The “Shocking” Workers of the USSR

“Do you want to fight against the cold? Do you want to defeat hunger? Do you want to eat? Do you want to drink? Hurry and join the shock group of model labor!”

Image Source

The First-Five-Year Plan brought about many social, economic and cultural changes and it called for higher production rates among the workers. Thus, the concept of shock workers was brought into the modern day workforce from its Civil War orgins. Shock workers (udarniki), a term originating during the civil war to designate workers performing especially arduous or urgent tasks, reemerged and was applied to all workers and employees who fulfilled obligations over and above their planned quotas. Official statistics indicate that by the end of 1929, 29 percent of all workers in the industry were participating; a year later, the proportion was 65 percent.” 

Without capitalism to incentivize workers, there was a slump in general productivity, which led to a scarcity of food and other goods. The soviets then decided to bring back the idea of “shock workers” which was prevalent during the Civil War. Workers who performed difficult jobs and went above and beyond their quotas were rewarded for their hard work, even though the Soviets were against the idea of wage discimination.

Video Source

The video above is entitled: No Grain for Private Traders! (1931) was a Soviet propaganda film that sought to dissuade workers who thought to turn to private business in order to get ahead. Socialism only works if everybody participates fairly.

But the problem then became, how do you organize the workers in a fair system and keep people from becoming fake shock workers in order to get ahead of their comrades? Leaders turned to an unpublished work of Lenin entitled, How to Organize Competition, of which, I have taken several excerpts that pertain to the organization and motivation of workers.

Vladimir Lenin, How to Organize Competition? January 9, 1918 

Original Source: First published in Pravda, 29 January 1929.

“The Paris Commune gave a great example of how to combine initiative, independence, freedom of action and vigor from below with voluntary centralism free from stereotyped forms. Our Soviets are following the same road. But they are still ‘timid’; they have not yet got into their stride, have not yet ‘bitten into’ their new, great, creative task of building the socialist system. The Soviets must set to work more boldly and display greater initiative.”

“All ‘communes’-factories, villages, consumers’ societies, and committees of supplies-must compete with each other as practical organizers of accounting and control of labor and distribution of products. The program of this accounting and control is simple, clear and intelligible to all-everyone to have bread; everyone to have sound footwear and good clothing; everyone to have warm dwellings; everyone to work conscientiously; not a single rogue (including those who shirk their work) to be allowed to be at liberty, but kept in prison, or serve his sentence of compulsory labor of the hardest kind; not a single rich man who violates the laws and regulations of socialism to be allowed to escape the fate of the rogue, which should, in justice, be the fate of the rich man. “He who does not work, neither shall he eat’-this is the practical commandment of socialism. This is how things should be organized practically.”


Badge Given to Shock Worker in 1932

Unfortunately, this program to incentive workers ultimately failed, and without increasing the production to the desired amount required by the First Five Year Plan. “The rise of the Stakhanovite movement in 1935 reduced the prestige of the shock worker title, and it all but disappeared in the late 1940s and early 1950s, only to resurface again under the guise of shock workers of Communist labor. From about ten million in 1966, the number of such workers increased to 17.9 million in 1971 and 24 million (or 26 percent of all wage and salary workers) by 1975


This post was featured in Comrades Corner by the Editorial Team.


Lenin on How to Organise Competition


Shock Workers

5 Replies to “The “Shocking” Workers of the USSR”

  1. I had never heard of the term “shock workers” until I read your post. I like how you link the absence of capitalism to the scarcity of food and other goods. I think it’s interesting how shock workers were relied upon to raise productivity and were rewarded more than others, even though this concept of wage inequality goes against the Soviet style of government.

  2. Thanks for writing about the shock workers! When a society is organized on egalitarian principles it can be hard to identify ideologically acceptable incentives for exceptional work. The shockworkers were a peculiar kind of elite — one that would resonate long after the first five year plan.

  3. This is the first time I have heard about the Shock Workers in detail. They were an interesting way to prevent people from trying to privatize their work. I really liked how you used your primary sources in this post. The video and the exerts from Lenin were really well used and provided strong details.

  4. If you’ve ever studied Russian using Soviet textbooks, you’ll recognize this word udarniki (ударники)… it shows up everywhere. It’s actually kind of hilarious… Ivan is an udarnik, he’s great. Sasha is lazy, he’s terrible and doesn’t bathe. Not even joking. Anyway, it’s interesting to see the context. As Dr. Nelson mentioned, it’s hard to single anyone out for their achievement in this sort of ideological environment, especially when the existential threat of being denounced or determined a kulak is there.

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