Posts Tagged ‘genocide’

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The International Network of Genocide Scholars (INOGS) is holding a conference in Jerusalem this weekend. The initiative has attracted an attack by Israel Charny in the Jerusalem Post under the lurid heading, ‘Genocide scholars who minimize the Holocaust – and some who are coming to town’. This summarised his article published in the pseudo-academic Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, reporting a flawed survey of his friends and acquaintances interested in genocide about their attitudes to the Journal of Genocide Research (JGR), the premier journal in the field which is sponsored by INOGS.

Charny charges JGR and the authors of seven articles (including this writer) with ‘minimization of the Holocaust, delegitimization of the State of Israel, and repeat[ing] common themes of contemporary antisemitism’, and then reports how many of his respondents agreed with each of these charges in relation to each of the papers and the journal as a whole. The exercise is a travesty of social research because Charny personally selected the participants, prejudiced the survey by feeding them his own views and distorted summaries of the papers (rather than the papers themselves or their abstracts), and by using loaded terms like ‘Holocaust minimisation’ and above all ‘antisemitism’.

The ‘boycott’ petition against the conference

At the same time, however, for simply holding the conference in Jerusalem INOGS has come under fire from 270 academics and others who have signed a petition calling on it to respect the academic boycott of Israel, called by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The petition points to the ‘hypocrisy’ of having the conference in Israel at a time when Israel’s actions are ‘increasingly being viewed through lenses of ethnic cleansing and genocide linked to settler colonialism’, as well as calling the location ‘Jerusalem, Israel’, when the city’s eastern part has been illegally annexed.

The irony of the petition’s first charge is that this is also the core reason why Charny objects to JGR. Seeing Zionism romantically as a ‘heroic nationalism’ rooted solely in Jewish victimisation, he is incensed by the mere suggestion that Israel’s founding through the removal of most of Palestine’s Arab population could be analysed through a ‘genocide’ lens. I proposed this idea in a 2010 debate in JGR following a fuller article in the Journal of Holy Land Studies (the paper was earlier presented at an INOGS conference). It was not an original insight: JGR’s most heavily downloaded paper is one by Patrick Wolfe which, inter alialinked the Israeli case to the wider problem of genocide in settler colonialism.

It typifies Charny’s intellectual sloppiness that he doesn’t seem to have read my original article before condemning me, but it also reflects poorly on the petition organisers that they don’t seem to have been aware of INOGS and JGR’s pioneering roles in promoting discussion of colonial genocide and broaching the subject (very sensitive because of the twin centrality of the Holocaust to genocide studies and to much Jewish identity) of the genocidal dimenstions of the Nakba. Nor do they seem to have picked up on the fact that INOGS was founded partly because of dissatisfaction with the way in which the existing, US-based International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) had been politicised by pro-Israeli scholars, most notoriously in a 2006 resolution echoing Israeli propaganda charges that then-President Ahmadinejad of Iran was threatening a new genocide against Jews.

INOGS’ opposition to politicising genocide studies

I left IAGS after that (although I should mention that in recent years a new, younger leadership has avoided further provocations of this kind). I supported, and still support, INOGS’s opposing stance that it is not helpful for the disciiplinary organisations of academics in a sensitive field like genocide to take political positions on what counts as genocide or a threat of genocide. All scholars in the genocide field have moral commitments, of course, and we should expect individuals to take political positions. But if we are to have professional communities which promote academic rigour and serious scholarly debate on the cases of genocide, then these cases cannot be foreclosed by majority votes on a website.

It is in this spirit, I assume, that my friend Juergen Zimmerer, the INOGS President, and other colleagues on its board have approached the Jerusalem conference. Israel is, naturally, one of the major countries in which the Holocaust is studied and there are key intellectual debates, including the relationship of Holocaust to wider study of genocide (the latter category is subversive in Israel since Holocaust-centrism is hegemonic) and indeed about how the Holocaust itself should be studied, broached in JGR, which it is especially appropriate to take forward in an Israeli setting. There are, after all, many serious genocide scholars in Israel, such as the veteran historian Yehuda Bauer who defended the conference in the Jerusalem Post, as well as ideologues like Charny.

The academic boycott of Israel

Thus far, I am sympathetic to the ambitions for this conference. Its programme is impressive. My absence, however, is not accidental. It is one thing to avoid political commitments, as INOGS has managed to do up to now. It is another, when holding an event in a site of conflict, to accept the position advocated by one side and to reject the position adopted by the other. Whether INOGS likes it or not, the academic boycott of Israel is part of this conflict. The boycott is not directed at individual scholars: many academics who support the boycott regularly have contact with Israeli scholars. It is directed at universities as Israeli institutions, which like many others are to a greater or lesser extent complicit in the oppression of Palestinians, as my late colleague Stan Cohen argued in a memorable paper (Hebrew here).

I don’t criticise the specific Israeli institutions which have sponsored the conference, which may well be acting laudibly within the oppressive Israeli climate of which Charny’s attacks are a symptom. It is significant that a West Bank-based institution is also among the sponsors, and Al Quds University was apparently approached to co-host but declined. There is a plenary roundtable, What Does It Mean to Study the Holocaust and Genocide in Israel/Palestine, A Site of Conflict?, in which one of the speakers is Palestinian, as well as other occasions to reflect on Israel-Palestine issues. This will probably a stimulating gathering, and at one level I am sorry to be missing it.

However I don’t see these as good enough reasons to avoid the boycott question. The boycott as a whole (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions, BDS, to give it its proper name) is emerging to the centre of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It offers Palestinians the means of applying peaceful international pressure to Israel to reach an equitable settlement, as an alternative to the violence of Hamas and others. It has been the focus of a huge official and unofficial Israeli counteroffensive, including bans on BDS campaigns in the USA, which has smeared boycotters as antisemitic.

It was unnecessary for INOGS to endorse the boycott; it could clearly have simply avoided the whole issue, in line with its previous position, by holding its conference somewhere else. But by holding a conference in Jerusalem, INOGS has taken a position against the boycott, and it is not one I can support.

I would have respected INOGS’ board more if it had responded publicly to the criticisms of the boycotters, and indeed I made several attempts to encourage it to articulate its position, so that this debate, instead of being brought together in this piece, would have taken place between INOGS and those academics who thought it should not go to Jerusalem.

There is a further irony in that INOGS and JGR have been smeared as ‘delegitimising the State of Israel’, and even antisemitic, despite this decision. No doubt the Charnys of this world will be quick to heap further ignominy on me for the views I am expressing, and will throw in INOGS for good measure.

‘Delegitimising’ Israel

I explained my decision to support the boycott at the time of Israel’s last large-scale massacres in Gaza in 2014, and there is no need to repeat all the arguments here. I will make clear, however, in the light of recent controversies in the UK, that my position on Israel-Palestine has not fundamentally changed since I was commissioned to write on it in 2009 (after the first Gaza massacres) by the editor of Democratiya, Alan Johnson. (Charny should note that Johnson now works for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, BICOM, and was never one to publish an antisemitic post.)

