One of the salient features of revolutionary movements is the need to appeal to natural conservatism in the rural working class, whether French peasantry in the French Revolution, or in the case of Soviet Russia the conservative nature of the Russian peasants, especially the ‘Kulaks’ (Middle-peasants). While the rural peasants of Russia may have been angry and supported the revolution as a means to gain access to land and thus a living, they were resistant to the idea of giving up their farm lands to the state-initiative of collectivization. For this reason Stalin began a process of “extraordinary” measures, offering subsidies for those peasant house-holds who enrolled into the kolkhoz system of collectivization, access to mechanical equipment, but also taxes, fines and exile for those who resisted. His efforts ultimately succeeded in forcing the collectivization of 61.5% of peasant farms by 1932.1 However this was not without consequences, the forced collectivization of these peasants forced many ‘kulaks’ to leave the farms for the city, and in addition there was widespread resistance in the form of intentional low production and the wanton slaughter of animals. These resistance efforts may have contributed to the famine conditions that followed, however Stalin blamed all the failures of the forced collectivization on subversive kulaks and saw fit to punish them accordingly.2
In the years 1929-1932 the procurement quotas for the collectives were set unrealistically high, and coupled with crop failures and poor crop yields during these years many in the Lower Volga, Northern Caucuses, and Ukraine were starving. This coupled with Soviet hatred and paranoia over the class-alien members of the kulaks led them to blame the famine on sabotage.3 As punishment the limited crop yields were distributed with priority to the Army and urban centers. The diverting of these goods only worsened the suffering of the collectivized peasants of these grain regions, forcing those millions who didn’t succumb to starvation to abandon their land and move to the cities. These efforts of Stalin towards collectivization had had a two-fold effect. Collectivizing large amounts of the arable land, but also effectively laying low the kulak class.
The crisis in the Soviet Union was one that had plagued the Bolsheviks and revolutionary elements in Russia for years, so much so that it was referred to even by Stalin as the “Agrarian question”. In his speech concerning the “liquidation of the kulak” we see quite clearly the disdain and contempt he held for these middle-peasants, who he held as responsible for the failures in the collectivization plan.4 He saw the agrarian problem as being based on two foundations, the “most large-scale and concentrated socialist industry” and the “scattered and backward, small-commodity peasant farming” He argued that the two could not exist together without a collapse of the national economy. With this rhetoric in mind it is not difficult to see why the Soviet government commissions dealt so harshly with resistance to collectivization. In a sense he had designated a class of people, not the rich bourgeois or exploiters, but simple independent peasant farmers as enemies of the state, and the revolutionary spirit. In his closing words in his address to Marxist students he calls for the total destruction of t
he kulak. “[we] must break their resistance…eliminate them as a class” and even those who chose to join the movement later, he states clearly “Of course not, for they are sworn enemies of the collective-farm movement”.5
This aggressive rhetoric against the small farming peasants of rural Russia is yet another example of the transition to brutal pragmatism from the ideological foundations of the revolution. Surely these peasants had supported the revolutionary movement that ensured a state which would place them first, but as we see in Stalin’s address the state’s interests would come first, the Russian peasant had two options, acquiesce to collectivization or be destroyed. The peasants in the famine-struck regions would suffer dearly, figures for death by starvation as high as 5 million.6
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