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The term enemy of the people is a fluid designation of political or class opponents of the group using the term. Its usage is derogatory, and meant to imply that the "enemies" are acting against society as a whole. It is similar to the notions of "public enemy" and "enemy of the state". The term has an extensive history. Its earliest use may have been by the Roman Empire, where the Senate used the term to apply to the Emperor Nero as a pretext for his arrest. Since that time, many groups have used the phrase, including the Jacobins during the radical phase of the French Revolution (the Reign of Terror) and by the Soviet Unionmarker and other authoritarian countries.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union made extensive use of the term (Russian language: враг народа, "vrag naroda"), as it fit in well with the idea that the people were in control. The term was used by Vladimir Lenin after coming to power as early as in the decree of 28 November 1917:

"all leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court."

Other similar terms were in use as well:
  • enemy of the labourers (враг трудящихся, "vrag trudyashchikhsya")
  • enemy of the proletariat (враг пролетариата, "vrag proletariata")
  • class enemy (классовый враг, "klassovyi vrag"), etc.
In particular, the term "enemy of the workers" was formalized in the Article 58 , and similar articles in the codes of the other Soviet Republics.

At various times these terms were applied, in particular, to Tsar Nicholas II and the Imperial family, aristocrat, the bourgeoisie, clerics, business entrepreneurs, anarchists, kulaks, monarchists, Mensheviks, Esers, Bundists, Trotskyists, Bukharinists, the "old Bolsheviks", the army and police, emigrants, saboteurs, wreckers (вредители, "vrediteli"), "social parasites" (тунеядцы, "tuneyadtsy"), Kavezhedists (people who administered and serviced the KVZhD (China Far East Railway), particularly the Russian population of Harbinmarker, Chinamarker), those considered bourgeois nationalists (notably Ukrainianmarker, Lithuanianmarker, Latvianmarker, Estonianmarker nationalists, Zionists, Basmachi), and members of certain ethnic groups (see Population transfer: Soviet Union).

An enemy of the people could be imprisoned, expelled or executed, and lose their property to confiscation. Close relatives of enemies of the people were labeled as "traitor of Motherland family members" and prosecuted. They could be sent to Gulag, punished by the involuntary settlement in unpopulated areas, or stripped of citizen's rights. Being a friend of an enemy of the people automatically placed the person under suspicion.

A significant fraction of the enemies of the people were given this label not because of their hostile actions against the workers' and peasants' state, but simply because of their social origin or profession before the revolution: those who used hired labor, high-ranking clergy, former policemen, merchants, etc. Some of them were commonly known as lishentsy (лишенцы, derived from Russian word лишение, deprivation), because by the Soviet Constitution they were deprived of the right of voting. This automatically translated into a deprivation of various social benefits; some of them, e.g., rationing, were at times critical for survival.

Since 1927, Article 20 of the Common Part of the penal code that listed possible "measures of social defence" had the following item 20a: "declaration to be an enemy of the workers with deprivation of the union republic citizenship and hence of the USSR citizenship, with obligatory expulsion from its territory". Nevertheless most "enemies of the people" suffered labor camps, rather than expulsion.

See also


Further reading

Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7

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