Democide is a term proposed by R. J. Rummel since at least 1994 who defined it as "the intentional killing of an unarmed or disarmed person by government agents acting in their authoritative capacity and pursuant to government policy or high command". According to him, this definition covers a wide range of deaths, including forced labor and concentration camp victims; killings by "unofficial" private groups; extrajudicial summary killings; and mass deaths due to governmental acts of criminal omission and neglect, such as in deliberate famines, as well as killings by de facto governments, i.e. civil war killings. This definition covers any murder of any number of persons by any government.
Rummel created the term as an extended concept to include forms of government murder not covered by the term genocide. According to Rummel, democide surpassed war as the leading cause of non-natural death in the 20th century.
Democide is the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder. Democide is not necessarily the elimination of entire cultural groups but rather groups within the country that the government feels need to be eradicated for political reasons and due to claimed future threats.
According to Rummel, genocide has three different meanings.
- The ordinary meaning is murder by government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial or religious group membership.
- The legal meaning of genocide refers to the international treaty on genocide, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This also includes nonlethal acts that in the end eliminate or greatly hinder the group. Looking back on history, one can see the different variations of democides that have occurred, but it still consists of acts of killing or mass murder.
- Democide – This generalized meaning of genocide is similar to the ordinary meaning but also includes government killings of political opponents or otherwise intentional murder. In order to avoid confusion over which meaning is intended. Rummel created the term democide for this third meaning.
The objectives of democide include the disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups; the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity; and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.
Some examples of democide cited by Rummel include the Great Purges carried out by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, the deaths from the colonial policy in the Congo Free State, and Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, which resulted in a famine that killed millions of people. According to Rummel, these were not cases of genocide because those who were killed were not selected on the basis of their race, but were killed in large numbers as a result of government policies. Famine is classified by Rummel as democide if it fits the definition above.
For instance, Rummel re-classified Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward as democide in 2005. He originally believed that Mao's policies were largely responsible for the famine, but that Mao's advisers had misled him. Therefore, he believed it was not an intentional famine and thus not a democide. However, reports from Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story allege that Mao knew about the famine from the beginning but did not care, and eventually Mao had to be stopped by a meeting of 7,000 top Communist Party members. Based on this new evidence, Rummel now believes the famine was intentional and considers it a democide. Taking this into account, the total for Chinese Communist Party democide is 80.86 million, more than the Soviet Union (62 million), Nazi Germany (21 million), or any other regime in the twentieth century.
In his estimates, Rummel relies mostly on historical accounts, an approach that rarely provides accuracy compared with contemporary academic opinion. His estimates typically include a wide range and cannot be considered determinative.
Thus, Rummel calculates nearly 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, or a more recent figure of 9 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 actions 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."
Researchers often give widely different estimates of mass murder. They use different definitions, methodology, and sources. For example, some include battle deaths in their calculations.
- Barbara Harff. Reviewed Work(s): Death by Government by R. J. Rummel, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Summer, 1996), pp. 117-119. Published by: The MIT Press.
- Barbara Harff. The Comparative Analysis of Mass Atrocities and Genocide. Chapter 12. p. 112-115. in N.P. Gleditsch (ed.), R.J. Rummel: An Assessment of His Many Contributions, SpringerBriefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice 37, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-54463-2. [permanent dead link]
- R. J. Rummel (Feb 1, 2005). "Democide Vs. Other Causes of Death".
- R. J. Rummel (1998). Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900. LIT Verlag. ISBN 978-3825840105.
- Lemkin, Raphael. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, 1944.)
- R.J. Rummel (2005-11-30). "Getting My Reestimate Of Mao's Democide Out". Retrieved 2007-04-09.
- Tymothy Snyder. Hitler vs. Stalin: Who was worse? The New York Review of Books January 27, 2011,
- Genocide Archived 2007-10-30 at the Wayback Machine.
- Power Kills—Rummel's website.