Any reader of these articles will see that I do not oppose the existence of the State of Israel. That is also true of my academic writing referred to above. Charny is unable to engage with the Palestinian genocide proposition (or even Ilan Pappe’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ perspective) in conceptual or historical terms, but only through the starkly political lens of the ‘delegitimisation’ of the state. Yet as Jonathan Freedland has argued, ‘As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba [sic] – their dispossession in 1948 – one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed.’

However the corollary of recognising that there is no necessary connection between the crimes of Israel’s foundation and its right to exist today is that the Nakba deserves the same academic attention as the other cases that Freedland mentions, which are increasingly discussed in the colonial genocide literature that JGR has done so much to develop. If research on Israel-Palestine is to advance, it will have to overcome the idea that deep historical criticism of Israel necessarily implies the dismantling of its state and society.

The reason why we have not got to this ‘normal’ stage is Israel’s continuous expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which even more than its failure to address historic Palestinian grievances means that Israel itself has not achieved a stable state. The world has recognised Israel within its 1948 borders, but Israel itself is unsatisfied with these borders. Its internationally illegitimate expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, endorsed in some degree by all mainstream parties in the Knesset, makes it impossible to unequivocally endorse the state.

Conceptual and normative aspects of forced removal

At the heart of my conceptual position is the proposition that the forced removal of populations is one of the key means through which genocide, the destruction of population groups and societies, is carried out. Corresponding to this, I take a normative position: whole groups and societies should not be forcibly uprooted.

I apply this principle retrospectively to the forced removal of the majority of Palestinians from Israeli territory in 1948, a removal which was partially deliberate at the time and wholly deliberate in the Israeli refusal to allow Palestinians to return after the war.

I apply this prospectively to any proposal for the forced removal of the Jewish population of Israel, and I recognise that the Jewish population needs a state in which it has confidence to protect it. A stable state structure in Israel-Palestine, whether one state or two, needs Jewish as well as Palestinian consent.

However I also apply this principle now to the ongoing forced removal of the Palestinian population from their homes in many parts of the Occupied Territories, and their replacement by Jewish settlers.

Jerusalem: where ‘genocide’ questions are still live

Jerusalem is not just a site of ‘conflict’, in the euphemistic terminology of the INOGS conference programme. It is a site of what many, almost as euphemistically, call ‘ethnic cleansing’, as Palestinians are forced out of their longstanding homes in the occupied east of the city. It is a site in which questions of ‘genocide’, the deliberate destruction of communities, are all too live.

‘Genocide’, wrote Raphael Lemkin, ‘has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals.’

It is true that current dispossession is piecemeal, often legal in the Israeli understanding (although Israel’s domestic law does not genuinely apply when the occupation is illegal under international law), and mostly accompanied by only localised coercion or violence. In these senses it is different from the wholesale removal of a large population, without a shred of legality and with extensive violence, which occurred in 1948.

However it seems to me unarguable that the present dispossession is an extension of the historic destruction of Palestinian society. In the midst of this crisis, genocide scholars cannot ignore the call for boycotting Israel which comes, not from those ‘singling out’ or ‘demonising’ Israel (as BDS’s critics claim), let alone from antisemites, but from those Palestinian organisations which see it as a more potent weapon for justice than rockets, bombs or knives which harm innocent civilians.

This is why I am not in Jerusalem.

What is Genocide 2nd editionThe Second Edition of my What is Genocide? has just been published by Polity Press. Fully revised, it includes a new chapter with an extended critical assessment of Lemkin, development of the argument on ‘structure’ and genocide, and improved presentation for teaching purposes. 20% discount and examination copies are available via this link: What is Genocide 2nd edn flier.

Daniel Feierstein, Genocide as a Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas. Translated from Spanish (Argentine) by Douglas Andrew Town. Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Daniel Feierstein sent me an advance copy of the English translation of Genocidio como Practicio Social, his study of the Nazis and the Argentine military junta as practitioners of ‘reorganizing genocide’. Feierstein presents a sociological reinterpretation of genocide based on the Argentine experience: here I discuss the points of agreement and disagreement between our perspectives.

The definition of genocide

Feierstein shares with me a dissatisfaction with the international legal definition, not least on the grounds of its notorious exclusion of ‘political groups’ from the scope of the crime. He frames this, cogently, in terms of discrimination, as a failure to apply the prohibition of group destruction equally to political as to other types of group: ‘defining genocide in terms of the characteristics of the victims has no precedent in modern criminal law and clearly damages the principle of equality before the law.’

Also for Feierstein, the legal definition is excessively broad, so that it encompasses ‘the annihilation of population masses by the Ancient Greeks, Romans or Mongols’ and misses the specific character of modern genocide. For him this has two key features. First, genocide is ‘the implementation of a massive and systematic plan intended to destroy all or part of a human group as such’. A ‘genocidal social practice’ is a specific ‘mechanism’ or ‘distinctive form of social engineering’ used by modern regimes:

a technology of power – a way of managing people as a group – that aims (i) to destroy social relationships based on autonomy and cooperation by annihilating a significant part of the population (significant in terms of either numbers or practices), and (ii) to use the terror of annihilation to establish new models of identity and social relationships among the survivors.

Second, genocide is not simply a moment of implementation, but a longer-term ‘process’ that ‘starts long before and ends long after the actual physical annihilation of the victims’: ‘It is organisation, training, practice, legitimation and consensus that distinguish genocide as a social practice from other more spontaneous or less intentional acts of killing and mass destruction.’

Moreover, ‘modern genocides have been a deliberate attempt to change the identity of the survivors by modifying relationships within a given society.’ We can understand what Feierstein means by considering his critique of Holocaust historiography:

In focusing on the death camps in which Jewish and Roma communities were exterminated between 1942 and 1945, historians have tended to downplay the importance of the concentration camp system. And yet the first camps were opened almost as soon as the Nazis came to power in 1933 and remained a part of everyday life in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe until the collapse of the regime in 1945. There has been no adequate account so far of the role played by concentration camps as stepping stones to genocide or the range of victims imprisoned or murdered in them during the “reorganization” of German society and the Reich’s military expansion eastward.

This approach has some attractive features. It moves the definition of genocide away from a narrow emphasis on mass killing, which is only one of many means through which groups are destroyed but which for many writers has become the only means that counts. It recognises that genocide involves not only the ‘perpetrators’’ attacks on the ‘victims’ but is also embedded in, and has implications for, wider power relations. And its emphasis on longer-term processes, exemplified in the reference back to the earlier stages of Nazi rule, is an important pointer to the need to connect moments of annihilation with preceding phases of discrimination and violence.

Yet the approach also has its problems. In specifying genocide itself as ‘systematic planning’, ‘social engineering’ and a ‘technology of power’ aimed at establishing new modes of power over the survivors, Feierstein comes too close to identifying genocide in general with the specific historical variant which he calls ‘reorganising genocide’. ‘Genocide’ was proposed by Raphael Lemkin to describe a general class of actions, defined by their destructive aims towards population groups, and rightly criminalized in this vein. Although Lemkin characterized the Nazi genocide as a multi-method, ‘coordinated attack’ on a variety of populations, the core of his concept is deliberate destruction. In other circumstances this can take different forms from the systematic social engineering of the Nazis. Lemkin recognised this variety in his manuscripts on colonial genocides. Leo Kuper more radically emphasised the wide range of genocide with his seminal idea of the ‘genocidal massacre’ which is so valuable in analysing the messier, spasmodic but still organised destruction of populations widespread in twenty-first century world politics.

‘Reorganising genocide’ and Nazism

Feierstein’s ‘reorganising’ concept reminds us that the destruction of specific groups within a society is often part of a project to reorganise the society as a whole. He presents this idea as a specific type of genocide, but underlying it is a point of theoretical interest for all genocide: whether part of a reorganising project or not, the destruction of part of a society generally changes social relations in profound way. It is difficult to believe that perpetrators are ever unaware of this dimension, so that we can always ask, what kind of society are they trying to achieve? Yet clearly there is much variation in the degree of formalisation into a defined ‘project’ and in the way it is conceptualised, etc. Colonial settlers who wished to create racially pure, or at least hierarchical, societies had different kinds of project from the ambitious social engineering which fascist and Stalinist regimes envisaged. The projects of loose coalitions of violent actors in today’s post-colonial world may be relatively inchoate compared to the cases that Feierstein considers ‘reorganising genocides’. The ‘reorganising’ concept makes sense if it designates a variant in which explicit and formalised social reorganisation is the driver of genocide.

Nazi Germany is Feierstein’s template for this type. I agree with his proposal to trace Nazi genocide back to 1933, not just because Hitler already had a project to reorganise society, but because his destruction of the labour movement and left parties, his early attacks on the Jews and the establishment of the camp system prefigured the more openly genocidal policies adopted from 1938-9 onwards (not only after 1941-2). The comparison of Argentina with Germany is suggestive, but the differences of context are much more substantial than Feierstein acknowledges. The Nazis were establishing a continental empire and enslaving tens of millions in the midst of a brutal and eventually desparate total war, while the Argentinian military were ‘reorganising’ a single nation-state in the relatively stable international context of the Cold War.

Moreover Feierstein’s view of the Nazi genocide as a ‘reorganising’ process that began with the concentration camps ascribes too much coherence to Nazi policies which mutated from national reorganisation into aggressive war. It was in the latter context that Nazi genocide escalated: from the mass murder of the German disabled, the deportations of Western Poles and the ghettoisation of Polish Jews in late 1939, through the mass shootings of Communists as well as Jews during the 1941 invasion of the USSR and the starving and freezing to death of Soviet prisoners of war in 1941-2, to the the extermination of the Jews and Roma of a whole continent in the camps in the last years of the war. To view all of this as ‘systematic planning’ and ‘social engineering’ defies today’s historical consensus, according to which Nazi policy escalated situationally in response to the opportunities and challenges that the war created. Hitler and the Nazi elite had grandiose schemes for their new racial empire, like the Generalplan Ost, but Nazi genocide was not the implementation of a preconceived plan.

The Argentine case

Feierstein acknowledges that his choice of cases to compare is personally driven: ‘the connection between these events is neither direct nor obvious’, but ‘to some extent “contrived” in order to see what we can learn about the way genocide constructs, destroys and reconstructs the social fabric.’ It seems likely too that there is a political dimension to the choice, since the Holocaust is the virtually uncontested standard of modern genocide, and the desire to see the Argentinian violence fully recognised in the genocide frame is an understandable background to this book. Connecting the Argentine case to the Holocaust is a politically obvious way of making the genocide argument. As Feierstein says of Vahakn Dadrian, who ‘has argued in several works that it is both possible and desirable to compare the genocide of the Armenian and Jewish peoples’: ‘Even though he does not say so explicitly, his goals are as much political as academic.’

Yet this strategy is less coherent theoretically than politically. I find the chapter in which Feierstein matches the Argentine events to the conflicting definitions that have been proposed for genocide less illuminating than his review of the Argentinian literature. As he says,

That the Argentine military were clear about their goals from the outset can be seen in the name they gave to their new regime: the “Process of National Reorganisation”. So it was that in the Republic of Argentina, an already existing nation-state that had been built – like most nation-states – on genocide, the de facto government of the military dictatorship proposed to “re-found” the state on a new social, political and cultural basis. The tool chosen to carry out this reorganization of society was the concentration camp.

A key issue is whether the military’s campaign was a ‘dirty war’, or whether the language of war masked a ‘genocidal practice’. Feierstein traces the origins of the project to 1974, and a work by Brigadier General Acdel Vilas, the head of Operativo Independencia (Operation Independence):

This was a military campaign to destroy the People’s Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo or ERP), a Trotskyist guerrilla group which, by the end of 1974, had seized just over a third of the mountainous northwestern province of Tucuman, in an attempt to copy the Cuban revolution. Operativo Independencia … became a testing ground for the repressive methods implemented during the military dictatorship a year later.

In Vilas’ mind, this reflection justified the need for clandestine operations in a “Dirty War” that required – in his own words – a very different army from the traditional one – and thus, different values, different morality, another way to carrying out social practices. It meant replacing a predominantly military social practice – war – with an eminently political one – the destruction of social relations in the civilian population or … genocide.

However the military origins of the crisis have given rise, in Feierstein’s view, to two erroneous perspectives: the ‘theory of the two demons’, according to which the extreme left militants are equally responsible with the military, and the distinction between ‘innocent’ civilian victims and armed militants who implicitly merited the army’s repression. The latter leads to

the unjustified assumption that the guerrillas died fighting while the victims – i.e. those people who were taken to detention centers – were all non-combatants, irrespective of their political affiliation or relationship with the armed struggle. In fact, the guerrillas were just as much victims as those people who had no relationship whatsoever to armed or political organizations.

Feierstein cites various reasons given in the literature for rejecting the ‘war’ perspective, for example that there was no revolutionary army, that the revolutionaries controlled no territory, and that the society as a whole was not at war. However the origins of the conflict in the ERP’s control of parts of Tucuman suggests that we cannot dismiss the ‘war’ perspective. War and genocide are hardly mutually exclusive, and a context of war often helps explain why political conflict radicalizes to genocidal solutions. A failed attempt to ignite a civil war can be as politically consequential as a successful one. The ‘Process of National Reorganization’ did not simply spring from the generals’ minds with no context.

