The term enemy of the people or enemy of the nation, is a designation for the political or class opponents of the subgroup in power within a larger group. The term implies that by opposing the ruling subgroup, the "enemies" in question are acting against the larger group, for example against society as a whole. It is similar to the notion of "enemy of the state". The term originated in Roman times as Latin: hostis publicus, typically translated into English as the "public enemy". The term in its "enemy of the people" form has been used for centuries in literature (see An Enemy of the People, the play by Henrik Ibsen, 1882; or Coriolanus, the play by William Shakespeare, c. 1605).
The Soviet Union made extensive use of the term until 1956, notably Stalin, who used it to describe counter revolutionaries, Trotskyists and since early 2017 it has been used on multiple occasions by US President Donald Trump to refer to news organizations and journalists who he perceives as critical of him, a practice that has been called "menacing" and likened to McCarthyism.
Origins of the expression
The expression dates back to Roman times. The Senate declared emperor Nero a hostis publicus in AD 68. Its direct translation is "public enemy". Whereas "public" is currently used in English in order to describe something related to collectivity at large, with an implication towards government or the State, the Latin word "publicus" could, in addition to that meaning, also refer directly to people, making it the equivalent of the genitive of populus ("people"), populi ("popular" or "of the people"). Thus, "public enemy" and "enemy of the people" are, etymologically, near-synonyms.
The words "ennemi du peuple" were extensively used during the French revolution. On 25 December 1793 Robespierre stated: "The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death". The Law of 22 Prairial in 1794 extended the remit of the Revolutionary Tribunal to punish "enemies of the people", with some political crimes punishable by death, including "spreading false news to divide or trouble the people".
The Soviet Union made extensive use of the term (Russian: враг народа, vrag naroda) (literal meaning is the enemy of the nation), as it fit 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.
At various times these terms were applied, in particular, to Tsar Nicholas II and the Imperial family, aristocrats, 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 Harbin, China), those considered bourgeois nationalists (notably Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Armenian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian nationalists, Zionists, Basmachi).
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 majority 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.
“Stalin originated the concept ‘enemy of the people.’ This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven. It made possible the use of the cruelest repression, violating all norms of [...] legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations ... The formula ‘enemy of the people’ was specifically introduced for the purpose of physically annihilating such individuals.” From “The cult of the individual”, a speech delivered to the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the USSR on February 25, 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev. For decades afterwards, "It was so omnipresent, freighted and devastating in its use under Stalin that nobody [in Russia] wanted to touch it. ... except in reference to history and in jokes", according to an author of a biography of Khrushchev, William Taubman.
The term returned to Russian public discourse in the late 2000s with a number of nationalist and pro-government politicians (most notably Ramzan Kadyrov) calling for restoration of the Soviet approach to the "enemies of the people" defined as all non-system opposition.
In Mao Zedong's 1957 speech On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, he comments that "At the present stage, the period of building socialism, the classes, strata and social groups which favour, support and work for the cause of socialist construction all come within the category of the people, while the social forces and groups which resist the socialist revolution and are hostile to or sabotage socialist construction are all enemies of the people." (According to Philip Short, an author of biographies of Mao and Cambodia's Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, in domestic political struggles Chinese and Cambodian communists rarely if ever used the phrase "enemy of the people" as they were very nationalistic, and saw it as an alien import.)
Regarding the Nazi plan to relocate all Jews to Madagascar, the Nazi tabloid Der Stürmer wrote that "The Jews don't want to go to Madagascar – They cannot bear the climate. Jews are pests and disseminators of diseases. In whatever country they settle and spread themselves out, they produce the same effects as are produced in the human body by germs. ... In former times sane people and sane leaders of the peoples made short shrift of enemies of the people. They had them either expelled or killed."
United States in the 1960s
In the United States during the 1960s, leftist organizations such as the Black Panther Party and Students for a Democratic Society were known to use the term. In one inter-party dispute in February 1971, for example, Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton denounced two other Panthers as "enemies of the people" for allegedly putting party leaders and members in jeopardy.
Usage in the 2010s
During the aftermath of the referendum on membership of the European Union, the Daily Mail was criticized for a headline describing judges (in the Miller case) as "Enemies of the People" for ruling that the process for leaving the European Union (i.e. the triggering of Article 50) would require the consent of the British Parliament. The May administration had hoped to use the powers of the royal prerogative to bypass parliamentary approval. The paper issued character assassinations of all the judges involved in the ruling (Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Terence Etherton, and Lord Justice Sales), and received more than 1,000 complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss issued a three line statement defending the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, which some saw as inadequate due to the delayed response and failure to condemn the attacks.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
18 February 2017
On February 17, 2017, President of the United States Donald Trump declared on Twitter that The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, and CNN were "fake news" and the "enemy of the people". Trump repeated the assertion on February 24 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, saying, "A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people and they are. They are the enemy of the people." At a June 25, 2018 rally in South Carolina, Trump singled out journalists as "fake newsers" and again called them "the enemy of the people." Some commentators linked these comments to a mass shooting at the offices of a newspaper publisher in Annapolis, Maryland, that took place only days later, on June 28. On July 19, 2018, following the critical reaction to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 15, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland, Trump tweeted "The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media." The New York Times noted Trump's use of this phrase during his "moments of peak criticism" and use of the term by Nazi and Soviet propaganda.
On August 2, 2018, after Trump tweeted "FAKE NEWS media... is the enemy of the American People", multiple international institutions such as the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights criticized Trump for his attacks on the free press. On August 16, 2018, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution affirming that the media is not "the enemy of the people." This came several days after more than 350 media organizations editorialized in opposition to Trump's frequent attacks on the press. The resolution, which "Reaffirm[ed] the vital and indispensable role the free press serves," was seen as a symbolic rebuke to Trump. It passed by unanimous consent, in which the votes of individual Senators are not recorded.
- An Enemy of the People - play by Ibsen
- Enemies of the People (film)
- No War But The Class War
- Persona non grata
- Public enemy
- Struggle session
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- see also Jal, Paul (1963) Hostis (publicus) dans la littérature latine de la fin de la République, footnotes 1 and 2
- Garzetti, Albino (2014) From Tiberius to the Antonines: A History of the Roman Empire AD 14-192, Routledge. p.220 ISBN 9781317698432
- Robespierre"Le but du gouvernement constitutionnel est de conserver la République; celui du gouvernement révolutionnaire est de la fonder. […] Le gouvernement révolutionnaire doit au bon citoyen toute la protection nationale; il ne doit aux Ennemis du Peuple que la mort" (speech at the National Convention
- Higgins, Andrew (February 26, 2017) "Trump Embraces ‘Enemy of the People,’ a Phrase With a Fraught History" The New York Times
- Werth, Nicolas; Bartošek, Karel; Panné, Jean-Louis; Margolin, Jean-Louis; Paczkowski, Andrzej; and Courtois, Stéphane (1999) The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-07608-7
- "Article 58", an online excerpt
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- Mao Zedong (February 27, 1957) On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People pp.2–3
- "The Germ". Der Stürmer (38). September 1938.
- Hilliard, David, ed. (2008-06-30). The Black Panther. Simon and Schuster. p. 48. ISBN 9781416552895. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
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