Wealthy kulaks in the late 19th - early 20th centuries
Wealthy kulaks in the late 19th - early 20th centuries

Initially, the term "kulak" had an exclusively negative connotation, representing an assessment of a dishonest person, which was then reflected in the elements of Soviet agitation. The word "kulak" appeared in the pre-reform Russian village. A peasant who made his fortune by enslaving his fellow villagers and who kept the whole “world” (community) in dependence (“in a fist”) was called a “fist” in the village.

The despicable nickname "kulak" was received in the village by peasants who, in the opinion of their fellow villagers, had dishonest, unearned income - usurers, buyers and traders. The origin and growth of their wealth was associated with unrighteous deeds. The peasants put into the word "kulak", first of all, a moral content and it was used as abusive, corresponding to a "rogue", "scoundrel", "scoundrel". The peasants, who were branded in the countryside with the word "kulak", were the object of universal contempt and moral condemnation.

The definition of the word "kulak", which is widespread in the peasant environment, is given in the "Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Russian Language" by V. Dahl: A miser, a miser, a Jew, a second-hand dealer, a reseller, a crook, prasol, a broker, he lives by deceit, calculating, measuring; Tarkhan Tamb. Varangian mosk. a huckster with small money, travels through the villages, buying up canvas, yarn, flax, hemp, lamb, stubble, oil, etc. prasol, dust, money dealer, drover, buy-in and cattle driver.

Condemnation of merchants and usurers was not a feature of the worldview of the exclusively Russian peasantry. Throughout the history of mankind, "merchants were the object of universal contempt and moral condemnation …, a person who bought cheap and sold at exorbitant prices was deliberately dishonorable." The word "kulak", used by peasants to negatively evaluate the morality of fellow villagers, was not a concept they used in relation to any economic (social) group of the rural population.

However, there is also a direct prohibition in the Bible. For example: “If you lend money to the poor of my people, then do not oppress him and do not impose growth on him” (Ex. 22:25). “If your brother becomes poor and falls into decay with you, then support him, whether he is a stranger or a settler, so that he may live with you. Take no growth and profit from him, and fear your God; that your brother may live with you. Do not give your silver to him for growth, and do not give your bread to him for profit”(Lev. 25: 35-37).

In the artistic, journalistic and agrarian literature of the second half of the 19th century, mainly populist, kulaks (usurers and merchants) and wealthy land peasants (peasants-farmers), kulaks and production methods of management were opposed. A well-to-do peasant, whose economy was dominated by commercial and usurious forms of capital, was considered a fist.

G.P. Sazonov, the author of one of the first monographic studies devoted to "kulaks-usury", calls the rural intermediary, the usurer, "who is not interested in any production", "does not produce anything" as a fist. The kulaks "resort to illegal means of profit, even fraud," "they quickly and easily enrich themselves by robbing their neighbors, and profit from the impoverishment of the people."

Russian post-reform village through the eyes of the agrochemist A. N. Engelhardt

A. N. Engelgardt - Russian publicist-populist and agricultural chemist in the 1870s gave the following assessment to the peasants:

“A real kulak loves neither land, nor economy, nor labor, this one only loves money … Everything in the kulak rests not on the economy, not on labor, but on the capital for which he trades, which he gives out on loan at interest. His idol is money, which he can only think about increasing. He got the capital by inheritance, it was obtained by some unknown, but by some unclean means"

Engelhardt A.N. From the Village: 12 Letters, 1872-1887. M., 1987.S. 355-356.

Further links to this edition with indication of the page number in the text.

Read -

I am only talking about what I know for certain, but in this letter I am talking about the situation of the peasants in the "Happy Corner"; in some eight, ten villages. I know these villages well, I personally know all the peasants in them, their family and economic situation. But why talk about any eight or ten villages, which are a drop in the sea of ​​poor peasantry? What interest can one imagine the circumstance that in some eight or ten villages of some "Happy Corner" the situation of the peasants has improved over the past ten years?

… In our area, a peasant is considered rich when he has enough of his own bread to "novi". Such a peasant no longer needs to sell his summer labor to the landowner, he can work all summer for himself, and therefore, he will get rich, and soon he will have enough grain not only for "new", but also for "new". And then he will not only not sell his summer job, but he will also buy the work of a poor peasant, of which there are many not far from the "Happy Corner". If the peasant has enough of his own grain before "novi" and he does not need to buy it, then he is secured, because he will pay taxes by selling hemp, flax, linseed and hemp seeds, excess cattle and winter earnings; if, in addition, there is still the possibility of leasing land from the landowner for sowing flax or grain, then the peasant grows rich quickly.

