After a brief respite from Kulaks and Holodomor, I have another Kulak piece for you. I know, I know… I am sorry for the repetition, but it is necessary to post this. Because the topic of #KULAX is burning up the Internet. Cub Reporter Lyttenburgh, formerly relegated to the “Popular Culture” desk, where he plowed away with his head down, writing fluff pieces about crappy American TV shows, has demanded a chance to write something more serious for the “Big Boys” news desk. And he deserves this opportunity, since he is actually trained in historical analysis. (Unlike Yours Truly.)
Astute Handshakable readers of the Russophile blogosphere recognize that Lyttenburgh, with his trenchant commentary, has made quite a name for himself recently all over this niche market, for example here and here. This intrepid polemicist has been busy
antagonizing people debating the history of the Stalin period, especially the issue of Kulaks. Here is a quite splendid piece he wrote on this topic, all chock full of facts and statistics, I hope you will read and enjoy it.
Sincerely yours, yalensis
On Kulaks (By Lyttenburgh)
Let’s start with a shocking (for some people at least) fact, that kulaks appeared long before the coming to power of the “accursed Bolsheviks”. Let’s talk about the origin of the term of this particular stratum of Russian peasantry. The term has been known since the 19th century, it is even mentioned in the dictionary by Vladimir Dal’, which I actually own (citation by «Толковый словарь живаго велкорускаго языка» 1881, издание 2, Томъ 2, И-О):
Кулак – *Скупец, скряга, жидомор, кремень, крепыш; перекупщик, переторговщик, маклак, прасол, сводчик, особ. в хлебной торговля, на базарах и пристанях, сам безденежный, живет обманом, обчетом, обмером;… торгаш с малыми деньжонками, ездит по деревням, скупая холст, пряжу, лён, пеньку, мерлушку, щетину, масло и пр. прасол, прах, денежный барышник, гуртовщик, скупщик и отгонщик скота; разносчик, коробейник, щепетильник, см. офеня.
«Кулак без Бога проколотится, а без божбы не проживет».
In short – not a nice person.
In the villages of the Russian Empire the land belonged to the landowner and the peasant community (called the mir). Naturally, there was not enough land for the peasants; therefore, they did not have enough food for themselves – especially after paying all taxes, tithes and other expenses. Peasant land was not privately owned, it was periodically redistributed according to the decisions of the village assembly. Kulaks (sometimes mirojeds) was the name given to those peasants who engaged in the usury in respect of the rest of the mir, or who got rich by unscrupulous ways. Another feature which characterized the kulak was the employment of wage laborors known as batraks. How did the kulaks come by their wealth? By hard work?
Hardly – it was impossible in the confines of the Russian Empire’s legal structure. On the one hand – local noble landlords (pomeshiks) still controlled most of the best land in the area, leaving the peasants’ mir with the leftovers. On the other hand – mir’s assemblies distributed the land according to the needs of the families, giving more land to the families with more mouths to feed. No matter how hardworking you are – you simply can’t earn that much by plowing your meager land plot, especially after having to pay all sorts of taxes. Only way to become successful was either by a stroke of luck or by illegal ways. So, after amassing their “starting capital” kulaks began to enlarge their private lands. Partially it was via the lands they bought from the bankrupt nobles, and partially by extorting the entire village’s mir for the debts of some of its members.
And because the kulak couldn’t just outright rule his own village (partially because they often chose to relocate – or were exiled –to “slobodas” or “vyselki”), he had to use instead “podkulachniks”. For a hefty share of his very decent income, these podkulachniks could also act as the “muscle” in collecting the debts from the peasant community (in the best organized-crime definition of the term “collectors”), and also as his hidden agents, who knew how to vote at the gathering of the mir. Most often these “podkulachniks” were recruited not from the most hard-working peasants, but from the good for nothing seekers of easy money and from professional toadies.
Partially, one of the reasons for the kulaks “surge” could be answered by the economic processes taking place in the Russian Empire at that time. The “invisible hand of the market”, during, say, the famine of 1891, “forced” the nobles and kulaks to sell their bread in Europe. And then the imperial Military Department was forced to buy in Europe its own bread (and overpay for it) just to be able to feed the troops. According to the report of the Military Department in 1905, up to 40% of new recruits (and most of Russian soldiers came from the peasants) ate meat for the first time in their life in the army! Why did such things keep happening? Well, because large “agro-holdings” (pomeshiks and kulaks households) found it more profitable for themselves to feed EUROPE, and not their fellow countrymen. There are plenty of examples of the deathly famines sweeping across the countryside, found in the Russian literature of the period – one has only to reference Korolenko or Tolstoy.
