Accuracy In Media, DC
Jan 4 2007

A Genocidal Legacy

By Bethany Stotts | January 4, 2008

Those human-rights activists combatting genocide in Darfur and
lobbying for the Armenian Genocide Resolution would likely be
displeased to hear that important massacres and purges may never make
the history books as genocide - or be prosecuted - because the 1948
United Nations Genocide Convention does not include social and
political groups as possible victims of genocide.

The 1948 Genocide Convention defined genocide as "any of the
following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part,
a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." Punishable
genocidal actions which can referred to an international tribunal
include killing the aforementioned groups, inflicting serious bodily
or mental harm, "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of
life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or
in part," preventing births by this group, and "forcibly transferring
children of the group to another group." Arguably, many of the
Communist purges contained these conditions, with a key difference
that they were perpetrated against socioeconomic groups, such as the
Gulags or the bourgeoisie.

Nicholas Eberstadt, American Enterprise Institute Chair in Political
Economy, estimated at the AEI conference, "Understanding Political
Repression in our Times," that both Mao and the Soviets reduced their
population between 5% and 6% during their respective communist
transitions. But these crimes won't be labeled genocide any time
soon, largely because Soviet lawyers helped form the definition of
genocide, argues Norman Naimark, a Professor of East European Studies
at Stanford University. "...most of what we're talking about here in
terms of the evolution of thinking about genocide was heavily
influenced by the Soviets, yet subsequently when we think about
genocide we exclude the Soviets - most scholars do - because of what is
apparently, or supposedly an intellectual argument based on the
Genocide Convention, which [the Soviets] themselves formed," said
Naimark. "So the final Genocide Convention then is a concession...
and the State Department understood this too. It was a concession to
the Soviets, in order to get a unanimous General Assembly resolution
on the Genocide Convention of December 1948." he said.

Paul Hollander, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, strongly disagreed with Naimark at the
conference, because he believes that Soviet actions, while
lamentable, should not be termed genocide because they were not
systematically focused on a particular group and lacked the
systematic death camp machinery of the Holocaust. A Harvard
University Davis Center Associate, Hollander argues that the
categories the Soviets used to target victims were more "flexible"
than those used by the Nazis, and that these categories were
constantly redesigned according to political expedience.

A. Dirk Moses, author of Genocide and Settler Society, notes that
"Despite clear guidelines from Lemkin and the UN, scholars have
wrangled with one another over the meaning of genocide or suggested
alternative definitions. Part of the reason for this is that Lemkin's
writings are open to rival interpretations." Raphael Lemkin, the man
who coined the term genocide, originally labeled the mass murder of a
particular group as 'barbarism' in his 1933 German essay, "Akte der
Barbarei und des Vandalismus als delicta juris gentium," roughly
translated as "Documentation of Barbarism and Vandalism under the Law
of Nations." In the German article, Lemkin defined barbarism as the
"Ausrottung," or extermination of, "ethnischer, nationaler,
konfessioneller, sozialer Menschheitsgruppen gerichteten
Vergewaltigungen, mögen dieselben politischen, religiösen oder
sonstigen Beweggründen entspringen..." In other words, he included
the extermination of ethnic, national, creed, and social groups for
political or religious reasons as part of his early conception of

However, a Polish Jew himself who had relocated to America, Lemkin's
own heritage caused him to refocus his efforts against the horrors of
the Holocaust and crimes against his fellow Poles. America was
aligned with the Soviets during World War II, and Naimark argues that
"In 1944 [the War Department is] very anxious for the Soviets to
fight on our side. They weren't anxious to offend the Soviets in any
way by one of their publications." 018_0_5_0_C/