Likewise Feierstein is concerned to reject the legitimation of the killing of armed militants. To the limited extent to which there was an armed struggle, and that militants were killed as a result of combat, clearly these deaths cannot be accounted genocide. However I take Feierstein’s point to be that most militants as well as non-militants were killed and abused outside the military context. Since the original armed conflict had given way to a genocidal process, we should see their killing as part of this. This argument is valid, but he does not deal with the obvious issue that in a sense armed opposition can be said to have helped, albeit in this case unknowingly, to provoke the military genocide. This argument, which has been raised (especially by Alan Kuperman) in relation to Rwanda and Kosovo, is surely relevant here, yet does not mean that one regards the perpetrators and victims symmetrically.

Which group is being destroyed in the Argentine genocide?

The most striking and also most problematic feature of Feierstein’s account is the way he ultimately argues for the genocidal character of the Argentine events. In my view, his account risks confusing the object of genocide with its policy context, because of an unusual conceptual move that seems to derive from the political motive of squaring the case with the international legal criteria for genocide.

Feierstein’s reconceptualisation of genocide, and specifically concepts of ‘genocidal practice’ and ‘reorganising genocide’, seem to rest on his adoption of a particular legal argument made in the 1999 indictment by the Spanish prosecuting magistrate, Baltasar Garzón, of 98 Argentine military for crimes of ‘terrorism and genocide’ under the dictatorship. For Feierstein, Garzón’s key argument is that the term ‘national group’ is appropriate to classify the victims in Argentina. This, Feierstein writes (with his emphases), ‘is based on the fact that the perpetrators sought to destroy structures of social relationships within the State, in order to substantially alter the life of the whole. This is in line with Article 2 of the 1948 Convention …, which defines genocide as “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national (…) group. The Argentine national group has been annihilated “in part,” substantially altering social relationships across the nation.’

Garzón’s was an understandable legal tactic to catch the military perpetrators within an inadequate legal framework which recognizes national, but not political, groups as targets of genocide. Clearly all members of Argentine society can be considered members of the Argentine national ‘group’, in the rather arcane language of genocide law, but this does not make this a case of genocide in a coherent legal, let alone a sociological, sense. For clearly assorted leftists, their friends, families and alleged sympathizers were targeted by the Argentine military not because they regarded them as members of the Argentine national group, but for the opposite reason, that they did not regard them as legitimate members of the Argentine nation as they defined it. The military targeted a section of society, not the whole, with extreme violence, and this is what makes this a case of genocide.

Feierstein would have it differently: ‘the purpose of a genocidal social process is to destroy the broader fabric of social relations.’ But this seems misleading in both empirical and theoretical terms. The Argentine dictatorship sought to destroy certain parts of the Argentine social fabric, in order to reorganise the whole. It was the destruction, not the reorganisation, that made the process genocidal. If the military had not targeted certain sectors of society, producing some 30,000 deaths, their ‘reorganisation’ would not have been genocidal; there would have been a non-genocidal restructuring.

We can see the importance of this distinction if we put the Argentine case in comparative perspective. A 2013 discussion on the list-serve of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, in which Feierstein took part, compared this case with the Cambodian genocide. Yet there is a key difference: the Khmer Rouge attacked most if not all sections of the Cambodian population – the educated, urban dwellers, Buddhists, traditional peasant communities, ethnic and national minorities – because they regarded all existing institutions as part of the corrupt ‘old’ society to be replaced by the ‘new’ Kampuchea. Here the reorganisation was truly genocidal on a national scale, since no section of the population or existing institution escaped destruction, and the death toll of millions reflected the broader scope of the violence.

The concentration camps are, for Feierstein, the prime institutions of ‘reorganising’ genocide. In Argentina camps contained only one relatively small section of the population; in Cambodia, society as a whole was reorganised as a camp system. It does not diminish the genocidal character of the Argentinian military campaign to recognise the much narrower scope of its directly destructive policies, even if the broader reorganizing thrust affected society as a whole. For unlike the Khmer Rouge, the Argentine military aimed to rebuild society on a more conservative basis, strengthening some institutions while weakening others. ‘Reorganising’ genocide, like genocide in general, obviously constitutes a wide spectrum.

The difficulties of serious debate about Palestine: this short commentary has just appeared in Holy Land Studies (12, 1, 2013, 1-8; below is a draft version). The same issue includes an excellent piece by Farid Abdel-Nour, ‘From Critic to Cheerleader: The Clarifying Example of Benny Morris’ “Conversion”‘, the clarification being relevant to all who try to square the events of 1948 with their moral and political commitments. 

I wrote in this journal about ‘Palestine in an International Historical Perspective on Genocide’ (Holy Land Studies, 9:1, 1-25). The reaction to the article has shown the possibility of serious debate among scholars transcending political differences – but also how political interests can trump intellectual coherence in academic circles concerned with these issues.

A serious intellectual response came in my email exchange with the Holocaust historian Omer Bartov, published in the Journal of Genocide Research (12:3-4, 2010, 243-59). Among many points, Bartov took issue with what he called my ‘conflation’ of ‘ethnic cleansing’ with genocide, which he saw as an unacceptable broadening of the latter concept. He offered some plausible historical counterpoints, for example the threats to Jewish as well as Arab society in Palestine during the 1948 war. However at two points he made rather surprising comments. First, he introduced the question of the Palestinian right of return, implying that in the light of my argument I must regard Palestinian claims as superior to those of other victims of expulsion. Endorsing Israel’s need to prevent Palestinian return in order to maintain the Jewish character of the Israeli state, Bartov asked rhetorically: ‘What makes their Nakba “better” from all others? If Germans from the Volga and the Sudetenland settled down in Freiburg why could Palestinians not settle down in Damascus?’ Secondly, he concluded his final response with the allegation that ‘the argument of Israeli genocide of the Palestinians is clearly meant to delegitimize the state and to say that it was born in the blood of innocents and should therefore also go down in blood.’ He added, ‘You do not make peace with people by telling them that they have no right to exist because they were born in sin.’ In fact, I had not even referred to the right of return (although I believe that in principle all expelled populations can claim this), and the last thing I intended to say was that Israel should ‘go down in blood’. Yet in the end Bartov was incapable of interpreting my suggestion that we should frame the removal of the Palestinians as ‘genocide’ other than in these emotive terms.