Before the First World War, Russia was one of the largest grain exporters in the world. The bulk of the commodity (i.e., suitable for export) bread had been provided by large farming households – from pomeshiks and kulaks. Both used hired labor of the most impoverished peasants (“batraks”) to work their land. But noble pomeshiks surely but steadily became bankrupt en masse, and it was necessary for the Russian Empire to enlarge and improve (by using agricultural machinery) all available sources “of the strategic raw materials”. For obvious reasons, the state could not touch noble landlords or take from them their often unused land. And the majority of the peasants did not even have enough money to repay their dues to the government in order to buy their way out of the “vremenno obyazanniye” (“temporary indebted servitude”) status (i.e. owing the state the amount it paid to their former masters to free them in 1861). Only after the Revolution of 1905-07 the status of “vremenno obyazanniye” had been lifted… from about 70% of the peasants still incapable of paying off the government its due.
Stolypin decided to place his bet on kulaks in the hope of repeating the “the Western experience” of the similar situation. Namely – he banked on the fact that kulaks will break, and ideally – absorb the peasant community. That’s why he passed a law which allowed selling and buying the community’s land. Also, to break the ties established between the peasants (non-kulaks), they were to be “re-settled” in the “slobodas” and “vyselki” as well. Another solution opted by Stolypin was to send peasants as settlers to Siberia. Not because they were rabble-rousers or criminals. Just send them there. The ultimate goal of this Imperial Government was clear – the pauperization of Russian village, so that the impoverished peasants will became the new workforce for the kulaks. The peasantry, to put it mildly, did not accept these efforts. Stolypin answered with military field courts and “Stolypin’s neckties” for some, and the increase of “Stolypin’s train cars” for others. Most of those who were sent by said “Stolypin’s train cars” returned from beyond the Ural mountains – and they returned much, much angrier than before.
After the October Revolution
What was the “Decree on Land” adopted by the Bolsheviks all about? By the time of the October Revolution ¼ of all the land in the country belonged to the nobles. This land was expropriated from them, and divided by the number of consumers in the families of the farmers, i.e. – said land was added to the mir’s communal holdings. This land was added to the community as the whole, rather than to the private ownership of particular peasants. The Bolsheviks – you will be surprised! – did not take any land for themselves (can you imagine Trotsky behind the plow using Sverdlov as a horse?). Land could not be bought or sold – that was stated clearly from the first days of the Soviet Government’s existence. And these measures did not lead to the process of pauperization of the village, but to the increasing number of “serednyaks” (=middling peasants) there.
But kulaks and podkulachniks were left unscathed. Of course, they launched a frantic activity in the villages striving to grab for themselves this newly available formerly pomeshik’s (and now – mir’s) land. By engaging in clearly illegal activities (to which they had become used before the Revolution), kulaks managed to increase their land holdings – by threats or by cajoling or by money increasing their own land holds, in violation of the Soviet legislation. In the Soviet Union the “exploitation of man by man” was banned. Consequently, the kulaks were again violating the law by hiring batraks. Finally – usurious activities in the USSR by individuals was also banned. That’s the third strike, KULAKS– you’re out of the game!
Is it any wonder that when the question about the implementation of the Collectivization came knocking, the loudest people to oppose it were kulaks and their podkulachniks? Being much richer than their fellow villagers, kulaks had a certain influence on their minds (and podkulachniks could always break some legs or rape a daughter of especially noisy opposition to their paymasters). Kulaks also formed armed squads who killed militsionery (police officers), chairmen of kolkhozes (often – along with their families). You know, the activity which the Western (and the so-called “Russian liberal”) historiography calls by such noble term as the “uprising of the peasants against the Soviet power”.
De-kulakization was liberation of peasants from the kulaks. The government took for itself absolutely nothing!
As for the kulaks and their future fate, after the decision for de-kulakization was approved in January of 1930, it all varied. Kulaks were divided into 3 categories with varied punishments:
– Category 1: The counter-revolutionary assets and the organizers of the terrorist attacks and uprisings. The verdict: the exile along with family (beyond the Urals or into Kazakhstan); if the investigation is able to prove the direct involvement in the murders – firing squad for the perpetrator.
– Category 2: The counter-revolutionary assets of the richest kulaks and “semi-pomeshiks” (rus. «полу-помещики») who were actively looting their fellow villagers. The verdict: the exile of the kulaks themselves, without family.
– Category 3: Other kulaks, i.e. the ones engaged in the usury and the exploitation of the peasants. The verdict: the exile of kulak his family “within the limits of their own ujeszd”.
