My grandfather was considered a class one, “counter-revolutionary” kulak. In 1930, he was arrested and his family forced to leave his 17 hectare farm so that it could become part of a collective – or – kolkchoz. Good bye, kulak.

Propaganda poster

(image from /

By the spring of 1931 – when his exiled children returned, motherless, from Siberia – his windmill was gone and strangers lived in the family house. When I visited the area in 2004, an old local woman told me that she remembered the dismantling of the windmill. The wood was used to build the new collective manager’s office. Farming became a complicated bureaucracy - it was all about the number crunching.

First class kulaks were not invited to work on the collectives. But all the others were pressured into joining. Workers ( proletariats) from the city factories were even sent out into the countryside to apply pressure tactics to 'encourage' them. Collective workers were called kolkchozniks (a Russian, not Ukrainian word). No one was happy.

Food production fell, while demand increased. This was the setting that led to the horrific Holodomor – death by starvation – in 1932/33. Then in 1933 the rules changed so that the workers could actually share in the profit of a collective. Before this, there had been no incentive to work.

As I try to learn more about life on a kolkchoz – I’m now aware that there’s a huge difference between the early collectives, and the later ones. But, the collective way of farming was never as successful as the western world's farms.

My mother and family lived through the confusing early years (1929 – 1933) where that chaos cost many lives and much suffering. Later, by the spring of 1933, the mass deportations and arrests stopped. By then, my mom was out of the country. My grandfather, however, stayed behind and was eventually a victim of the insanity of the Great Terror (1937/8).

Another five years go by, and the Germans invade. The collective workers are eager to switch back to the private farming of the pre-First Five Year Plan. They see the Nazis as an improvement to Stalin. While the Germans do announce in March of 1942 that collective farming will end, and that the land will be re-distributed – this privilege is given only to ethnic Germans. Food that is grown and harvested by the Ukrainian women is confiscated to feed the German soldiers.

One of these soldiers might have been my father – a German from Schleswig-Holstein – who is sent to the Eastern front in 1944. Of course, he had no idea back then, that he would eventually marry a daughter of a kulak. He was married to someone else then, but I’m getting way off track.

Back to the collective farms. The first ones were formed as early as 1919, and became the norm during the dekulakization project after 1929. Today, in 2012, some of them are still around- lasting longer than the Soviet regime. From what I gather, while many collectives went bankrupt after the government stopped paying wages, and providing supplies – others have continued – with slight changes.

It’s all rather confusing. Perhaps things will end up like here in North America with big business taking over. However, I did read that family-sized gardens contribute a lot to the post-Soviet dinner tables. The kulak spirit lives on.

Yes, I'm back in the world of 1931, trying to imagine and re-create my mother's lost childhood.

1 comment:

Jodi Carmichael said...

Your curiousity is infectious, Gabe. I find myself now googling Stalin and getting lost in the confusing and often conflicting details of history.

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