Demystifying “Stalin’s Magic”

So, this graphic has been doing the rounds on Facebook, and I thought it would probably be worth disassembling it.


If you accept the ’80 million’ figure as true, then, to line up, you’d need a total of ~97m births between 1924 and 1953, which is ~3m every year (or a ~3.6% increase per year from 1924). Now, that rate is achievable – the populations of 5 countries posted comparable (or higher) growth rates in the World Bank’s 2009 data – but seems unrealistic for the Soviet Union at the time.

However, the key point here is the 80m figure, which, even as someone who looks broadly unfavorably on the Soviets, seems a bit high and propaganda-ish.

So let’s go to the numbers.

Official records reveal ~800k documented executions in the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1953; ~680k of these were carried out between 1937 and 1938, the years of the Great Purge.

In terms of deaths through imprisonment in the Gulags, the same archival data shows that ~1m perished in the Gulags in Stalin’s time, though some historians argue that it could be as high as ~1.7m.

The estimations of famine deaths also vary largely (owing to a difficulty delineating the avoidable famines caused or exacerbated by communist policy with the naturally-occurring ones. Most agree on a figure between 5.5-9m, though.

That gives us an overall estimate of somewhere between 7.3m and 11.5m. Even if you include the estimated 26m Soviet deaths in WW2, that only gets you to an absolute maximum of 37.5m, which is less than half of what the graphic shows.

Assuming that maximum estimate (ergo thinking the worst about Stalin), that means that, between 1924 and 1953, there would need to be ~54m people born in the USSR under Stalin to make the two population figures match up, which works out at ~1.8m/year; that equates to a ~2% increase per year from the 1924 population figure, which is eminently doable – annual growth rates remain consistently above 2% in the most impoverished and war-stricken countries of the world (usually found in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa) where infant mortality rates are high and average life expectancy is low.


The graphic is correct that, when we account for births, the population of the USSR didn’t decrease under Stalin. However, it grossly exaggerates the number of deaths in Stalin’s USSR in an apparent attempt to undermine arguments against Stalin’s policy. This is a classic case of strawman, or misrepresenting an opposing argument (IE “Stalin’s policies led to excess mortality in the USSR”) in order to make them easier to discredit.

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