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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Subbotnik, Saturday volunteer work, [Moscow or Petrograd?], June 1920

Joseph C. Bradley

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “Массовый субботник советских служащих (трудовой интеллигенции и рабочих). Июнь 1920” – “Travail volontaire du samedi des employés du Soviet. Juin 1920” – [“Mass voluntary Saturday work (subbotnik) of Soviet employees (intelligentsia and workers). June 1920”]. Black and white photograph; 12 x 15 cm.

1In April 1919, workers in the freight yards of the Moscow-Kazan Railway Line launched what was later to become a mass movement of unpaid labor known as the subbotnik, a word derived from the Russian word for Saturday (in turn derived from the word Sabbath). They are not to be confused with the religious sect of Subbotniki, a heretical movement in Russian orthodoxy which, in its absorption in the Old Testament, gravitated towards Judaism.

2Initially, the communist subbotniks, such as that depicted in this picture, were sporadic local efforts, largely loading and unloading freight and repairing railway lines. In fact, the emblem on the workers’ caps worn by most of the men in this photograph would seem to be that of Russian railroad workers. Judging by the pile of logs on the upper level of the photograph they appear to have hauled wood to fuel their locomotives. The people in the picture are a very diverse crowd. In addition to the railroad workers, the crowd includes men and women of all ages, perhaps even of diverse social classes, as well as children. Although the people here appear to be resting the communist subbotniks reflected the revolutionary enthusiasm that could sometimes be found in the early days of Soviet power and the desire to save the revolution from the threats of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak’s and General Anton Denikin’s White Armies. The subbotniks also took place in the context of efforts to mobilize labor and strengthen labor discipline.

3Lenin enthusiastically gave the imprimatur of the state in an article entitled “A Great Beginning: On the Heroism of Workers Behind the front Lines. Concerning Communist Subbotniks” (“Velikii pochin: O geroizme rabochikh v tylu. Po povodu kommunisticheskikh subbotnikov”) published in Pravda on 28 June 1919. In Lenin’s eyes, the subbotniks were the “cell of a new, socialist society” of “communist consciousness” and the work performed was not simply overtime but exemplary “revolutionary-style” work.

Bibliographie

William Chase, Voluntarism, Mobilisation and Coercion: Subbotniki 1919-1921, Soviet Studies, Vol. 41, no. 1 (January 1989), pp. 111–128.

Lewis H Siegelbaum and Ronald Grigor Suny, Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

James Von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “Массовый субботник советских служащих (трудовой интеллигенции и рабочих). Июнь 1920” – “Travail volontaire du samedi des employés du Soviet. Juin 1920” – [“Mass voluntary Saturday work (subbotnik) of Soviet employees (intelligentsia and workers). June 1920”]. Black and white photograph; 12 x 15 cm.
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