Iosif Stalin, Speech at the First All-union Conference of Stakhanovites. November 17, 1935
I. The Significance of the Stakhanov Movement
II. The Roots of the Stakhanov Movement
III. New People — New Technical Standards
IV. Immediate Tasks
V. A Few More Words
Comrades, so much has been said at this conference about the Stakhanovites, and it has been said so well, that there is really very little left for me to say. But since I have been called on to speak, I will have to say a few words.
The Stakhanov movement cannot be regarded as an ordinary movement of working men and women. The Stakhanov movement is a movement of working men and women which will go down in the history of our socialist construction as one of its most glorious pages.
Wherein lies the significance of the Stakhanov movement?
Primarily, in the fact that it is the expression of a new wave of socialist emulation, a new and higher stage of socialist emulation. Why new, and why higher? Because the Stakhanov movement, as an expression of socialist emulation, contrasts favorably with the old stage of socialist emulation. In the past, some three years ago, in the period of the first stage of socialist emulation, socialist emulation was not necessarily associated with modern technique. At that time, in fact, we had hardly any modern technique. The present stage of socialist emulation, the Stakhanov movement, on the other hand, is necessarily associated with modern technique. The Stakhanov movement would be inconceivable without a new and higher technique. We have before us people like Comrades Stakhanov, Busygin, Smetanin, Krivonos, Pronin, the Vinogradovas, and many others, new people, working men and women, who have completely mastered the technique of their jobs, have harnessed it and driven ahead. There were no such people, or hardly any such people, some three years ago. These are new people, people of a special type.
Further, the Stakhanov movement is a movement of working men and women which sets itself the aim of surpassing the present technical standards, surpassing the existing designed capacities, surpassing the existing production plans and estimates. Surpassing them — because these standards have already become antiquated for our day, for our new people. This movement is breaking down the old views on technique, it is shattering the old technical standards, the old designed capacities, and the old production plans, and demands the creation of new and higher technical standards, designed capacities, and production plans. It is destined to produce a revolution in our industry. That is why the Stakhanov movement is at bottom a profoundly revolutionary movement.
It has already been said here that the Stakhanov movement, as an expression of new and higher technical standards, is a model of that high productivity of labor which only socialism can give, and which capitalism cannot give. That is absolutely true. Why was it that capitalism smashed and defeated feudalism? Because it created higher standards of productivity of labor, it enabled society to procure an incomparably greater quantity of products than could be procured under the feudal system; because it made society richer. Why is it that socialism can, should, and certainly will defeat the capitalist system of economy? Because it can furnish higher models of labor, a higher productivity of labor, than the capitalist system of economy; because it can provide society with more products and can make society richer than the capitalist system of economy.
Some people think that socialism can be consolidated by a certain equalization of people’s material conditions, based on a poor man’s standard of living. That is not true. That is a petty-bourgeois conception of socialism. In point of fact, socialism can succeed only on the basis of a high productivity of labor, higher than under capitalism, on the basis of an abundance of products and of articles of consumption of all kinds, on the basis of a prosperous and cultured life for all members of society. But if socialism is to achieve this aim and make our Soviet society the most prosperous of all societies, our country must have a productivity of labor which surpasses that of the foremost capitalist countries. Without this we cannot even think of securing an abundance of products and of articles of consumption of all kinds. The significance of the Stakhanov movement lies in the fact that it is a movement which is smashing the old technical standards, because they are inadequate, which in a number of cases is surpassing the productivity of labor of the foremost capitalist countries, and is thus creating the practical possibility of further consolidating socialism in our country, the possibility of converting our country into the most prosperous of all countries.
But the significance of the Stakhanov movement does not end there. Its significance lies also in the fact that it is preparing the conditions for the transition from socialism to communism.
The principle of socialism is that in a socialist society each works according to his ability and receives articles of consumption, not according to his needs, but according to the work he performs for society. This means that the cultural and technical level of the working class is as yet not a high one, that the antithesis between mental and physical labor still exists, that the productivity of labor is still not high enough to ensure an abundance of articles of consumption, and, as a result, society is obliged to distribute articles of consumption not in accordance with the needs of its members, but in accordance with the work they perform for society.
