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See the important collections of documents recently published, Tragediia sovetskoi derevni

(1927“1939), eds. V. P. Danilov and L. Viola, 5 vols. (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1998“2003);
Sovetskaia derevnia glazami VCK, OGPU, NKVD, 1918“1939, eds. V. P. Danilov and A.
Berelowitch (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1998“2004).
Cf. Deborah Cohen, “Comparative History: Buyer Beware,” Bulletin of the German Historical

Institute Washington 29 (2001): 23“33; the critical re¬‚ections of Thomas Welskopp, “Stolper-
steine auf dem Konigsweg: Methodenkritische Anmerkungen zum internationalen Vergleich
in der Gesellschaftsgeschichte,” Archiv fur Sozialgeschichte 35 (1995): 339“67, esp. 341 and
348; and for the state of the art, see Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Jurgen Kocka, “Historischer
Vergleich: Methoden, Aufgaben, Probleme,” in Geschichte und Vergleich: Ansatze und Ergeb-
nisse international vergleichender Geschichtsschreibung, eds. Haupt and Kocka (Frankfurt,
New York: Campus, 1996), 9“45.
State Violence “ Violent Societies 137

our respective ¬elds are in danger of being lost. The problem of working with
limited space, of potentially losing empirical ground, or overabstraction and
oversimpli¬cation suggests that we refrain from an overall comparison of Nazi
and Soviet violence and concentrate on case studies instead, however condensed
they have to be. Given the described complexities, the model of totalitarianism
provides no useful framework to us.
Given the extent of popular participation in the persecution of various victim
groups “ whether related to plunder, denunciation, professional advancement,
or the use of forced labor “ it does not seem useful to limit our analysis here
to that of “state violence.” Recent studies demonstrate, for example, that most
Germans who organized or actively participated in mass violence not only
were members of various state and parastatal agencies, but actually considered
themselves to be functionaries of the state.11 On the other hand, of¬cials were
deliberately given considerable autonomy in the Nazi system. Hence, truly
to understand why so many Germans participated in violence we need to go
beyond the structure of the state, just as we need to go beyond an exclusive
focus on the manifestation of violence.
Rather, we seek to understand Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as
extremely violent societies.12 They stand as the extreme cases within a group
that includes not a few modern and colonial societies: the late Ottoman Empire
(1908“23), a number of Eastern European countries within the Nazi-German
sphere of in¬‚uence,13 Cambodia in the 1970s, Indonesia since 1965,14 Colom-
bia throughout much of the twentieth century, and the United States of America
during the nineteenth century. While the overall levels of violence may have
been high in each case, they are in many respects dissimilar. Yet, in each case
we can discern that rather than a solitary, uniform system of persecution and

For example, this was different from the German violence against the Herero and Nama,

1904 to 1907, in what is today Namibia, where many German nonof¬cials played impor-
tant roles. See Jurgen Zimmerer, “Holocaust und Kolonialismus: Beitrag zu einer Archaologie
¨ ¨
des genozidalen Gedankens,” Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaft 51, no. 12 (2003): 1098“
Cf. Christian Gerlach, “Extremely Violent Societies: An Alternative to the Concept of Geno-

cide,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 455“71.
For instance, in Croatia, mass exterminations were aimed especially at Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies

from 1941 to 1945; in “Greater Hungary,” aside from Jews, violence, deprivation of rights,
oppression, and huge resettlement plans targeted Romanians, Serbs, and Gypsies.
With regard to Cambodia, recent research shows (despite some controversy) that aside from

certain social groups ethnic distinctions were very important in the de¬nition of target groups.
Cf. Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia under
the Khmer Rouge, 1975“1979 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996); for Indone-
sia, one can point to the anticommunist persecution and pogroms of 1965, the occupa-
tion of East Timor (1975“99), collective resettlement from the densely to lesser populated
islands, and the violent struggle over autonomy in regions like Aceh and West Papua (Irian
Jaya). Researchers have identi¬ed a long and deep-rooted tradition of violence. See Freek
Colombijn and Thomas J. Lindblad, eds. Roots of Violence in Indonesia (Leiden: KILTV,
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

