Stakhanovite Movement

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On August 31, 1935, Aleksei Stakhanov, a thirty-year-old miner in the Donets Basin, hewed 102 tons of coal during his six-hour shift. This amount represented fourteen times his quota, and within a few days his feat was hailed by Pravda as a world record. Anxious to celebrate and reward individuals' achievements in production that could serve as stimuli to other workers, the party launched the Stakhanovite movement. The title of Stakhanovite, conferred on workers and peasants who set production records or otherwise demonstrated mastery of their assigned tasks, quickly superseded that of shockworker. Day by day throughout the autumn of 1935, the campaign intensified, culminating in an All-Union Conference of Stakhanovites in industry and transportation that met in the Kremlin in November. At the conference, outstanding Stakhanovites mounted the podium to recount how, defying their quotas and often the skepticism of their workmates and bosses, they applied new techniques of production to achieve stupendous results for which they were rewarded with wages that reached dizzying heights. Josef Stalin captured the upbeat mood of the conference when, by way of explaining how such records were only possible in the land of socialism, he uttered the phrase, "Life has become better, and happier too." Widely disseminated, and even set to song, Stalin's words served as the motto of the movement.

The Stakhanovite movement thus encompassed lessons not only about how to work, but also about how to live. In addition to providing a model for success on the shop floor, it conjured up images of the good life. Many of the same qualities Stakhanovites were supposed to exhibit in the one spherecleanliness, neatness, preparedness, and a keenness for learningwere applicable to the other. These qualities were associated with kulturnost (culturedness), the acquisition of which marked the individual as a New Soviet Man or Woman. Advertisements for perfume, articles about Stakhanovites on shopping sprees, photographs of Stakhanovites sharing their happiness with their families, newsreels showing them driving new automobilespresented to them as giftsand moving into comfortable apartments all symbolized kulturnost. Wives of male Stakhanovites had an important part to play in the movement as helpmates preparing nutritious meals, keeping their apartments clean and comfortable, and otherwise creating a cultured environment in the home so that their husbands were well-rested and eager to work with great energy. It was also important to demonstrate that Stakhanovites were admired by their comrades and considered worthy of holding public office.

Notwithstanding the enormous publicity surrounding Stakhanovites and their achievements, they were not necessarily popular. Even before the raising of output norms in early 1936, workers who had not been favored with the best conditions, and consequently struggled to fulfill their norms, expressed resentment of Stakhanovites by verbally and even physically abusing them. Foremen and engineers, only too well aware that record mania and the provision of special conditions for Stakhanovites created disruptions in production and bottlenecks in supplies, also on occasion sabotaged the movement. At least that was the accusation made against many who often served as scapegoats for the failure of the Stakhanovite movement to fulfill its promise of unleashing the productive forces of the country. Nevertheless, the Stakhanovite movement continued into the war and even enjoyed something of a revival in the postwar years, when it was exported to Eastern Europe.

See also: industrialization, soviet; kulturnost; soviet man


Siegelbaum, Lewis H. (1988). Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR, 19351941. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Thurston, Robert. (1993). "The Stakhanovite Movement: The Background to the Great Terror in the Factories, 19351938." In Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives, eds. J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis H. Siegelbaum