Kulaks was a term in the Russian Empire for relatively more prosperous peasants. In the Communist Soviet Union, it became a vague term for a perceived class of peasants hostile to the Communists and the "collectivization" of agriculture, with those so labeled being persecuted and mass killed, notably during the War Communism period, the Holodomor, the Great Purge, and in the Gulag system.
The Black Book of Communism states that the official order issued during the "dekulakization" of 1930-1932 had as its primary objective "to exterminate the kulaks as a class" and compares this with a genocide. However, the later official definition of genocide was carefully worded so as to avoid exterminating a class being labeled a genocide.
The persecutions and mass killings of the most successful and productive peasants was one cause of the mass starvations during the Communist regimes.
The Kulak label was often applied arbitrarily, to anyone who opposed the Communists or as part of personal feuds and grudges.
"Lenin's Hanging Order" in 1918 to the local Communists in Penza
"Comrades! The insurrection of five kulak districts should be pitilessly suppressed. The interests of the whole revolution require this because 'the last decisive battle' with the kulaks is now under way everywhere. An example must be demonstrated.
- Hang (absolutely hang, in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, filthy rich men, bloodsuckers.
- Publish their names.
- Seize all grain from them.
- Designate hostages - in accordance with yesterday's telegram.
Do it in such a fashion, that for hundreds of verst around the people see, tremble, know, shout: "strangling (is done) and will continue for the bloodsucking kulaks".
Telegraph the receipt and the implementation. Yours, Lenin.
P.S. Use your toughest people for this."