Soviet Shock Workers and Stakhavonites

Stalin was trying to bring Russia into a modern age in terms of industry and economy with the installment of the First Five Year Plan. The incredibly optimistic goals set in place by the plan required a huge increase in production by workers in practically all fields of labor. In a capitalist economy, workers would be incentivized by being paid more for doing more work or for doing higher quality work. That can’t really be done in a socialist economy though, with the promise of equal pay for all workers, so traditional incentives can’t really be used effectively. That’s were the title of “shock worker” came into play, the term was used late during the Russian Civil War to denote an outstanding worker who performed far above their required quota. The idea was that the title would lead to natural socialist competition, wanting to outperform your fellow worker to help your country out more because it would benefit everyone involved. When it was brought back during the First Five Year Plan though, it didn’t have much success, it was only an honorary title after all. Shock workers were given a badge in recognition, but not much else in terms of compensation. In 1929 out of all the workers in Russia 29% were given the title of shock worker and by 1930 65% of all workers, across all fields of labor were considered shock workers. The title of shock worker had lost most of its meaning; when the majority of all workers are considered elite it doesn’t really feel that way.

One of these men wouldn’t be considered a shock worker

After the lack of success of the shock worker program had, the Stakhanovite movement started late in the year 1935. The movement came after a certain miner, Aleksi Stakhanov, mined 102 tons of coal during a single shift. Hewing 102 tons of coal in just six hours the method that Aleksi used to achieve this feat required at least four miners working together, but since he came up with the method he received all the credit. Aleksi became a bit of a celebrity afterwards, getting to meet with even appearing on the cover of Time magazine and he is the namesake for the entire movement.

Aleksi Stakhanovite on the cover of Time magazine

It had the element of socialistic competition that the shock worker title had but it did allow workers to make more money, only if they produced more than their set quota though. The Stakhanovite movement encouraged workers to find new innovative ways to produce more, but it wasn’t just about how to increase worker productivity, it was about an entire way of life. Stakhanovites were shown as the model citizen that all Russians should aspire to become, in all ways of life. The slogan of the movement was “Life has become better, and happier too.” which was made into a song by Alexander Alexandrov, the same man who formed the Red Army Choir and wrote the Russian National Anthem. The Stakhanovite movement was a propaganda movement though, often portraying the Stakhanovites in only a positive manner, showing how they were liked by everyone and how great their lifestyle was. This made these Stakhanovite workers more like mythological heroes than actual people though, ignoring the harsh reality that was happening under Stalin’s rule.

 

Sources:

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/shock-workers/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/year-of-the-stakhanovite/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/year-of-the-stakhanovite/year-of-the-stakhanovite-texts/stalin-at-the-conference-of-stakhanovites/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1936-2/year-of-the-stakhanovite/1936-year-of-the-stakanovite-music/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/shock-workers/shock-workers-images/#

6 thoughts on “Soviet Shock Workers and Stakhavonites

  1. I really liked the context you gave in this post and I think it’s a really interesting topic. In order to keep productivity high, the Soviets had to be very creative. I also found it interesting how you mentioned the Stakhavonites helped in innovation as well.

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  2. Interesting topic, the shock workers were kind of the opposite of Kulaks in the eyes of the Soviet government. Both would be considered successful, but only one group was supported and appreciated by the state, and that was the shock workers. They were given praise for their work while the successful peasants were deported, and shamed. It shows the sort of bias the government had towards workers instead of the peasants. Not that the workers were to blame since it was the government who was picking sides.

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    1. That’s a really interesting point. I’ve never thought about it that way, but yes, there are some similarities between the two groups — both were the most productive and exemplary representatives of their social class. I think the important difference is that workers were always the preferred constituency. Marxism is the ideology of the working class. While peasants were always a bit suspect ideologically. So, the state could elevate exemplary workers, but super productive peasants exemplified the wrong things and were thus persecuted.

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    2. Honestly I wasn’t even thinking about the Kulaks when I made this, when I was reading about the shock workers and especially the Stakhanovites it made me think of some American folk heroes. Mainly John Henry and Paul Bunyan who were workers who outperformed new machines. But these Stakhanovites were working with machines to produce more instead of competing with the machine itself.

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  3. I feel like the creation of shock workers was a really smart idea. People love having titles and would definitely work harder in order to achieve one. They probably should have regulated how many people got the title so that it would stay special. Also, 102 tons of coal in an hour is absolutely crazy.

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  4. The phenomenon that occurred amongst Shock Workers is one of the biggest criticisms against a socialist society. With no opportunity to make tangible gains, what motivation will the people have to innovate? This is an interesting topic because, typically, all that is discussed is the flaws but never really anything that was done in an effort to combat them. I wonder how this culture of “Shock Workers” changed the Soviet landscape over time and how its implementation altered or affected that of socialism in its early stages. Great post!

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