Harvest of Despair



Kulak (Ukrainian: kurkul) was the term used to denote rural entrepreneurs possessing land or commercial assets. In reality, anyone who was opposed to collectivization was denounced as being a kulak. In Russian, the term “kulak” means fist – a tightly closed hand that is often associated with notions of selfishness and greed.

Entrepreneurship was encouraged in the countryside during the New Economic Policy (NEP), which lasted from 1921 to 1927. This policy brought remarkable results – by 1922 the famine due to the conditions of the Civil War in the USSR had ended and the country could export grain again. However, the development of an independent class of relatively affluent peasants was seen as a threat to Soviet power, and in 1929, as part of the First Five-Year Plan, the Soviet leadership moved from a policy of restricting the activities of the kulaks to eliminating them as a class.

Beginning in 1929, as a result of dekulakization, millions of peasant families lost their lives or were exiled. Obviously, it was not only actual kulaks who suffered but also poor peasants who had managed, through hard work, to acquire a few head of livestock and a decent hut. Since it was difficult to define who precisely was a kulak, quotas were set for regions as to what percentage of the peasantry was to be expropriated. Eager to show their “revolutionary consciousness,” regional party activists often exceeded these quotas.

The first goal of dekulakization was to use the expropriated property as the material base for the establishment of collective farms. The second, and probably more important goal, was to break the spirit of resistance in the peasantry by decapitating the peasants’ leadership. The third goal was to deliver a warning to anyone thinking of disagreeing with the authorities, showing any independence and resisting enrollment in a collective farm. The process of dekulakization was a precursor to the man-made Famine that killed one-quarter of the population of Soviet Ukraine.