Communism represents a higher stage of development. The principle of communism is that in a communist society each works according to his abilities and receives articles of consumption, not according to the work he performs, but according to his needs as a culturally developed individual. This means that the cultural and technical level of the working class has become high enough to undermine the basis of the antithesis between mental labor and physical labor, that the antithesis between mental labor and physical labor has already disappeared, and that productivity of labor has reached such a high level that it can provide an absolute abundance of articles of consumption, and as a result society is able to distribute these articles in accordance with the needs of its members.
Some people think that the elimination of the antithesis between mental labor and physical labor can be achieved by means of a certain cultural and technical equalization of mental and manual workers by lowering the cultural and technical level of engineers and technicians, of mental workers, to the level of average skilled workers. That is absolutely incorrect. Only petty-bourgeois windbags can conceive communism in this way. In reality the elimination of the antithesis between mental labor and physical labor can be brought about only by raising the cultural and technical level of the working class to the level of engineers and technical workers. It would be absurd to think that this is unfeasible. It is entirely feasible under the Soviet system, where the productive forces of the country have been freed from the fetters of capitalism, where labor has been freed from the yoke of exploitation, where the working class is in power, and where the younger generation of the working class has every opportunity of obtaining an adequate technical education. There is no reason to doubt that only such a rise in the cultural and technical level of the working class can undermine the basis of the antithesis between mental labor and physical labor, that only this can ensure the high level of productivity of labor and the abundance of articles of consumption which are necessary in order to begin the transition from socialism to communism.
In this connection, the Stakhanov movement is significant for the fact that it contains the first beginnings — still feeble, it is true, but nevertheless the beginnings — of precisely such a rise in the cultural and technical level of the working class of our country.
And, indeed, look at our comrades, the Stakhanovites, more closely. What type of people are they? They are mostly young or middle-aged working men and women, people with culture and technical knowledge, who show examples of precision and accuracy in work, who are able to appreciate the time factor in work and who have learnt to count not only the minutes, but also the seconds. The majority of them have taken the technical minimum courses and are continuing their technical education. They are free of the conservatism and stagnation of certain engineers, technicians and economic executives, they are marching boldly forward, smashing the antiquated technical standards and creating new and higher standards; they are introducing amendments into the designed capacities and economic plans drawn up by the leaders of our industry; they often supplement and correct what the engineers and technicians have to say, they often teach them and impel them forward, for they are people who have completely mastered the technique of their job and who are able to squeeze out of technique the maximum that can be squeezed out of it. Today the Stakhanovites are still few in number, but who can doubt that tomorrow there will be lo times more of them? Is it not clear that the Stakhanovites are innovators in our industry, that the Stakhanov movement represents the future of our industry, that it contains the seed of the future rise in the cultural and technical level of the working class, that it opens to us the path by which alone can be achieved those high indices of productivity of labor which are essential for the transition from socialism to communism and for the elimination of the antithesis between mental labor and physical labor?
Such, comrades, is the significance of the Stakhanov movement for our socialist construction.
Did Stakhanov and Busygin think of this great significance of the Stakhanov movement when they began to smash the old technical standards? Of course not. They had their own worries — they were trying to get their enterprises out of difficulties and to overfulfil the economic plan. But in seeking to achieve this aim they had to smash the old technical standards and to develop a high productivity of labor, surpassing that of the foremost capitalist countries. It would be ridiculous, however, to think that this circumstance can in any way detract from the great historical significance of the movement of the Stakhanovites.
The same may be said of those workers who first organized the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in our country in 1905. They never thought, of course, that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would become the foundation of the socialist system. They were only defending themselves against tsarism, against the bourgeoisie, when they created the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. But this circumstance in no way contradicts the unquestionable fact that the movement for the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies begun in 1905 by the workers of Leningrad and Moscow led in the end to the rout of capitalism and the victory of socialism on one-sixth of the globe.
2. The Roots of the Stakhanov Movement
We now stand at the cradle of the Stakhanov movement, at its source.
Certain characteristic features of the Stakhanov movement should be noted.
