On this day in 1929, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the annihilation of the kulaks – a class of prosperous peasants in Eastern Europe – as a part of the USSR’s first Five Year Plan. The “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” was a key part of Stalin’s efforts at collectivizing the Soviet economy and eliminating the prominent peasant class, who he saw as a threat to his power. Having consolidated control of the Communist Party by exiling perceived political enemies in the mid 1920s, the increasingly-paranoid Soviet leader cast about for new people to label as “enemies of the Union”. An impending famine brought about by Soviet mismanagement of food stocks resulted in many peasants blaming kulaks for allegedly hoarding food; Stalin encouraged these rumours, and soon the Cheka – Soviet secret police – were aggressively deporting kulaks and murdering them in the streets.
An estimated 5 million kulaks died as a result of government-induced starvation or at the hands of Cheka officers. The genocide of the kulaks provided a testing ground for Soviet methods of killing their own citizens; the ensuing Holodomor famine in Ukraine resulted in the deaths of roughly 12 million people. It was also an effort copied later by other violent dictators such as Mao in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia. Many leftists at the time dismissed the news as fascist propaganda, but some – including anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman – publicly decried the violence. Stalin’s diplomatic efforts were effective, however, and the USSR remained a (grudging) ally of the West going into WWII, despite Stalin’s murderous efforts.