Heroes & Villains

Transcript: Source3

Extract from an article detailing ways that Stalin tried to get more work from Russians, 1938
(Catalogue ref: FO 371/22293, from ‘Labor and Management in the USSR’, Vera Micheles Dean, ‘Foreign Policy Reports’, Foreign Policy Association, New York, 15 June 1938)

Source 3a

The Soviet government has striven to overcome these difficulties – inevitable when factory workers are recruited directly from the villages – by stressing the importance of increased labor discipline, and by mechanizing the more complicated labor processes. The ideal of economic equality, which dominated the early years of Soviet rule – although it never received wide application – was officially abandoned in 1931, when Stalin denounced “equalitarianism in the sphere of wages” (ulravnilovka) as non-Marxist, and urged the widespread introduction of piecework and efficiency devices to raise the level of labor productivity. These devices have ranged, at various times, from “shock-brigades” of workers to “socialist competitions,” with the award of bonuses and special badges to outstanding “heroes” of Soviet economy.


Source 3b

Of the many methods adopted to increase labor productivity, none has received so much publicity as the Stakhanov movement, launched in 1935 by a miner of that name, who had increased his own output by re-organizing the work of his shift. The Stakhanov movement, which swept the country like wildfire, at first stressed greater division of labor and better planning and coordination of work by the individual piece-worker, who had to have sufficient technical training to understand the whole process of production in which he was engaged. In this respect, Stakhanovism was comparable to the efficiency devices familiar in capitalist enterprises, such as Taylorism and other methods of “scientific management,” which require not merely “speeded-up” work, but intelligent rationalization of labor processes.

As a reward for their efforts, Stakhanov workers in industry and agriculture were publicly acclaimed. They received higher wages, bonuses and special privileges with respect to education, travel, and purchase on consumers’ goods. In the coal mines of the Don Basin, for example, where Stakhanovism originated, Stakhanov workers could earn 1,500 to 2,000 rubles or more a month, as compared with the average monthly wage of 250 rubles. The records set by individual Stakhanov workers were used, in turn, to spur the efforts of the rank and file, who were offered the incentive of higher wages. Meanwhile, the Stakhanovists themselves were urged to outdo their achievements. In March 1936, soon after the launching of Stakhanovism, the government raised piecework norms by 15 percent. In April 1937, when labor productivity continued to lag, all workers were ordered to increase production by 20 per cent or take a wage cut; the level at which bonuses were to be awarded was raised; and rewards for piecework were decreased.