An important point – only kulaks of the 1st category went to spetsposelnie (and not into some prison “gulag”). But what happened to the rest? Well – exactly what is written, i.e. they were just relocated internally. Nothing more.
And yes, the presence in the stable of, say, 5 horses automatically turns a man into a kulak by such characterization. Why? No peasant needed (or could afford) more than one horse (used both for transportation and for plowing). The presence of 5 horses directly points to:
- the use of a hired labor.
- the fact, that you have money to buy that many horses
- that you have more land than you were allocated by the peasant community and have to use the hired labor of batraks and bought horses.
According to the laws of the Soviet Union all this places you well within the Third category of kulaks. At the very least.
I’m giving special attention to these facts to drive home one simple truth – that kulaks were criminals according to the Soviet Union’s law code. Not some “innocent victims” repressed for “nothing”. The whole process of de-kulakization was geared from the very start as a campaign against criminals and class enemies.
Now, let’s analyze some statistics on the deported kulaks (data by the OGPU). We have no reasons to doubt it – it was their “internal accounting”. Whatever mad claims some idealogically motivated people make – no, they didn’t “disappear” people en masse. When you transport a very large amount of exiles (like kulaks) you keep absolutely reliable and easily checkable accounts. You can’t arrive to your destination, miles away, and claim that, say, 50% of your charges died en-route and you just threw their corpses (of accursed enemies of the proletariat!) through a window, but, sadly, have no physical proof to that. Your superiors would take you for a either a bloodthirsty maniac, or an enormous screw-up – or even a traitor, who allowed so many of his charges to escape, and will persecute you accordingly. Now, keep in mind that trains with exiles had to make stops (often – lengthy) and that guards convoying kulaks had to send accounts about their status to the local superiors and colleagues, their superiors at the final station and to their immediate superiors from the oblast/republic HQ of the OGPU. The paper trail was enormous – you can’t fake that much.
Now, as for the statistics themselves:
Let’s Crunch the Numbers
Total number of de-kulakized by the end of 1931: 1,800,000 persons (including family members), or 380,000 families. Is that a lot or a little? In the USSR, there were about 500,000 settlements. That means that slightly less than one family per village was de-kulakized . Number of peasants in general in the USSR for 1930 was approx. 120 million. So – less than 5% of them. Not quite a “terror targeting peasants particularly”, is it?
And then, by the end of 1931 came the statistic about the number of kulaks and members of their families actually living at the places of their exile – it was 1.42 million. How can we explain such discrepancy in 380,000 living souls? Well, if you are an idealogically correct Russophobe, a so-called “Russian liberal” or just hide under the mask of the “anti-Sovietist” you’ve already deduced right without me saying a word. All of those people were BRUTALLY MURDERED BY TYRANT STALIN! You don’t need any proof – so I won’t spare any effort on you. I’d like to address here people who actually want to know the truth.
Let’s start with the fact, that de-kulakized persons – imagine that! – had a right to complain that they were unjustly prosecuted and exiled. And they did it a lot – there was one instance when, out of the 35,000 exiles who had just arrived in Siberia, about 30,000 wrote appeals that they were unjustly exiled. And the Soviet authorities did indeed take their time to review these appeals. Those who were wrongly accused of being kulaks (and, let’s admit it – there were such persons) were then promptly rehabilitated. For example, in 1930 a large party of 10,000 kulak exiles arrived from the North Caucasus to the Tomsk region. Following them filing their complaints and local proceedings, 2500 of them were rehabilitated and allowed to return back. And complaints and successful reviews with rehabilitation happened later too, not only in the first years of de-kulakization.
Another reason which might explain the much lower number of exiles is the decree penned and signed by NarCom of the Interior Affairs Yagoda (whom Westerners and so-called Russian liberals still doggedly refuse to recognize as the victim of “Stalin’s Purges”) from May 20, 1931. According to it, persons over 65 y.o. and the children under 10 y.o. from kulak families were to be freed, provided they have relatives that can take care of them. Plus, the same decree ordered to change the form of verdict from the far exile to a near one (i.e. as per the 3rd category) for families of kulaks without men of the working age.
Finally – there were escapes. “Troikas” didn’t appear out of thin air just because the Evil Stalin willed them into being. First 3 categories of Troikas “clients” were specifically defined as kulaks who escaped from either their exile or from the process of de-kulakization altogether, and who continued their anti-Soviet activity. And there were reasons for that – in the entire pre-war period (1930-1940) about 200,000 kulaks ran away from the places of their exile. Sometimes NKVD even didn’t bother to bring them back, if they decided to move to the city and found a good job for themselves. With those who decided to engage in recidivism NKVD, understandably, acted differently.
