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Labor Books


Labor Books were issued to all officially employed persons in the Soviet Union and were used to keep a written record of the daily work behavior of each worker. These labor books were introduced in the Soviet Union in late 1938. Labor books are of historical interest as one of several drastic changes in labor regulations implemented in the late 1930s in an effort to develop and to sustain labor discipline. Moreover, these regulations, which included the requirement of internal passports, limitations on mobility, and the organized and controlled placement of labor, were significant elements of the general process of labor allocation reducing the influence of market-type forces and incentives and were more generally important as restrictions on the freedom of the population.

Throughout the Soviet era, the mix of mechanisms used for labor allocation changed considerably. Beginning in the 1930s, the system of controls was expanded in many directions. These controls, including the widespread use of forced labor, were a fundamental systemic component of the Soviet economic system. However, during the post-Stalin era, the use of direct controls over labor allocation was reduced and began to be replaced by market-type forces and direct incentive arrangements. These incentives were increasingly used to allocate labor in a variety of dimensions, for example by sector and region of the economy.

The use of labor books in the Soviet Union is an important component of the more general process of replacing market mechanisms with state directed nonmarket mechanisms during the command era. The impact of these controls on labor allocation and labor productivity in an economy artificially characterized as a full employment economy (an economy with a "job right constraint") remain controversial in the overall judgement of labor allocation procedures and results during the Soviet era.

See also: labor


Bergson, Abram. (1964). The Economics of Soviet Planning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Gregory, Paul R., and Stuart, Robert C. (2001). Russian and Soviet Economic Performance and Structure, 7th ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Nove, Alec. (1982). An Economic History of the USSR. New York: Penguin Books.

Robert C. Stuart

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