usually use the noun “stakhanovite” in order to identify an extremely productive or hard-working worker. But why do we use this word? What is its origin? To find it out, we have to go back to 1935 in the Soviet Union. The term “stakhanovite” referred to workers who modeled themselves after Aleksej Grigor’evič Stachanov, a blue-collar worker who spent his life working as a coal miner in the Donbass’ Region, Soviet Union. Stachanov became popular after having shown full commitment to the Soviet cause. The night of August 31, 1935, Stachanov mined 102 tones of coal in less than six hours (fourteen times his quota). Stachanov soon became a means of Communist propaganda. Soviet authorities gave birth to the “Stakhanovite Movement” too. The idea was to urge blue-collars to work and produce more and more.
Five-year plans for the Soviet economy
At the beginning of the 20s, the Soviet Union had just come out from the War Communism period. The State had assumed control of all means of production and all lands had been nationalized. When War Communism was over, there was a great debate between Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov on the one hand and Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev on the other. The first group considered that Lenin’s economic policies had provided sufficient State control on the economy and sufficiently rapid development, while the latter urged for a more rapid development and greater State control. Stalin stayed in the background, even though he sided with the Bukharin group. However, in 1927, when Stalin had already taken the power, he changed sides, supporting those in favor of a new course.
As a consequence, from 1928 onwards, Stalin started to issue Five-Year plans in order to develop the Soviet economy. Each Five-Year plan dealt with all aspects of development: capital goods, consumer goods, agriculture, transportation, communications, health, education and welfare. The emphasis varied from plan to plan, although generally, the emphasis was on power, capital goods and agriculture.
Stalin and the Soviet authorities needed blue-collars to work for the fulfillment of their plans. A massive propaganda started. For example, one of the slogans of that period was: “Plan is law, fulfillment is duty, over-fulfillment is honour!”. Where the term “duty” could also be interpreted as “debt”. Stachanov’s actions occurred during the period in which the Second Five-Year Plan was held (1933–1937).
On September 19, 1935, Stachanov was reported to have set a new record by mining 227 tonnes of coal in a single shift. His example was held up in newspapers and posters as a model for others to follow. Stachanov became popular also abroad, and on December 16, 1935, he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in the United States. He received several awards from the Soviet authorities, in particular: Order of Lenin (twice), Order of the Red Banner of Labour, and Hero of Socialist Labour. Then, the last Sunday of August became the “Coal Miner’s Day”, in his honor. In 1936, Stachanov became a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, when he was only 29.
In this footage, you can see Stachanov as a means of Soviet propaganda. It was extremely useful, even though the Second Five-Year Plan was not fulfilled. Anyway, the example of Stachanov created a new kind of “Soviet-Man”, a man that doesn’t give up, a man able to do things that human beings usually are not capable of doing. Probably, this kind of man became important during World War II, and in particular during the Battle of Stalingrad (1942–1943), in which for seven months the Soviet resisted the assault of the Nazis.
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