“Special” Settlements, 1930-1933

Dispossession, imprisonment, deportation and famine

After experimenting in Siberia the previous autumn and winter, the November 1929 plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee decided to proceed with the forced collectivization of the countryside and the “liquidation of the kulaks as a social group” (a process also known as “dekulakization”).

The collectivization campaign supported a double objective: one, it would “extract” – the term used in confidential instructions — all elements prone to actively oppose forced collectivization; two, it would “colonize” vast inhospitable regions of the Russian North, the Urals, Siberia and Kazakhstan through the resettlement of entire “kulak” families.



Politburo Resolution “on measures to liquidate kulak ownership in regions of total collectivization”

This resolution determined “dekulakization quotas” in 1st and 2nd categories for each region or republic. An initial estimate of 60,000 first-category kulaks, defined as “activists, engaged in counter-revolutionary activities,” were to be arrested and sent to labour camps after “a brief appearance before the troika” (extra-judicial OGPU body). The “most harmful and tenacious activists” were to be sentenced to death.

Second category kulaks were defined as “exploiters, but less actively engaged in counter-revolutionary activities” and estimated at 129,000 to 154,000 families. Men, women and children were to be deported as families to “distant” regions of the country, following simple administrative procedures. Deprived of their civic rights, deported, and administratively considered as “specially displaced,” these dekulakized peasants were assigned to live in “special settlements” run by the OGPU (NKVD as of 1934).

Early FEBRUARY to end SEPTEMBER 1930
Mass arrests of “1st category kulaks”

During this period, 284,000 persons were arrested as “1st category kulaks,” five times the original estimate. This was in part due to unexpected opposition to collectivization on behalf of peasant farmers as well as non-farmers.

Only 44% of those arrested farmed the land. Others were clergy, petty businessmen, Tsarist civil servants, former landowners, teachers or other representatives of the “rural intelligentsia” who had been close to the Socialist-Revolutionary Party in the past. These groups were sent to the Gulag. The OGPU troika sentenced approximately 20,000 persons to death in 1930.

Deportations of “2nd category kulaks” and their families

During the agitated summer of 1930, eight million farmer families left the collective farms after the publication of Stalin’s famous article “Dizzy with success” (2 March), blaming the local authorities for “abuses” that had occurred during collectivization. Large-scale “dekulakization” was halted at the end of May.

It resumed after the harvest, at the end of September 1930. Some 16,500 families of dekulakized peasants (about 60,000 persons) were deported from regions adjacent to Poland on the border of Belorussia and western Ukraine, strategic border regions where major peasant uprisings had taken place in the spring.

Further deportations of “2nd category kulaks” and their families

The 1930 procurement campaign allowed the State to recover over 21 million tons of cereal, twice the amount recovered in 1927-1928 on the eve of forced collectivization, several million peasant families having been forced to join collective farms over the last months of 1930.

Taking advantage of the particularly successful 1930 harvest, the Politburo and the OGPU decided to launch a new wave of deportations at the beginning of 1931.


On 20 FEBRUARY 1931, the Politburo adopted an ambitious new deportation plan: starting in the spring of 1931, between 200,000 and 300,000 families of dekulakized peasants were to be deported mainly to southern Kazakhstan.

On 11 MARCH 1931, the Politburo created a special commission directed by A. Andreyev, vice-chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.

This new commission was in charge of supervising and coordinating the entire deportation process by organizing “rational and efficient management of specially displaced persons in order to avoid the recurrence of the tremendous waste and disarray in the use of the labour force as noted in previous deportation procedures.”

On 15 MAY 1931, the Andreev Commission transferred the entire economic, administrative and organizational management of the “special population” to the OGPU.

In this “third wave” of “dekulakization”, a total of 1,244,000 persons (265,000 families) were deported. They were sent mainly to the Urals, to western Siberia, to Vologda, Arkhangelsk and Komi (then united administratively as the “Northern Region”) and to Kazakhstan. As in 1930, human loss was extremely high.


The first general census of the “specially displaced” population (1 JANUARY 1932) recorded only 1,317,000 individuals when 1,804,000 had been deported in 1930-1931, indicating a loss of nearly half a million individuals over a two-year period. This loss was evenly shared between flight and death.

Famine, 1931-1933

Since Robert Conquest’s pathbreaking Harvest of Sorrow (1986), Western, Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakh studies based on newly available archives have explained the mechanisms leading to the terrible famines of 1931-1933.

These man-made disasters also affected those forcibly deported to remote regions of Russia as part of the policy of “dekulakisation”.


The “special settlements” (1933)
The Northern Region, the Urals, and western Siberia

Following a drastic reduction in “standards of rationing” allocated by the administration to the “specially displaced”, food shortages and famines became recurrent in a great number of “special settlements” of the Northern Region, Karelia, the Urals and western Siberia.

According to centralized statistics from the Department of Gulag Special Settlements 151,000 “specially displaced” persons died in 1933, a 14% death rate (1,110,000 persons were registered as “specially displaced” on 1 JANUARY 1933). Even the authorities recognized that the majority of deaths were due to “food dystrophy”.

Excerpted from Nicolas Werth
“Crimes against Humanity under Stalin, 1930-1951”