Bartov’s comments were moderate compared with what followed, notably a splenetic outburst from Israel W. Charny on the list-serve of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Charny, a past president of IAGS, runs Genocide Prevention Now which focuses primarily on the ‘genocide threat’ of the possible Iranian development of nuclear weapons to Israeli Jews. After reading my exchange with Bartov (it is not clear that he read my Holy Land Studies article), he accused me, directly or indirectly, of ‘insincerity’, ‘a delusional projection of an angry soul’, being ‘a prejudiced genocide scholar’, violating ‘the elementary requirements of assembly of established information’, utilizing ‘a device that we have documented in past research as a familiar one of deniers of Holocaust and genocide’, ‘bitter condemnation of a given ethnic identity’, and following (whether I am ‘anti-Semitic or not’) the ‘primary form/outlet’ of ‘contemporary anti-Semitism’. In sum, Charny accused me of prejudiced scholarship; he tarred me with both anti-Semitism and Holocaust/genocide denial; and he even psycho-pathologized me. Not surprisingly, the IAGS executive apologised for the publication of these comments, but they were picked up by the US Jewish newspaper, Forward, making the issue a minor cause célèbre.

These responses ultimately interpreted my article in terms of the politics of genocide recognition, neglecting its intellectual core, so here I restate it more sharply. My target was not benign views of Zionist policies in 1948; I assumed that these were already discredited. Rather it was the widespread assumption of critical scholars that Palestine represented primarily a case of settler-colonial genocide, comparable to (for example) the destruction of Indigenous Australian societies. I argued that we should also see the 1948 destruction of most of Arab society in Israeli-controlled Palestine in the context of East European nationalism – which had lain behind so much genocide in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and had peaked in the Second World War – and of the battles of decolonisation in the mid-twentieth century. To put it more concisely than I did in the original article: the Naqba brought together elements that can be found in other cases, but elsewhere were often separated in time. It was the concentrated outcome of no less than three modern patterns that produced genocide: settler colonialism; European nationalism; and the competition for control of independent statehood as European empires retreated.

And yet because of this combination, the case of Israel and the Palestinian Arab population appears highly distinctive in relation to each pattern. Considered as settler colonialism, Zionist was an unusual late case. European colonisation was everywhere a multinational process, but normally there was an imperial power and a settler core was recruited from its nationals. Jewish settlers in Palestine were different in that they although they constituted the majority of the European population, they established themselves under empires (Ottoman and British) with which they had no organic national connection. Palestinian Arabs, too, were unusual indigenes: they had not lived in their own polities, like peoples in the Americas, Australia and much of Africa, but as part of the Muslim majority in the Ottoman empire. The lateness of the Zionists’ colonial enterprise would lead them to seek wider international sponsorship; Palestinians had access the potent ideas of nationalism spreading in the Arab world in the mid-twentieth century.

Considered as a case of late 19th/early 20th century East European nationalism, Zionism was exceptional in not aiming to consolidate and expand its people’s existing homeland into a nation-state. Although the impetus for Jewish nationalism came, as with others, from the situation in their East European homelands, Zionists were ready to abandon places where Jews had been large minorities and even locally majorities for centuries – in the Middle East as well as Europe – in order to colonise Palestine where initially they were a tiny minority. Whereas other East European nationalists expelled and murdered their longstanding neighbours, Zionists ended up expelling new neighbours among whom they had only recently established themselves. These expulsions were not linked to national fascism and aggressive war, as in many European cases, but – much more like the simultaneous Czechoslovak and Polish removals of the Germans – to ‘counter-genocidal’ politics and Soviet, British and US sponsorship. However unlike Czechoslovak and Polish policies, Zionist motives hardly involved revenge, as Palestinians were not seriously complicit in the Jewish genocide.

Considered as a case of decolonization, Zionism was also unusual. Despite their lack of an organic connection with the British empire, Zionists aspired nonetheless to present themselves as its natural heirs. Britain had committed itself to a Jewish national home, but it was ambivalent about the Zionist bid to monopolise land, wealth and power in Palestine, and it prioritised its own interests as decolonisation loomed. Zionists were not unusual in having, in the end, to fight the empire that protected them (so did Algerian and Rhodesian colons), but they were unique in lacking traditional national leverage in the imperial nation. They would compensate for this by seeking the protection of the United Nations, and as pioneers of the ethnic lobby in US domestic politics.

Among the reasons that Zionist critics have given for rejecting the genocide frame are the low civilian casualties among Palestinian Arabs as a result of direct Zionist violence against them in 1948. A death toll of around 5,000 is generally accepted, compared to 750,000 people removed, a relatively low ratio suggesting that killing was a spur and aid to expulsion rather than an end in itself. This point was, of course, acknowledged in my original article, and explained as a result of the type of genocide that destroys the attacked society (most of Arab society in Israeli-controlled Palestine) without killing most of its individual members. This is the most common type: cases like the Holocaust and Rwanda where violence escalates to all-out mass murder are the exception. So that far from it being unusual to frame the Palestinian case in this way, it places it alongside a large number of historical episodes and contemporary cases like Bosnia and Darfur. Relatedly, critics have pointed out that a substantial Palestinian population remained in Israel after 1948 and has continued up to the present day. This too is not so unusual: neither Bosnia nor Darfur has seen total population removal either.

The international historical perspective offered suggests reasons for both the occurrence of this type of genocide in Palestine and why it would produce the contradictory situation that has now persisted for six-and-a-half decades. The lateness of Zionist colonization, its expansionary ambitiousness compared to the consolidating projects of other East European nationalisms, and its lack of organic imperial protection all made the removal of Palestinians higher-risk than many genocidal projects. Israel was dependent on the support of the UN and its great powers, and that was also a constraint. Many European nationalist genocides had been carried out under the cover of general European and world war; Israel’s destruction of Palestinian society responded to a short window of opportunity offered by the 1948 war. Although Palestinians were weakly organized in that year, the Naqba and their ongoing persecutions under Israeli rule and later occupation eventually catalysed a strong national consciousness, in turn a key reference point for wider Arab nationalism and later Islamism. All this has ensured an ongoing struggle in which Palestinians can provoke but not overthrow Israeli power; Israel can military defeat but not politically subdue Palestinians.

Within the long political and military conflicts there have been subdued but continuing genocidal dynamics, to which I referred only passingly in my original article. Israel has constantly extended the confiscation of Palestinian land and the removal of Palestinians themselves from various parts of the West Bank: a slow-motion, piecemeal consolidation of the dramatic, large-scale destruction of Arab society in 1948. Powerful elements within Israeli politics push towards further ‘transfer’, or forcible removal, of Israeli Arabs – while accentuating the racially Jewish character built into the state since its foundation – fearing that Palestinian birth-rates and national consciousness will destabilize its heavily fortified but ultimately precarious edifice. Yet the push towards expulsion has ultimately been constrained, so far, by Israel’s dependence on a range of international support that will tolerate its violence when it appears to have some connection with Israel’s military security, but might be spooked by wholesale attacks on the existing Israeli Arab population.

