MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Meaning "Fist" in Russian. Name for the landlords of rural Russia.

Origin: Land tenure in Feudal Russia had been arranged where land was split into long narrow strips; the serfs tended two strips side by side; one for the landlord, the other for themselves.

After serfdom was abolished in 1861, the land the serfs had once cultivated for themselves was now owned by the peasant commune, formed from those peasants who were once serfs to a common landlord. The landlords retained the lands that were not used for maintaining the serfs (eg. the majority of their former lands) – still in strips next to the communal land. The landlords also kept all their forested and pastoral lands. Thus, serfs had once been able to graze their animals (commonly a cow and horse) on pastoral land, now they could not. The newly "emancipated" peasants were also stranded from the most prized commodity of Russia throughout most of the year – firewood.

From these conditions was born the Kulak, who imposed on the peasantry a tax to use their pastoral lands. The peasant communes responded by lying fallow some of their own land and turning it into pasture. There remained, however, strips of the landlord's land running throughout their community, with which the kulak established a system of tolls for each animal that crossed over his land. On the matter of wood, peasants had little choice but to work the kulak's land in return for a payment that would allow them to cut timber from the kulak's forest.

This relationship throughout Russia gave birth to the first revolutionary parties in Russia.


Kulaks in WWI: Throughout the early twentieth century kulaks bought communal land where they could, but it was difficult to do so; the communes refused to sell their land despite threats and pressure. During World War I, kulaks came into a new era.

Kulaks bribed local officials to prevent conscription into the army, and lied in wait for the field of opportunity to soon open up. While hundreds of thousands of peasants were sent to the slaughter on the front, kulaks grabbed up the communal land in a free-for-all.

By 1917, the success of kulaks cannot be seen more clearly than in the amount of land they owned: over nine-tenths of Russia's arable land.

The most valuable commodity throughout the war was grain, and the kulaks understood this with absolute clarity: food prices climbed higher than any other commodity during the war. In 1916, food prices accelerated three times higher than wages, despite bumper harvests in both 1915 and 1916. The price of grain in 1916, already at two and a half rubles per pud, was anticipated to raise up to twenty five rubles per pud. Hoping to raise prices, the kulaks hoarded their food surplus as their lands continually increased.

Throughout 1916, the average urban labourer ate between 200 and 300 grams of food a day. In 1917, the urban populations of Russia were allowed to buy only one pound of bread per adult, per day. Workers sometimes went days without food.

As a result of the Soviet Land Decree of October 26, 1917, when the peasants took back their land from the kulaks, food slowly came back into the cities again. Though the Kulaks were overwhelmed by the peasants at home and those returning from the front, many responded later in the year, during the coming Civil War.[...]

The kulaks were considered enemies of the working class and were treated as such by the Soviets. Incidents of kulak reprisals against communists were isolated and infrequent relative to the scale and scope of the “dekulakization” efforts of the Soviet government.

The issue of how to treat the kulaks as a class was a political matter that received much attention, particularly during the early years of the USSR and throughout the Stalin era. In his 1919 “Reply to a Peasant’s Question,” Lenin identified the kulaks as:

“...rich peasants who exploit the labour of others, either hiring them for work, or lending money at interest, and so forth. This group supports the landowners and capitalists, the enemies of the Soviet power.”
(V.I. Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 36, pp. 500-503.)

Although Lenin noted that the kulaks were antagonistic to the Soviet working class, no decisive action was taken against the kulaks during Lenin’s lifetime, partly because of widespread economic problems throughout the developing Soviet Union. The kulaks coexisted with cooperatives and collective farms until Stalin introduced forced collectivization in 1927 and ultimately smashed the kulaks as a class.

Both Lenin and Stalin were explicit in their directives on the liquidation of the kulaks. In Stalin’s 1929 letter “Concerning Policy of Liquidating Kulaks as a Class,” he expressed in no uncertain terms how the Soviet government would approach the “kulak question”:

“In order to oust the kulaks as a class, the resistance of this class must be smashed in open battle and it must be deprived of the productive sources of its existence and development (free use of land, instruments of production, land-renting, right to hire labour, etc.).”
(J. V. Stalin Works, Vol. 12 pp. 184-189.)



A system of reforms implemented in the 1870s by Bismark's government in order to create a secular culture. In the 1880s Bismark repealed the majority of these reforms.