Arguably one of the most celebrated individual feats of the thirties for the Soviet Union came in the field of the material production in 1935, also known as “The Year of the Stakhanovite”. Gregory Freeze notes in his book Russia: A History, how Aleksei Stakhanov, a Donbas coal-miner, hewed 102 tons of coal which was more than fourteen times the norm for a six hour shift. It was achieved due to a new division of labor that enabled him to concentrate on coal-cutting while others “cleared debris, installed props, and preformed other auxiliary tasks” (363). This was looked at as a great way to serve as stimuli to other workers where they were awarded of setting production records or demonstrating a mastery of their task.
This movement was known as the Stakhanovite Movement and even resulted in a Conference of Stakhanovites where outstanding workers ” recount how, defying their quotas and often the skepticism of their workmates and bosses, they applied new techniques of production to achieve stupendous results” (Seventeen Moments in Soviet History). Stalin capitalized on this upbeat mood in the Soviet Union by explaining that these achievements were only possible in the “land of socialism” and how “Life has become better, and happier too”. These words became the motto for the Stakhanovite movement and the movement encompassed lessons not only about how to work but how to live.
It’s important to note however, that Stakhanovites were not necessarily popular. Many workers who were not favored with the best conditions and struggled to fulfill their norms expressed resentment of stakhanovites by verbally and even physically abusing them. The reason because of this was because they were considered “stuck up” and many believed that they received much pampering because of their achievements.
Overall, the Stakhanovite movement cannot be regarded as an ordinary movement of working men and women in Soviet history, but one that would go down in the history of Socialist construction as a complex phenomenon. As Freeze noted, it encompassed a broad range of themes- mastery of technology, the creation of the New Soviet Man, the cultured working-class family, etc (363). It raised expectations of workers all across the Soviet Union and tapped into popular desires for public recognition which is something that Stalin urged on to continue the growth of his Socialist construction.
Image: Dawn Ades, Tim Benton, David Elliot, Iain Boyd Whyte, eds.: Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-45. London: The South Bank Centre. 1995.
Freeze, Gregory L. “Chapter 11, Building Stalinism.” Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. 363. Print.
Seventeen Moments in Soviet History – http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936stakhanov&Year=1936&navi=byYear