Then the degree of prosperity is already determined by the time when the peasant begins to buy bread: “before Christmas, before butter, after the saint, just before the“novaya.”The later he begins to buy bread, the higher his prosperity, the sooner he can get by with that money, which he earns on the side in winter, autumn, spring, the less he is obliged to summer work for the landowner.The earlier the peasant arrives his bread, the earlier he gets out, in the words of the elders and clerks, the easier it is to enslave him for summer laborious work, the easier it is for him to put on a collar on the neck, insert it into the shafts.

During the ten years that I have been engaged in farming, I only once sold my rye in a herd to the distillery, but usually I sell all the rye on the spot to the neighboring peasants. Since my rye is of excellent quality, well finished, clean and heavy, the peasants first of all take the rye from me and then only go to the city to buy rye when everything is sold out. Selling rye in small details to peasants for ten years, I carefully wrote down how much I sold rye, to whom and when, so from these ten-year records I can judge when which of the neighboring peasants began to buy grain, how much they bought, at what price, whether they bought for money or took it for work and for what kind: winter or summer. Since the nearest neighboring peasants have no calculation to take grain anywhere besides me, my records represent the expenditure books of neighboring peasants and provide excellent material for judging the position of these peasants for the last ten years, supplemented by a close, personal acquaintance with these buyers of my grain and at the same time its producers, since work on the estate is also carried out for the most part by neighboring peasants.

Ten years ago, in the villages of the described "Happy Corner" there were very few "rich", that is, such peasants who had enough of their own bread to "novi", no more than one "rich" per village, and even then even the rich there was enough of their own grain only in good years, and when the harvest was poor, the rich also bought it. It should also be noted that the rich people of that time were all kulaks who had money either from ancient times, or obtained in some unclean way. With the exception of these rich kulaks, all the other peasants bought bread, and, moreover, only a few began to buy bread only before "Novy", the majority bought from Lent, many of those that they bought since Christmas, finally, there were many that sent children all winter into "pieces". In my first letters "From the Village" about this lack of bread among the local peasants and about the "pieces" is told in some detail.

Read - Letter ten -

In his Letters, Engelhardt repeatedly pointed out “that the peasants have an extremely developed individualism, egoism, and a desire for exploitation. Envy, mistrust of each other, undermining one another, humiliation of the weak in front of the strong, arrogance of the strong, worship of wealth - all this is strongly developed in the peasant environment. Kulik ideals reign in her, everyone is proud to be a pike and seeks to devour a crucian. capture for yourself, does not think about how good it would be for everyone to be poor, in need, does not act in this direction. Of course, he will take advantage of the need of another, make him work for himself, but he does not base his well-being on the need of others, but bases it on his labor”(p. 389).

In the neighboring village, Engelhardt saw only one real fist. “This one does not like the land, or the economy, or labor, this one only loves money. His idol is money, and he only thinks about increasing it. He lets his capital grow, and this is called “using his brains” (pp. 521-522). It is clear that for the development of his activities, it is important that the peasants are poor, in need, should have to turn to him for loans. It is profitable for him that the peasants do not occupy themselves with the land, "so that he can work with his money." This kulak does not really play into the hands of the fact that the life of the peasants has improved, because then he will have nothing to take and will have to transfer his activities to distant villages.

Such a fist will support the desire of young children "to go to work in Moscow" so that they can get used to kumak shirts, accordions and teas "," they would get out of the habit of heavy agricultural labor, from the land, from the economy. " Old men and women, staying in the village, would somehow manage the household, counting on the money sent by the youth. Dependence on such a fist gave rise to many dreams, illusions about the earth, from which it would be nice to get rid of. Life has confirmed the correctness of many, many of Engelhardt's judgments.

JV Stalin's words about the "kulaks": “Many still cannot explain the fact that the kulak gave bread by itself until 1927, and after 1927 it stopped giving bread by itself. But this circumstance is not surprising. If earlier the kulak was still relatively weak, did not have the opportunity to seriously organize his economy, did not have sufficient capital to strengthen his economy, as a result of which he was forced to export all or almost all of his surplus grain production to the market, now, after a number of harvest years, when he managed to build up economically, when he managed to accumulate the necessary capital, he got the opportunity to maneuver in the market, he got the opportunity to set aside bread, this currency of currencies, in a reserve for himself, preferring to export meat, oats, barley and other secondary crops to the market. It would be ridiculous now to hope that it is possible to take bread from the kulak voluntarily. That is where the root of the resistance which the kulak is now offering to the policy of Soviet power. ("On the right deviation in the CPSU (b)" T. 12. S. 15.)"

