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Kulaks (Russian: кула́к, kulak, "fist", by extension "tight-fisted"; kurkuls in Ukraine, also used in Russian texts in Ukrainian contexts) were a category of relatively affluent peasants in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union. The word kulak originally referred to wealthy independent farmers in the Russian Empire who emerged en masse from peasantry as a result of the Stolypin reform which began in 1906.

According to the political theory of Marxism-Leninism developed in the early 1900s, the kulaks were class enemies of the poorer peasants,[1] and were described by Vladimir Lenin[2] as "bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and profiteers, who batten on famine.” Marxism-Leninism dictated a revolution that would liberate poor peasants and farm laborers alongside the proletariat (urban and industrial workers). In addition, the planned economy of Soviet Bolshevism required the collectivization of farms and land to allow industrialization of large-scale agricultural production. In practice, these Marxist-Leninist theories led to years of conflicts and disruption of agriculture when kulaks resisted expropriation of their private property and Soviet officials responded with violent political repression.[3][1]



According to the Soviet terminology, the peasants were divided into three broad categories: bednyaks, or poor peasants; seredniaks, or mid-income peasants; and kulaks, the higher-income farmers who were presumably more successful, efficient farmers and had larger farms than most Russian peasants. In addition, there was a category of batraks, or landless seasonal agriculture workers for hire.[1]

The Stolypin reform created a new class of landowners who were allowed to acquire for credit a plot of land from the large estate owners, and the credit (a kind of mortgage loan) was to be repaid from farm work. In 1912, 16% of peasants (up from 11% in 1903) had relatively large endowments of over 8 acres (3.2 hectares) per male family member (a threshold used in statistics to distinguish between middle-class and prosperous farmers, i.e., kulaks). At that time an average farmer's family had 6 to 10 children.

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