Iam 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’.footnote1 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.
He quotes me as praising Zemskov as a reliable researcher. Yes, the documents he gives us are genuine, but not therefore complete or accurate; and if his grand totals of entrance into gulag are accepted, this does not apply to subtotals of ‘release’ and so forth. As to our too high earlier estimates of camp numbers derived from indirect reports—which Davies slightly mis-states—our colleague, the late Alec Nove, suggested that this was probably due to the inclusion of sentences to mere ‘exile’, the penalty inflicted on Lenin and others in Tsarist times, which, as Davies says, may be very large. In this context, the ‘high’ and ‘low’ figures may thus be reconciled.
Davies rightly praises Lorimer’s classic work. But he used the 1939 census totals now officially shown to be overstated by a matter of three million, and probably inflated even in their raw state: so it is hard to understand Davies accepting them. Lorimer would not have!
As Davies says, this is not a political issue here—though it is in Russia, where the communists are making much of Stalin having killed ‘less than a million people’.