In 1904, Pyotr Stolypin writes: "At the present time, a stronger peasant usually turns into a kulak, an exploiter of his fellow communes, in a figurative expression, a world-eater [4]." Thus, as a rule, the main character of the negative assessment is the rejection of the more advantageous position of the well-to-do part of the peasant population and the existing material inequality.

In other words, this word did not denote economic status, but character traits of a person or profession.

Engelhardt wrote: “They say that a person works much better when the farm is his property and goes to his children.I think this is not entirely true. It is desirable for a person that his work - well, at least the withdrawal of livestock - not disappear and continue. Where is it stronger than the community? The bred cattle will remain in the community and there will be a successor. And maybe not a single cattle breeder will emerge from children”(p. 414). “Look,” Engelhardt asked, “where we have good livestock - in monasteries, only in monasteries where communal farming is conducted” Do not be afraid! The peasant communities that cultivate the land will introduce, if it is profitable, grass-sowing, mowers, reaping machines, and Simmental cattle. And what they put in will be lasting. Look at the cattle breeding of monasteries …”(p. 415).

One can hardly discern any idealism in these reflections of Engelhardt's about rural artisan labor for oneself.

For a long time it was generally accepted that, in contrast to the common phrases about the communality of our peasant, Engelhardt revealed the amazing individualism of the small farmer with complete ruthlessness. A striking example of individualism was considered a tragicomic story, how “women living in the same house and connected by a common household and kinship wash each separately their own slice of the table at which they dine, or alternately milk the cows, collecting milk for their child (they are afraid of concealing milk) and cooking separately each porridge for her child."

Indeed, Engelhardt, who believed that "peasants are the most extreme owners in matters of property", devoted many pages to reflections on the selfishness of a rural worker who hates "sweeping work" when everyone is "afraid to overwork." However, according to Engelhardt, a person who works for himself cannot but be an owner! “Imagine,” the scientist wrote, “that you have conceived something new, well, at least, for example, you fertilized the meadow with bones, fiddled around, took care, and suddenly, one fine morning, your meadow was etched away”. Being engaged in farming as a matter in which the soul is invested, a person cannot easily relate to such injuries, - Engelhardt believed and continued: “Of course, the peasant does not have unconditional respect for other people's property in the name of someone else's meadow or field, just like cutting down someone else’s forest, if possible, taking away someone else’s hay, just like at someone else’s work, if possible, he will not do anything, he will try to blame all the work on a comrade: therefore the peasants avoid, if possible, general sweeping work …”(p. 103).

* * *

According to the theory and practice of Russian Marxists, the country's peasant population was divided into three main categories:

kulaks - well-to-do peasants using hired labor, the rural bourgeoisie, speculators. Soviet researchers refer to the characteristics of the kulaks as "the exploitation of hired labor, the maintenance of commercial and industrial establishments, and usury."

the rural poor, primarily hired laborers (farm laborers);

middle peasants - peasants who occupied an average economic position between the poor and the kulaks.

Vladimir Ilyich points to a definite sign of the kulaks - the exploitation of labor, differentiating it from the middle peasant: “The middle peasant is the kind of peasant who does not exploit the labor of others, does not live by the labor of others, does not use in any way in any way the fruits of the labor of others, but works himself, lives by his own labor …"


House with carved platbands. Russians. Novgorod region, Shimsky district, Bor d. (Novgorod province). 1913


Russians. Novgorod region, Shimsky district, Bor d. (Novgorod province). 1913


Peasant family drinking tea. Russians. Kirov region, Bogorodsky district, Syteni village (Vyatka province, Glazovsky district). 1913


House with a carved balcony. Russians. Novgorod region, Shimsky district, Bor d. (Novgorod province). 1913


A peasant's family. Russians. Udmurtia, Glazovsky district (Vyatka province, Glazovsky district). 1909


Group portrait of women. Russians. Novgorod region, Shimsky district, Bor d. (Novgorod province). 1913

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The family of the merchant. Russians. Udmurtia, Glazovsky district (Vyatka province, Glazovsky district). 1909


View of the village of Knyazhiy Dvor. Russians.Novgorod region., Shimsky district, Knyazhiy dvor d. (Novgorod province, Starorussky district). 1913

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