A Bittersweet Homecoming

After the victory of the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army returned with nearly 11 million men. Of these 11 million, nearly 8.5 million will be demobilized after the war and left with a severance package of 1-5 months of pay, depending on years of service. Stalin and the rest of the government had to incorporate this powerful group into the rest of society, who also expected more from the government after the war. The government made it seem like the every soldier could reintegrate and become part of the rising middle class. For instance, they helped push multiple veteran success stories from around the country. They made it seem like every veteran could buy into the Big Deal and the rising quality of life for the middle class. One of these stories that the government helped to promote was Aleksandr Stopler: Story of a Real Man(1948). This story that was first a novel and then radio program is about a general who lost his leg and his journey back to being a productive part of society.

Preview above(2). Full movie in Russian here.


While there were numerous success stories of veteran reintegration back into society and strong messages from the government bout the ease of transition, the average veteran had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. They came back to a weakened economy with a weakened infrastructure as a result of the war and its destruction. Due to this, there was a housing shortage and a job shortage. In many regions unemployment reached fifty percent, veterans had nowhere to live. They moved into zemlianki, huts dug into the earth, which were also common on the war fronts”(1).

Zemlianki (4)

Wounded veterans had an even worse time returning to society. They experienced a lack of care and medical treatment upon returning home, and there was a shortage of prosthetic limbs to make matters worse. Wounded veterans had it hardest when it came to the economy. With the little jobs that were available, the wounded veterans would often lose out to the healthy veterans. On the bright side however, women greatly outnumbered men in the Soviet Union. So, healthy soldiers returning from duty often took advantage of this and could easily start a family if they choose to do so.



Works Cited:

1. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1947-2/veterans-return/

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQ3MemrKXTc&feature=player_embedded

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTWO9XiosLs

4. http://pravoslav-voin.info/pravvoiny/495-stroitelstvo-zemlyanki-gotovimsya-k-partizanskoj.html   [If you can read Russian you can learn all about zemliankis and their construction here]

Tanks and Tractors

In the late 1930’s, the Soviet Union had an intense focus on military preparedness as well as loyalty. The Red Army went through a series of purges due to Stalin’s perceived lack of loyalty. His purges were especially focused on higher ranking leaders of the army. The military preparedness came from recent conflicts with Manchuria, Japan, Eastern European States, and their anticipation of conflict with Germany. The USSR preached military preparedness through various propaganda campaigns. A main point in much of their propaganda was how prepared they have made their citizens for transferring between average life and life as a solider. They put a focus on how they incorporated everyday technology into the military. For instance, the Soviet Union introduced tractor technology on collectivized farms that were similar to their tank technology. This allowed tractor drivers to easily transition to tank drivers for the army.

Dmitrii Moor: Tractors (1934) (1)

The above picture shows the death of farming by plow and the emergence of the tractor. This tractor also happens to resemble a tank, which implies that the technologies of the tank and tractor at that time period were nearly interchangeable.

The military preparedness of the Soviet Union, especially in reference to tractors and tanks was exemplified in the 1939 movie directed by Ivan Pyriev, Tractor Drivers. This popular movie was the story of three tank men who would return home from their victory in Manchuria to continue to live their life on collectivized farms as tractor drivers(1). This movie was an important cultural piece of its time as it sent various messages to the public. First of all, it was supported by Stalin and served as military propaganda to show preparedness as well as success. It gave the impression that the Soviets were ready for war and could defend themselves to the East and the West. “This movie also showed the amicable union of peoples in the healthy Soviet organism since the characters were a Georgian, a Ukrainian, and a Russian(1).”

Opening credits Ivan Priev: Tractor Drivers(1939)(2).

Works Cited.

1. Tractor Drivers. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/tractor-drivers/

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzm06PabiDg&feature=player_embedded

3. http://thediplomat.com/2012/08/the-forgotten-soviet-japanese-war-of-1939/

The Soviet Drink of Choice

When one thinks of things of a cultural cornerstone for the Soviet Union, something that always comes to mind when one hears about the USSR, vodka is one of the first images to pop into mind. However, the Soviets experienced fancier times when it came to their high levels of alcohol consumption. The Mid 1930’s, up until the war was an easier time for many of the people in the Soviet Union. The First Five Year Plan, for all intensive purposes was an eventual successful. Millions of people died the as a result of the plan, but eventually the Soviet Union level stabilized and even saw periods of relative prosperity. The second five year plan concentrated on consumer goods and making the average person happier. This was especially true when it came to the food industry. Markets throughout the USSR had still had requirements on what they must carry, but these markets carried a much wider variety of food than what was seen in earlier parts on the century. Advertisements for a variety of consumer goods and new Soviet foods began to expand as well; a variety of advertisements can be seen here.

