Enemy of the people

From Academic Kids

For the play by Henrik Ibsen, see An Enemy of the People. "Enemy of the state" links to here. For the movie, see Enemy of the State.

The term enemy of the people (Russian language: враг народа, "vrag naroda") was a fluid designation under the Bolsheviks' rule in regards to their real or suspected political or class opponents, sometimes including former allies. Similar terms were in use as well:

  • enemy of the workers (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 workers" was formalized in the Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code).

At various times these terms were applied, in particular, to the Royal House, aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, clerics, the intelligentsia, business entrepreneurs, kulaks, monarchists, Mensheviks, Esers, Buddhists, Bundists, Trotskyists, Bukharinists, the "old Bolsheviks", the army and police, emigrants, immigrants, 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 Harbin, China), those considered bourgeois nationalists (notably Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian 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 his property could be confiscated. Close relatives of enemies of the people were branded "relatives of an enemy of the people", which effected in restrictions of their rights. Any family members of the victim still enjoying their freedom were not allowed to hold positions of importance, and only in exceptional cases would they be tolerated as members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the key to advancement in the Soviet hierarchy. Being a friend of an enemy of the people automatically placed the person under suspicion.

A significant category of population were enemies of the people not because of their hostile actions against the workers' and peasants' state, but simply because of their social origin: those who used hired labor, religious figures, former policemen, merchants, etc. They 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.

In 1927, the penal code of the Soviet Union was changed drastically. The update of the penal code turned the country into a police state, full of informants, who were derogatorily called stukach (стукач, lit. "knocker"). According to Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code), everyone was obligated to report all "anti-Soviet activity", including any expression of disagreement with the policy of the Party, even in casual jokes. This policy resulted in significant growth of Gulag camp populations as those who failed to report their relatives or friends were often themselves reported on. State-sponsored propaganda and mandatory (officially voluntary) participation in the Pioneer Movement helped to indoctrinate Soviet youth to follow the example of Pavlik Morozov, a young boy who reported his own father, a kulak.

One might wonder why there were so many enemies of workers left, seemingly contrary to the initial claims of Bolsheviks that the opponents of the proletariat were crushed as a class in the Soviet Union. This was handily explained by Stalinist doctrine, which included the "theory of the aggravation of class struggle under socialism". The theory postulated that class struggle grows more intense during the dictatorship of the proletariat, thus requiring more extreme measures. Anti-Stalinist Marxists, particularly Trotskyists, reject this idea.

Since 1937, the ranks of the "enemies of the people" were significantly extended with the Traitor of Motherland Family Members.

The extreme treatment of opponents is one of numerous reasons why the Soviet regime is often considered authoritarian or even totalitarian.

Further reading

  • Nicolas Werth, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 856 pages, ISBN 0674076087

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