What first of all strikes the eye is the fact that this movement began somehow of itself, almost spontaneously, from below, without any pressure whatsoever from the administrators of our enterprises. More than that — this movement in a way arose and began to develop in spite of the administrators of our enterprises, even in opposition to them. Comrade Molotov has already told you what troubles Comrade Musinskii, the Arkhangelsk sawmill worker, had to go through when he worked out new and higher technical standards, in secret from the administration, in secret from the inspectors. The lot of Stakhanov himself was no better; for in his progress he had to defend himself not only against certain officials of the administration, but also against certain workers, who jeered and hounded him because of his “newfangled ideas.” As to Busygin, we know that he almost paid for his “newfangled ideas” by losing his job at the factory, and it was only the intervention of the shop superintendent, Comrade Sokolinskii, that helped him to remain at the factory.
So you see, if there was any kind of action at all on the part of the administrators of our enterprises, it was not to help the Stakhanov movement but to hinder it. Consequently, the Stakhanov movement arose and developed as a movement coming from below. And just because it arose of itself, just because it comes from below, it is the most vital and irresistible movement of the present day.
Mention should further be made of another characteristic feature of the Stakhanov movement. This characteristic feature is that the Stakhanov movement spread over the whole of our Soviet Union not gradually, but at an unparalleled speed, like a hurricane. How did it begin? Stakhanov raised the technical standard of output of coal five or six times, if not more. Busygin and Smetanin did the same — one in the sphere of machine building and the other in the shoe industry. The newspapers reported these facts. And suddenly, the flames of the Stakhanov movement enveloped the whole country. What was the reason? How is it that the Stakhanov movement has spread so rapidly? Is it perhaps because Stakhanov and Busygin are great organizers, with wide contacts in the regions and districts of the USSR, and they organized this movement themselves? No, of course not! Is it perhaps because Stakhanov and Busygin have ambitions of becoming great figures in our country, and they themselves carried the sparks of the Stakhanov movement all over the country? That is also not true. You have seen Stakhanov and Busygin here. They spoke at this conference. They are simple, modest people, without the slightest ambition to acquire the laurels of national figures. It even seems to me that they are somewhat embarrassed by the scope the movement has acquired, beyond all their expectations. And if, in spite of this, the match thrown by Stakhanov and Busygin was sufficient to start a conflagration, that means that the Stakhanov movement is absolutely ripe. Only a movement that is absolutely ripe, and is awaiting just a jolt in order to burst free — only such a movement can spread with such rapidity and grow like a rolling snowball.
How is it to be explained that the Stakhanov movement proved to be absolutely ripe? What are the causes for its rapid spread? What are the roots of the Stakhanov movement?
There are at least four such causes.
1) The basis for the Stakhanov movement was first and foremost the radical improvement in the material welfare of the workers. Life has improved, comrades. Life has become more joyous. And when life is joyous, work goes well. Hence the high rates of output. Hence the heroes and heroines of labor. That, primarily, is the root of the Stakhanov movement. If there had been a crisis in our country, if there had been unemployment — that scourge of the working class — if people in our country lived badly, drably, joylessly, we should have had nothing like the Stakhanov movement. (Applause.) Our proletarian revolution is the only revolution in the world which had the opportunity of showing the people not only political results but also material results. Of all workers’ revolutions, we know only one which managed to achieve power. That was the Paris Commune. But it did not last long. True, it endeavored to smash the fetters of capitalism; but it did not have time enough to smash them, and still less to show the people the beneficial material results of revolution. Our revolution is the only one which not only smashed the fetters of capitalism and brought the people freedom, but also succeeded in creating the material conditions of a prosperous life for the people. Therein lies the strength and invincibility of our revolution. It is a good thing, of course, to drive out the capitalists, to drive out the landlords, to drive out the tsarist henchmen, to seize power and achieve freedom. That is very good. But, unfortunately, freedom alone is not enough, by far. If there is a shortage of bread, a shortage of butter and fats, a shortage of textiles, and if housing conditions are bad, freedom will not carry you very far. It is very difficult, comrades, to live on freedom alone. (Shouts of approval. Applause.) In order to live well and joyously, the benefits of political freedom must be supplemented by material benefits. It is a distinctive feature of our revolution that it brought the people not only freedom, but also material benefits and the possibility of a prosperous and cultured life. That is why life has become joyous in our country, and that is the soil from which the Stakhanov movement sprang.
