Harff Gurr 1988

From Projecting Power

Harff & Gurr. 1988. Research Note: Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since 1945[edit]

Main argument: Comparative research on geno- and politicides is needed despite critics who see comparative research on genocides as a universalization of the Holocaust. Harff & Gurr (1988) argue that this kind of research can be beneficial in assessing the risk of future episodes of genocide and politicide, and a distinction between genocides and politicides is beneficial in this regard. By developing a typology that distinguishes between two types of genocide and four types of politicide, the authors identify forty-four episodes of geno- or politicides since World War II.

Different Forms of Genocide and Politicide

  • Comparative research is flawed because not all forms of systematized violence are comparable to the Holocaust
  • The Holocaust does not exist as a monolith for other cases of mass violence, and attempting to create a 1 to 1 ratio in this way obscures the nuances of other instances of mass violence

“The totality of the nazi effort to destroy Jews probably has no direct analogy in modern times. But if the ‘uniqueness' argument is accepted, one is led to the dangerous conclusion that only a Western civilization armed with a Nazi-type ideology is capable of technically perfected forms of mass destruction.” (p.361)

  • This ostracizes and further mystifies other countries from Western nations, and makes it harder to look for accountability
  • Western countries also should not be a metric that is applicable for the rest of the world, this ignores cultural nuances that would provide context to instances of mass violence

Genocides and politicides:

  • A puzzle in the literature on genocides and politicides is: why do these terrible episodes recur over time and in different political systems? The aim of the article is to contribute to the literature on genocides and politicides with a systematic survey of such events.
  • The authors argue that comparative research on genocides and similar events is needed despite the controversies. Critics see comparative research on genocides as an attempt to universalize the Holocaust. However, the authors see the need to systematically identify past and present forms of state repression to test theoretical explanations to examine what leads to geno- and politicides, as forms of mass destruction has also occurred many times in other civilizations.
  • The existing literature contains the following explanations: Political explanations (the role of the state), cultural explanations (persisting communal inequalities), ideologies, economic conflict, and international factors. However, these have not been systematically tested.
  • Although genocides and politicides share the same results (death for many people), analytical distinctions among them are important to find differentiated explanations for each.

Operationalization of genocides and politicides:

  • Harff & Gurr (1988) defines genocides and politicides as the promotion and execution of policies by a state or its agents which result in the deaths of a substantial portion of a group (page 360). The difference between genocide and politicide is in the characteristics by which members of the group are identified by the state. Thus, geno- and politicides are acts of the state.
  • In genocides, the victimized groups are defined in terms of communal characteristics such as ethnicity, religion, or nationality.
  • In politicides, the victimized groups are defined primarily in terms of their hierarchical position or political opposition to the regime and dominant groups.
  • Basic theoretical assumption:

Whether an episode of mass killing is a genocide or a politicide depends on the combination of a state’s objectives, the motives of its ruling elite, the prevailing ideology, and the power relations within its authority structure Both kinds are aimed at the physical destruction of parts or all of specific ethnic and political groups.

Methodology: To systematically collect data, the authors rely on a global survey of episodes of massive state repression since World War II. Information from each episode has been gathered and summarily coded. Coding includes duration, traits of victimized groups, estimates of deaths, characteristics of the regime and its ruling groups, the political context of the events, and the tactics used to achieve specific goals. The authors identify fourty-four episodes of state-sponsored mass murder (table 1) since World War II

Fein’s and Kuper’s typologies: Harff & Gurr (1988) elaborate Fein’s (1984) and Kuper’s (1984) typologies on genocides and also expands with distinctions on politicides. The authors’ developed typologies are as follows:

Hegemonial genocides: mass murders which occur when distinct ethnic, religious, or national groups are being forced to submit to central authority, for example during the consolidation of power by a new state or in the course of national expansion. Xenophobic genocides: mass muders of ethnically, religiously, or nationally distinct groups in the service of doctrines of national protection or social purification which define the victims as alien and threatening. Retributive politicides: mass murders which are targeted at previously dominant or influential groups out of resentment for their past privileges or abuses. Repressive politicides: mass murders targeted at political parties, factions, and movements because they are engaged in some form of oppositional activity. Revolutionary politicides: mass murders of class or political enemies in the service of new revolutionary ideologies Repressive/hegemonial politicides: mass murders targeted at ethnically or nationally distinct groups because they are engaged in some form of oppositional activity.

  • these are not characterized as genocides, because the communal traits were incidental rather than instrumental to their victimization

Analysis of Table 1:

  • Some episodes (Ingushi, Karachai, Balkars) were able to be fully rehabilitated with autonomous regions reestablished. Other episodes (Meskhetians and Crimean Tatars) took longer to restore, and were never fully reconstituted. These differences depended on long-run policies of a greater power (Soviet state)
  • The table only includes episodes in which 1) civilians were deliberately killed, 2) the death toll was high, and 3) the campaign was long (lasted at least 6 months).
  • 23/44 cases occurred during or immediately after a civil war or rebellion. Some cases were excluded as a result of falling at or just short of the three guidelines above.

Initial Analysis of Characteristics of the Episodes:

  • Roughly one new episode of genocide/politicide since WWII occur every year.
  • Although the duration of these episodes are typically ambiguous, a typical episode lasts about five years. The chart shows a bimodal representation: most genocides either last 1-2 years, or 5+ years. Repressive/hegemonial cases tend to be longer lived.

Typology of Episodes:

  • Hegemonial vs xenophobic genocides:
    • Difference is motive of ruling groups
    • Hegemonial: motive is to force a communal group into submission by killing enough members so the remaining populations have no will/capacity to resist
    • Xenophobic: elimination of communal group
  • Four types of politicide:
    • Repressive politicide: ruling groups retaliate against political parties/factions/movements who support the opposition
    - ex: local militias attempt to destroy political resistance (Madagascar 1947-48, Angola 1961-62). Currently, the elimination of Communist sympathizers in military regimes (Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Argentine) and newly empowered rulers use deadly repression of political/tribal opposition (Macias in Equatorial Guinea, Amin in Uganda, Mobutu in Zaire)
    • Repressive/hegemonial politicides: similar to repressive politicides, but often coincides with the victim group’s communal identity
    • Revolutionary mass murder: second-most common type of politicide (after repressive politicide, 10 examples in the data). New regime in power brings about fundamental social/economic/political change, and commits mass murder to eliminate resistance to revolutionary policies
    - ex: China (Cultural Revolution), Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea
    • Retributive politicide: least common type of politicide, non-ideological mass murders occur after a subordinate/oppositional group seizes power
    - ex: Rwandan genocide,
  • No world region has been free of genocides/politicides in the postwar era
  • Repressive/hegemonial politicides most common in the Islamic world, revolutionary politicides in Asia, repressive politicides in sub-Saharan Africa

Numbers of Victims:

  • Number of fatalities in genocides/politicides are rarely known, estimates vary drastically
  • Genocides/politicides typically cost as many human lives as organized combat

Further Research:

  • Need to complete the search for episodes that meet the above criteria, compile background information on them
  • Need to make a detailed comparative analysis of coded information on each episode
  • Objective: further development/testing of theoretical explanations of causes and processes of genocides/politicides, use this database to assess likelihood that current conflicts involving communal minorities are at risk of genocide/politicide