The Illusion of the New Soviet Man

“’Life has become more joyous,’ Stalin exulted in November 1935” (Freeze pg. 362). And indeed, despite the brutality that would ensue with the Great Purges of 1936-38, it had; the mid-1930s brought an “imagined harmony” in the Soviet Union (Freeze pg. 362). Former enemies’ of Stalin began to heap praise on the dictator, most notably at the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934 (Freeze pg. 362). Socialism was officially declared to have been achieved in the 1936 Constitution, and became “responsible for life’s joyfulness” (Freeze pg. 362).

The era of joyfulness spurred an individualistic movement in Soviet culture. The outstanding achievements of some were held up as an example of what it meant to be a “New Soviet Man or Woman.” The most celebrated individual achievement of this period came from Aleksei Stakhanov in August of 1935; Stakhanov, a thirty year old coalminer, collected, in one day, “102 tons of coal—more than fourteen times the norm for a six-hour shift” (Freeze 363). Stakhanov’s feat led the Communist Party to launch the Stakhanovite movement—the title of which “quickly superseded that of shock worker.” The Stakhanovite movement carried with it lessons on how to work and live.

Stalin capitalized on the celebration of the Stakhanovite movement at a conference in 1935, where, after Stakhanov himself gave a speech praising the dictator, he remarked that in the “land of socialism … Life has become better, and happier too.” Stalin’s words would serve “as the motto of the movement.” Soviet culture also placed emphasis on showing how Stakhanovites “were admired by their comrades and considered worthy of holding public office.” Stalin used the image of the Stakhanovite to represent stories of the “prosperous present and the even-more prosperous and happy future;” this image was used to draw a contrast between that idea and the “harsh, oppressive past.” Simply put, the Stakhanovite came to represent “a broad range of themes—mastery of technology, the creation of the New Soviet Man, the cultured working-class family … [and] upward social mobility” (Freeze pg. 363).

The Stakhanovite movement, nonetheless, ended up increasing resentment “among workers who either could not become Stakhanovites or, having achieved status, did not receive commensurate rewards;” it also raised expectations that the innovations of the Stakhanovite movement would “raise labor productivity” that went “largely unfulfilled” (Freeze 363). Despite this, the Stakhanovite movement is emblematic of Soviet struggles with labor production—desperately searching for a way to incentivize innovation and hard work in a society that now had no such incentive. The Stakhanovite movement was a product of Stalinism, and proved to be an illusion with the Great Purges and wars that would ensue.

Works Cited:

  • Russia A History by Gregory L. Freeze, Third Edition

8 thoughts on “The Illusion of the New Soviet Man

  1. Kyle – great post on the Stakhanovites! Your statement that the glorification of these workers signified the Soviet struggle with incentivizing labor seems pretty spot on to me. Promises of a “more prosperous and happy future” are also a really interesting recurring theme throughout Soviet history, and one that often tends to backfire. Overall, great job!

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  2. Thank you! That was one of my goals with my post this week, to show that the glorification of work was an attempt by the Soviet government to incentivize work in a system that did not really provide much incentive. Also that’s an interesting point — that the promises of a “more prosperous and happy future” recur throughout Soviet history. Thank you for your comment!

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  3. What a thoughtful discussion of Stakhanovism and the values informing the ideal of the “new Soviet Man” ! You do a really good job of probing the challenge of building in incentives and hierarchies into a system that ostensibly didn’t have them. Another angle on all of this is the way “building socialism” dovetailed with a new social conservatism that presented a conundrum where gender was concerned. Check out Sam’s post: https://soviethistoryblogbysam.home.blog/2019/03/31/little-less-revolution-little-more-procreation-social-conservatism-in-1930s-soviet-russia/comment-page-1/#comment-14

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  4. Thank you for your comment! That’s a great point about the turn to a new social conservatism in the 1930s, where there was a tightening of laws surrounding the family (particularly the issue of abortion). I think the new social conservatism and Stakhanovite movement are connected through a push by Stalin to centralize more power within the state. Both seem to be about control and propping up socialism (or, more accurately, Stalinism).

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  5. Very informative post! I touched upon some of the same subjects with conservatism and a sort of “rejection” of the liberalization movement in the 20s, but with regards to women. I find this era of Soviet politics and culture very interesting due to the contrast between what was promised from the revolution and what Stalin’s Soviet Realism movement actually delivered.

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    1. That’s a great point about the contrast between what was promised from the revolution and what Stalin’s Soviet Realism movement delivered in reality. Thank you for your comment!

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  6. Kyle, I liked your post and how Stakhanovite movement was essentially influencing people to work excessive amounts. Not only that though, like you pointed out that it became a more broad range, from mastery of technology, the new soviet man, the working class family, etc.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! That’s a great point about how the Stakhanovite movement was more broad than Stakhanovite himself. Included in that were the new socially conservative laws centered around the family. It was all about building Stalinism at the end of the day…

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