Ugur Ümit Üngör, assistant professor in the Department of History at Utrecht University, is interested in the comparative study of genocide. There's an interview with him in English translation at Eurozine. He makes a number of interesting points: among them the importance of a comparative perspective in understanding genocide; and the ways of distinguishing comparison for scholarly purposes in this domain from comparison for ideological or trivializing purposes. The aspect I want to focus on particularly is what Üngör says about a restriction in the original meaning of 'genocide', to exclude the targeting of social classes or functionally defined groups, and a subsequent modification of the idea to bring these within the definition. As he puts it:
The genocide convention of 1948 was drafted as a result of deliberation and negotiation between the western Allies and the Soviet Union. Raphael Lemkin, the man who invented the concept of genocide, wanted to include social classes, but the Soviets lobbied the UN and succeeded in excluding this aspect from the definition - probably because they knew that they had committed genocide based on social class.
But genocide has not only been about ethnic groups but also about social groups, elites, peasants, any social or economic class you can think of. There are excellent examples, unfortunately, of the destruction of all kinds of classes. The Soviets spoke of the need to eliminate the kulaks as a class. That meant seeking out and destroying every individual who happened to have that identity or who was believed to have that identity. In Cambodia, they killed everyone who wore glasses because they said they were intellectuals and were working with the West. That's also a class of people – intellectuals.
I think that most historians and social scientists would now agree that the definition of genocide includes not only ethnic but also social groups. Thus, the historical and sociological definition does not match the legal definition of genocide. In the legal definition it is still officially only about ethnic groups and not political or social groups. But sociologically, genocide means the destruction of a group based purely on group – collective – identity, and not on something that you have done as an individual. That group identity can be based on any social or ethnic or religious criteria.
This is merely an afterthought on my part, but it's often asked why being an apologist for Nazism puts the person who is that beyond the pale of respectable opinion, so to speak, whereas doing the same for Stalinism, while widely regarded as a bad choice, still falls inside the boundary of respectability. Might this differentiation cease to be as sharp once the meaning of genocide is extended so that it encompasses every 'mass elimination of a group based on its collective identity'?