The destruction of the 'kulaks' was an economic catastrophe for the Soviet Union. It deprived the collective farms of the work ethic and expertise of the country's most industrious peasants, ultimately leading to the terminal decline of the Soviet agricultural sector. But Stalin's war against the 'kulaks' had little to do with economic considerations – and everything to do with the removal of potential opposition to the collectivization of the village. The 'kulaks' were peasant individualists, the strongest leaders and supporters of the old rural way of life. They had to disappear.
The 'liquidation of the kulaks' followed the same pattern nationwide. In January 1930, a Politburo commission drew up quotas of 60,000 'malicious kulaks' to be sent to labour camps and 150,000 other 'kulak' households to be exiled to the North, Siberia, the Urals and Kazakhstan. The figures were part of an overall plan for 1 million 'kulak' households (about 6 million people) to be stripped of all their property and sent to labour camps or 'special settlements'. The implementation of the quotas was assigned to OGPU (which raised the target to 3 to 5 per cent of all peasant households to be liquidated as 'kulak') and then handed down to the local OGPU and Party organizations (which in many regions deliberately exceeded the quotas in the belief that this demonstrated the vigilance expected by their superiors). Every village had its own quota set by the district authorities. Komsomol and Party activists drew up lists of the 'kulaks' in each village to be arrested and exiled. They took inventories of the property to be confiscated from their homes when the 'kulaks' were expelled.
There was surprisingly little peasant opposition to the persecution of the 'kulaks' – especially in view of Russia's strong historical traditions of village solidarity (earlier campaigns against the 'kulaks', in the Civil War for example, had failed to split the peasantry). Certainly there were places where the villagers resisted the quota, insisting that there were no 'kulaks' among them and that all the peasants were similarly poor, and places where they refused to give up their 'kulaks', or even tried to defend them against the activists when they came to arrest them. But the majority of the peasantry reacted to the sudden disappearance of their fellow villagers with passive resignation born of fear. In some villages the peasants chose the 'kulaks' from their own number. They simply held a village meeting and decided who should go as a 'kulak' (isolated farmers, widows and old people were particularly vulnerable). Elsewhere, the 'kulaks' were chosen by drawing lots.
12 March 2008
Trouble Filling the Quotas for 'Kulaks'
From The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2007), pp. 86-87: