The ‘Zations– Collectivization and Dekulakization

The city of Magnitogorsk, “the celebrated socialist ‘planned’ city” was founded on a model that’s main goal was to out-do the extremely successful steel mills of Gary, Indiana . The construction of a huge steel mill was an integral part of the First Five-Year Plan and the city soon became a symbol of revolutionary transformation. The city grew rapidly, “from 25 inhabitants in March 1929 to 250,000 by the autumn of 1932.” However, the rapid development of this city meant that the residents were thrust into a new world that was extremely industrialized with very little amounts of training. Through the Seventeen Moments site, I learned that some of the inhabitants of Magnitogorsk were victims of Dekulakization, a movement started by Stalin that desired to rid Soviet Russia of wealthier peasants. The label “kulak” could be given to anyone who opposed collectivization. Freeze gives us the three options for all people labeled “kulak,” “They were to be expropriated–‘liquidated as a class’– and subjected to one of three fates: (1) resettled on inferior land outside the kolkhoz; (2) deported and resettled in other districts; or (3) arrested and sent to prisons or labour camps in remote parts of the country.”

The process of Dekulakization was implemented at the same time as collectivization, a crucial part of the First Five-Year Plan, that wanted to turn agriculture into a large-scale process. Naturally, the peasants in the countryside opposed this implementation, which led Stalin to almost immediately begin persecuting them. It was Stalin’s belief that their opposition was the reason that collectivization wasn’t as successful as it could have been, leading to this horrendous persecution. Freeze notes that the party propagandists called the growing peasant opposition “rural October”–a reference to the October Revolution, though this movement was significantly more costly in human lives than any revolution beforehand. The excerpt from John Scott’s book, Behind the Urals, (featured on Seventeen Moments in Soviet History) mentions a young man named Shabkov, an ex-kulak. He grimly recounts the day that the GPU came to take him and his brother away. His brother was given a rifle, which he used against the officers and was subsequently killed. Sadly, this was a common occurrence and the body-count only continued to rise.

Stalin’s declaration is frighteningly sadistic, his words carry a lot of weight, but his suggestion seems scarily unnatural, “Now, the kulaks are being expropriated by the masses of poor and middle peasants themselves, by the masses who are putting solid collectivization into practice. Now, the expropriation of the kulaks in the regions of solid collectivization is no longer just an administrative measure. Now, the expropriation of the kulaks is an integral part of the formation and development of the collective farms. Consequently it is now ridiculous and foolish to discourse on the expropriation of the kulaks. You do not lament the loss of the hair of one who has been beheaded.”

Dekulakization ended badly for the peasants; almost 14.5 million people are believed to have died as a result of the many policies that Stalin implemented in the Five-Year plans, including Dekulakization and Collectivization. I think this policy just makes Stalin an even scarier historical figure, originally coming into this assignment thinking that I was writing about Magnitogorsk. What’s interesting is that we have one of the crowning achievements of collectivization, Magnitogorsk, playing home to an ex-kulak whose life was upturned by one of the most horrific things of the First Five-Year Plan. History works in mysterious ways.

Sources,

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 349, 352. Print

“John Scott. A Day in Magnitogorsk. 1942.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p.. Web. 6 Oct 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1929scott1&SubjectID=1929magnitogorsk&Year=1929>.

“Iosif Stalin, Problems of Agrarian Policy in the USSR. December 27, 1929 .” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p.. Web. 6 Oct 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1929agrarian1&SubjectID=1929collectivization&Year=1929>.

3 Responses

  1. Great post. Magnitogorsk was a very costly undertaking in terms of resources and human costs. Your discussion of the intersection between dekulakization and the construction of Magnitogorsk is very insightful. What other groups were involved in building Magnitogorsk? How were they similar or different from the kulaks sent there as punishment?

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