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The Anthropology of Collective Violence* Viktor V. Bocharov St. Petersburg State University here is no doubt that every act of collective political violence is al- ways largely irrational. The perpetrator of the violence either carries out his actions despite all common sense (with his actions gaining him no advantages), or else the goals he is pursuing ultimately lead to directly opposite results. For example, almost all the revolutions of the twentieth century, both social and national-liberational in nature, have not only not led to overcoming the economic backwardness of their states as the revolutionaries had planned, but also, as a rule, have further exac- erbated the economic situation. The very humanistic ideals toward which they seemingly sincerely strove in the course of their struggle for power at times were transformed into unprecedented violence perpetrated by the new power structure against its own population. It would seem appropriate to focus this project on the study of the irrational in acts of collective violence. I believe that in order to uncover the unconscious determinants of such actions, which largely define cur- rent class or ethnic conflicts, it would be most productive to use anthropo- logical research methodology, singling out two aspects the social-an- thropological and the cultural-anthropological. The social-anthropological aspect involves studying the function in modern conflict of traditional institutions (or their fragments) that are associated with the use of violence. These institutions arose at the dawn *Translated from the Russian by Kelly Robbins. 55
56 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES of human history during the establishment of the first socium, and they continue to operate at later stages in the evolution of social life. This assertion is based on the following methodological premise: The appearance of new types of relations (social information) in the course of social-historical progress does not signify the loss of previous types of relations. The proportional weight of the latter undoubtedly is greatly reduced in the sharply increased overall volume of social information, with previous types of relations seemingly dissolving into the overall volume and becoming less noticeable. Primary behavioral norms were formed unconsciously as the system selected randomly occurring behav- ioral acts that promoted its survival to a greater degree than did other acts. This unconscious process is also characteristic of modern society. The sense of these acts is coded in human culture, but they can be re- flected at the conscious level in ideological worldview concepts prevail- ing at any given moment in time. The action of such institutions is most clearly seen in peripheral soci- eties, which preserve a powerful layer of traditional (primary) relations. As for industrial (postindustrial) sociums, these institutions are present in latent form but can be activated under certain conditions, coming to the forefront and determining people's real behavior. In particular, one such institution of violence that ensured the sur- vival of the first socium was the institution of vengeance (blood feud). Fear of retribution restrained the members of one kinship-based collective from resorting to violence against another collective of the same sort. Current ethnographic materials on the Caucasus clearly attest to the fact that the institution of blood feud still exists in its initial form both as a regulator of the use of violence and as a motive for initiating violent actions. An example of the preservation of vengeance as an institution in postindustrial society and, furthermore, its ability to determine the be- havior of its members is the tragic events of September 11 in the United States and the actions that followed in response. At first, as everyone knows, the proposed U.S. response action bore the name "Operation fus- tice.''1 In other words, we see that in the given instance, representatives of one of the most civilized countries turned to the sources of human legal thought, when vengeance was the keystone in restoring justice according to the principle "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." The taking of vengeance was not only sanctioned but also firmly Translator's note: In the Russian, the author uses the word vozmezdie, the most common translations for which are "retribution" or "vengeance." The word has been translated as "justice" here to comply more closely with the actual initial name of the antiterrorist cam- paign, "Operation Infinite Justice."
THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF COLLECTIVE VIOLENCE 57 supported by society. The modern civilized society is not only prepared for massive violent actions, organizing them in accordance with the tradi- tional cultural algorithm, but also rigidly follows its logic. In particular, many political commentators were not without grounds in viewing in the intentionally unacceptable demands made of the Taliban by the United States a desire in fact to avoid the hand-over of Osama bin Laden to U.S. justice. This would lead to a conflict of various legal systems, with West- ern law on the one side and legal views based on archaic values on the other. American laws naturally rule out blood feuds as a legal action, and if bin Laden were to find himself in the hands of justice, he would have to be tried according to American laws. Under these laws, in the opinion of jurists, it would be extremely difficult if not completely impossible to prove his guilt. Most importantly, it would mean an end to "Operation Justice," which would fundamentally run counter to justice as under- stood in its primary sense. Moreover, as indicated by public opinion polls conducted immediately after the attacks, more than 90 percent of the country's population considered vengeance not only justified, but man- datory. We note that vengeance has generally become widespread in in- ternational political-legal practice. On the whole, it seems obvious that civilization holds within itself a memory of the past, a memory that under certain circumstances comes to life and becomes dominant in determining the behavior of its representa- tives. Emanating from the depths of the human psyche, such behavior is today formed in public discourse with the help of modern political-cul- tural symbols. In this regard, the dynamics of the symbolification of the current antiterrorist action are illustrative. Whereas the earlier name was condi- tioned by the predominantly emotional response of Americans to the events that occurred and therefore reflected these reactions in the most archaic form ("Operation fustice"), the name was later changed to bring it into maximum accord with Western political-cultural values ("Enduring Freedoms. It would be of interest to study and calculate the conditions under which archaic models oriented toward collective violence are activated in modern society. For example, we might mention the following points. First, these models are activated when society, just like the first socium, finds itself in a situation requiring it to mobilize its forces for its own survival. In particular, one might suppose that the spark of archaic consciousness in the United States following the well-known events was conditioned by the fact that Americans really sensed a threat to the integ- rity of their societal system. Second, the activation of archaic models of violent behavior is also characteristic of systems undergoing modernization, in which the life of
58 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES society is predominantly regulated not by market mechanisms but rather by political-administrative methods. Here, intergenerational contradic- tions, which according to a great deal of ethnographic data represented the main source of conflicts in traditional societies, determine the socio- political mobility of individuals. In other words, the process of modern- ization entails conflicts characteristic of traditional society but arising in another cultural form. Indeed, to neutralize such conflicts, which always involve a biological component, a traditional society has in particular sanctioned youth vio- lence, channeling it against outsiders (in the form of raids on neighbors, intervillage fights, and so forth). If this is not done, youth aggression could be directed within the socium that is, against their elders. Such a course of events occurred in colonial Africa. By forbidding intertribal warfare, the European colonizers largely defined the violence vector, but caused it to take the form of a national liberation movement that was aimed not only against them but also against the older generation. The age aspect was reflected in the names of the political parties that arose: Young Kikuyus, Young Kavirondo, and Young Algerians, among others. The violent practices of youth were regarded positively by society and ensured high social status. (Among Russians, for example, the insti- tution of intervillage fights involving young unmarried men has been documented by ethnographers up to the present time.) By sanctioning youth violence and directing it outside the bounds of the socium, the elders strove painstakingly to regulate such violence, justifiably fearing that it could lead to strengthening the social position of young people in society. Such indeed was the case. Data have been collected on the youth revolutions in Africa in the colonial period. In this instance, a youth sub- culture seized all of society, and war became the main enterprise of its members. Presumably, an analogous situation has developed in many regions of the world where prolonged interethnic or social conflicts have been observed, with armed adolescents representing their main driving force. In such societies, the traditional authority of age has devolved, and the most successful military ringleaders become the actual leaders of society. This type of activity allows young people to achieve high social status in society rather early. The conditions of instability that are characteristic of these sociums give rise to a high demand for charismatic leaders, who in turn always rely on youth, as the phenomenon of this type of leadership is congruent with adolescent psychology (rejection of traditional values, ideologies, authorities, and so forth). The youth subculture also dominates in totalitarian states, where the authorities use violence against external and internal enemies. Moreover, by striving to find support among the young, the authorities exacerbate
THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF COLLECTIVE VIOLENCE 59 the conflict between the generations. In the USSR, Pavlik Morozov, who denounced his own father, became a national hero. The stability of the political regimes in these states depends on the ability of the ruling powers to ensure the social growth of young people and define the vector of their violent strivings. In the USSR, where a youth subculture reigned, all socioeconomic life abounded in violent symbols of "taming the virgin lands," "battling for the harvest," and "conquering outer space." International sports took the form of a virtual "war against the capitalist system." Not only urgent "shock" construction projects but also local wars (Afghanistan) served as channels for diverting youth ag- gression. By taking part in these violent actions, young people gained opportunities for proving themselves and raising their social status. The main objective of authoritarian-totalitarian regimes is the regula- tion of age-based social conflict within their own cores, especially within their party-state hierarchies. By periodically giving rising layers of the bureaucracy (youth) the opportunity to increase their social status, the ruling powers reduce tensions within this organization. The repressions of the Stalinist period are viewed as a periodic removal of an older gen- eration of leaders from power, as a result of which young people (the next generation of leaders) gained prospects for social growth. In China, Mao Tse-tung removed the older generation from power at the hands of the younger generation itself (the bun wei bin) during the Cultural Revolu- tion. Mass violence on an analogous scale is characteristic of many devel- oping states. The revolutionary nature of political cultures in systems undergoing modernization is also explained by age-based social conflict. In these states, there is a constant overproduction of the intelligentsia, which, given the overall undeveloped nature of the socioeconomic infrastructure and in accord with the priorities of the traditional mentality, sees prospects for its own social mobility exclusively within the framework of the state- bureaucratic hierarchy. The state is not in a position to fulfill the social claims of numerous young people with diplomas. The next revolution comes with the maturation in society of a new generation of intelligentsia alienated from power as a consequence of the state-bureaucratic machine being filled with representatives of the older generation. Indeed, both the revolution at the beginning of the century in Russia and perestroika represented the resolution of this sort of conflict. A con- centration of aggressive potential arises in society from a social excess of young "unneeded minds," who use social and ethnic symbols in the struggle for power. With regard to the cultural-anthropological aspect, the attention of the researcher should be focused not so much on the social causes of various conflicts (ethnic or social) as on the specific form of its develop-
60 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES ment that is, its symbolic realization. The concept of violence is cultur- ally determined and cannot be reduced to the social content it has ac- quired in Western European culture. In this culture, violence is treated primarily as the infliction of physical damage by one party on another, that is, by the violator against the victim, which society views negatively from a moral and legal standpoint. Such an approach to understanding violence is conditioned by the relationship between the individual and society that has formed in this culture, a relationship that is rather unique in human civilization, namely, that the interests of the individual are primary in relation to the interests of society. Indeed, whereas in the first days after the events, 90 percent of Americans unequivocally supported Operation Justice, only 50 percent of them supported it a week or two later. There is every reason to suppose that over time this percentage will become even smaller. In other words, a return to archaic cultural strata occurs under conditions of emotional upheaval, which leads to the activa- tion of more ancient cultural strata. At the same time, in peripheral societies in which the value of human life is determined not on the basis of developed social individualism but rather in connection with various sorts of collective and religious concep- tions, similar actions by a subject with regard to an object could be both justified and encouraged by the socium. In Russia, it is not the legitimacy of power that determines its right to violence; on the contrary, its capacity for violence serves as the basis for its legitimacy. Therefore, the events in Chechnya did not prevent President Yeltsin from being elected to a sec- ond term, and largely determined Putin's victory in the presidential elec- tions. In other words, the concept of violence should be viewed within the framework of cultural pluralism. Otherwise, the researcher is doomed to misunderstand the logic of the actions of representatives of other cul- tures. Despite the uniqueness of any culture and its understanding of vio- lence, one may discern identical mechanisms by means of which each culture legitimates mass violence. These primarily include attaching de- monic supernatural qualities to the object of violence (the "enemy of the people" or "enemy of mankind"), who is understood as the main agent of destabilization (chaos). The elimination of this enemy thus represents the main condition for the creation of harmony in society. Today, following the events in the United States, the strivings of poli- ticians and respectable scholars to divide the world into civilization (the "realm of harmony") and barbarism (the "realm of chaos") are attracting attention. We observe a process of mythologizing the image of the enemy, a process that in traditional (barbaric) societies always precedes the use of violence against one group or another. The danger here lies in the fact
THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF COLLECTIVE VIOLENCE 61 that, in contrast to civilization, barbarism is currently characterized by its very diffuse nature, both territorially and culturally. Thus, even Europeans may use mass violence, legitimating it using methods taken from their own cultural archives. As for representatives of the periphery, such methods represent to them a living matter, linking violence with such concepts as sacred duty, honor, and so forth. The mastery of European models by these cultures does not have a substantial impact on the behavior of the bearers of these cultures. Therefore, it would be interesting to study the process of adaptation of Western political-cultural values, especially by the peripheral intelli- gentsia. Though they assimilate these values on the verbal and declara- tive level, the real behavior of these intelligentsia members continues to be determined by their own cultural imperatives. For example, if classical Marxism understands the liquidation of the capitalist class as the depriva- tion of their rights to private property, then in Russia this process took the form of the physical elimination of property owners. Sociopolitical practice attests to the fact that it was the peripheral intelligentsia that was the yeast that spurred the rise of mass violence in developing states; they headed all social and national revolutions in the twentieth century. Studies of colonial Africa clearly show that only with the appearance on the continent of an intelligentsia did we see the rise of the phenomena of ethnic identity and, largely as a result, interethnic con- flicts. Clearly it is by no means mandatory that European humanist ideals must triumph everywhere as peoples join civilization. It is the violent imposition of Western cultural standards, which is being done every- where with the best intentions, beginning with the era of colonization, that evokes a violent (and at times fierce) rejection from other cultures. Furthermore, the initiators of the struggle against the Western way of life are educated people, often graduates of prestigious universities in the "civilized" world. These individuals, it seems, should attract the attention of researchers studying mass violence. The appearance of these people is directly linked with the process of modernization that is, with the interaction of cul- tures, which has given rise in their form to a rather unique phenomenon. Their activities associated with mass violence are often ascribed to merce- nary interests tied to the seizure and exercise of power. In particular, it is felt that they manipulate traditional or religious symbols in the aim of achieving the political mobilization of the masses to attain their own goals. However, an acquaintance with the biographies of these political leaders unambiguously attests to the fact that they value neither the lives of oth- ers nor their own.
62 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES It appears that the modernization process engenders a special cul- tural-psychological phenomenon. (Russian philosophers of the early twentieth century as well as Frantz Fanon wrote on the consequences of the influence of Western rationalism on traditional thought.) Being reli- gious in its content, the traditional mentality not only easily absorbs ideas of world religions but also adapts Western political-cultural values in accordance with its own inherent algorithm of mental activity. As a result, these values necessarily acquire all the signs of religiosity, including its inherent conceptions on life and death. Therefore, in this regard, political leaders always stand as sacred per- sons, embodying either "God's anointed" or even God in human form. Their actions are not regulated by ethical or moral considerations, as they themselves are the measure of morality. Such people are sincerely in- clined to self-deification, which frees their psyches of agonizing feelings on the use of violence against the masses and gives them internal legiti- macy. Like those they govern within the framework of this culture of thought, they themselves experience no fear of physical death, as life to them is the service of a sacred (immortal) idea (teaching), embodied as a rule in the image of a specific person. REFERENCES The ideas discussed in this paper are presented by the author in the following works: Bocharov, V. V. 1992. Traditions and Government: an Attempt at a Historical Analysis of Current Political Cultures of States of Tropical Africa. Moscow: Nauka, 300. Bocharov, V. V. 2000. Age-based social conflict and political cataclysm in Russia. P. 197 in The Anthropology of Age. St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg State University. Bocharov, V. V. 2001. The intelligentsia and violence: the socio-anthropological aspect. P. 80 in The Anthropology of Violence, V. V. Bocharov and V. A. Tishkov, eds. St. Peters- burg: Nauka. Bocharov, V. V. 2001. The anthropology of violence. P. 65 in The Anthropology of Violence. V. V. Bocharov and V. A. Tishkov, eds. St. Petersburg: Nauka, 65.