Harvest of Despair



“Enemy of the People” was a term summarily applied to any opponent, real or imagined, of the Soviet regime. The very vagueness of the term made it suitable for political infighting and intrigues because it could be widely applied. An “enemy of the people” was simply anyone so designated by the Soviet authorities.

Most of those designated enemies of the people were sentenced under Article 58 of the Soviet criminal code. The code covered such charges as “wrecking,” “sabotage,” “espionage,” “treason,” and “anti-Soviet agitation,” which was the least serious of the charges since it did not involve planned conspiracy. Sentences for these “crimes” ranged from ten to twenty-five years of forced labor, or execution, which was most prevalent during the Great Terror of 1936-8 and the war years.

The term “enemy of the people” was first applied to “counterrevolutionaries” – the Kadets (Constitutional Democrats), Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists were all declared “enemies of the people.” Before and during the Famine in Ukraine anyone who spoke against collectivization or tried to resist grain expropriations was declared an “enemy of the people,” as were peasants caught “hoarding” (i.e.,  hiding food so that their families would not starve). The withholding or theft of grain was declared, in the summer of 1932, to be a crime against the Soviet state, and therefore an act of political sabotage.

During the Great Terror of 1936-8, the Soviet apparat fought mercilessly against “enemies” within its own ranks. Popular and loyal Bolshevik leaders such as Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin were declared to be spies for the bourgeois capitalist states, and at their show trials they admitted to ridiculous charges of anti-Soviet activities. Much of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as well as of the Soviet republics’ leaders, were declared to be “enemies of the people” and shot.

The term “enemy of the people” carried with it a stigma for the families of those declared as such. Wives and husbands of “enemies” were removed from their places of employment and residence, expelled from the Party and often also arrested. Children of “enemies” were denied entry into schools and universities and generally could find only the worst kinds of employment. Despite Stalin’s famous saying, in the USSR a son indeed did pay for the “sins” of his father.