Labor Discipline “or lack thereof”

Soviet Anti-Alcohol Poster

In the early 1930’s, a massive influx of both skilled and unskilled workers, drove down the efficiency of the labor force. The industrial complex saw its production numbers in some cases cut in half. The projection of 100 billion kilowatts of electricity to be produced in 1937, saw only roughly 38 billion (Freeze, 358). As the international front was becoming increasingly hostile preceding the Second World War, Stalin became aware of the need to “tighten up” the labor force. At the time, the Soviet Union was especially  technologically inferior than most of West, and Stalin knew it was crucial to catch up before the onset of another war. The Soviet response was dubbed “labor discipline”.

Labor discipline referred to a variety of workplace attributes. Everything from showing up on time, to following instructions, to staying awake on the job, was considered labor discipline (Seigelbaum,  17 Moments). In essence, Soviet laborers had become lazy, unfocused, and obsessed with alcohol. According to Don Filtzer, this was due to a highly irregular pace of work. Workers would work inconsistent schedules of intense forced overtime followed by opportunities for slacking, leading to a lack of care for quality (Filtzer). If the Soviet Union was going to defend itself from its adversaries, something was going to have to change.

In 1938, the government introduced a series of decrees that would describe how the Soviets would enforce this new concept of labor discipline. Workers that were late by more than 20 minutes were to be fired immediately, and evicted from their housing. By 1940, a new decree made failure to show up for work, and voluntary quitting a criminal offense (Seigelbaum), most likely resulting in years of forced labor in a gulag.

In conclusion, labor discipline was an overall success. By the start of the Second World War, the Soviet defense industry was producing 230 tanks, 700 aircraft, and well over 100,000 rifles a month (Freeze, 372). Now, instead of being utterly inefficient, the Soviets were producing weapons at an unparalleled rate. I think its fair to say labor discipline directly benefit the success of the Soviets in defeating the Germans.


Works Cited:

Filtzer, Donald. “Labor Discipline and the Decline of the Soviet System – Don Filtzer.”,
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Seigelbaum, Lewis. “Labor Discipline.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 28 Sept. 2015,



10 Replies to “Labor Discipline “or lack thereof””

  1. I find it interesting that the Soviet State introduced practically draconian labor laws to ensure labor productivity and discipline. Practically threatening a death sentence to workers for being unproductive does seem to have success in increasing productivity.

    1. Yea thats for sure! I mean it was definitely harsh, but it ultimately saved them from Nazi conquest. Im sure the workers didn’t like it at the time though!

  2. Nice article, it is very well written and summarizes pretty well the governments attempt to tighten labor discipline. Something else interesting is that this eventually developed into the Soviet union’s parasite laws, really embracing the mantra he who does not work does not eat. The laws made it a criminal offense not to work and had pretty harsh consequences for workers who showed up late. However, these laws could not enforce quality control, which is what many Soviet products lagged behind in compared to many markets around the world.

    1. Hey De’Vonte, thanks for reading my post. Threatening the food supply of those that are unwilling to work, certainly will change a few attitudes. I totally agree that these did not necessarily create quality, however it did create numbers, and numbers are what won the war for the Soviets.

  3. Absolutely agree with your conclusion! Thanks for writing about an important and often underappreciated topic! Labor discipline seems like a real yawn, until you realize that one of the key consequences of the FFYP was the massive influx of relatively unskilled people into the industrial labor market. Given the disruption and chaos of the “Great Turn” it’s not surprising I guess that the regime would want to try to increase production by tightening up rules and regulations. Your post suggests that these new rules were essential and that they worked — and most importantly, that they helped put the country on track to produce the equipment needed for World War II.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to rad my post Dr. Nelson! As a military history buff, i knew that WW2 Soviet Union had far superior numbers than any other participant in terms of weapons, tanks, soldiers, etc. With that being said, i had no clue that less than a decade earlier, they were industrially stagnant. I enjoyed learning that these labor discipline laws played a significant part in boosting efficiency.

  4. This was an interesting post to read. You do a good job of explaining why the Soviets felt they needed to impose labor discipline and the results that followed. I think it would be interesting to know how workers viewed these labor decrees. Was there a level of push back/dissatisfaction and was it consistant throughout this period or did increase/decrease over time?

    1. Thanks for reading! I am sure the workers were not happy about having stricter rules imposed on them against there will, however anyone that tried to object, would most likely have been fired and/or sent to the gulags, so i would say most just bit their lips and continued on.

  5. This was very informative, and I enjoyed reading through it! I’m a big WWII buff myself, and I completely agree with you that if it hadn’t been for the might of Soviet industry, and their ability to churn out cheap yet effective military equipment (i.e. T-34s), the USSR would have been in significant trouble. In reading your post, I was informed on just how the Soviets were able to accomplish that, which I agree with you in super interesting.

    1. Thanks for reading it! As a WW2 buff, i knew the soviets had massive numbers, but i never realized that it was due to this concept of labor discipline. Its always nice to be able expand on topics were interested in, like WW2.

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