We can get a good idea of how the
process of collectivization worked from looking at the province of Smolensk.
Smolensk on the eve of collectivization was an overwhelmingly agricultural
province. More than 90 per cent of the population lived in the countryside.
Less than l per cent of the land was collectivized. The private sector
accounted for 98.7 per cent of the gross agricultural output. Out of a total
of 393,523 peasant households registered in 1927, 5 per cent were classified
as kulaks, 70 per cent as middle peasants, and 25 per cent as poor peasants.
In tsarist days the Smolensk area had been one of the centers of flax and
hemp culture. After the Revolution, however, the cultivation of flax and
hemp declined sharply; population pressure and the expanding needs of home
consumption led to a considerable shift to potatoes, grain and fodder
groups, and livestock breeding. The NEP years registered significant gains
in food output, but population increase outraced growth in production, and
the percentage of marketed produce steadily declined.
The decision of the Soviet authorities to abandon the NEP and embark on a
policy of agricultural collectivization and rapid industrialization had its
immediate repercussions in Smolensk as elsewhere. The first victims of the
new campaign in the countryside were the kulaks. They controlled a
substantial part of the agricultural surplus which was essential to feed the
new factory centers. They could be counted on to resist collectivization
most staunchly during 1927-28 when the noose was gradually tightened around
their necks. The initial attack on the kulaks involved a sharp increase in
their tax burden, designed to force them to disgorge their grain surpluses.
At the same time up to a third of all poor-peasant households were freed
from all agricultural taxes, and economic aid to poor-peasant groups in the
form of agricultural credit and other assistance was increased. Measures
were also taken to raise wages for hired laborers working in kulak
Thus the regime sought to consolidate the support of the poor peasants and
hired laborers in the villages while at the same time neutralizing and
weakening kulak influence. Kulaks were denied agricultural credit and
equipment, deprived of lands which had allegedly been improperly distributed
to them, eliminated from the rural apparatus of soviets, agricultural credit
and cooperative organizations, and prosecuted for speculation in grain and
concealment of grain surpluses.
The kulak reaction to this attack took a variety of forms. Official reports
complained that kulaks were still ''worming their way into" and "planting
their own people" in leading organs of rural soviets and cooperatives,
bribing soviet workers and even party members to obtain tax concessions, and
taking advantage of the grain difficulties to agitate against the Soviet
system and ''to dissolve the union between the poor peasants and the middle
As the persecution of the kulak intensified, the kulaks replied in kind. The
police records of the period are filled with reports of ''terrorist acts.'
against zealous Party and soviet workers--the beating of chairmen of village
soviets and other ''public workers,'' the killing of village correspondents,
the murder of Party secretaries, the disruption of meetings of poor peasants
and so on. The flare-up of violence testified to mounting kulak resistance.
As the First Five Year Plan gathered momentum, the demands on the
countryside intensified. The grain collection campaign of 1929 registered
the pressure, and it fell with particularly crushing force on so-called
well-to-do farmers. The Western Region (Oblast) , into which Smolensk
Province (Guberniya) had been absorbed in 1929, lagged badly in meeting its
quotas. The dissatisfaction of the center was reflected in a Politburo
telegram of September 20, 1929, which demanded that the targets be met
immediately. Pressed by the center, the regional Party authorities embarked
On shock tactics. Special emissaries, appointed by the Party and armed with
full power to extract grain wherever they could find it. were dispatched to
In theory, the main thrust of the grain collection campaign was directed
against the kulaks, and the special emissaries were under instructions to
enlist the aid of police and middle peasants in carrying the battle to the
kulaks, In practice, the problem was not so simple. Many of the kulaks were
village leaders respected by their fellow-villagers, frequently related by
ties of blood to poor and middle peasants, and occupying positions of
influence which ramified into the local soviet and even Party apparatus. The
villages refused to fall neatly into categories of poor, middle, and
well-to-do peasants and frequently insisted on maintaining a group
solidarity that the special emissaries found frustrating and impenetrable.
Even more aggravating was the extent to which the local soviet and Party
apparatus identified with the peasants and even shielded the kulak against
the emissaries' demands.
