Lived experience and the liquidation of the kulaks

One of the most shameful examples of Bolshevik class hatred, amongst so many in that evil empire, was the “liquidation of the kulaks,” or prosperous peasants, during the 1920s when the revolution was young and pure. Millions died, often at the hands of their own neighbours and relatives.

The lot of Russian peasants was a pretty tough one, in large part because of the late persistence of a feudal system colliding with nineteenth century liberalism and the industrial revolution. This exacerbated the sense of inequality, though it’s often forgotten (and my wife’s cousin has a book in press about this at this moment) that there was much work being done to right the wrongs in Russian society. As in the similarly forgotten heart-searchings before the abolition of slavery in the US, the problem was very much how to change a broken system without the whole machine exploding. Systems in transition are at their most vulnerable.

You can read about it in detail in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and it may be an instructive exercise for the current intersectional stress on accepting the “lived experience” of the approved minority groups as authoritative.

So certainly the peasants in the early twentieth century were suffering, but as in every situation, there were those who, through good luck and hard work, did somewhat better than average. At the other end there were those who, through bad luck and idleness, did extremely badly. And in both groups, as well as the majority “middle,” the human propensity to gripe about one’s lot, and to envy those doing better than you, were common.

That is nothing special – even I (who have done very nicely thanks to the NHS) had a momentary twinge of negative feeling yesterday when my daughter told me about some acquaintance having a budget of £1.5m for their proposed weekend home. But if that person has worked hard producing what society needs, why should it concern me? If I had wanted that kind of money, it was always in my power to start a business and earn it, if I’d had the wits and application.

I’m sure there were instances of nouveau riche kulaks, with a goat of their own and some prosperous trade, lording it over their less fortunate neighbours – just as there were undoubtedly those who, out of Orthodox piety, made sure they used their good fortune to help the poor and serve the community. People, after all, differ widely.

The communists, though, fuelled by the simplistic Marxist metric of workers v. capitalists, had for decades been sowing the seeds of discontent and grievance amongst the peasants, reducing their problems to the simple metric of class hatred, primarily of course against their landlords. The aim, of course, was to mobilise them for the revolution that Marx had assumed would come automatically, by the scientific laws of nature.

Why the next target for hatred became the peasants themselves, or the less impoverished ones, after the revolution needn’t concern us overmuch here. Bolshevism actually favoured the industrial workers, not the peasants, and their attempts to screw more food production out of the countryside for the cities though collectivisation (which in itself led to millions of deaths though famine) was hindered by the independence and efficiency of the kulaks. To be blunt, their virtues showed up the vices of communism.

The job of the commissars, then, was to heighten the resentment of the poorest, and especially the laziest, against the whole class of kulaks. Communism’s commitment to action deliberately transformed unhappiness and vague envy into class hatred and homicidal intent. The rabble-rouser and his friends who got tanked up with vodka after a few such political meetings might easily decide that now was the time to burn down the house of the neighbour who wouldn’t lend him money, with his family still inside. He found it even easier when backed by a mob that lacked his intense hatred (or, more rarely, true Marxist zeal), but wanted to teach the “rich” guy a lesson.

Once it had got out of hand, and they had blood on their conscience and needed to dull the guilt, then justifying their actions by aligning themselves with government propaganda, and cleaning out the whole rat’s nest of kulaks as they deserved was a temporary sop. The alternative was to show oneself to be a kulak on the inside onself, however poor you in fact were, and risk facing the same fate.

Well, that’s mob mentality – it begins with some vaguely justified, or less justified, feeling that one’s life is too hard, bit it is formed and channeled into a specific cause by the intellectual political theorists whose aims may range from utopian idealism to ruthless self-interest. It is fair to say that there has not been a major Communist world leader who did not preach equality whilst living like a King himself, whether you’re talking about the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Zimbabwe or Venezuela. Or North Korea. Or any of the others.

But my point is that by the time the peasants are rising up against the injustices wrought by the kulaks, their “lived experience” has actually become 90% conditioning by the patient work of activists over the years, interpreting daily experience into a theoretical (and entirely spurious) narrative.

In Russia, that conditioning was for many years relatively weak, and then for a short time the intense product of a totalitarian revolutionary government. It’s fair to say that it was not long before the peasants woke up to the fact they had been hoodwinked, and became largely unwilling slaves of a tyranny that lasted 70 years, knowing that “the people’s soviets” were not an organ for them to exercise influence, but purely to control them. Who can object to the phrase “People’s Republic”? Who is fool enough to think it ever means what it says?

In our times, the left propaganda goes much deeper, as I have tried to illustrate (no doubt partially and with many errors) in Seeing Through Smoke. A set of minorities more educated than Russian peasants get the message of their oppression by privileged groups (now pretty much condensed into “straight white Christian males”) from childhood (as indeed do the “oppressor” groups.

And so a white child on a kid’s TV programme will say they love a particular children’s writer not because she takes them to new worlds, but because “she deals with racism.” An A-level student will be expelled for daring to say that science shows there are two sexes – as famously a writer who takes kids to new worlds has been cancelled for the same belief. The front page of The Times yesterday said what we’ve all known for ages – that academia is now almost entirely left-wing, that “conservative” scholars are discriminated against at every level, and that those few who remain are afraid to reveal their real views for fear of recrimination. The sacking of David Starkey is not in the least surprising in such a context.

There has been widepread disquiet about the overtly Marxist motivations of Black Lives Matter since its foundation. It is an Astroturf, not Grassroots, movement – it has not been hijacked by extremists, but rather the extremists who formed it have capitalised on a narrative already spread in the black community by decades of activist propaganda. Nobody knows exactly where the $50m raised in the first protests this year, and the considerable sums raised in Britain too, have actually gone – although a good deal appears to have ended up in the election campaigns of rich white male politicians. You’ll remember from a previous article that “Black Lives Matter (UK) Ltd has a single, white, director, with a habit of winding up companies before any accounts are presented.

Yet despite the discussion over this that has been going on for many weeks, when Christian Rugby player Israel Folau refused to “take the knee” before a match at the weekend, both the spokesman for the sport and the BBC interviewer treated it as a problem of his racism – though Israel is black. He had previously made a stand, by quoting the Bible, on same sex marriage, and was described by Metro therefore as “disgraced rugby player Israel Folau,” despite the fact that the Australian legal system had vindicated his right to free speech, which is the only reason he was back playing this weekend anyway.

The fact that the “lived experience” of many – and the way it is discussed in public – is dictated by the ideological narrative of oppression is shown by the sheer number of illustrative events of systemic racism, gay-bashing and so on that turn out to be false. In the recent past one that stands out was the aptly named “Fake Noose” story, in which a US racing driver continued to say that a door pull was a noose made to intimidate him, even after it was shown to have been in place long before he took up residence. That does not suggest that institutional racism is ubiquitous, but rather that critical race theory has become so, regardless of evidence.

What’s the message? My message to the poor peasants of Russia would have been, “Sure, you have a pretty tough lot, and that needs to change. But you have the wrong villains in mind, because you’ve been lied to over and over again. Those kulaks might not actually be your class enemy, so much as an example of what you could achieve if you quit the vodka sessions, supported your wife and kids and built some clear goals into your life.”

To the rest of the world, I would still be warning against the lying propaganda. “Just because Pravda tells you there it’s rich peasants who are causing rural poverty doesn’t make it so. You might like to look into it a little closer – and while you’re at it, be a little more critical of the whole world-view of class warfare you’re being offered as the way the world is.”

To both groups, I’d be suggesting that, in a world so beset with lies and malice, the pure truth and love to be found in Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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