THE NEW CONCEPT OF DEMOCIDE
The concept of genocide hardly covers the ruthless murder carried out by totalitarian states. It does not even account for most of those wiped out by the Nazis. A new concept is needed that covers the extent and variety of megamurders by these mortacracies.
In international conventions and the general literature, genocide has been defined as intentional killing by government of people because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or other indelible group membership. While killing people because of their politics or for political reasons has been explicitly excluded from the international Genocide Convention, some scholars nonetheless have included such killing in their study of genocide (Fein, 1984; Kuper, 1981; Porter, 1982). Some have extended the definition of genocide to cover any mass murder by government (Chalk and Jonassohn, 1988; Charny, 1991); some have even stretched it much further to characterize the unintentional spread of disease to indigenous populations during European colonization, including that of the American West (Stannard, 1992).
The problem is becoming conceptually acute. The early generic meaning of genocide was clear, although by its exclusion of political killing, controversial. The present extension of genocide’s meaning, however, creates conceptual confusion and lumps together types of killing that theoretically should be kept distinct. If for example, genocide comes to mean all deaths due to government actions, whether lining up people and machine-gunning them, executing prisoners of war, gassing Jews, creating a famine due to bad agricultural policies, the death of children because of ignorant welfare policies, or the accidental creation of fatal disease among subject natives, then we would have to invent a concept to cover the intentional murder of people by virtue of their group identity. Since we already have the concept of genocide for that purpose, we really should create allied concepts to define other types of deaths due to government.
One concept, already suggested in the literature (Harff and Gurr, 1988; Rummel, 1900) is politicide. This defines that killing done intentionally by government for political-ideological purposes, including those killed because of their politics or political views. This is not purely exclusive of genocide, since there are cases, as in the Soviet deportation and murder of ethnic Germans during World War II, that are both genocide and politicide. Generally, however, I have found that this overlap will be but a smaller part of the politicide carried out by mortacracies, even for Nazi Germany. It usually would include, for example, executing purged communist party members, or murdering anti-communists, counterrevolutionaries, social democrats, dissidents, or critics.
Another concept is mass murder, or government’s intentional and indiscriminate murder of a large number of people. Obviously, in meaning this can overlap with genocide and politicide, but it can also include random executions of civilians, as in the German reprisals against partisan sabotage in Yugoslavia; working prisoners to death, as in the Soviet Kolyma mining camps; the blanket fire bombing of cities, as in the American bombing of Tokyo-Yokohama in 1945 or atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; or atrocities committed by soldiers, as in the 1937 Japanese rape and pillage of Nanking (which probably killed some 200,000 people).
But then there is killing that does not easily fit into any or these categories. There is, for example, murder by quota carried out by the Soviets, Chinese communists, and North Vietnamese. Government (or party) agencies would order subordinate units to kill a certain number of “enemies of the people,” “rightists,” or “tyrants,” and the precise application of the order was left to the units involved. Moreover, millions of people died in labor or concentration camps not because of their social identity or political beliefs, but simply because they got in the way, violated some Draconian rule, did not express sufficient exuberance over the regime, innocently sat on a newspaper with the picture of Stalin showing, or simply was a body that was needed for labor (as the Nazis would grab women innocently walking along a road in Ukraine and deport them to Germany for forced labor). And there are the hundreds of thousands of peasants that slowly died of disease, malnutrition, overwork, and hunger in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge forced them under penalty of death to labor in the collectivized fields, expropriating virtually their whole harvest and refusing them adequate medical care.
I have covered all this murder as well as genocide and politicide by the concept of democide. Table 1 provides the definition [in place of the table, see Chapter 2 of Death By Government]; Table 2 gives an overview of this and the other concepts mentioned above, placing them into the context of other sources of mass death.
Democide is meant to define the killing by states as the concept of murder does individual killing in domestic society. Here intentionality (premeditation) is critical. This also includes practical intentionality. If a government causes deaths through a reckless and depraved indifference to human life, the deaths were as though intended. If through neglect a mother lets her baby die of malnutrition, this is murder. If we imprison a girl in our home, force her to do exhausting work fourteen hours a day, not even minimally feed and clothe her, and watch her gradually die a little each day without helping her, then her inevitable death is not only our fault, but our practical intention. It is murder. Similarly, for example, the Soviet system for forcibly transporting prisoners to labor camps was lethal. In transit hundreds of thousands of political prisoners died at the hands of criminals or guards, or from heat, cold, or inadequate food or water. Although not intended (indeed, this deprived the regime of their labor), the deaths were still murder. They were democide.