The solidarity of the villages presented Ad formidable obstacle to the
success of the grain collection campaign. Middle and even poor peasants
joined the kulaks in resisting the exactions of the emissaries and openly
attacked Party and Soviet workers at village meetings as '.thieves and
bandits.'' While some poor peasants applauded the regime's pressure on the
kulaks, others were quoted as asserting, ''There are no kulaks in our
village. Why do we have to fight them?'' ''Now they are confiscating bread
from the kulak; tomorrow they will turn against the middle and poor
peasant.'' As reliance on "voluntary" contributions failed to yield results,
the tactics of the emissaries became harsher. Under the law, grain quotas
were imposed on all peasant households subject to taxation with the proviso
that these quotas be delivered in a period of two to five days.
Failure to deliver the grain quota was subject to a fivefold penalty on the
first offense. The penalty for a second offense was a year of prison or
forced labor. The same offense if carried out by a group with collective
premeditation to resist Soviet orders was punishable by two years of prison
or forced labor with deportation and seizure of all or part of the property
of the convicted.
The actual procedure in dealing with kulak households was more summary. If
the kulak failed to fulfill his assessed quota, ..workers. brigades'' or
village soviet forces, under the emissary's supervision, simply raided the
household and confiscated any grain ''surpluses.. which could be located on
the premises. Some emissaries were more implacable than others. The stern
measures directed against the kulaks produced a variety of reactions. Where
possible, the kulaks hid their grain, or sought to escape sequestration by
bribery or other subterfuges. As repressive measures intensified, some
kulaks replied in kind. The reports of the emissaries contain numerous
references to kulak attacks on village ''activists'' who were engaged in
grain seizures. A pall of terror enveloped the villages.#As reports of
killings and arson multiplied, Party members were warned to ''stay away from
the windows.' when working in soviet institutions and not to walk the
village streets after dark.
The grain collection campaign of 1929, as it turned out, was merely a
prelude to a far more drastic operation, the decision to liquidate the kulak
as a class and to lay the groundwork for total collectivization. The signal
for the all-out drive was given at the end of 1929, and soon after the turn
of the year the operation was launched in various parts of the Western
The Party began to deport kulaks and to confiscate their property. The state
and police apparatus was enlarged and fortified with additional funds. Local
militia forces were mobilized and used in the dekulakization campaign.
Special district troikas were set up to direct activities. In each case the
troika consisted of the first secretary of the Party committee, the chairman
of the soviet executive committee and the head of the OGPU (Unified State
Political Administration) . Regional party men were sent to the different
localities to assist local officials.
The first and most dangerous group, described as ''the counterrevolutionary
kulak active,'. was to be arrested by the OGPU. The second category
consisted of ''certain elements of the kulak Aktiv,.' especially from among
the richest peasants and ''quasi-landowners,.' who were to be deported to
''far-off'' parts of the Soviet Union. The remaining kulaks were to be
removed from areas scheduled for .'total collectivization,.. but were not to
be deported from the locality. For such kulaks the local executive
committees were to provide special land parcels carved out of ''eroded
areas, ''swamp lands in woods,'' and other soil in need of improvement.''
The orders "unconditionally prohibited'' the deportation or resettlement of
poor and middle peasants. A firm class line was to be prepared. A wedge must
be driven between the kulaks- the class enemy--and the rest of the peasants,
and the latter must be mobilized to help in annihilating the class enemy.
Confusion and disorganization soon resulted. Despite apparently precise
directives and instructions, many village authorities went their own way,
interpreting the kulak category broadly to embrace middle and even poor
peasants who were opposed to collectivization, evicting kulak families with
Red Army connections, (which was forbidden.) , and rarely bothering to
supply the troika with supporting data to justify their decisions. In the
first flush of the dekulakization campaign, ''excesses.' were commonplace.
These excesses were later curbed, but the deportation of kulaks continued.
The deportations brought an atmosphere of panic to the towns as well as to
the villages. Some workers ''do not sleep nights,'' waiting to be taken
away, or expecting some of their relatives to be taken.
