The Social Origins of Political Repression and Mass Violence
This session brings together three diverse studies of mass violence and political repression against communists and other victim groups: the “Great Terror” in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the Red Scare in the United States in the 1950s, and the mass murder of communists in Indonesia in the 1960s. In each case, the state targeted communists in a sponsored campaign aimed at purging the country of a perceived threat. Together, the papers look at three major political convulsions spaced across the globe throughout the twentieth century. In each case, thousands, even millions of lives were shattered or destroyed. In the Soviet and Indonesian cases, millions of people were arrested or executed. Each paper focuses on the social origins of violence and repression, embedding the political phenomenon of murder and destruction in a wider social and political history. They examine the strains created by industrialization and fears of political oppositionism, the mass mobilization against victims, the relationships among victims and perpetrators, and the wider aims pursued by states intent on purging the nation. Although all three states targeted communists for repression, the states varied widely in their political and economic configurations. Each episode of repression and violence is linked within the long history of the international communist movement, and yet each grew out of specific national conditions and international pressures. In comparing these three instances of mass repression, the panelists aim to explore critical questions about the threats posed by and within the communist movements, as well as the role, function, and triggers for mass political violence in the twentieth century.