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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

Soviet Life in 1931

Factory Entrance

Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Texte intégral

No indication on the back of the document, stamps excepted. [Purple stamp] UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. (…); [in Russian] “СОВЕТСКОЕ Фотографическое Издательство Акц. О-во Унион-Фото”- [“SOVIET Photographic Publishing house. Joint-stock company Union-Photo”]. The slogan on the top of the photograph reads in Russian: “Выполним пятилетку за четыре года. Декабрь. За 10 дней выработка по цехам”; “Приготовьте номера” – [“We will fulfill the five-year plan in four years. December. 10 days production by the workshops"; “Prepare your numbers”]. Black and white photograph; 13.5 x 19 cm.

1The Stalinist frenzy to industrialize the entire Soviet Union as quickly as possible is nicely captured in the slogan above the entrance to the factory shown in the photograph: “We will fulfill the Five-Year Plan in four years!” Assuming the obligation to overfulfill the plan – what came to be known as “counter-planning” – pervaded Soviet industry at this time. The chief means for accomplishing this goal was socialist competition, a set of recursive challenges issued by groups (aka brigades) of workers to other brigades, among different sections of the same factory, or even between entire factories to best their performance. So long as they overfulfilled their targets, participants in socialist competition bore the exalted title of “shock brigades.” Members of shock brigades enjoyed certain privileges such as higher quality or greater quantities of food in factory canteens.

2In the photograph, the wire shop of the factory had fulfilled its plan for the first ten days of December by 101 percent, whereas the rolling shop lagged far behind at 71 percent, earning it the shameful prize of the crab. Each section’s daily output is displayed for all to see as they arrive at work. These efforts to inculcate a new, more responsible and more modern work culture faced many obstacles. Older, more skilled workers resented such intrusions from agitators and the enthusiasm of youthful upstarts. Younger workers, overwhelmingly from the countryside, looked on much of their new environment with stupefaction. Even with the best of intentions, workers often lacked necessary equipment and supplies, to say nothing of safety training and devices. Accident rates were appallingly high; breakdowns frequent; and shamming or “phony shock work” endemic.

3In 1927, Nikolai Bukharin, the “gentle Bolshevik,” opposed Stalin’s over-ambitious plans by pointing out that, “you can’t build today’s factories with tomorrow’s bricks.” True enough, but for better or for worse – and for quite a while now, the verdict among historians has been that the Communist Party under Stalin operated according to a different ethos. As Stalin put it “There are no fortresses the Bolsheviks cannot storm.”


Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Kenneth Straus, Factory and Community in Stalin’s Russia: the Making of an Industrial Working Class, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.


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