How Many Actually Died?
Now, let’s discuss the topic of mortality among the kulak exiles. One event sets a very good tone for the understanding of this somber topic. When in 1931 a train with de-kulakized exiles arrived in Novosibirsk from the North Caucasus, there were 10,185 living souls on board. According to the OGPU guards, of this group 341 exiles died en route. That’s 3.3% of the entire number of exiles. Still, their superiors found that number too big and launched a thorough investigation. The whole matter got noticed by Yagoda himself, who insisted on punishing those primarily responsible with such negligence by a firing squad.
Was the exile into one of the most inhospitable places of the USSR really that taxing for the convicted kulaks? Of curse, it was. From 1932 to 1940 390,000 of them died at the places of their exiles. I know, it’s hard to believe, but – humans are not immortal. People who at the moment of their exile into, say, Kazakhstan, were 59 years old, were already well above the average “working age” and now forced to dwell in a completely different climatic zone.
You may say everything you want about the Soviet Union’s treatment of kulaks (according to its laws – criminals), but you can’t seriously claim with any concise data that the goal of the USSR’s government was the physical extermination of the kulaks. No – the goal of the USSR was to destroy the kulaks as a class. That meant to demolish the influence which they had in their villages, defeat their resistance against the creation of kolkhozes and, finally, to ensure that kulaks won’t appear again in the future.
To prove that point, let’s take a look at the working conditions of “non-criminal” kulaks of the 2nd and 3rd categories. They were living in the specially built for them “trudposielki” and worked at the very same conditions at any given industry or construction as their “non-repressed” fellows. They were even paid the salary equal to any other workers, from which a certain amount was deducted for the upkeep of the guards of their trudposielok: till late 1931 it’s 25%, till 1938 – 15%, afterwards – just 5% of the salary.
More so, the Soviet government (and Stalin in particular) “hated” kulaks so much, that they even provided them with enough opportunities to legally “escape” their predicament. For example, in 1944 there was a decree, according to which an escaped kulak who for 3 years was engaged in “community-useful work” got a full pardon. From 1938 children of kulaks (not directly involved in the crimes of their parents) were no longer considered to be a “special contingent” of whatever place of exile their parents inhabited at the moment. They had all the rights of the Soviet citizens, could get a passport upon turning 16 and go away studying or working anywhere they wanted. Yes, even the children of kulaks from the 1st category – the ones actively engaged in terroristic activities and rebellions against the Soviet government – had that right. Finally, during the Great Patriotic War kulaks were exempt from the draft into the Red Army. But those who volunteered (and there were at least 60,000 of them) not only got rehabilitated – their families as well got the same treatment.
Post-War Kulak Situation
That’s why, due to this plethora of facts, by 1947 there were only 400,800 “de-kulakized” internally exiled persons. After the war the process of rehabilitation of them became much more rapid. In 1952 (that’s right – still during the reign of the Bloody Stalin) there were only 28,000 de-kulakized exiles left.
And what about the fate of those “rehabilitated” kulaks and their children? Well, I personally know several people whose families were indeed de-kulakized and turned out very good – especially by the average USSR standards. But I won’t distract you with these anecdotes, whom no one besides me and my vis-à-vis can confirm anyway. No, I’d like to provide you with a universally known example.
It happened, that Bloody Dictator Stalin ™ decided to exile a notorious kulak named Nikolai Yeltsin from my native Sverdlovsk oblast. The destination of exile (oh, horror!) was the city in the neighboring Perm’s krai, where Nikolai Yeltsin worked first as a builder, and then – as brigade chief at the newly built factory. His son – Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin had been by no way impeded in his pursuit of an education, and ended up as the head of the Party’s City Council of Sverdlovsk. And what happened next – we all know too well.
But, of course – anyone is free not to believe me and what I’ve written about kulaks just now. Said people can either dig up the source material for themselves and study it, or, if they are idealogically correct, just trust the Holy Words of Alexander Isayevitch SoLZHEnitsyn’s magnum opus, and quote it everywhere. Sadly, yes I have a book to provide you with the actual quote about it (quoted by “А. И Солженицын, Архипелаг ГУЛАГ. М., 1989, Т1, с. 34”):
«был поток 29-30го годов, с добрую Обь, протолкнувший в тундру и тайгу миллионов 15 мужиков (а как-то не поболе)!»
[Solzhenitsyn: More than 15 million muzhiks were driven into tundra and taiga – HORROR!]
My final question: How can honest and conscientious liberals and anti-Stalinists possibly believe (many times repeated – not once supported by any proof) these words of Solzhenitsyn?