Who/what were the “kulaks”?

To understand Holodomor in it’s entirety, knowledge of what the “kulak” class is and is hated for must be understood. To start, who were the “kulaks”? To answer this difficult question, I had to venture back to 1917 to the collapse of the old regime*1. The result of this collapse resulted in the peasant class of Ukraine (later to be the “kulaks”) controlling 96.8% of all farmable land. They seized approximately 140 million acres from landlords (Conquest, 43). Keep in mind that post 1917 these “peasants” actually were successful (fiscal) landowners of agricultural land. Lenin*2, nonetheless, was opposed to such peasant control and in 1918 declared the tactic of “Socialization” which spoke of may collectivist features. This resulted (in the later months of 1918) by the number of “kulak” households being reduced by 30% and a 60% loss in property ownership (Conquest, 45). This redistribution and seizing process of “kulak” property continued until mid 1923. As all of this property liquidation continues from 1917-1923, many decrees and anti-“kulak” laws are being put into place. On May 9, 1918, the first signs of controlled grain quotas arises to extract grain from the “kulaks”. After all, in the eyes of the Commissariat of Food*3 the “…grain is in the hands of the kulak”. This decree officially declared war on the “kulaks”. Soon after, military units were deployed for grain collection (Approximately 45,000 strong by 1920 (Conquest, 46)). These “grain enforcers” conducted themselves awfully. According to Lenin, the troops would even waste grain by distilling it into Vodka or savagely beating or executing “kulaks” freely. The worst part of all of this chaos, was that the grain production standards were set unrealistically high, which (as a repercussion of sorts) caused many households to starve. Lenin even admits, “Practically, we took all the surplus grain—and sometimes even not only surplus grain but part of the grain the peasant required for food”(Lenin v.43, 219-220). The “kulak” class in Ukraine, even before Holodomor, was being prosecuted and subjected to harsh judgment which made their elimination that much easier.

A huge question that remains partially inconclusive to me, is the process of defining someone as a “kulak”. Was being a peasant with land or a farmer all that was required? At my first ignorant glance; yes. Further research led me to believe that there was no official definition of what a “kulak” was, but only restraints and punishments. As noted by Figes, “…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”(ICISS, 29). This seems like a rather archaic process of political class structuring similar to the Salem witch trials. If the majority of the town thought you were a “witch”, you would be burned alive without and genetic proof of this “witchery”. Having a group of people, being prosecuted simply by word of mouth, seems most unjust: what is to stop someone from telling outlandish lies for personal gain? This, unfortunately, is the case in many scenarios, possibly even partially responsible for the prosecution of the “kulak” class. In this particular case, the “kulaks” controlling and profiting from over 90% of arid land in the Ukraine could possibly be looked at as the gain. When Stalin officially declared the elimination of the “kulak” class, he made sure to include facts of “kulak” success and land ownership in his propaganda-based scare tactics.