Collectivization or ‘Dekulakization’?

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

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Portrayal of the Kulak farmer surrounded by the industry of the Kholkoz. 7

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

Featured image credit: 8

13 Comments

  1. Great post Kevin. You did a wonderful job of not only outlining Stalin’s collectivization policies but also the attitudes and issues that Russian peasantry had concerning collectivization. Stalin always used whatever means he could to eliminate his perceived enemies and you did a great job examining that in the case of the kulaks.

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  2. I think your post does a good job at noting the vulnerabilities to the environment that Russians face as it seems they are constantly subjects of famines and other catastrophes. You did an excellent job of addressing the gaps between revolutionary promises and governmental action as they often remain uncompleted. I love the visual images you used! Great job!

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  3. Hi Kevin!

    I really enjoyed your post. It was very easy to follow. It think that you were correct in assuming that the resistance efforts contributed to the famine. It’s also disturbing to note the amount of people that died because of the famine. Although Stalin put the state’s interests first, I would think it would be beneficial to the state to keep the peasants alive considering many of them are farmers.

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  4. I think you picked a very interesting topic for your post! I especially liked how you examined the way the state motivated peasants to join in collectivization and how it imposed penalties on those who did not collectivize. I also enjoyed your analysis of Stalin’s rhetoric against the kulaks as enemies of the state. Keep up the good work!

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  5. This was such a well thought out post! You did a great job of explaining many aspects of the the time period we are currently studying. I think your explanation of collectivization under Stalin genuinely helped me to understand the late 20s/early 30s in Russia, and better comprehend the other events from that time. I liked your perspective on what the middle peasants were experiencing, and you obviously did plenty of research for this blog post. This gave me a new outlook on social and economic dynamics through collectivization and how those aspects played major roles in the life of different classes. I also really like how you brought the Marxist perspective into it, as I am learning about Marx in my Political Theory class. Great job!

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  6. I think your second image is a great visual summary of your topic. The farmer holding the gun represents kulak resistance and hostility, but he’s trapped in the middle, encircled by Stalin’s collectivization. I think it really captures how trapped these people must have felt. Good job!

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  7. Good job, this is such an interesting post. The detail on the events leading to the famines is very good. It is no wonder why the Soviets had to rule through fear given all the horrible things they caused.

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  8. Great post on a very controversial topic. As your post showed, this was a complicated situation of resistance and oppression. Stalin clearly made statements to the fact that he wanted to completely eliminate the kulaks, so that makes the famine even more sinister. I love how much detail you included. Well done!

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