The picture above, entitled “V. I. Lenin at the All-Russian Subbotnik in the Kremlin, May Day 1920”, is an iconic depiction of the use of “shock workers” following the implementation of the First Five Year Plan in 1929. While this specific picture technically depicts an event that occurred 9 years before the First Five Year Plan was even written, it reflects Lenin’s backing of the original concept of what would become shock workers.
The socialist system produced by the First Five Year Plan resulted in a society with little to no incentive to work any more than the bare minimum required. After a series of campaigns to increase productivity in 1929, the term shock worker was applied to “all workers and employees who fulfilled obligations over and above their planned quotas.” The concept quickly caught on and encouraged “socialist competition”, an idea supported by Lenin as shown by his previously unpublished 1917 article “How to Organize Competition.”
I find the shock worker movement interesting as it seems to be the Soviet counterpoint to capitalism by creating competition within the work force. What originally began as a simple tradition of hard work was transformed by the Soviets into a culture of competition and encouraging all to participate in the modernization of Russia.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 321-328. Print.
Picture Source: lenin46.jpg
I also thought the whole idea of the shock worker was very interesting. It is sort of hard to comprehend how simple competition can be an effective incentive to increase the productivity of a large majority of workers when you look at it from a western capitalist perspective where productivity is heavily based on monetary incentives. I doubt that if one of the big corporations in the US told their employees that instead of a raise they were going to get a new title that distinguishes them from their coworkers, people who be very likely to work harder. Competition certainly plays a role in the minds of most workers everywhere but the extent to which it worked in Russia during this era is truly astonishing.
In contemporary thought, many people believe that socialized societies fail because there is not any incentive to work harder than what is necessary. People dont see any reason to do more than they have to because there is no reason for it; they dont get paid any more based on how well their product is or how many they produce. It is apparent this is what occurred during Stalin’s First Five Year Plan. With his introduction of the term shock workers, there was a reason to want to produce more. As workers exceeded their required quotas, they were recognized as ‘shock workers’, those who were becoming instrumental in the modernization of Russia. As is stated in this post, this became Stalin’s answer to the competitive nature that is dominant in many aspects of capitalism, and the result was that competition in the USSR workplace encouraged faster production and modernization.
Incentives to produce and excel in a society nominally committed to egalitarianism is are problematic! The shock worker movement is just one example of how the regime re-calibrated expectations and rewards in the thirties to accommodate individual aspirations and motivate people to work harder. Wow.
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