So, as I suggested in my article, genocide has long been overall a subordinate theme in the Palestine-Israel conflict, which has overall seen mainly degenerate warfare, with widespread civilian targetting supposedly serving military goals on both sides. Futile attacks by Palestinian armed groups on Israelis help provoke more extensive and lethal violence against Palestinians by Israel. The resulting wars may at times become partially genocidal when certain civilian groups (like the Gaza police in 2009) are specifically targeted for destruction. But so far this tendency has been contained. Rhetorically, of course, the ‘genocide wars’ with which I began my article continue in full spate, ratcheted up with the aid of President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and wild anti-Israeli rhetoric into the spectre of a ‘second Holocaust’ that haunts the speeches of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the propaganda of his ‘genocide-scholar’ accomplices.

The only presently forseeable circumstance in which genocide is likely to become, once again, a major theme in Israeli-Palestinian relations is if the Israeli campaign against Iran succeeds in provoking a serious regional war. Not only might an Israeli strike contain genocidal elements (for example, general targeting of groups of Iranian scientists along with nuclear facilities), but a serious Iranian counter-attack on Israel could provide the cover the Israeli right needs to start implementing its wilder ideas of ‘transfer’. Despite the combustible state of regional relations as I write in late 2012, exacerbated by the Syrian crisis, it seems unlikely that a general war would develop. However if Israeli-US overreach did provoke such a development, it might ironically also begin to produce the serious threat to its own society that is currently only a figment of Iranian rhetoric and Israeli ideology.

A new post on openDemocracy 21 March 2012

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a characteristic intervention during his address in Washington to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac ) on 5 March 2012. In voicing determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and thus to reject a situation where Israelis would “live under the shadow of annihilation”, Netanyahu said that in his desk was a copy of a letter from the World Jewish Congress requesting the United States to bomb the Auschwitz death camp in 1944, together with the American reply making excuses for declining to do so.

It hardly honours Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide to make them a pretext for killing more innocents in a new war. Netanyahu’s cheap comparison between the situation of Israelis today and the terrible plight of Auschwitz inmates sixty-eight years ago only insults their memory. Likewise, his attack on the secrecy of Iran’s nuclear programme – “its underground nuclear facilities” – is brazen hypocrisy from the leader of an undeclared nuclear-armed state; one which is moreover in a deep alliance with the greatest nuclear power on earth.

Such Holocaust militarism is surely an example of the “loose talk of war” of which President Barack Obama rightly warned in his own speech to Aipac the previous day. But sadly, the abuse of genocide-victims’ experience is all too routine. It is not only Israeli spokespersons – who regularly invoke the Holocaust as a justification for their state’s oppression of Palestinians – who abuse historical memory. Across the board, victims’ tragedies are cheapened by many politics of genocide mobilisation (as also, of course, of genocide denial).

The anti-denial problem

A twist in this situation is that some abuses of this kind take place in the name of combating denial. In Rwanda, journalists Agnès Uwimana and Saïdati Mukakibibi were sentenced to seventeen and seven years respectively for articles (published in a small circulation journal) that alleged corruption among officials and criticised Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame , in the run-up to the elections of 2010. They were convicted on counts of endangering national security, insulting the president, fomenting division, and denying the genocide of 1994.

Rwanda has a constitutional ban on “revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide”. It defends this by referring to similar laws that were adopted by some European countries in response to Holocaust denial. Such laws have long existed in Germany, Austria and elsewhere; more recently they are being complemented by laws against denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915. A law adopted by the French parliament is a prime example, which was later struck down by France’s constitutional court though may yet be passed in revised form.

Such laws have some value in indicating the gravity of these issues, but they are also insidious (by enshrining in statute particular versions of historical memory in a way that facilitates tendentious manipulation) and invidious (in protecting the memory of some genocides and some victims while suppressing that of others).

It is legitimate, for example, to draw attention to Hutu victims of massacres committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which controls the post-genocide government in Rwanda – even if it must also be acknowledged that these massacres were different from the “Hutu power” genocide against the Tutsi (being of far lesser scale, and not linked to the unified aim of destroying a whole population group, than was the case in the 1994 events ). But this nuanced argument, which I can make from the safety of European academia (and which I hasten to add, the condemned Uwimana and Mukakibibi did not make) would earn me imprisonment in Rwanda.

Laws in third-party countries, like France’s in relation to events in the Ottoman empire a century ago, inevitably raise questions of international politics. Many Turks (and others) will interpret the French law in terms of contemporary French chauvinism towards Muslims and hostility to Turkish membership of the European Union. It will probably reinforce denial more than it will make Turks confront the dark side of their state’s early history.

Moreover, such international moves provoke retaliatory accusations, as when Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan argued that France should instead “investigate how many people French soldiers massacred in Algeria, and their involvement in the killing of 800,000 people in Rwanda”. Erdogan was not wrong: Jean-Paul Sartre famously accused his country of genocide in Algeria, and many questions have been raised about France’s role in Rwanda (see Andrew Wallis, “Rwanda: a step towards truth“, 21 January 2012). But such accusations are hardly an appropriate response to the overwhelming historical consensus on the Armenian genocide.

The law is often too crude an instrument to address the questions raised by genocide, whether it focuses on particular cases (and thus is interpreted as partisan and selective) or on general sanctions against denial (which then provoke legitimate and sometimes difficult historical questions about where and when genocide has actually been committed, which can make the law look controlling or irrelevant).

Education, not politicisation

The only answer to denial is non-partisan historical research and education. But even scholarship is bedevilled by partisanship based on nationalist and ideological agendas. In a previous article, I criticised the denial of genocide in Rwanda by Noam Chomsky and his associates (see “The politics of genocide: Rwanda and DR Congo“, 16 September 2010). But I was uneasy about a proposal for an official condemnation of their denial by the International Association of Genocide Scholars  (IAGS), which seemed to be applying a sledgehammer to crack a few nuts.

The IAGS, after all, is the very organisation that compromised its authority when it responded to the anti-Israeli rhetoric of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by warning of “a risk of genocide” from Iran’s nuclear programme, thus helping to lay “academic” foundations for Israel’s current efforts to make war look reasonable and perhaps inevitable.

Knowledge and understanding of genocide deserve to be made widely available – but the pitfalls in “authoritative” collective pronouncements on these questions should be at the forefront of educators’ minds. Academic fatwas are as problematic as legal prohibitions, neither of which protects the victims or their memory.

When a sociologist as important as Michael Mann publishes three books in just over a year, two of them clearly major works and the third on the big political questions of the day, it is clearly an event for the field. The first two are fruits of a big detour from the third volume of Mann’s masterwork, The Sources of Social Power, although they will also contribute to it. These richly sourced and authoritative works do more than confirm Mann as an unrivalled practitioner of synthetic and comparative methods in historical sociology. They provide – in reality for the first time – a comprehensive sociological explanation of the darkest side of modernity together with the extreme political form that gave rise to its archetypal case. For sociology as a field might almost join Mann in his confession that, until recently, his work ‘had neglected the extremes of human behaviour’ and he ‘had not thought much about good and evil.’ (The Dark Side of Democracy, p. ix) In this sense, the two books will be compulsory reading not only for students of genocide and fascism but for everyone concerned with sociology’s relevance to the modern world. Incoherent Empire is a less substantial work but by the same criterion a valuable contribution.