violence, a variety of policies and forms of mass violence were utilized against
victim groups. Class-related civil war and, often, external con¬‚ict were inti-
mately entwined with ethnic strife and selective social policies.
All of this prompts us to ask the question of social participation. Our focus
here is on identifying policies enacted against common victim groups within
both the German and Soviet systems and the often substantial differences in
the type and intensity of the violence in¬‚icted upon the groups in question. It is
hoped that such an analysis will help us understand how both political systems
and societies generated violence.
Our main questions for each participatory group are, Which interests and
attitudes led to violence? Which institutional structures were involved? Which
methods of violence were employed and to what extent? What role did public
participation, consent, or dissent play? How important was “initiative from
below” or impetus from the regions? And, ¬nally, considering the above
questions, how can the role of the state best be characterized? In attempt-
ing to answer these questions, we compare mass violence against the following
groups: so-called “asocials,” victims of ethnic resettlement, and prisoners of
war during and after the Second World War.
As our analysis focuses upon groups that were subjected to varying types
and levels of violence, “comparative genocide research” does not provide a
useful conceptual framework. Nor, for that matter, would the creation of a
typology or the application of a singular sociological, psychological, or politi-
cal model appear promising as a starting point. In most of the cases discussed
here, the term “genocide” has rarely, if ever, been applied “ whether this relates
to the mass death of POWs, forced ethnic resettlement, or the persecution of
“asocials.” Broadly speaking, a common, agreed-upon scholarly de¬nition of
“genocide” does not exist “ and this arbitrariness is unsurprising, consider-
ing that “genocide” is an inherently instrumental term, created and utilized
for political purposes and oriented toward the unanimous moral condemna-
tion, prevention if possible, military intervention, and juridical prosecution
after a transition of power. Moreover, the concept of “genocide” (for which
intentions are central) implies that on a state level long-intended, carefully pre-
pared master plans for destruction exist “ a concept that appears too simple,
though not entirely wrong, in light of recent research into the dynamics of state-
organized mass violence.15 Often, a comparison of “genocides” leads to endless
debates about de¬nitions, about the inclusion and exclusion of cases, and to
a race for the more intentional, more original, or more total case. The under-
standing of “mass violence” applied here is more open and includes forced
resettlement, deliberately inadequate supplies, sterilization, forced labor, and
excessive imprisonment.

For more detail, see Christian Gerlach, “Nationsbildung im Krieg: Wirtschaftliche Faktoren bei

der Vernichtung der Armenier und beim Mord an den ungarischen Juden,” in The Armenian
Genocide and the Shoah, eds. Kieser and Schaller (Zurich: Chronos, 2002), 347“422, here
State Violence “ Violent Societies 139

case studies

“Socially Harmful Elements” in the Soviet Union; “Asocials”
in Nazi Germany
The categorization of “socially dangerous” and “socially harmful” elements
emerged in the Soviet Union during the early 1930s in the context of forced
industrialization, collectivization, and dekulakization. At the time, authorities
were particularly concerned with (a) cleansing strategic urban centers, inun-
dated with peasants ¬‚eeing collectivization, of “unreliable” and “parasitic”
elements; (b) strengthening the state™s control over population ¬‚ows; and (c)
reestablishing “order” in a disorderly, “quicksand society.” In late 1932, a set
of decrees introduced the “passportization”16 of the urban population. A sep-
arate, secret instruction from January 14, 1933,17 speci¬ed the categories of
persons to be denied a passport and registration and, thus, to be deprived
of the right to live in major Soviet towns: persons “not involved in production
or the work of institutions or schools, and that are not engaged in any other
form of socially useful work”; kulaks or de-kulakized peasants who had ¬‚ed
the countryside or the “special settlements” to which they had been deported;
the rural unemployed who had entered cities without a formal work invitation;
“obvious labor shirkers or disorganizers of production”; lishentsy (disenfran-
chised persons);18 persons with a criminal record; and all family members of
persons falling into one of these categories. All of these people were to be
expelled from cities subject to the passport regime (“regime cities”). Evidently,
they were not yet systematically labeled as “socially dangerous.” In the follow-
ing years, however, police authorities tended to use the newly created passport
system to carry out increasingly repressive extrajudicial campaigns against an
ever-broader range of “expellees.” These expellees were no longer subjected
solely to a prohibition on living in “regime cities” but, increasingly, were ban-
ished to “special settlements” and punished with camp sentences. The social
cleansing of major towns and the radicalization of policing practices against
such marginal elements “ described by the police as sotsvrednye, or “socially
harmful” “ opened the way for even more extreme measures, such as the secret
execution quotas introduced during the “Great Terror” of 1937“8. These more
extreme measures targeted de-kulakized peasants who had ¬‚ed their “special

In the following two years, police authorities issued over 12 million passports to residents of so-

called “regime locations” (major cities like Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, along with border
zones and internal areas of strategic importance), in addition to approximately 15 million
passports for other urban “nonregime” areas.
GARF, f. 5446, op. 15a, d. 1096, ll. 67“75; Gijs Kessler, “The Passport System and State

Control over Population Flows in the Soviet Union, 1932“1940,” Cahiers du Monde russe 42,
no. 2“4 (2001): 477“504.
According to the 1918 Constitution of the RSFSR, seven categories of people were disenfran-

chised. These categories included “ex-landowners,” “ex-nobles,” “ex-tsarist high-ranking civil
servants,” “ex-tsarist policemen,” and persons living on private income (traders, shopkeepers,
craftsmen). In 1929, there were approximately 3.7 million lishentsy.
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

settlements,” ex-convicts, criminals, vagrants, and disenfranchised and other
“declassed elements.”
In fact, however, the categorization of “socially dangerous” elements
appeared long before the political and social upheavals of the 1930s. It was
explicitly mentioned, for example, in a March 24, 1924, secret resolution of
the USSR Central Executive Committee (TsIK). According to this document, the
OGPU “Special Board” was given the right to banish, exile, or expel from the
USSR or send to a concentration camp19 for up to three years several categories
of “socially dangerous individuals”: people guilty of “state crimes,” bandits,
counterfeiters, drug dealers, “malicious speculators,” as well as “individuals
considered socially dangerous in light of past activities, in particular those
having two or more past sentences or four arrests for suspicions of crime.”20
The implication of this text remained limited during the 1920s, despite
a number of spectacular police raids in Moscow and Leningrad that were
directed against “speculators” and “recidivist thieves.”21 In 1927, for example,
only 11,000 “socially dangerous elements” served extrajudicial sentences of
banishment, while several thousand more were incarcerated in the Solovki
concentration camp.22
The situation fundamentally changed after 1930. Between 1930 and 1932,
an unprecedented wave of repression and exclusion descended upon alleged
“social enemies” in the Soviet Union, especially in the countryside. Over 2
million “kulaks” were deported to Siberia, the Far North, the Urals, and other
“inhospitable parts” of the country. Not all acquiesced to their fate, how-
ever, and by 1936, over 600,000 “kulaks” had ¬‚ed the “special settlements”
to which they had been assigned. Governmental authorities considered these
insubordinate masses of socially marginal elements to be a major breeding
ground for crime and deviance.
Forced collectivization and dekulakization, in conjunction with the eco-
nomic devastation wrought by the 1932“3 famine, only served to swell further
the ranks of those considered socially marginal. Poverty, starvation, and death
produced armies of vagrants and beggars, abandoned children, and orphans
that thronged toward the Soviet Union™s major cities. With few options avail-
able, they often joined street gangs and engaged in acts of petty theft and

In the 1920s, the term “concentration camp” was used for the camps run by the OGPU (the

Solovki camps and the Suzdal™ special camp). The term “corrective labor camp” would be used
only after 1929“30.
A. I. Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, Lubianka, 1917“1960. Spravochnik (Moscow: Iz. Mezhdunar-

odnyi Fond Demokratiia, 1997), 179“81.
On May 4, 1926, F. Dzherzhinskii sent to G. Iagoda an ambitious program aimed at “cleansing

Moscow from all its speculators, thieves, parasites.” These people were to be sent to “inhos-
pitable parts” of the USSR (RGASPI, 76/3/390/3“4).
Paul M. Hagenloh, “˜Socially Harmful Elements™ and the Great Terror,” in Stalinism: New

Directions, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 289; S. A.
Krasil™nikov, Na izlomakh sotsial™noi struktury: Marginaly v postrevoliutsionnom rossiiskom
obshchestve (Novosibirsk: Novosibirskii gos. universitet, 1998), 49.
State Violence “ Violent Societies 141

criminality in order to survive. The “anticapitalist” revolution of 1929“30,
a revolution that aimed to eradicate private trade and enterprise, ironically
served to exacerbate the problem of social marginalization, as well. After all,
former traders and businessmen knew little else than to “speculate” (that is,
to buy and resell scarce consumer goods), and this activity too would soon be
considered “socially harmful” and subject to legal prosecution.
In 1933, the regime responded to what it considered social chaos in the
cities and countryside by ordering vast police sweeps and large-scale operations
against targeted groups that resulted in the immediate expulsion of problem-
atic and marginal elements. In April 1933, police in Moscow and Leningrad
arrested over 6,000 “socially harmful elements” and deported them to Tomsk.
Upon arrival in Tomsk, they were transferred to barges and unloaded, without
food or tools, on a desert island situated at the junction of the Ob and Nazina
Rivers. Within a few weeks over 4,000 had died of hunger and exhaustion.23
In July 1933, police raids in Moscow led to the arrest of over 5,000 Gypsies
and their deportation to “special settlements” in Western Siberia.24 In Decem-
ber of the same year, the Politburo instructed the OGPU to deport “beggars
and declassed elements” to “special settlements” and labor camps.25 Several
months later, the Politburo launched a campaign against “speculators” and
the “unemployed gathering in markets,” resulting in the arrest, deportation,
or expulsion of over 113,000 persons in 1934 alone.26 Large-scale opera-
tions against “speculators” would continue over the following years. Indeed,
directives signed by top of¬cials (Stalin or Molotov) provided guidance ¬gures
for the number of “speculators” to be arrested and processed via extrajudi-
cial procedures.27 From 1935 on, hooligans too were identi¬ed as “socially
harmful elements” and were subject to extrajudicial sentencing through spe-


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