"All my acquaintances have already been taken away," one commented, ''the
most terrible thing is that no one knows where he is taken to; people have
been brought to the verge of complete passivity; no matter what one does to
them, they don't care any more; earlier an arrested man was led by two
militiamen; now one militiaman may lead groups of people, and the latter
calmly walk and no one flees.'' A report cited a ''characteristic'' case
where one citizen came to the local procuracy and begged to be deported
together with the kulaks, reasoning that he would at least have a chance to
start a ''less hectic life.''
There was a sharp upsurge in collectivization which came in the wake of the
deportations. This, in the eyes of the regime, was the ultimate rationale of
the entire dekulakization program. Prior to the application of this
pressure, the kolkhoz movement was slow to take root in the Western Region.
Indeed, the First Five year Plan for the region contemplated that only 8.6
per cent of the peasant households would be enrolled in kolkhozes by 1932-3.
on October 1, 1928, the actual percentage of collectivization was an almost
infinitesimal 0.8 per cent. By October 1, 1929, it had increased to only
2.5%. From that point on, in accordance with directions from the center to
liquidate the kulak and intensify the organization of kolkhozes, the tempo
of collectivization mounted swiftly. On March l, 1930, the Western Region
reported that 38.8 per cent of all hired-labor, poor-peasant, and
middle-peasant households were collectivized.
What happened in the intervening five months is perhaps best portrayed in
the language of the peasants themselves. Here, for instance, is a vivid
description by one peasant written to the editors of the regional peasant
newspaper: For a long time I have wanted to write you about what you have
written on collectivization in your newspaper Nasha Derevnya.
In the first place I will give you my address so that you will not suspect
that I am a kulak or one of his parasites. I am a poor peasant. I have one
hut, one barn, one horse, 3 dessyatins of land, and a wife and three
children. Dear Comrades as a subscriber to your newspaper. . .I found in No.
13/85 for Feb. 15 a letter from a peasant who writes about the life of
kolhoz construction. I, a poor peasant, reading this letter, fully agreed
with it. This peasant described life in the kolkhoz completely correctly.
Isn't it true that all the poor peasants and middle peasants do not want to
go into the kolkhoz at all, but that you drive them in by force? For
example, I'll take my village soviet of Yushkovo.
A brigade of soldiers came to us. This brigade went into all the occupied
homes, and do you think that they organized a kolhoz? No, they did not
organize it. The hired laborers and the poor peasants came out against it
and said they did not want corvee, they did not want serfdom. . .I'll write
more of my village soviet. When the Red Army brigade left, they sent us a
kolhoz organizer from Bryansk okrug. And whom do you think this Comrade
signed up? Not poor peasants, not hired laborers, but kulaks, who, sensing
their own ruin, enter the kolhoz. And your organizer takes to evil deeds.
At night, together with the Komsomolites, he takes everything away from the
peasants, both surpluses and taxes, which you fleece from the peasants. Of
course agricultural taxes are necessary, self-taxation is necessary, fire
taxes are necessary, tractorization is necessary. But where can the toiling
peasant get this money if not from the seeds of his products? And these
Party people stay up all night and rob the peasants. If he brings a pud, if
he brings 5, it's all the same. I would propose that you let the peasant
live in greater freedom than he does now, and then we won't beg you to get
rid of such a gang, for we ourselves will eliminate them.
Another peasant wrote: Comrades, you write that all the middle peasants and
poor peasants join the kolhoz voluntarily, but it is not true. For example,
in our village of Podbuzhye, all do not enter the kolhoz willingly. When the
register made the rounds, only 25% signed it. while 75% did not. They
collected seeds by frightening the peasants with protocols and arrests. If
any one spoke against it, he was threatened with arrest and forced labor.
You are deceived in this, Comrades. Collective life can be created when the
entire mass of the peasants goes voluntarily, and not by force' . .I beg you
not to divulge my name, because the Party people will be angry. (signed)
These extracts, which are culled largely from the letters of poor peasants,
underline the role that force played in accelerating the tempo of
collectivization. Nor was the opposition to collectivization confined to
verbal protests. In some instances, at least, violence was met with
violence, and the reports of the procurator and the OGPU for this period are
replete with examples. The story of the first great collectivization drive
(1929-1930) as it unfolds in the Smolensk Area is a record of '.storm'.
tactics and stubborn peasant opposition, of grandiose projects and .'paper.'
