Hostis publicus: In the year 49 BCE, the Roman Senate declared Julius Caesar the enemy of the people of Rome

The terms enemy of the people and enemy of the nation are designations for the political opponents and for the social-class opponents of the power group within a larger social unit, who, thus identified, can be subjected to political repression.[1] In political praxis, the term enemy of the people implies that political opposition to the ruling power group renders the people in opposition into enemies acting against the interests of the greater social unit, e.g. the political party, society, the nation, etc.

In the 20th century, the politics of the Soviet Union (1922–1991) much featured the term enemy of the people to discredit any opposition, especially during the régime of Stalin (r. 1924–1953), when it was often applied to Trotsky.[2][3] In the 21st century, the former U.S. president Donald Trump (r. 2017–2021) regularly used the enemy of the people term against critical politicians and journalists.[4][5]

Like the term enemy of the state, the term enemy of the people originated and derives from the Latin: hostis publicus, a public enemy of the Roman Empire. In literature, the term enemy of the people features in the title of the stageplay An Enemy of the People (1882), by Henrik Ibsen, and is a theme in the stageplay Coriolanus (1605), by William Shakespeare.


Rome: the Republic and the Empire

The expression enemy of the people dates to Imperial Rome.[6] The Senate declared Emperor Nero a hostis publicus in 68 CE.[7] Its direct translation is "public enemy". Whereas "public" is currently used in English 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.

French Revolution

The words ennemi du peuple were used extensively 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".[8] 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".[9]

Marxist–Leninist states

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union made extensive use of the term vrag naroda (Russian: враг народа), literally meaning enemy of the people. The term was first used in a speech by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first chairman of the Cheka, after the October Revolution. The Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee printed lists of "enemies of the people", and Vladimir Lenin invoked it in his decree of 28 November 1917:[10]

...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.[11]

Other similar terms were in use as well:

In particular, the term "enemy of the workers" was formalized in the Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code),[12] 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, 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 Chinese Eastern Railway, abbreviated KVZhD, particularly the Russian population of Harbin, China), and those considered bourgeois nationalists (notably Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Armenian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian nationalists, as well as Zionists and the Basmachi movement).[13][14]

After 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.

Rejection of the phrase

On 25 February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech to the Communist Party in which he identified Stalin as the author of the phrase and distanced himself from it, saying that it made debate impossible.[15] "This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven," Khrushchev said. "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."[16]


For decades afterwards, the phrase "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 William Taubman in his biography of Khrushchev.[9]

However, 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.[17][18][19]

On 28 December 2022, Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, said that Russians who fled Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and are opposed to the war should be labeled "enemies of society" and barred from returning to Russia.[20]

Cambodia and China

According to Philip Short, an author of biographies of Mao Zedong 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.[9]

In 1957, in the speech and in the essay On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, Mao said 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."[21]


Enemy of the people (Alb: Armiku i popullit) in Albania were the enemy typology of the Communist Albanian government used to denounce political or class opponents. The term is today considered totalitarian, derogatory and hostile. There are still some politicians who use the term on political opponents with the intention of dehumanization.[22]

After the communist takeover, many who were labeled with this term were executed or imprisoned.[23] Enver Hoxha declared religious leaders, landowners, disloyal party officials, clerics and clan leaders as "enemies of the people". This is said to have led to the death of 6,000 people.[24] Thousands were sentenced to death.[25] From 1945 to 1992, around 5,000 men and women were executed and close to 100,000 were sent to prison as they were labeled enemies of the people.[26] Many who were targeted held important leadership positions in the party and state structures of the regime.[27] Hoxha also used the term against the Soviet Union and the US when he spoke: "as to ’Albania being only one mouthful’, watch out, gentlemen, for socialist Albania is a hard bone that will stick in your throat and choke you!".[28] On 1 June 1945, The Albanian Central Commission for the Discovery of Crimes, of War Criminals and Enemies of the People requested the International Commission for the Discovery of Crimes and War Criminals to hand over a number of Albanian war criminals found in concentration camps in Italy such as Bari, Lecce, Salerno and others.[29] In 1954, Hoxha condemned the American and British liberation of Albania calling them "enemies of the people".[30] In the 1960s, many Albanian migrants returned from Austria and Italy after having fled in the 1940s, and despite having been promised not to be punished, were immediately arrested as "enemies of the people".[31] In 1990, Ismail Kadare applied for political asylum in France, which was granted, resulting in him being condemned by Albanian officials as an "enemy of the people".[32]

Nazi Germany

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."[33]

United States in the 1960s

In the United States during the 1960s, organizations such as the Black Panther Party[34][35][36] and Students for a Democratic Society[37] 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.[35]

Usage in the 2010s

United Kingdom

Main article: Enemies of the People (headline)

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.[38] 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.[39][40] 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.[41][42]

Donald Trump

See also: 2018 threats against the Boston Globe and List of nicknames used by Donald Trump

Donald J. Trump Twitter

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[43]

Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2017

In 2012, longtime Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell gave a speech at a conference sponsored by Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group, in which he called the media “the enemy of the American people.”[44] In 2013, Caddell signed on as a contractor for Robert Mercer. On 17 February 2017, hours after meeting Caddell while touring a Boeing aircraft plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, 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 American People".[45] Trump repeated the assertion on 24 February 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."[46][9] At a 25 June 2018 rally in South Carolina, Trump singled out journalists as "fake newsers" and again called them "the enemy of the people".[47][48] Some commentators tried to link these comments to a mass shooting at the offices of a newspaper publisher in Annapolis, Maryland, that took place only days later, on 28 June,[49][50][51] but the incident turned out not to be related.[52] During his term, Trump prevented two CNN White House correspondents, Kaitlan Collins and Jim Acosta, from attending certain events.

