(Russian: “fist”) Wealthy or prosperous landed peasant in Russia. Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, kulaks were major figures in peasant villages, often lending money and playing central roles in social and administrative affairs. In the War Communism period (1918–21), the Soviet government undermined the kulaks' position by organizing poor peasants to administer the villages and requisition grain from richer peasants. The kulaks regained their position under the New Economic Policy, but in 1929 the government began a drive for rapid collectivization of agriculture and “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” (dekulakization). By 1934 most kulaks had been deported to remote regions or arrested and their land and property confiscated.
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According to Marxism-Leninism, the kulaks were a class enemy of the poorer peasants. From the point of view of this theory, poor peasants and farm laborers had to be liberated by the revolution alongside the proletariat (urban workers). In addition, the planned economy required the collectivization of farms and land to develop industrialization of large-scale agricultural production. The "state of workers and farmers" desired to remove the kulaks as a class, which gave them the chance to integrate in the new classless system with equal rights. However, many resisted these changes, organizing, with the help of former tsarist military, terror against the new collectives. Many farmers and communists were killed, fields were burned, and many machine tractor stations were destroyed. In many cases this caused hunger and large problems in agriculture and to the economy of the Soviet Union. The view of many kulaks was different, as told by Mikhail Gorbachev whose family were "kulaks." They stated they had suffered from political repressions under the rule of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s.
After the Russian Revolution, Bolsheviks considered only batraks and bednyaks as true allies of the Soviets and proletariat. Serednyaks were considered unreliable, "hesitating" allies, and kulaks were seen as class enemies because they owned land and were independent economically. However, often those declared to be kulaks were not especially prosperous. The average value of goods confiscated from kulaks during policy of "dekulakization" (раскулачивание) in the beginning of 1930s was only $90-$210 (170-400 rubles) per household. Both peasants and Soviet officials were often uncertain as to what constituted a kulak, and the term was often used to label anyone who had more property than was considered "normal" according to subjective criteria. At first, being a kulak carried no penalties, other than mistrust from the Soviet authorities. During the height of collectivization, however, people identified as kulaks were subjected to deportations, extrajudicial punishment and were often killed.
In May 1929 the Sovnarkom issued a decree that formalised the notion of "kulak household" (кулацкое хозяйство). Any of the following characteristics defined a kulak:
By the last item, any peasant who sold his surplus on the market could be automatically classified as kulak. In 1930 this list was extended by including those who were renting industrial plants, e.g., sawmills, and who rented land to other farmers. Gregory Zinoviev, a well-known Soviet politician, said in 1924, "We are fond of describing any peasant who has enough to eat as a kulak." At the same time, ispolkoms (executive committees of local Soviets) of republics, oblasts and krais were given rights to add other criteria, depending on local conditions.
Whether peasants were resisting expropriation and exile or collectivization and servitude they often retaliated against the state by smashing implements and killing animals. Live animals would have to be handed over to the collectives whereas meat and hides could respectively be consumed and concealed or sold. Many peasants chose to slaughter livestock, even horses, rather than to pass it into common property. In the first two months of 1930 millions of cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and goats were slaughtered. Through this and bad weather a quarter of the entire nation’s livestock perished, a greater loss than had been sustained during the Civil War and a loss that was not compensated for until the 1950s.
This huge slaughtering caused Sovnarkom to issue a series of decrees to prosecute "the malicious slaughtering of livestock" (хищнический убой скота). Many peasants also attempted to sabotage the collectives by attacking members and government officials.
Stalin requested severe measures to put an end to the kulak resistance. In a speech given at a Marxist agrarian conference, he stated that, "From a policy of limiting the exploitative tendencies of the kulaks, we have gone over to a policy of liquidating the kulaks as a class." The party agreed to the use of force in the collectivization and ‘dekulakization’ efforts. The kulaks were to be liquidated as a class and subject to one of three fates: death sentence, labour settlements (not to be confused with labor camps, although the former were also managed by the GULAG), or deportation "out of regions of total collectivization of the agriculture". Tens of thousands of kulaks were executed, property was expropriated to form collective farms, and many families were deported to unpopulated areas of Siberia and Soviet Central Asia.
Often local officials were assigned minimum quotas of kulaks to identify, and were forced to use their discretionary powers to find kulaks wherever they could. This led to many cases where a farmer who only employed his sons, or any family with a metal roof on their house, was labelled as kulaks and deported.
The same was happened to those labelled as "kulak helpers" or "subkulaks" (подкулачник), those who sided with kulaks in their opposition to collectivization.
A new wave of persecution, this time against "ex-kulaks", was started in 1937, as part of the Great Purge, after the NKVD Order no. 00447. Those deemed ex-kulaks had only two options: death sentence or labour camps.
When resettled to Siberia and Kazakhstan, after some time many "kulaks" gained prosperity again. This fact served as a base of repressions against some sections of NKVD that were in charge of the "labour settlements" (трудовые поселения) in 1938-1939, which permitted "kulakization" (окулачивание) of the "labour settlers" (трудопоселенцев). The fact that new settlers became more prosperous than the neighbouring kolkhozes was explained by "wrecking" and "criminal negligence".
It is difficult to determine how many people died because of the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class". The data from the Soviet archives do not tell us exactly how many people escaped and survived and what number of deaths would have occurred if there had been no deportation. These data do not include people who were executed or died in prisons and gulags rather than dying in labour colonies. Many historians consider the great famine a result of the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class", which complicates the estimation of death tolls. A wide range of death tolls has been suggested, from as many as 60 million suggested by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to as few as 700 thousand by Soviet news sources. A collection of estimates is maintained by Matthew White