The misery of the kulaks

The communist system was no fan of those who worked on their own, not in industry or in agriculture, for people who worked and thought on their own were more difficult to monitor and keep in fear. It was for this reason that the authorities made an effort to stamp out the individual farmers known as kulaks. Between 1945 and 1948, people could farm land and raise animals on their own, but from 1948 to 1953 these individuals who were considered among the most economically successful layer of the peasantry came under pressure from the state. They were disparagingly called kulaks, with some of the farmers forced into collective farms, meaning that they lost their lands and animals, and on many occasions even many of their tools. This process was temporarily relaxed after 1953 only to be revived in 1956 with greater intensity, so that by 1961 there was barely any land left in Hungary in private hands. The word kulak became a slur, and owing to pressure from the communist authorities, the local village communities were persuaded to make outcasts of these people.

Until someone entered a collectivized farm, they had to turn over a significant portion of their produce to the communist authorities. This was labelled as the crop tax, which was raised higher and higher, so that by the end of the 1940s, even the best-off farmers could barely pay this unrealistically high quota. The Hungarian secret police, known as the party’s fist, ensured that collections were effective, and with armed threats they were capable of seizing just about everything they could want from the so-called kulaks. Those who did not surrender an adequate portion of their crops or did not pay tax with money, or for example tried to hide that they had slaughtered a pig in secret were hounded by the authorities, and if they still did not pay they could be relieved of all they possessed.

Terror was widespread in the villages, and those who owed taxes to the communist regime had their names publicly displayed in a prominent location on the village’s main square or main street via a “wall of shame”. Additionally, those unable to pay or unable to surrender their crops were charged with sabotage, and during the criminal proceedings they were sentenced to prison. That’s how it even came to pass that the prisons were so full, that the convicted were placed on waiting lists. The majority who were released from these prisons then “volunteered” to donate their lands to the village’s collective farm in order to avoid a second round in prison. This is how individual farming ceased in Hungarian villages, which was the result of more than a decade of terror by the communist authorities.

Bence Csatári