AskDefine | Define kulak

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From the Russian sc=Cyrl. Recognized in English in 1877.


  1. A prosperous landed peasant in tsarist Russia.
  2. A farmer whom Communists in Soviet Russia deemed to be wealthy.


  • Russian: кулак
  • Ukrainian: куркуль


Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Tenth Edition 1997




Extensive Definition

Kulaks (Russian: кула́к, kulak, "fist", by extension "tight-fisted") was a category of rich peasants in later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia and early Soviet Union. The word "kulak", originally referred to independent farmers in Russia who owned larger farms and used hired labor or bondslaves, as a result of the Stolypin reform introduced since 1906. Peter Stolypin's reforms resulted in the creation of a class of landowners who became independent farmers and supported the Tsar's government. In 1912, 16% (11% in 1903) of Russian farmers had over 8 acres (32,000 m²) per male family member (a threshold used to distinguish middle-class and prosperous farmers in statistics). At that time an average farmer's family had 6 to 10 children.
According Marxist-Leninism, the Kulaks were a class enemy of the poorer peasants.


According to the Soviet terminology, the peasantry was divided into three broad categories: bednyaks, or poor peasants, seredniaks, or mid-income peasants, and kulaks, the high-income farmers who were presumably more successful and efficient farmers. In addition, there was a category of batraks, or landless seasonal agriculture workers for hire.
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:
  • usage of hired labour;
  • ownership of a mill, a creamery (маслобойня, butter-making rig), or other complex equipment, or a complex machine with mechanical motor;
  • systematic renting of agricultural equipment or facilities;
  • involvement in commerce, money-lending, commercial brokerage, or "other types of non-labour occupation".
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.


In 1928, there was a food shortage in the cities and in the army. The Soviet government encouraged the formation of collective farms and, in 1929, introduced a policy of collectivisation. Some peasants were attracted to collectivisation by the idea that they would be in a position to afford tractors and would enjoy increased production.
Whether peasants were resisting expropriation and exile or collectivisation 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 collectivisation 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 collectivisation 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, being labelled 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 collectivisation.
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".

Numbers executed

According to data from Soviet archives, which were published in 1990, 1,803,392 people were sent to labor colonies and camps in 1930 and 1931. Books say that 1,317,022 reached the destination. The remaining 486,370 may have died or escaped. Deportations on a smaller scale continued after 1931. The reported number of kulaks and their relatives who had died in labour colonies from 1932 to 1940 was 389,521.
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.

See also

kulak in Bulgarian: Кулак
kulak in Catalan: Kulak
kulak in Czech: Kulak
kulak in German: Kulak
kulak in Estonian: Kulak
kulak in Spanish: Kulak
kulak in Esperanto: Kulako
kulak in French: Koulak
kulak in Korean: 쿨라크
kulak in Armenian: Կուլակաթափում
kulak in Italian: Kulaki
kulak in Lithuanian: Buožė (valstietis)
kulak in Hungarian: Kulák
kulak in Dutch: Koelak
kulak in Japanese: クラーク (富農)
kulak in Norwegian: Kulakker
kulak in Polish: Kułak
kulak in Portuguese: Kulak
kulak in Romanian: Culac
kulak in Russian: Кулак (крестьянин)
kulak in Finnish: Kulakki
kulak in Swedish: Kulak
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