Stakhanovite was the term applied to Soviet workers and peasants who set production records or otherwise demonstrated mastery of their assigned tasks. The term was derived from the name of one Alexei Stakhanov, a thirty-year-old miner in the Donets Basin, who on 31 August 1935 mined 102 tons of coal in a six-hour shift, an amount representing fourteen times his quota. Within a few days Stakhanov's feat was hailed by Pravda as a world record. The Stakhanovite movement was launched by the Communist Party in a spirit of technological nationalism and to intensify pressure on managers and workers alike to raise labor productivity. Initially, it was characterized by the setting of production records first in coal mining and then in other industries—automobile production, shoe manufacturing, textiles, and so forth. Workers who met or exceeded their work quotas previously had been known as "shock workers" (udarniki); with the implementation of the Stakhanovite movement, the title of Stakhanovite quickly superseded that of shock worker. The campaign culminated in an All-Union Conference of Stakhanovites in industry and transportation, which met in the Kremlin in late November 1935. Here, the most celebrated Stakhanovites recounted how they managed to overcome the skepticism of fellow workers and supervisors in pioneering new methods of production and achieving amazing results. Amazing too were their monetary and in-kind rewards. Joseph Stalin captured the optimism of the conference when, by way of explaining how such records were only possible in the "land of socialism," he uttered the phrase that would become the movement's motto, "Life has become better, and happier too."
In quantitative terms, the Stakhanovite movement seems to have been most widespread in the extractive industries, power generation, and railroad transportation, where upward of 40 percent of all workers were designated as Stakhanovites by August 1936. Young male workers who had passed technical training courses, were classified as at least semiskilled, and had an average of three to five years experience were overrepresented among Stakhanovites. However, what was characteristic in industry was not the case in agriculture, where, among collective and state farm workers who were Stakhanovites, the most prominent were women, such as the tractor-driving Pasha Angelina and the sugar-beet cultivator Maria Demchenko.
The Stakhanovite movement provided lessons not only on how to work but also on how to live. Many of the same attributes Stakhanovites were supposed to exhibit on the shop floor—neatness, punctuality, preparedness, and a keenness for learning—they were also expected to show outside of work hours. Stakhanovites in this way came to exemplify the New Soviet Man or Woman, and the quality of being cultured (kulturnost). The wives of male Stakhanovites also had an important role in this scenario by preparing nutritious meals, ensuring that their husbands got plenty of rest, and otherwise creating a cultured evvironment in the home. The publicity surrounding Stakhanovites' domestic lives—replete with objects such as phonograph records, motorcycles, and even automobiles—was intended to convey the message that the Soviet Union would be a society of abundance in the future.
Quite a few Stakhanovites received special educational training, followed by promotion into the ranks of management; others were sent on tours of work sites, where they demonstrated their skills. Some served as models for artists' renderings of the quintessentially socialist-realist worker, and in the case of the textile weaver Maria Vinogradova, for the heroine in the film The Radiant Path, a musical comedy from 1940.
Stakhanovites were portrayed as being admired by their workmates, yet this was not necessarily true. Even before output norms were raised in early 1936, workers who had not been favored with the best conditions and who consequently had to struggle to fulfill their norms expressed resentment of Stakhanovites through verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Foremen and engineers, only too well aware that a craze for setting records and the provision of special conditions for Stakhanovites created disruptions in production and bottlenecks in supplies, also on occasion "sabotaged" the movement. Or at least, when the Stakhanovite movement failed to unleash the productive forces of the country as promised, sabotage was blamed. Thus, in an indirect way, the Stakhanovite movement fed the Great Terror of 1936–1938. However, the inertia of the movement carried it into World War II when workers who took over the jobs of inductees were celebrated. The movement even enjoyed something of a revival in the years after the war, when it was exported to Eastern Europe.
Labour in the Land of Socialism: Stakhanovites in Conference. Moscow, 1936.
Siegelbaum, Lewis H. Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR, 1935–1941. New York, 1988.
Lewis H. Siegelbaum