It’s been 80 years since Alexei Stakhanov performed his incredible feat of productivity, and according to the Blagoveshchensk local newspaper Amurskaya Pravda, “the majority of those surveyed today know nothing of this hero of labor.” Reporter Nikolai Zeya, the son of a local miner, set out to remedy the situation.
It happened in Donbass, overnight between August 30-31, 1935. A coal miner named Alexei Stakhanov descended into the Tsentralnaya-Irmino coal mine, along with the mine’s party organizer, Konstantine Petrov, the regional party organizer, Miron Tyukanov, and the editor of the company newspaper, Nikolai Mikhailov. That night, Stakhanov used a jackhammer to mine 102 tons of coal, fourteen times the labor productivity standard in the USSR at the time. He even set a new world record for coal production.
Was this feat planned by Stakhanov himself, or was it an order handed down from above? The debate rages on. Newspapers at the time reported that, supposedly, Sergo Ordzhonikidze found out about the achievement of the miner from Donetsk and relayed the news to Stalin, who then “publicized” it. Much later the rumors went that Stalin was the actual initiator of this feat of labor. Some wrote that Stakhanov’s record was planned in advance: that night, he was aided by two assistants, who performed auxiliary tasks and whose names remained in obscurity. Most likely, that is exactly what happened – otherwise, why did two party organizers and a newspaper editor go down into the mine with Stakhanov?
There was, of course, much for show in this kind of work. I remember my father, who worked as a miner at the time, grumbling that future Stakhanovites were set up with favorable conditions so that they could overfulfill their quotas. Stakhanovite candidates were picked out in advance by management, and everything was thoroughly prepared for their records. Mikhail Dmitrievich Ovchinnikov, a man from our hometown about the same age as my father, who was then working in our goldmine as a rate-setter, told me that “[we] would choose areas with the loosest bedrock for boring, and there was a special team of helpers clearing the waste rock, always ready to replace the Stakhanovite-to-be’s tools, bring a glass of water, and so on.”
The memories of my father and Mikhail Ovchinnikov are fully confirmed by a telegram from the Amurzoloto Trust, dated 1936. “For successful implementation of our great Stalin’s campaign,” the telegram says, “immediately organize planning for practical targets, specifically: set objective to achieve new norms passed by the [Stakhanovite] conference, create conditions wherein Stakhanovites can achieve overfulfillment of quotas and be the vanguard of Stalin’s campaign, be vigilant, attentive to the smallest obstacles […] Require managers to immediately […] find suitable places for work […] Pay special attention to organization of personnel […] Require all managers in the region to work with clear discipline, real responsibility; remove anyone who opposes campaign from managerial positions […]”
The Stakhanovite movement became an integral part of the 1930’s. The newspapers wrote of Stakhanovites and other model workers, their portraits were hung on walls of honor, they received honorary certificates. The honors were welcomed, but the material benefits are also worth noting. In fact, for the time the incentives were quite hefty: a leather coat, a suit, a bicycle, household appliances, sums of money. For having good statistics, my father was awarded a grammophone. We kids loved our father’s award so much that we spent days on end playing records. My father’s sister, aunt Valya, who also worked in the mine, was “incentivized” with a spa vacation trip.
Translator: Eugenia Sokolskaya
Image credit: hronos.ru
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