The Kulaks were a group of the most prosperous peasants who refused to move off of their land and onto collective farms. Under Lenin, they had achieved some prosperity through limited privatization of property, which they did not want to give up. The Kulaks did not want this way of life and rebelled, prompting a huge crackdown by Stalin. The irony is that after stifling the Kulaks later Stalin approved of the limited privatization of property on collective farms.

When the Kulaks refused to move onto collective farms, Stalin began a crackdown on the Kulak people. Kulaks began to destroy their livestock and cattle. Millions of the Kulak were sent to Siberia or brutally murdered. Stalin would send troops to surround villages and simply machine-gun everyone in the village, including women and children. Because of this stifling of farms, agricultural production went down and famine reigned. Ukraine was the hardest-hit republic, and millions of Ukrainians starved to death. Stalin later admitted that through the Kulak massacres and the famine roughly 10 million people had died. Stalin killed a total of 20 million of his own countrymen when you add The Great Purge into consideration.

In the late 1920's and early 1930's, Josef Stalin instituted a program known as Dekulakisation. While millions died, the Soviet goverment maintained that it was an important part of their domestic policy. Here are some of the justifications that were employed.

Economic Reasons

  • The Kulak class would slow the progress of collectivisation; peasants with their own wealth and land would be less likely to cooperate with the policy.
  • While the incentive to acquire personal wealth still existed, it would be increasingly difficult for the government to enforce grain requisition.
  • In order to fund industrialisation, Stalin believed that grain exports would need to increase greatly.
  • Collectivisation meant that agricultural methods would be applied universally, and thus advances would be spread more efficiently.
  • With the increasingly technological nature of farming, machines and tractors could be spread over large areas of land, instead of just used on small individual parcels of land.
  • With greater government control of agriculture, farming could be co-ordinated on a national scale. This meant that food production could be adapted for the needs of the economy.
  • The greater efficiency of collectivisation would create an excess of unneeded peasants. These could then migrate into the urban centres, and become proletariat workers. This would help fuel industrialisation.
  • The government would have detailed information on all economic activity within the nation; this would not only give them an advantage in taxation, but international trade.

Political Reasons

  • The Kulak’s represented a pre-Bolshevik tradition at a time when Russia was eliminating its past. This reminder of Tsarism was unacceptable to Stalin.
  • Kulaks were direct contradiction of the Marxist theory upon which the Soviet Union was based.
  • The Kulaks would have economic, and thus political, power of their own. All power in Russia had to lie in the hands of the state.
  • In the same vein, Kulaks would be able to employ followers and perhaps even a militia of their own. It was important to Stalin that the people be loyal only to him.
  • Dekulakisation was a surprisingly effective way of winning the support of many poorer peasants. These less fortunate farmers were more than happy to exact revenge upon their former masters.
  • Kulak was a politically elastic term- it could, if necessary be applied to anyone, for any reason. It made political arrest far easier, as little justification was needed for prosecution.
  • The drive against Kulaks also allowed Stalin to continue with some of his more extreme schemes of political repression, The Terror, with relative impunity.

Kulak is a word that means "fist" in Russian, and was theoretically used to describe rich peasants in the countryside of the Soviet Union; the "fist" was of course the fist with which they supposedly oppressed the poorer peasants.

But in reality, the word ended up getting applied to any peasant which the Soviet regime took a dislike to. The Communists were almost all workers from the cities who had little understanding of rural areas - after the Russian Revolution, the people of the cities had to effectively re-conquer the entire countryside, which had escaped into self-rule; this is the event we know as the Russian Civil War. The gap of understanding was so large that after the Bolsheviks changed their name to the "Communist Party", many peasants declared themselves for the Bolsheviks and against the Communists; they had no idea they were referring to the same entity.

This split between countryside and town was problematic for the towns because all the food came from the countryside, and the Communists were worried that the peasants would effectively be able to starve them out. So, they launched an aggressive attempt to impose their control on the countryside by the program of collectivization, which essentially meant tearing up everyone's land deeds and reorganizing the peasants into huge, controllable farms. These farms weren't very efficient, but they were much easier to understand for the Soviets than the social structure of the traditional village, and easier to extract food from.

Anyone who opposed this attack on their way of life was branded a kulak and was shot as a "saboteur", because it was presumed only those under the influence of capitalism and the West could not desire what was good for the Soviet state, however catastrophic it was for themselves.


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