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J.G. Wright

Kulak Danger in Soviet Reappears

New Tax Decree, Aimed at Wealthy Peasants, Reveals Grave Situation;
Collectives Being Undermined

(September 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 38, 17 September 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Supreme Council of the Soviet Union, when in session in August, transacted what appears on the surface to have been a minor piece of business, which received little publicity in Russia and was given a routine paragraph in the world press. It issued a new tax.

Stalin found it indispensable to place a special tax on horses owned by peasants not members of the collective farms. In the territories of Great Russia, the Ukraine and White Russia this tax has been set at 500 roubles for the first horse, and 800 roubles for the second and third. In other regions the tax ranges from 400–700 roubles. The deadline, for payment is October 15 but those peasants who enroll in the collectives prior to this date are exempt from payment of the tax.

Decree of Sweeping Nature

The decree is so worded as to give the impression that this tax is aimed only at a section of those individual peasant proprietors who are still outside the collectives. It affects peasants who not only possess horses but also hire them out to collective farms. There can be no doubt, however regarding the sweeping nature of this decree because the long-standing shortage of horses ( following the mass slaughter of cattle by peasants during the period of enforced “wholesale” collectivization) has made it necessary for the collectives to hire horses from individual peasant proprietors.

Moreover, the competition between the various collectives to assure themselves of the indispensable supply has made this hiring very lucrative. So widespread and important has the practice become that the press has from time to time made mention of “abuses” in this sphere, and directives have periodically been issued against “discriminative practices” in favor of the individual peasant proprietors. Translated into the language of economic reality it means that the individual peasant proprietors have been able to compete very successfully with the collectives, and grow at their expense. So successfully, in fact, that drastic measures, of which the tax decree is the first, have finally been resolved upon to cope with the growing danger.

The size of the tax itself, the brief period of less than sixty days set for its collection, as well as the “exemption” proviso indicate graphically the real import and intent of this decree. The kulak danger is abroad again.

For some time now references to “agents of the kulak” have dotted the Soviet press. Obviously, a grave situation exists in agriculture. The decree is an avowal of this fact. It is an avowal that the system of collective farms is being undermined by the automatic interplay of the contradictions in Russian economic life. While milder in form, it is nevertheless a resumption of the policy of enforced collectivization pursued so disastrously in the course of the first Five-Year Plan. Stalin proposes to save the collective farms by driving the peasants into them against their will.

The problem that Stalin has so confidently declared as resolved “forever” has confronted him again under new conditions and in far more aggravated form.

Within the scope of this article it is impossible to deal with all the aspects of the new situation. There are two important factors of profound bearing on future developments that must be stressed.

Differences in Collectives

The struggle against the kulak must be resumed at a time when within the collectives themselves a process of differentiation is occurring very swiftly. As against 118 collective farms with an income of over a million dollars annually in 1935, there were 561 such “millionaire” collectives in 1937. (Pravda, July 28, 1938). If this were a normal consequence of the growing prosperity of the collective system as a whole, there would be no need for artificial measures to force peasants into the collectives. They would have been automatically absorbed in the extension of the collectives. But we are not witnessing any such process of healthy growth and expansion. Instead the collectives are being ripped apart internally, while being endangered from the outside by the stabilization and growth of the individual peasant proprietors. Within the collectives there is a growth of one pole of “prosperous” farmers (i.e. none other than the kulak himself) while at the other there is an expanding mass of collectivized peasants reduced to the status of agricultural laborers.

The second new factor is equally grave in its implications. One of the reasons for Stalin’s past “success” in temporarily resolving the problem of the kulak was the ability of Russian industry to absorb a vast army of raw agricultural labor. The peasants were driven not only into the collectives but also into the urban centers, where conditions, bad as they were, nevertheless provided by and large an “improvement” over the bestial and the predominantly feudal routine of rural existence. This safety valve no longer functions. In fact, the monstrous disproportions from which Soviet economy suffers – and which the regime instead of mitigating can only aggravate – have not only reduced the flow of man power from rural regions but have actually acted to reverse it.

Return to Village

The peasant no sooner acquaints himself with prevailing conditions in industry than he seeks to return to the village even as an agricultural laborer The trend is so marked that Pravda itself has had to publicize it. Thus, in commenting on the critical situation in the Donbas coal mining area, Pravda openly warned the management of the mines as follows: “Let them bear in mind that spring and summer are approaching – seasons when in past years, as a consequence of inattention to housing and living conditions of the workers, sections of them returned to the village to work in the fields.” (Pravda, Feb. 8, 1938). It goes without saying that this phenomenon is not limited to the Donbas region.

Only the future will tell precisely what scope and form the struggle against the kulak will assume. But it is already apparent that the class struggle in the village will shortly enter into its sharpest and most open phase.

Last updated: 14 September 2015