I'm not talking about international law because the term genocide precedes international law, but more from a philosophical point of view. I remember seeing somewhere a definition of genocide which stated the modern definition of genocide includes political and economical motivations directed to kill any social group. Now I can't find it anymore so I dont know how reliable it was, but organization such as RAE (which regulates spanish language) includes political reasons, and in English the Merrian-Webster dictionary also does, stating it is, "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group". I can't find any definition which includes economical reasons anymore though.

Is there a definition of Genocide which includes economical reasons?

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    If you have a reason to downvote, please indicate so. Genocide has seen significant broadening from its original description of the Armenian and Jewish horrors, people do use the term rather broadly and that broadening includes even legal definitions of the term. Asking neutral questions around the term shouldn't be a cause for trouble. Aug 1, 2021 at 16:47
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    Does the term genocide really precede international law? As far as I know, the word was coined by a lawyer specifically to make it a crime.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 1, 2021 at 19:09
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    I wouldn't trust a dictionary to capture the nuances of a complex and contentious concept, that's not what it is for.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 1, 2021 at 19:15
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    Can you clarify what kind of answer you want? You specifically asked for an answer not based in international law, then accepted an answer based on international law. It's a bit confusing. Aug 2, 2021 at 2:44
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    "I remember seeing somewhere" It would greatly improve this question if you could find the source of this definition - as it stands, it's entirely possible you misread or misremembered what they said. But even if it's an exact quote, remember that the interpretation of a word is more than its dictionary definition.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 2, 2021 at 14:48

5 Answers 5


Genocide is defined in the genocide convention as targeting a in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, by the enumerated acts. Note that reasons do not matter for this definition, be they racist, religious, or economic. It is about acts and targets, whatever the reason.

So targeting a religious minority for economic reasons would be genocide under the generally accepted definition.

To clarify in response to Relaxed's comments: genocide is genocide for targeting group members because of their membership in protected group, no matter what motivations or excuses the perpetrators bring up. Motivations are often racist even if they pretend to be 'just' economic, but claims of non-racist motives are no justification anyway.

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    By this definition targeting the poor would not be genocide?
    – slebetman
    Aug 2, 2021 at 4:24
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    @Relaxed do you have an alternative, similarly widely accepted definition?
    – Tim
    Aug 2, 2021 at 8:24
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    @slebetman It would be a different word. Aug 2, 2021 at 9:09
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    @Relaxed, the summary of the question was "is there a definition which includes economical reasons?" My answer was "yes, of course, the most common definition includes economical reasons."
    – o.m.
    Aug 2, 2021 at 15:16
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    @Relaxed The question asks whether there is a definition meeting the OP's criteria, not whether it is the only definition. Now there is a loophole to say "well, a definition is what you make it, so I can of course invent my own arbitrary definition which includes economic reasons." To this end, o.m. does cite the official UN definition of genocide, and its hard to argue that the UN's accepted definition, in their words, is an arbitrary unimportant definition.
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 2, 2021 at 15:42

Is there a definition of Genocide which includes economical reasons?

Yes. In 1994, Steven T. Katz provided a definition that includes economic reasons independent of other reasons.

[Genocide is] the actualization of the intent, however successfully carried out, to murder in its totality any national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, social, gender or economic group, as these groups are defined by the perpetrator, by whatever means. (The Holocaust in Historical Context, Vol. 1, 1994)

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    I think it is fair to say that the definition proposed by Katz is a minority view. A quest to cause the class of video rental store operators, or unions, to cease to exist, for example, would not be genocide. Also, genocide is normally defined to include elimination by conversion or non-reproduction, and is not normally exclusively limited to murder. Eliminating a "capitalist class" might target an aristocracy that is culturally defined genocidally (or e.g. a jati in India), but the elimination of the class itself through economic reform normally wouldn't be called genocide either.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 2, 2021 at 21:58
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    @ohwilleke - Sure, but the elimination of an economic class by murder would be pretty close to genocide, whether it strictly qualified or not.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 2, 2021 at 22:11
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    Suppose every member of the UAW is murdered. Would that be genocide? It would be a mass murder and a horrible crime. But I'm not sure that it would be genocide as that term is usually used. Class warfare would be a more commonly used terminology.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 2, 2021 at 22:16
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    Perhaps. But if someone decided to "kill the poor" with "the neutron bomb" (for instance), would it still not be a genocide? At a certain point, when the motivations and tactics look almost the same, the deed might be almost the same as well. Classes could also well considered subcultures in a sense, and class is highly heritable in societies with high income inequality.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 2, 2021 at 22:18
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    As far as I can see, this definition does not talk about reasons at all. It talks about an economic delineation of the targeted group, but the question is about the reason for the genocide, not the target. Note that the fact that the definition does not talk about reasons at all can be (likely correctly) interpreted to mean that the reasons are irrelevant, and thus automatically include economic reasons, but then the same would be true of the Merriam-Webster definition the OP cited or the UN definition cited in o.m.'s answer. Aug 3, 2021 at 18:19

There are reputable academic definitions of genocide intended to side-step this issue and which could certainly cover the slaughter of people belonging to a specific socio-economic group. For example, Israel Charny (editor of the Encyclopedia of Genocide) defines it as

the mass killing of a substantial number of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims

This definition differs markedly from Lemkin's original definition (“the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group”) and deliberately avoids restricting the concept of “genocide” to certain categories of victims like the UN convention does. Unlike the original definition, it doesn't make the intent of the perpetrators a key part of the definition either (beside excluding civilian victims of military operations).

