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Review: "Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia."

"Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia."


Throughout historian Wendy Goldman’s book, Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, the author provides an analysis of the Great Purges through the vantage point of individual citizens who experienced it firsthand. Similar to Sheila Fitzpatrick and Orlando Figes’ prior historical works, Goldman explores the ways in which individual people avoided imprisonment, detainment, and execution through both the acceptance and promulgation of conspiracies contemplated by the Soviet regime.

Main Points

Within modern historiography, Goldman’s account is particularly interesting as it rejects the notion of the purges being driven from the top-down. As she clearly demonstrates in this work, much of Stalin’s success with the purges did not derive from his secret police or cadres within the lower levels of the party, as John Archibald Getty proclaims. Rather, the promulgation of fear and Stalin’s ability to effectively control the vast expanse of the Soviet Union, Goldman posits, was a direct result of ordinary citizens resorting to measures in which they lied, and often provided false testimonies or confessions in order to evade accusations that would place them in jail. As such, this sort of social atmosphere was highly conducive, she explains, for Stalin’s spreading of fear and paranoia to the populace. Thus, as she points out, the Great Purges were not an elite-driven event as most historians argue. Instead, they were driven primarily by the victims of Stalin’s crimes themselves. Ironically, however, Goldman proclaims that these type of measures were not always enough to protect individuals against the horrors of the purges. In the end, the Great Purges often consumed all individuals, including those considered loyalists to the Stalinist regime.

Final Thoughts

Goldman relies heavily on a large array of primary source material to substantiate her claims. The end result is a book that is both well-written and scholarly in its approach to the Great Purges. All in all, I give this work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in early Soviet history. This piece remains a substantial component to modern historiographical works and should not be ignored by scholars (and the general public) when researching the Great Purges. Definitely check it out!


Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

1.) What was Goldman's main argument(s) and thesis? Do you agree with the argument presented by the author? Why or why not?

2.) What sort of primary source material does Goldman use to substantiate her overall claims? Does this reliance help or hinder her argument(s)? Why or why not?

3.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work? Were there any sections of this book that could have been improved upon by Goldman? What parts of this book stand out most for you? Why were particular sections of Goldman's work better than others?

4.) What did you learn after reading this book? Did any of the facts and figures presented by Goldman surprise you?

5.) Would you be willing to recommend this book to a friend or family member to read? Why or why not?

6.) Did Goldman organize this work in a logical manner? Did each of the chapters flow smoothly with one another? Why or why not?

7.) Can you suggest any other readings that would help supplement the material presented in this work?

Suggestions for Further Reading

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

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Figes, Orlando. The Whisperer’s: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007).

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism, Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Getty, John Archibald. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

Goldman, Wendy. Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Kocho-Williams, Alastair. “The Soviet Diplomatic Corps and Stalin’s Purges.” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 86, No. 1 (2008): 99-110.

Rimmel, Lesley. “A Microcosm of Terror, or Class Warfare in Leningrad: The March 1935 Exile of “Alien Elements.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (1995): 528-551.

Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror (Oak Park: Mehring Books, 1998).

Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).

Whitewood, Peter. “The Purge of the Red Army and the Soviet Mass Operations, 1937-1938.” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 93, No. 2 (2015): 286-314.

Whitewood, Peter. The Red Army and the Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Soviet Military. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015).

Works Cited:

Goldman, Wendy. Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

© 2017 Larry Slawson


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 25, 2017:

Thanks for the review, and even the questions for group discussion could make for interesting dialogue among readers.

Congratulations on your "Rookie of the Year" Award. Best to you going forward!

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