Norman Naimark (1) in his book Stalin’s Genocides concluded that there was more similarity between Hitler and Stalin than usually acknowledged:
“Both chewed up the lives of human beings in the name of a transformative vision of Utopia”.
The Bolshevik “transformative vision of utopia” (communism) was based on beliefs that set capital in opposition to labour, denied property rights to individuals and favoured centralist state intervention in the economic, social and political lives of its citizens.
The kulak farmers fell foul of this utopian vision. The kulaks were independent, relatively wealthy, prosperous peasant farmers, who owned farms and often employed hired labour. The number of such farmers amounted to 20% of all and they produced some 50% of marketable grain. They were in effect ‘capitalist’ farmers.
Lenin issued a directive in 1918 instructing the Red Army to “Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. … Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts [kilometres] around the people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks.”
Naimark writes that “The kulaks were called “enemies of the people,” as well as swine, dogs, cockroaches, scum, vermin, filth, garbage, half animals and apes”. Activists promoted murderous slogans:
“We will exile the kulak by the thousand when necessary – shoot the kulak breed.”
“We will make soap of kulaks.”
“Our class enemies must be wiped off the face of the earth.”
One Soviet report noted that gangs “drove the kulaks naked in the streets, beat them, organized drinking bouts in their houses, shot over their heads, forced them to dig their own graves, undressed women and searched them, stole valuables, money, etc.”
“In the process of collectivization, for example, 30,000 kulaks were killed directly, mostly shot on the spot. About 2 million were forcibly deported to the Far North and Siberia”.
The forced requisition of surplus grain (and other food products) from this group of independent, highly productive peasantry culminated in a human disaster. These measures negatively affected agricultural production. With no incentives to grow surplus grain (since it would just be confiscated) the kulaks’ agricultural production collapsed. According to Naimark, the destruction of the kulak class triggered the Ukrainian famine, during which 3 million to 5 million peasants died of starvation.
Reporting on a gathering to discuss land reform, the Mail & Guardian (May 2016) reports; one young man, in his 20s, rises at the table after everyone returns to their seats and the ambient chatter dims. “If white people cannot relinquish their power, their privileges, they must be forcefully removed from the position from where they come. That’s something that we need to understand,” he says. “We cannot just sit around a table discussing this issue; we are going to take the land the way Mugabe and his people did.”
Malema, leader of the EFF, recently told Parliament “We all know that the Dutch gangsters arrived here and took our land by force, the struggle has since been about the return of the land into the hands of its rightful owners.”
“We need to take bold steps that will transform our economy, including land ownership, very fast,” Zuma said in a speech outlining agricultural policy. “We are busy amending (laws) to enable faster land reform, including land expropriation without compensation as provided for in the constitution.”
Ben Cousins from the University of the Western Cape writes (M&G Thought Leader, June 2016), “Political rhetoric on land draws on a narrative in which white farmers and foreigners are villains, black South Africans are victims, and government (or an opposition party, or civil society activists) are heroes riding to the rescue. A political imaginary centred on race tends to dominate land discourse. For many young activists today, “land” seems to connote the nation, sovereignty and control of the economy as a whole, rather than a resource used for food production.”
The pursuit of ‘radical transformation’ of land ownership is a call aimed at igniting popular sentiment. Such inflammatory populism stokes fires that cannot be controlled. “Shoot the Boer” and “one settler one bullet…”
The Russians (and Ukrainians) learned that the hard way.
Are we to repeat this history, tragically?
1. Norman Naimark is the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor of Eastern European Studies at Stanford University and is a respected authority on the Soviet regime. Quotes above are extracted from a review of his book by Cynthia Haven; “Stanford News” September 2010.