The Harvest of Sorrow
Many 'kulaks' even on the definitions of the late '20s, had already been ruined, as is clearly stated in Soviet sources. The others were hardly either rich or exploitative. Only a minority owned three or four cows and two or three horses. Only 1% of farms employed more than one paid worker.
The value of goods confiscated from the 'kulaks' was indicative. A figure of 170 million roubles has been given, though a more recent figure is 400 million—that is between 170 and 400 roubles a household (about $90-$210, even at the official rate of exchange), even if the total dekulakized was as low as the official million families. As one commentator says, the mere cost of deportation was probably higher than this.
In one province (Kryvyi Rih) 4,080 farms were dekulakized in January-February 1930, yielding to the kolkhoz only a total of 2,367 buildings, 3,750 horses, 2,460 cattle, 1,105 pigs, 446 threshing machines, 1,747 ploughs, 1,304 planters, 2,021 tons of grain and millet! The Soviet author detailing this explains the meagreness of these totals by the fact that much of the kulak's property had been seized in the 1928-9 offensive. In either case, he was now already a poor man. Of a typical 'kulak' an activist noted, 'He has a sick wife, five children and not a crumb of bread in the house. And that's what we call a kulak! The kids are in rags and tatters. They all
look like ghosts. I saw the pot on the oven—a few potatoes in water. That was their supper tonight.'
Peasants were particularly shaken by the expropriation of former poor peasants who had worked hard through NEP and managed to buy a horse or a cow.
To cap it all, moreover, the average kulak's income was lower than that of the average rural official who was persecuting him as a representative of a wealthy class.
But economic classification was by now a chimera. The use of tax lists to decide on dekulakization, a method at least rational on the face of it, did not really fit the official line. An OGPU report held that it 'frequently did not correspond to reality and was not justified by serious real reasons'! And in practice the whole anti-kulak operation got out of hand, and involved large numbers of peasants of every economic situation.
A Soviet writer quotes a village in which even a local Communist feels that only five families (of 'five to eight persons') out of sixteen dekulakised were really definable as kulaks. Soviet economists of the Khrushchev period gave as an example the village of Plovitsy in the Ukraine, where sixty-six of the seventy-eight 'kulak' households were 'really' middle peasantry.
As E.H. Carr put it, 'It was no longer true that class analysis determined policy. Policy determined what form of class analysis was appropriate to the given situation.' For example, even a very poor farmer, if a devout churchman, would be a kulak. And at any given moment almost 2.5 million households of middle peasants could readily be transferred from the category of 'ally' to that of 'class enemy.'
Stalin's policies were presented in terms of a class analysis which made little apparent sense. They were also economically destructive in that they led to the 'liquidation' of the most efficient producers in the countryside. But there is a level at which his policies were after all rational. If, more realistically than the Marxists, we envisage peasant society as generally speaking a reasonably integrated whole, the Stalin's blow can be seen as the elimination of the natural leaders of the peasants against the Communist subjugation of the countryside. That the term 'kulak' began to be used in a sense far wider than even the Party's economic definition substantiates the point; while this becomes even clearer with the formalisation of the category 'subkulak,' a term without any real social content even by Stalinist standards, but merely rather unconvincingly masquerading as such.
As was officially stated, 'by "kulak", we mean the carrier of certain political tendencies which are most frequently discernible in the subkulak, male and female.' By this meant, any peasant whatever was liable to dekulakisation; and the 'subkulak' notion was widely employed, enlarging the category of victims greatly beyond the official estimate of kulaks proper even at its most strained.
Moreover, contrary to the original instructions, dekulakization was in no way confined to the maximum collectivization regions.