In “State Violence- Violent Societies,” authors Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth discuss mass violence in both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. They preface their discussion with an analysis of this field of study leading up to the modern day. According to the authors, most existing studies on mass violence focus on the Soviet and German camp systems (the concentration camps and the Gulag) and the methods of violence used as their sources of evidence. However, the authors believe that in order to gain a holistic understanding of mass violence in both states, one must look to the actual perpetrators and functionaries, since scholarly knowledge regarding this aspect of the subject is fairly fragmentary.
Through research done specifically on the aforementioned topics, scholars have revealed that contrary to popular belief, initiatives from mid to lower level functionaries and institutions other than the police played significant roles in the implementation of mass violence. Furthermore, rather than there being a single driving force influencing the uniform implementation of violent practices, a variety of policies and forms of mass violence were utilized against victim groups.
The case study titled “Socially Harmful Elements’ in the Soviet Union; ‘Asocials’ in Nazi Germany,” reveals the wide array of targets, as well as methods of violence used in both states. In both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, many of the groups persecuted were identical: the homeless, criminals, prostitutes, etc. However a significant difference between the regimes regarding mass violence was the scope of violence. The authors discuss the implementation of passportization in the Soviet Union, which was designed to limit the movement of those labelled “socially dangerous”. This initiative resulted in broader and more repressive movements (deportation, labor camp sentences etc.) against an ever-growing range of social deviants. In both examples, violence against asocials and socially harmful elements was designed to restore social order as well as create a new social order.
In the beginning of this chapter, the authors note their lack of the use of the term “genocide” in their scholarly research. They note that the lack of a common scholarly definition is indicative of the wide range of uses for the word, especially politically. Furthermore, they note that the concept of “genocide” implies that on a state level long-intended, carefully prepared master plans for destruction exist. Do you agree with this definition of genocide? Do you agree with the author’s use of the term “mass violence” instead? Why or why not?