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    – JJJ
    Aug 4, 2021 at 21:49

Yes. Pol Pot's massacre of up to 1.5-2 million Cambodians, out of 7-8 million at the time, mostly on the basis of class/economic war is often interpreted as a genocide.

The Khmer Rouge regime frequently arrested and often executed anyone who it suspected of having connections with the former Cambodian government or foreign governments, as well as professionals, intellectuals, the Buddhist monkhood, and ethnic minorities. Even those people who were stereotypically thought of as having intellectual qualities, such as wearing glasses or speaking multiple languages, were executed out of fear that they would rebel against the Khmer Rouge. As a result, Pol Pot has been described as "a genocidal tyrant" by journalists and historians such as William Branigin. The British sociologist Martin Shaw described the Cambodian genocide as "the purest genocide of the Cold War era". The attempt to purify Cambodian society along racial, social and political lines led to purges of Cambodia's previous military and political leadership, along with business leaders, journalists, students, doctors, and lawyers.

It isn't, strictly, classifiable as genocide according to the UN definition in international law, which is predicated on using ethnic/religious/nationality qualifiers for the persecution of an identifiable group.

I will look for it later, but when looking at the recent question here on whether China's behavior wrt Uyghurs could be considered genocide, I found the writings of a specialized international genocide legal expert that stated that, according to the current international law definition, Cambodia could not be considered a genocide. Something the author agreed with.

That is both morally wrong and against what common sense would indicate when you see the number of hits a targeted Google search such as "Cambodia" genocide or "Pol Pot" genocide return. Or Google ngrams

People do consider an event like Cambodia a genocide, with good reason.

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Imagine you're a deer. You're prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water... BAM! A f-in bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a f- what kind of pants the son of a b- who shot you was wearing? (from the movie My Cousin Vinny)

At the end of the day, exact definitions are not of much importance. You could be killing people for their ethnicity, their intellect, their religion, their political views or just to maintain power. Are all the examples I've linked to unequivocally considered to be "genocide"? No, of course not, at the very least because the descendants of the perpetrators aren't necessarily happy to be called out for what they did. But if you're staring at the end of a gun barrel, I assure you that knowing if its being done as part of a "genocide" won't make the process any more pleasant.

So I'd go with one of the wider definitions of genocide, this one by Martin Shaw:

Genocide is a form of violent social conflict or war, between armed power organizations that aim to destroy civilian social groups and those groups and other actors who resist this destruction. Genocidal action is action in which armed power organizations treat civilian social groups as enemies and aim to destroy their real or putative social power, by means of killing, violence and coercion against individuals whom they regard as members of the groups.

To expand a bit more, here's an interesting comment by @Kevin:

The basic problem with this definition is the word "substantial." Does September 11th count (nearly 3,000 people died)? Or is that not enough people? Where do you draw the line?

Yes, 9/11 could count as a part of an attempted genocide of American people. It didn't go far luckily but that was very much the intention behind the original attacks. The first steps of many historical genocides also had a small number of initial victims. Government authorities were able to quickly put an end to the attacks, so we now refer to 9/11 as a solitary "act of terrorism", rather than a part of a bigger chain of attacks.

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    I disagree. 911 was an (horrific) injury to the people of the US. But it did not come anywhere near destroying the people or the power of the US. Only 1 in 100,000 people died. I don't want to down play, or seem insensitive to the tragedy, but of the whole 'group' that is a very small percentage. Aug 2, 2021 at 9:44
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    @DarcyThomas if Taliban had their way, a lot more Americans would die than 1 in 100,000. But they didn't, as America launched a massive counter attack and stopped them in their tracks. Aug 2, 2021 at 10:04
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    @JonathanReez If I want to become a millionaire, no matter how bad I want it, it is not the first dollar I make but the 1,000,000th that makes me one. Likewise the definition is 'destroy the group', not 'really really want to destroy the group but only hurt a few', or 'really really want to destroy a group and totally would have if they had rolled over didn't fight back'. Aug 2, 2021 at 10:28
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    @DarcyThomas at the end of the day it all comes down to one group of people wanting to kill another group of people. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. But that's the core of the concept of genocide. Aug 2, 2021 at 10:37
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    It doesn't make any sense to classify 9/11 as an intended genocide. As a terror attack, yes. As an intended trigger to international jihad, yes. As an intent to eradicate American culture or population? No. Especially as apparently the attack went far beyond OBL's expectations in destroying the towers (a large bomb was exploded in 1993 to achieve the same goal, with no success). Aug 4, 2021 at 18:15

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