Committees of Poor Peasants

Committees of Poor Peasants (Komitety nezamozhnykh selian or Komnezam). Name of peasant organizations established by the Soviet government in Ukraine to consolidate its power in the countryside. The Komnezams were organized on the model of the Committees of the Poor (Komitety bednoty) that functioned in Russia from June 1918 to January 1919 and were then abolished, because the Party thereafter pursued a relatively peaceful policy in the countryside. Because grain deliveries (see Grain procurement) in Ukraine were of decisive importance for Soviet Russia, the Komnezams were created by the law of the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee of 9 May 1920. The law empowered the Komnezams to collect compulsory deliveries of food to the state (prodrozkladka), to divest the kulaks (rich peasants), and to keep 25 percent of the collected grain and food for the use of the ‘poor peasants.’ The Komnezams were also used to fight anti-communist insurgents; sometimes they usurped the powers of the rural soviets, but this practice was stopped in 1925.

At first the Komnezams had 791,000 members, of whom 60 percent were landless peasants or farm laborers and the rest were poor and middle peasants. By the end of 1920 the Komnezams had confiscated 379,320 ha from the rich peasants and distributed them among their members. The advantages enjoyed by members led to a rapid increase in membership, so that in 1921 there were 1,357,000 members in about 10,800 Komnezams. Yet, only 31 percent of the truly impoverished peasants belonged to the Komnezams. In contrast, in 1923 only 9.1 percent of Komnezam members were still landless, while 10.1 percent of the members owned 10 ha or more. Hence, purges of the membership were introduced, and in 1924 only 582,900 members were left.

Under a more liberal Soviet agrarian policy in 1923–7 the Komnezams were used to organize peasant mutual-aid associations, direct co-operatives, and so on. With the introduction of forced collectivization, the Komnezams were revitalized. It again became advantageous to belong to them, and their membership increased from 600,000 at the beginning of 1929 to 1.6 million in April 1930. By 1 February 1930, 60 percent of the ‘poor’ peasants were already collectivized. Then the Bolshevik party began to demand that Komnezam members set an example and be the first to join the new collective farms. When it became apparent that the members were very reluctant to give up their recently acquired land and possessions to the collective farms, the Komnezams were abolished at the beginning of 1931.

While they existed, the Committees of Poor Peasants held seven all-Ukrainian congresses. At the first congress in 1920, Hryhorii Petrovsky was elected head of the Central Commission of Poor Peasants.

Izhevskii, V. Kratkaia istoriia komitetov nezamozhnykh selian na Ukraine (Kharkiv 1925)
TsSU USRR. Materialy po obsledovaniiu KNS v iiune 1925 g. (Kharkiv 1925)
Petrovs’kyi, H. Nezamozhnyky i seredniaky v desiatyrichnii borot’bi za sotsiializm (Kharkiv 1927)
Zahors’kyi, P.; Stoian, P. Narysy istoriï komitetiv nezamozhnykh selian Ukraïny (Kyiv 1960)

V. Holubnychy

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