Wendy Z. Goldman


On her book Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia

Cover Interview of October 18, 2011


This book is particularly relevant for anyone today who is concerned about how our own “war on terror” is affecting civil liberties.

Inventing the Enemy shows that the terror in Soviet Union actually began as a series of “anti-terrorist” measures in the wake of the assassination of a popular Soviet leader, Sergei M. Kirov.  These measures introduced extra judicial trials and eliminated the right to appeal for suspected terrorists. As more suspects were pulled into prison and subjected to brutal methods of interrogation, Soviet leaders became convinced of a vast conspiracy of terrorists, potential and real.

The climate of fear spurred by the Kirov assassination was intensified by the growing threat of fascism abroad.  Soviet leaders encouraged ordinary citizens to denounce those they suspected of disloyalty or treason.  Many Soviet citizens denounced their neighbors, coworkers, and even family members.

My argument—and a lesson—is that ordinary citizens helped to create a political culture that supported the abrogation of civil liberties.

Yet as more and more people were arrested, many others realized that they, too, might become victims.  What began as anti-terror measures in the wake of a political assassination became a true terror.

Inventing the Enemy shows us how an anti terrorist campaign launched by the state can become a full blown terror in which one’s fellow citizens become rabid agents of denunciation and no one is safe.