Shockworkers (udarniki ), a term originating during the Russian Civil War to designate workers performing especially arduous or urgent tasks, reemerged during the late 1920s and was applied thereafter to all workers and employees who assumed and fulfilled obligations over and above their work assignments. The rise of the Stakhanovite movement in 1935 reduced the prestige of the shockworker title, and it all but disappeared during the late 1940s and early 1950s, only to resurface again under the guise of shockworkers of Communist labor. From about ten million in 1966, the number of such workers increased to 17.9 million in 1971 and twenty-four million (or twenty-six percent of all wage and salary workers) by 1975.
The checkered history of shockwork in the USSR faithfully mirrors changing approaches by the Communist Party to the task of mobilizing workers and stimulating their commitment to raising labor productivity. If during the Civil War it was associated with voluntary Communist Saturdays (subbotniki ), then during the late 1920s it arose primarily among young industrial workers who were eager to demonstrate their skills on new equipment and methods of production. From 1929 onward, shockwork invariably was linked with socialist competitions in which brigades of workers over fulfilling production quotas or meeting other obligations assumed in competition agreements were rewarded with prizes and privileged access to scarce goods and services.
But as the number of shockworkers increased to slightly more than forty percent of all industrial workers, the value of the title became debased. Moreover, the brief period of extra physical exertion (known as "storming") associated with shock-work was ill suited to complex and interrelated production processes. Shockwork became a regular feature of Soviet industrial and agricultural life in the post-Stalin era as a result of the responsibility placed on lower-level trade union, Komsomol, and party officials to exercise leadership and record progress along bureaucratically predetermined lines. Workers seeking to extract favors from these organizations or demonstrate their suitability for promotion into their ranks went along with the game.
See also: industrialization, soviet; stakhanovite movement; subbotnik
Lewis H. Siegelbaum