-October 1996

Robert Conquest

Excess Deaths in the Soviet Union

I am sure that R.W. Davies, usually a rigorously accurate presenter even of facts which tell against his views, would wish you to correct some of the errors he presents in his article ‘Forced Labour Under Stalin’. [1] ‘Forced Labour Under Stalin: The Archive Revelations’, nlr 214, pp. 62–80. I have a reasonable claim to this, for he gives my own estimates for excess deaths in the ussr in the 1930s as a minimum of seventeen million: but he is counting categories twice, and, if he looks more carefully, he will see that I suggest about eleven million by the beginning of 1937, and about three million over the period 1937–38, making fourteen million. The eleven-odd million is readily deduced from the undisputed population deficit shown in the suppressed census of January 1937, of fifteen to sixteen million, by making reasonable assumptions about how this was divided between birth deficit and deaths. There is room for disagreement on the second figure. But Davies has fallen into the common trap by accepting figures given to the Khrushchevite leadership by a kgb which was still falsifying—for example—death rates and causes in rehabilitation cases. They are given, too, with accompanying arrest figures only a quarter as high as the Zemskov gulag intake Davies accepts. The appeal seem simply to be their exactness. But Soviet exactness has no bearing on validity. And Davies gives no attention to much higher, though more approximate, estimates provided by the late head of the Russian Archives, the former head of the Party Rehabilitation Commission, and a spokesman for the Security Ministry itself. Nor, in the case of the number of execution in 1937–38, does Davies note the rough figure of 1,750,000 given both by the Head of Archives, and by a representative of the Security Ministry, as against the earlier figure of 681,692 which he accepts. And so on.

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Robert Conquest, ‘Excess Deaths in the Soviet Union’, NLR I/219: £3

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