“’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 Stakhanov’s feat led the Communist Party to launch the Stakhanovite movement—the title of which “quickly superseded that of shock worker.”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.
- Russia A History by Gregory L. Freeze, Third Edition