Here I concentrate on The Dark Side while indicating the significance of Fascists for its argument. Mann begins by outlining eight theses (pp. 2-9, from which all quotations are taken unless otherwise stated) that frame detailed case studies of New World genocides, Armenia, Nazism, Communism, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. It is beyond my scope to evaluate these studies, or the comparative analysis of fascist movements in the companion volume: suffice it to say that students of each case will find much to enlighten them, while there are no more coherent overviews. My main purpose is to evaluate Mann’s explanations of murderous politics; I turn later to his conceptual framework. His key argument is that ‘murderous ethnic cleansing’ is the dark side not simply (pace Zygmunt Bauman, 1989) of modernity but specifically of democracy. While all his four ‘sources of social power’ – economic, ideological, political and military – are involved, he offers ‘essentially a political explanation’. His main case is that ‘cleansing is a hazard of the age of democracy since amid multiethnicity the ideal of rule by the people began to intertwine the demos with the dominant ethnos, generating organic conceptions of the nation and the state that encouraged the cleansing of minorities.’ Certainly ‘cleansing’ results from less from democracy itself than from its perversion: ‘Regimes that are actually perpetrating murderous cleansing are never democratic, since that would be a contradiction in terms. … Indeed as escalation proceeds, all perpetrating regimes become less and less democratic.’ And ‘regimes newly embarked upon democratization are more likely to commit murderous ethnic cleansing than are stable authoritarian regimes.’

Indeed ‘stabilized institutionalized democracies’ are the least likely to commit ‘cleansing’, although they often have it in their pasts, the more violently where ‘settler democracy’ took hold: ‘The more settlers controlled colonial institutions, the more murderous the cleansing. … It is the most direct relationship I have found between democratic regimes and mass murder.’

Although Mann labels ‘cleansing’ – perhaps misleadingly – a product of ‘inter-group relations’, he is clear that it is no simple product of ethnic differences. To become murderous these need political expression in ethnonationalism, which ‘arises where ethnicity trumps class as the main form of social stratification, in the process capturing and channelling classlike sentiments towards ethnonationalism.’ Indeed it ‘is strongest where is can capture other senses of exploitation. The most serious defect of recent writing on ethnonationalism has been its almost complete neglect of class relations.’ Yet although this is a political account, Mann shows that genocide is not simply statist. There are ‘three main levels of perpetrator’, radical elites running party-states, violent paramilitary bands, and ‘core constituencies providing mass though not majority popular support’. (Fascists contests common views that fascism is a mainly middle class phenomenon.) Ordinary people ‘are brought by normal social structures into committing murderous ethnic cleansing’, and they have many different motives for taking part.

However Mann recognizes that ‘[e]thnic cleansings are in their murderous phases usually directed by states, and this requires some state coherence and capacity.’ Radical party elites are crucial because they homogenize diverse social forces, welding them into more cohesive blocs, and centralize normally fragmented state structures in the pursuit of exceptional goals. This happens through political struggle, and typically through a series of escalations. The danger zone exists ‘when (a) movements claiming to represent two fairly old ethnic groups both lay claim to their own state over all or part of the same territory and (b) this claim seems to them to have substantial legitimacy and some plausible chance of being implemented.’ Escalation to the brink happens ‘when one of two alternative scenarios plays out. [Either] The less powerful side is bolstered to fight rather than to submit … by believing that aid will be forthcoming from outside … . [Or] The stronger side believes it has such overwhelming military power and ideological legitimacy that it can force through its own cleansed state at little physical or moral risk to itself.’ Finally, going ‘over the brink’ into actual perpetration occurs ‘where the state exercising sovereignty over the contested territory has been factionalized and radicalized amid an unstable political environment that usually leads to war.’

Mann’s account challenges the standard absolutist concept of ‘intention’ in genocide. He demonstrates convincingly that an entire historical episode of murderous politics, over many months or years, cannot be explained by singular intentionality: ‘Murderous cleansing is rarely the original intent of perpetrators. … [It] typically emerges as a kind of Plan C, developed only after the first two responses to a perceived ethnic threat fail … To understand the outcome, we must analyze the unintended consequences of a series of interactions yielding escalation.’ Instead of interpreting murder as the direct consequence of longstanding intentions (or for that matter structural conditions), he emphasizes the contingency of violent outcomes: ‘Out of … political and geopolitical crises radicals emerge calling for tougher treatment of perceived ethnic enemies. In fact, where ethnic conflict between rival groups is quite old, it is usually somewhat ritualized, cyclical and manageable. Truly murderous cleansing in contrast, is unexpected, originally unintended, emerging out of unrelated crises like war.’ Because of the difficulties of identifying or proving ‘intention’, some writers have proposed that we abandon the criterion altogether. Mann enables us to retain the idea of genocide as purposeful action, but relate it properly to political relations and changing contexts.

Although in this richness and complexity Mann’s is a highly plausible sociological framework, inevitably problems remain. He disarms criticism by acknowledging that ‘[g]iven the messiness and uniqueness of societies, my theses cannot be scientific laws. They do not even fit perfectly all my case studies.’ Yet the coherence of his detailed explanations too frequently appears to be, at least partially, seriously at odds with his general theses. His ‘ethnic competition’ framework works well for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, but it does not fit as well the major cases of twentieth century political mass murder. Yet Mann considers genocide as a maximal form of ‘cleansing’, and if his general theses do not fit – without heavy qualification – archetypal cases like the Holocaust (which occupies a great deal of The Dark Side and whose political pre-conditions are a central topic of Fascists) then their general relevance is diminished.

These very darkest episodes appear to have only tenuous connections to democracy. The most murderous are actually products, Mann acknowledges, of ‘a few highly authoritarian regimes’ that ‘deviate’ from the norm of stable authoritarianism, and ‘mobilize majoritarian groups into a mass party-state mobilizing the people against “enemy” minorities.’ Although Hitler had indeed perverted democracy, it is difficult to fit the Holocaust, Mann recognizes, into his pattern of ethnic competition. Germans and Jews were ‘two fairly old ethnic groups’, but it was hardly the case that they ‘both laid claim to their own state over all or part of the same territory.’ As Bauman (1989: 53) suggested, the nature of the Jewish exception to the ethnic rule was what made them particular targets: ‘The world tightly packed with nations and nation-states abhorred the non-national void. Jews were in such a void: they were such a void.’