Soviet Confectionery/Grocery Store(1)

Among these fine items in during food surpluses across the Soviet Union was Soviet Champagne. The drink became a staple of diet and culture in the mid-thirties after the brilliant discovery of mass champagne production. “Anton Mikhailovich Frolov-Bagreev, an aristocrat and chemist was able to change the fermentation process from occurring in bottles to occurring in large reservoirs. This upped production from around 300,000 bottles in 1934 to around 12,000,000 bottles in 1942. It became so popular and accessible that it was sold on tap in local food stores”(1). The quantity of Soviet champagne during this era impressive, but it was also said that the quality of the champagne was to that of France. A majority of the Champagne produced during this period came from the Northeast Coast of the Black Sea across from Crimea.


Soviet Caviar advertisement(3)

As well as having a taste for champagne, Soviets also indulged on incredible amounts of caviar and oyster. We can thank the Soviets for the rarity, price, and exclusivity of caviar and a large destruction of oysters in the region. Back then caviar was eaten very frequently; many had it every day. Even the poorest of Soviets spread it on their bread like jam. This rapid consumption of fish eggs (sturgeon) along with their consumption in other ways helped to severely reduce their population since they are a fish that live long(100 yrs.) and reproduce slowly. This realization was not made until decades later, which results in caviar being so expensive currently; up to $250/oz. on the legal market.
Many people consider food to be an extremely important part of culture of a country. When a country has a food culture full of fine foods, the people and that country experience a greater amount of prosperity, success, and stability. This is especially true when this cultural change occurs a few years after millions of people died of starvation. For Soviets, the change from bread rationing to cheap champagne and caviar in their local stores was a widely supported change that improved their happiness, their way of life, their support of Stalin, and the rise of the Soviet Union.


Caviar Tins(2)




1. Geldern, Von James. Soviet Champagne. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1934champagne&Year=1934&navi=byYear>.

2. Caviar Tins. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caviar_tins_%28Russian_and_Iranian%29_%28cropped%29.jpg>

3. Soviet Advertising, 1930-1950. Dieselpunk. http://www.dieselpunks.org/photo/albums/soviet-advertising-1930s

Shock Workers

In 1928, Joseph Stalin decided to implement the first five year plan throughout the Soviet Union. This was intended to boost the economy through heavy industrialization and collectivization. Collectivization was intended to boost the food and crop output, but it also was meant to free up peasants so that they could become industrial workers. During the five year plan, the industrial workforce rose from 3.12 million in 1928 to 6.01 million by the end of 1932(1). While the workforce size increased, the efforts of the workers did not. In a socialist system, there is no incentive to to work hard or efficiently. This is one of the reasons that the Soviet Union did not reach their desired industrial output by the end of the first five year plan. To combat the problem of workers not working, the Soviet Union introduced a new type of worker, called shock workers.

Soviet Shock Worker Propaganda(2)

“Shock workers(udarniki) was a term used to designate workers performing especially arduous or urgent tasks, reemerged and was applied to all workers and employees who fulfilled obligations over and above their planned quotas(2).” The incentives in becoming a shock worker included an official title, a badge, extra money, a certificate, privileged dining, and occasionally vacation vouchers and scarce goods.

Shock worker badge(2)

“Official statistics indicate that by the end of 1929, 29 percent of all workers in industry were participating; a year later, the proportion was 65 percent(2).” Being a shock worker soon became part or the working class culture, as did shock worker competitions. “Many competitions occurred mainly on paper or were used by enterprise authorities to get around legal prohibitions against mandatory overtime(2).” The use of shock workers would continue on and off throughout the time of the Soviet Union, especially during economic plans and wartime. It may be argued that the need and the huge success of shock workers proved that socialism was a failed system since it needed capitalistic characteristics to be efficient.

[Komsomol shock workers (25,000ers) volunteer to help build factory in the Moscow Region coal mining district, and help organize collective farms(2)]


Works Cited

1. Hansen, Stephen (1997). Time and Revolution: Marxism and the Design of Soviet Institutions. University Of North Carolina Press. p. 95

2. Shock Workers. Seventeen Moments. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/shock-workers/