Date: 97-12-01 16:21:41 EST
Instead, ``The Black Book of Communism'' is a surprise French best seller, with more than 70,000 copies snatched up in just three weeks. The weighty tome has set off a political debate in parliament and a bit of hand-wringing in the French Communist Party.
Splashed across the front cover is the book's primary conclusion: communism - through deportations and famine, labor camps and executions - killed at least 85 million people in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere.
Though others have chronicled the horrors of the gulag, the authors of this book claim theirs is the first attempt to add up the numbers worldwide and truly make use of newly opened archives in the former Soviet bloc.
The book, subtitled ``Crimes, Terror, Repression,'' was proclaimed by the leftist daily Liberation as the ``first global and scientific balance sheet'' of communism.
Part of the book's unexpected popularity - and its shock - may lie with France's lengthy and continued attachment to the founders of the Soviet regime, especially Lenin.
Though a wealthy democracy, France nevertheless is a place where streets, squares and public buildings still are named for Lenin, who once lived here, and the French Communist Party long was one of the most hard-line in Western Europe.
Though Communist Party support is well down from its postwar high of about 30 percent of the electorate, many French people are still attracted by its ideals.
``I think in France, there has always been a very great interest in communism,'' explained lead author Stephane Courtois, 50, a historian at France's premier scientific research center.
The book tops France's nonfiction best seller list, ahead of a memoir by Gen. Charles de Gaulle's longtime spokesman and a juicy look at current French politics by one of France's leading TV anchorwomen.
Printers are rushing out more copies of the $32 book to meet demand during the busy Christmas season and publisher Robert Laffont is looking to translate it into English and other languages.
It has been front-page news in top dailies, featured in weekly magazines and on talk shows, including one with a snippy battle among the authors who still argue over Courtois' introduction.
The introduction, itself the subject of 17 pre-publication meetings, makes a controversial comparison between communism and Nazism.
Many historians and intellectuals have weighed in. Some agree with historian Alain Besancon, who said in Le Monde that communism and Nazism were ``equally criminal.'' Others say communism and Nazism are ideological apples and oranges and such attempts at comparison diminishes the unique horror of the Holocaust.
Courtois insisted: ``You have to compare them. You can't look at 20th-century history if you don't compare the two systems. You won't understand anything.''
Some of his co-authors say Courtois was too militant, having written an impassioned diatribe rather than a sober introduction to a scholarly book based on years of archival research.
Communist Party leader Robert Hue seemed defensive when talking about the ``black book,'' even as he admitted the party had been slow to distance itself from its Stalinist past.
Hue insisted on French radio last week that ``one cannot in any way identify the true foundations of communism, which is real humanism, with what was done in its name.''
But Hue also was grateful for Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's defense of the three Communist ministers in his Cabinet when debate on the book exploded in parliament.
Shortly after the book's release, a member of the center-right Union of Democracy challenged Jospin to justify having Communists in his government, given the murderous history of their movement.
Jospin countered that the Communists have ``learned the lessons of history'' and he was proud to be associated with them.
``In France, we have lots of trouble looking at history in a calm, serene way,'' Courtois said. ``In France, history is politics.''