or workers in the Soviet Union, like in many parts of the world during the 20th century, Sunday was a day of rest after six straight days of back-breaking labor. It was also an opportunity to go to church, see relatives, and maybe clean your home. But Sundays were also a massive thorn on Stalin’s side, as he strived to make the USSR an industrial powerhouse. Every Sunday, the massive Soviet industrial effort ground to a halt. Productivity fell to zero, with people staying home to pursue less revolution-driven endeavors, like family life, prayer, and resting.
Around ninety years ago, Stalin started a huge social experiment of around 160 million people.
The new, five-day week meant Saturday and Sunday were abolished. The seven-day week made way for Nepreryvka: a “continuous working week”, with a rest day staggered across what was now a five day week.
Nepreryvka was supposed to revolutionize labor. First, Soviet society was divided into five factions, where, every day, four factions would work and one would rest.
Then, the government made sure each family member had a different day off, making family life disappear and worship so much of a hassle that everyone just chose to become an atheist instead. Step three: Profit.
The days of the week gained new meanings, mostly political ones. Each day was now marked by an item: a wheatsheaf, a red star, a hammer and sickle, a book, and a woolen military cap.
If you worked in an urban factory, you now got a day-off every five days, instead of every seven. And industry could keep going, boosting production and the nation’s morale. It’s a win-win, right? Not exactly.
Shift Work. For everyone.
From an economic standpoint, it made sense. However, Russians were not huge fans of the five-day week.
Socially, it was a disaster: people had no time to see friends, associating instead with people from the same shift group. Managers were supposed to place husbands and wives in the same group, but they rarely did, destroying shared rest days.
The Communist Party looked at this not as a bug, but as a feature of the system, working tirelessly to destroy “family”, that bourgeoisie institution.
Workers, however, were not buying it. One even dared voice his opinion in Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party:
“What are we to do at home if the wife is in the factory, the children in school, and no one can come to see us? What is left but to go to the public tea room? What kind of life is that — when holidays come in shifts and not for all workers together? That’s no holiday, if you have to celebrate by yourself.” — Anonymous Soviet Citizen
The five-day work week didn’t last long. It was highly unpopular and affected attendance at worker meetings, essential for the Marxist propaganda machine.
Not one to give up so easily, Stalin brought Saturdays back in the 1931 calendar.
In the new system, all workers had a shared rest day on Saturdays, which were always on the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, and 30th days of the month.
Workers were still uneasy, and a decade later, Stalin finally accepted that people need a shared moment of rest too.
The seven-day workweek was reinstated on June 26th, 1940, four days after Hitler chose death and decided to invade the Soviet Union.
TV producer, reader, writer, bibliophile, and map lover. Did I mention I also love history?
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