On 19 July 2018, following the critical reaction to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 July 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.[53]

On 2 August 2018, after Trump tweeted "FAKE NEWS media... is the enemy of the American People",[54][55] 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.[56] On 16 August 2018, the United States Senate, in a symbolic rebuke to Trump, passed by unanimous consent a resolution affirming that the media is not "the enemy of the people" and reaffirming "the vital and indispensable role the free press serves."[57][58][59]

From his inauguration on 20 January 2017 through 15 October 2019, Trump used Twitter to call the news media the "enemy of the people" 36 times.[60] In August 2019, when journalist Jonathan Karl asked him if he feared that his supporters would interpret this as a justification for violence, Trump replied: "I hope they take my words to heart. I believe the press is the enemy of the people."[61] In response to the recount process of the 2020 United States presidential election in Georgia, which certified Joe Biden as the winner of the state, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger an "enemy of the people".[62]

See also


  1. ^ "Enemies of the people", A Dictionary of 20th-century Communism (2010) Silvio Pons and Robert Service, Eds. pp. 307–308.
  2. ^ Remnick, David (1 August 2018). "Trump and the Enemies of the People". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  3. ^ Remnick, David (20 August 1990). "Trotsky in Afterlife". The Washington Post. For decades, Soviet reference books referred to him only as an anti-Soviet plotter and "enemy of the people" – if they referred to him at all. Stalin's historians air-brushed Trotsky from every official photograph.
  4. ^ Graham-Harrison, Emma (3 August 2018). "'Enemy of the people': Trump's phrase and its echoes of totalitarianism". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  5. ^ "Opinion: Calling the Press the Enemy of the People Is a Menacing Move". Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  6. ^ see also Jal, Paul (1963) Hostis (publicus) dans la littérature latine de la fin de la République, footnotes 1 and 2
  7. ^ Garzetti, Albino (2014) From Tiberius to the Antonines: A History of the Roman Empire AD 14–192, Routledge. p. 220 ISBN 978-1317698432
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ a b c d Higgins, Andrew (26 February 2017) "Trump Embraces ‘Enemy of the People,’ a Phrase With a Fraught History" The New York Times
  10. ^ The black book of communism : crimes, terror, repression. Stéphane Courtois, Mark Kramer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7. OCLC 41256361.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ "Article 58", an online excerpt
  13. ^ "Seventeen Moments in Soviet History".[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "«Объявить всех врагами народа»: Как пропагандистский штамп превратился в страшный приговор" [To declare everyone the enemy of the people: how a propagandistic cliche turned into a sinister verdict]. Kommersant (in Russian). 29 November 2019.
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  19. ^ Staff (2014). "На площадке путинского "Народного фронта" предложили вернуть в употребление статус "враг народа"". Archived from the original on 15 November 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  20. ^ "Medvedev Calls for Recent Russian Emigres to Be Banned From Returning". The Moscow Times. 28 December 2022.
  21. ^ Mao Zedong (27 February 1957) On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People pp. 2–3
  22. ^ Enemies of the People, History, Ideology Behind The …. Remarks by Head of Presence, Ambassador Bernd Borchardt, at the international scientific conference "The portrait of ‘people’s enemy’ during the dictatorship of proletariat in Albania (1944–1990) 17 May 2019. 2019..
  23. ^ Elsie, Robert (2013). A Biographical Dictionary of Albanian History. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1780764313. Retrieved 10 November 2019..
  24. ^ "Gendered legacies of Communist Albania: a paradox of progress". openDemocracy..
  25. ^ "Enver Hoxha's personality cult lives on in today's Albania". New Eastern Europe – A bimonthly news magazine dedicated to Central and Eastern European affairs. 5 October 2018..
  26. ^ "Arct – Denial of Memory: It is Time for Albania to Confront Its Communist Past". Archived from the original on 2 April 2021. Retrieved 12 January 2020..
  27. ^ Meta., Beqir (2018). Framework Study On prison system, internment and forced labor during communist regime in Albania with a focus on establishing a museum of memory in the former internment camp in Tepelena (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 July 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2019..
  28. ^ "Regarding China's Withdrawl [sic] of Aid from Albania".
  29. ^ "Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1945, Europe, Volume IV – Office of the Historian".
  30. ^ (Central Intelligence Agency), CIA (15 April 1954). "Tirana Spy Trial Proceedings Continued. Tirana, Albanian Home Service, Apr. 12, 1954, 2000 GMT-41 (Recordings of Prosecutor's summation) (Text)" (PDF). No. Official Use Only LL 1 – Albania 15 April 1954. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 February 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2019..
  31. ^ Woodcock, Shannon (7 August 2014). "'Against a Wall': Albania's Women Political Prisoners' Struggle to be Heard". Cultural Studies Review. 20 (2): 39–65–39–65. doi:10.5130/csr.v20i2.4093..
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  33. ^ "The Germ". Der Stürmer. No. 38. September 1938.
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  35. ^ a b Ashbury, Edith Evans (10 February 1971). "Newton Denounces 2 Missing Panthers". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  36. ^ Faraj, Gaidi (2007). Unearthing the Underground: A Study of Radical Activism in the Black Panther ... Ann Arbor, Michigan. p. 161. ISBN 978-0549528524.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
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  44. ^ "The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency". The New Yorker. 17 March 2017. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
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  46. ^ Shuham, Matt (24 February 2017). "Trump: 'Enemy Of The People' Media Makes Up Anonymous Sources". Retrieved 24 February 2017.
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