Likewise the extensive mass murders of Communist states are problematic. Mann plausibly describes many of them as classicide, because their targets were social classes, and explains them as ‘mistaken revolutionary projects’ rather than as ethnic conflict. But he also offers the perversion of socialism as a class variant of the more common ethnic perversion of democracy: ‘socialist ideals of democracy also became perverted as the demos became entwined with the term proletariat, the working class, creating pressures to cleanse other classes.’ Along with the perversion of national democracy, this was then a second ‘general way in which democratic ideals were transmuted into murderous cleansing.’ However we may question whether the idea of the proletariat (working class) was really a moving force in the perversion of Soviet democracy, or in creating ‘pressures to cleanse other classes’. When this idea had most meaning, just after the October Revolution, the Soviet Union was at its most democratic and although the Bolsheviks repressed the peasantry there was no ‘cleansing’. Later, although the term proletariat remained at the centre of Communist ideology, it had come to mean the rule of the party, which substituted itself for the working class. Only after the idea had lost its class meaning did Stalin develop his most murderous policies towards peasants. Mann’s main thesis foregrounds ideology but in this case at least the argument seems overstated.

A more fundamental question is whether Mann correctly identifies the main explanatory locus of murderous policies among his four types of power. He provided, in the first volume of The Sources, the clearest argument that political and military are two separate forms of power: ‘Marx, Weber and their followers do not distinguish the two, because they generally view the state as the repository of physical force in society. To equate physical force with the state often seems to make sense in the case of modern states that monopolize military force. However conceptually they should be regarded as distinct … . (Mann, 1986: 10-11). Clearly by definition, murderous power belongs primarily to this physical, violent ‘military’ category. Mann uses the general distinction effectively to emphasize the importance of paramilitarism to both ‘cleansing’ and fascism: thus the Nazis were ‘a distinctive nation-statist force that promised a “cleansing” paramilitarism’ (Fascists, p. 206).

That murderous power is primarily military does not of course mean that its occurrence should be explained simply by military developments. Yet Mann’s mainly political explanation, plausible in accounting for fascist movements, is more questionable when it comes to genocide. As he acknowledges, his theses connecting ‘cleansing’ to democracy ‘apply beforehand, to the earlier phases of escalation of ethnic conflict.’ It is military power that ‘proves decisive in the later stages of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing. Armies, police forces, and irregular extrastate paramilitaries are the main agencies … .’ Indeed, he provides detailed arguments that should lead to a heavily ‘military’ explanation of murderous politics itself:

Most 20th-century cases of ethnic cleansing occurred during wars or during the chaotic transfer from war to peace. … Ideologically tinged wars reduce shared rules and convert civilians into enemies. … Civil wars and wars of secession with a strong ethnic component are dangerous for ethnic groups trapped behind enemy lines. The lure towards murderous ethnic cleansing increases when it can be accomplished at low military cost, with little fear of retaliation… . Military campaigns may generate tactical lure towards atrocities against civilians that were not originally intended. … Guerrilla warfare lures guerrillas to kill civilians. … These [and others] are all features of military power that may produce murderous cleansing. (p. 32)

Yet at the most general level of Mann’s analysis, in formulating his theses and locating his explanation in political power, this role of war is strangely neglected – he even falls prey to the old sociological mistake of seeing war as an exogenous variable, in that claim that murderous policies emerge out of ‘unrelated crises like war’. But wars are hardly ‘unrelated’: genocidal powers are usually fighting conventional wars against either states or armed movements to which the target populations are linked – or believed to be linked. Perpetrator regimes, even where they are not fighting conventional wars, are often highly militarized – this is part of how they homogenize and centralize power. Even settlers are ubiquitously armed, often warring against indigenous peoples. So he should go further: extensive, systematic murderous ‘cleansing’ or genocide generally (although not always) arises from and is carried out through war. Most genocide is actually part of genocidal war. Murderous politics do not arise primarily from political power relations, but out of political power that is fundamentally conditioned by military power: out of the interactions of political and military power.

The limitations of Mann’s framework are conceptual as well as analytical. Unlike Fascists or the two volumes of The Sources, The Dark Side short-circuits the conceptual debate – although ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’ are highly contested terms. Mann does not fully justify the adoption of ‘cleansing’ as a master-concept. This is unfortunate, since the term reflects ideologies of racial purification: it is widely rejected as a perpetrator euphemism unsuitable for social-scientific use. As even Norman Naimark, a historian who uses the term, remarks (2001: 193): ‘There is nothing “clean” about ethnic cleansing. It is shot through with violence and brutality in the most extreme form.’ Mann defines it as ‘the removal by members of one [ethnic] group of another such group from a locality they define as their own.’ His insistence that ‘murderous cleansing’ is a subtype gives credence to the notion that removal can be non-violent – a manifestation of political but not military power. Yet the wholesale removal of a population group from their homeland is generally involuntary, resisted, and enforced through extreme coercion. The forms and extents of violence vary greatly, but ethnic removal generally falls under Raphael Lemkin’s (1944: 79) original concept of genocide as the ‘the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group’. The ‘cleansing’ of other groups (classes, political enemies, etc.) falls under the expanded generic concept of genocide as group destruction that others have developed from his starting-point.

Mann has adopted the 1990s reinvention of genocide as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the corresponding narrowing of genocide itself to the intentional murder of all the members of a group. This definition leads him to the conclusion that the extermination of the Jews was ‘the only really large genocide attempted by the Nazis.’ (The Dark Side, p. 188) This position is not only at odds with the Nuremberg judgements but also, by emphasizing the differences among Nazi policies, may feed resistance to a coherent explanation of the Nazis’ wide-ranging attacks on many different groups in European society (even if Mann himself avoids this trap). The narrow concept of genocide as premeditated mass killing artificially emphasises this method rather than the content of group-destruction. It separates killing from the other violence (expulsion, rape, torture, robbery, etc.) and coercion (legal, administrative, economic and cultural appropriation) with which states and other armed powers characteristically destroy social groups. Paradoxically, Mann seems to define genocide so that it belongs only to military power – and even war is not defined so simply by killing – although he does add in the cultural dimension. We need to return to the broader sociological concept of genocide initiated by Lemkin, and to the intimate linkages with war that were recognized in its first legal formulations. Suitably refined and expanded, genocide can provide a better framework than ‘ethnic cleansing’ for understanding the range of organized violence against civilian populations.

These criticisms should not detract from Mann’s achievements. The Dark Side‘s theses are enormously suggestive, clearly have considerable purchase on the cases and inform rich interpretations that set new standards of analytical complexity in historical sociology. I have hardly done justice to Fascists, a monumental work in its own right, still less to Incoherent Empire, a formidable account of the limits of new American power-projection that makes excellent use of that distinction between military and political types. It is a measure of these works that, unlike many other texts in contemporary sociology, historians will take them extremely seriously. It may take more time for Mann’s own discipline to absorb their contributions, since their subjects seem remote from most sociologists’ research interests. It is the strength of Mann’s detour, however, that it could single-handedly return the topic of political violence to the centre. Genocide is, after all, the supreme crime of social classification: what question could be more important for sociology to address?