Communist Crimes and French Intellectuals

Communist Crimes and French Intellectuals

Last fall, Le Livre noir du Communisme: Crimes, terreur, répression (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1997, 850 pp.), a massive compendium of the crimes perpetrated by communist regimes created a public sensation in France and quickly became a bestseller. The controversy over Le Livre noir reached even the chambers of Parliament, not to mention television and radio. If, as originally planned, the preface had been written by François Furet, the historian of the French Revolution and author of a major study of the allure of communism, Le Passé d’une illusion (Paris: Robert Laffont/Calmann Lévy, 1995), Le Livre noir would likely have ended up on specialists’ shelves. But when Furet died suddenly in July 1997, Le Livre noir’s editor, Stéphane Courtois, longtime associate of France’s premier ex-communist intellectual, Annie Kriegel, and editor of the review Communisme, added the missing ingredients of sensation, hyperbole, and denunciation. Timed to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Le Livre noir was an immediate success. But this had little to do with the quality of its scholarship or even the arguments among its six authors. Rather, what made the book a media event was Courtois’s introduction, which asserts that because of the attention given to Nazism and the Holocaust, communism has been virtually ignored as the most genocidal political phenomenon of the twentieth century.

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Lima