The regime in many cases could not trust its local soviet functionaries to
carry the brunt of the drive, and as a result workers were mobilized from
the factories to organize the kolkhozes. The "25,000'ers" as they were
called, did not find their task easy. Yet. despite many difficulties, the
collectivization drive was resumed during the spring of 1931 in accordance
with a telegram of February 15, l93l, signed by Stalin and urging
implementation of the ''decisions of the Sixteenth Party Congress'' with
regard to an ''intensification of the kolhoz movement.''
By April 21, l93l, 64.8 per cent of the households of Roslavl district, for
instance, had been collectivized. But criticism of the poor performance of
the kolkhozes continued to be voiced and Party agitators appearing at
meetings were treated to bitter complaints of sharp rises in food prices and
inadequacies in the food supply.
The food situation continued to deteriorate during the year 1932, and the
kolhoz movement itself showed signs of disintegration. On July 5, 1932, a
top-secret letter to district Party committees instructed them on how to
deal with ''cases where kolhozes fall apart and kolhoz property is illegally
appropriated. . Every effort should be made to hold the kolhozes together by
reviewing the complaints of kolkhozniks and punishing those who ''caused the
economic deterioration of the kolhozes.''
But despite drastic sanctions invoked against departing kokhozniks, the
flight from the kolkhozes continued. The year 1932 was a bitter one in
Soviet agriculture, and the Smolensk area had more than its share of
tribulations. The failure of the Western Region to fulfill its grain
delivery plan from the 1931 harvest had stern repercussions. In the spring
of 1932 the regional Party authorities were informed that Moscow was
counting all undelivered grain as part of the grain available for regional
consumption, and that the supply of grain from the centralized funds would
be substantially curtailed during the second quarter of 1932.
Meanwhile, preparations for grain deliveries from the 1932 harvest proceeded
apace. Despite stern commands from above the food shortage continued to be
acute. There were many reports of kolhozes falling apart and kolhozniks
abandoning the kolhozes. There were even more numerous reports of widespread
pilfering of kolhoz property and crops both by kolhozniks and those
entrusted with the management of the kolhozes. Even the introduction of the
death penalty for thievery failed to stop this trend. Thus the grain
delivery campaign for 1932 yielded worse results than that of the preceding
year. The food crisis in the Smolensk Region reached a climax of desperation
during the bitter winter of 1932-33.
But the 1933 harvest marked a turning point. Perhaps the most notable step
in placating discontent in the kolkhozes was the central decree of Jan. 19,
1933, revising the procurement system to provide for fixed deliveries to the
state based on acreage planted instead of the largely arbitrary quotas which
had previously been assessed in the guise of ''contracts.'' The new system
provided inducements to increase production since the obligations to the
state were definite and any surplus the kolkhoz accumulated could be
distributed to the members in proportion to the workdays which they earned.
This concession to the self-interest of the collective farmers provided an
incentive to work in the kolkhoz which had previously been lacking, and its
effects soon became apparent.
Soon thereafter the central leadership itself ordered that '.the center of
gravity.' of work in the villages turn from .'mass repression'' to '.mass
political and organizational work.'' In a dramatic secret circular of May 6,
1933, signed by Stalin and Molotov and distributed to all Party and soviet
officials and all organs of the OGPU, the courts, and the procuracy, orders
went out that mass deportations and indiscriminate arrests ''be immediately
stopped.'' Henceforth, said that circular, ''deportation may be permitted
only on a partial and individual basis and only with regard to those
households whose head are carrying on an active struggle against collective
farms and are organizing resistance to sowing and state purchasing of
Helped by good harvest, grain collections mounted and the kolkhozes began to
take on life. Collectivization percentages again began to increase. On
December 15, 1932, 60.6 per cent of all peasant households were
collectivized in the Smolensk district. By July 1, 1934, the
collectivization ratio had increased to 66.2 per cent; by December 15, 1934,
it mounted to 77.8 per cent.
As the economic pressure on the individual peasants intensified, more and
more of them were forced to seek refuge in the collectives. How they felt we
may guess, but so far as the Party records go, they become mere digits
recording the steady triumph of collectivization in percentage terms.