At the November 1929 meeting of its Central Committee, the Communist Party decided to press ahead with the forced collectivisation of agriculture. A key tactic was to disarm and eliminate the successful, wealthy peasant stratum loosely described as “kulaks”. This would become the first wave in a series of great upheavals that swept the USSR between 1930 and 1950 (see other events described in notes at the foot of this page).
The Central Committee adopted a series of measures (not published then or later) to implement its ambitious plans to transform the countryside. The “kulaks” were to be liquidated as a social group either by arresting and imprisoning them, or by deporting them and their families to remote regions, thereby neutralising their opposition to the new collective farms (or kolkhoz). Tens of thousands of families would be sent to colonize the vast inhospitable regions of the Russian North, the Urals, Siberia and Kazakhstan.
Many more than at first planned were arrested, uprooted and deported to distant and unfamiliar regions of Russia and Kazakhstan. The contest of wills between the government and the peasantry, which revived the opposition first faced by the Soviet regime, a decade earlier, in the peasant uprisings of the Civil War period (1918-1922), evolved and escalated through a succession of decisions and actions.
(Text adapted from 2009 article by Nicolas Werth “Les crimes de masse sous Staline, 1930-1953”)
The Politburo resolved to liquidate kulak landownership in those parts of the USSR where collectivization was being imposed on all peasant households. The 30 January Resolution set out “dekulakization quotas” for three categories in each of the USSR’s many regions and republics.
QUOTAS FOR DEKULAKIZATION
1st category kulaks were defined as “activists, engaged in counter-revolutionary activities”. They were to be arrested and sent to the growing Gulag after “a brief appearance before the troika”. Arrested by the police, they were swiftly sentenced without trial or defence by the OGPU troika, an extrajudicial body made up of representatives from the Party, the prosecutor’s office and the security services (OGPU). Initially, the number of 1st category “kulaks” was estimated to amount to 60,000 individuals. The “most harmful and tenacious” among them were to be sentenced to death.
2nd category kulaks were defined as “exploiters, but less actively engaged in counter-revolutionary activities” and estimated to amount to between 129,000 and 154,000 families. They were to be deported to distant parts of the USSR following simple administrative procedures. Deprived of their civil rights – the right to vote, for instance – they were termed “special settlers” («спецпоселенцы») and, were despatched to far distant “special settlements” where they remained under the control of the OGPU (after 1934 of the NKVD).
3rd category kulaks (e.g., those at Kuz-Elga [02-04] in Bashkortostan) were resettled on new plots of land separate from the collective farm but within the same district or Region (Republic) from which they came. That mistreatment and indignity would also be remembered for decades to come.
The resistance to the extension of collective farms (the “collectivisation of agriculture”) was greater than the regime had anticipated. Its response was harsh and, as with the Great Terror a few years later, the process got out of hand. By the early 1930s 1,800,000 men, women and children were registered as living in the “special” settlements. This was significantly more than the recorded population of the much-enlarged Gulag (1,100,000 in 1935).
During the first eight months of the campaign 284,000 persons were arrested as “1st category kulaks”, i.e., five times the original estimate.
This was due, in part, to wide opposition to collectivization, not only by farmers but by non-farmers as well. Only 44% of those arrested were peasant farmers. The other 56% were clergymen, tradesmen, former Czarist civil servants and former landowners, and teachers or other representatives of the “rural intelligentsia,” who were closer, in the past, to the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, the greatest rivals of the Bolsheviks. In 1930, the OGPU sentenced about 20,000 people to death: the rest were sent to the Gulag.
During the agitated summer of 1930 eight million peasant families left the collective farms. Early in March Stalin’s famous article condemning those “dizzy with success” appeared: he blamed local authorities for “abuses” that occurred during collectivization. Large-scale “dekulakization” was halted late in May. It resumed, following the harvest, at end of September 1930.
Some 16,500 families of dekulakized peasants (about 60,000 men, women and children) were deported from regions adjacent to Poland on the border of Belorussia and western Ukraine, strategic areas where major peasant uprisings had taken place in spring that year.
Coming after a bad harvest in 1928-1929, that in 1930 was particularly successful. The 1930 grain procurement campaign allowed the State to recover over 21 million tons of cereal (twice the amount recovered before forced collectivization began in 1927-1928), after several million peasant households had been forced to join the collective farms during the last months of 1930. Taking advantage of this favourable context, the Politburo and OGPU decided to launch a new wave of deportations in early 1931.
On 20 February 1931, the Politburo adopted an ambitious new plan.
In spring 1931, between 200,000 and 300,000 families of dekulakized peasants, it decided, would be deported, mainly to southern Kazakhstan. In March the Politburo created a special commission directed by A. Andreyev, vice-chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (deputy “prime minister”) to supervise and coordinate the entire process. It would organize “rational and efficient management of specially displaced persons in order to avoid … the tremendous waste and disarray in the use of labour force as noted in previous deportation procedures.”
On 15 May 1931, the Andreyev Commission transferred the entire economic, administrative and organizational management of the “special settlers” to the OGPU.
In this third wave of “dekulakization,” a total of 1,244,000 persons (265,000 families) were deported – mainly to the Northern Region (Vologda, Arkhangelsk and Komi), the Urals, western Siberia, and Kazakhstan.
As in 1930, human loss was extremely high. The first census of the “specially displaced” population was held on 1 January 1932. It recorded only 1,317,000 individuals yet 1,804,000 had been deported in 1930-1931. Over a two-year period nearly half a million individuals had disappeared. The loss was evenly shared, it is thought, between deaths and the escape by others from the new system.
See also on this website: the Great Terror, 1937-1938; Deportations and Executions, 1939-1941; Wartime deportations, 1941-1944; Post-war deportations, 1945-1951