2) The second source of the Stakhanov movement is the fact that there is no exploitation in our country. People in our country do not work for exploiters, for the enrichment of parasites, but for themselves, for their own class, for their own, Soviet society, where power is wielded by the best members of the working class. That is why labor in our country has social significance, and is a matter of honor and glory. Under capitalism labor bears a private and personal character. You have produced more — well, then receive more, and live as best you can. Nobody knows you, or wants to know you. You work for the capitalists, you enrich them? Well, what do you expect? That is what they hired you for, to enrich the exploiters. If you do not agree with that, join the ranks of the unemployed and get along as best you can — we shall find others who are more tractable. That is why people’s labor is not valued very highly under capitalism. Under such conditions, of course, there can be no room for a Stakhanov movement. But things are different under the Soviet system. Here the working man is held in esteem. Here he works not for the exploiters, but for himself, for his class, for society. Here the working man cannot feel neglected and alone. On the contrary, the man who works feels himself a free citizen of his country, a public figure, in a way. And if he works well and gives society his best, he is a hero of labor, and is covered with glory. Obviously, the Stakhanov movement could have arisen only under such conditions.
3) We must regard as the third source of the Stakhanov movement the fact that we have a modern technique. The Stakhanov movement is organically bound up with the modern technique. Without the modern technique, without the modern mills and factories, without the modern machinery, the Stakhanov movement could not have arisen. Without modern technique, technical standards might have been doubled or trebled, but not more. And if the Stakhanovites have raised technical standards five and six times, that means that they rely entirely on the modern technique. It thus follows that the industrialization of our country, the reconstruction of our mills and factories, the introduction of modern technique and modern machinery, was one of the causes that gave rise to the Stakhanov movement.
4) But modern technique alone will not carry you very far. You may have first-class technique, first-class mills and factories, but if you have not the people capable of harnessing that technique, you will find that your technique is just bare technique. For modern technique to produce results, people are required, cadres of working men and women capable of taking charge of the technique and advancing it. The birth and growth of the Stakhanov movement means that such cadres have already appeared among the working men and women of our country. Some two years ago the Party declared that in building new mills and factories and supplying our enterprises with modern machinery, we had performed only half of the job. The Party then declared that enthusiasm for the construction of new factories must be supplemented by enthusiasm for mastering these factories, that only in this way could the job be completed. It is obvious that the mastering of this new technique and the growth of new cadres have been proceeding during these two years. It is now clear that we already have such cadres. It is obvious that without such cadres, without these new people, we would never have had a Stakhanov movement. Hence the new people, working men and women, who have mastered the new technique constitute the force that has shaped and advanced the Stakhanov movement.
3. New People — New Technical Standards
I have said that the Stakhanov movement developed not gradually, but like an explosion, as if it had broken through some sort of dam. It is obvious that it had to overcome certain barriers. Somebody was hindering it, somebody was holding it back; and then, having gathered strength, the Stakhanov movement broke through these barriers and swept over the country.
What was wrong? Who exactly was hindering it?
It was the old technical standards, and the people behind these standards, that were hindering it. Several years ago our engineers, technicians, and economic executives drew up certain technical standards, adapted to the technical backwardness of our working men and women. Several years have elapsed since then. During this period people have grown and acquired technical knowledge. But the technical standards have remained unchanged. Of course, these standards have now proved out of date for our new people. Everybody now abuses the existing technical standards. But, after all, they did not fall from the skies. And the point is not that these technical standards were set too low at the time when they were drawn up. The point is primarily that now, when these standards have already become antiquated, attempts are made to defend them as modern standards. People cling to the technical backwardness of our working men and women, guiding themselves by this backwardness, basing themselves on this backwardness, and matters finally reach a pitch when people begin to play at backwardness. But what is to be done if this backwardness is becoming a thing of the past? Are we really going to worship our backwardness and turn it into an icon, a fetish? What is to be done if the working men and women have already managed to grow and to gain technical knowledge? What is to be done if the old technical standards no longer correspond to reality, and our working men and women have already managed in practice to exceed them five or tenfold? Have we ever taken an oath of loyalty to our backwardness? It seems to me we have not, have we, comrades? (General laughter.) Did we ever assume that our working men and women would remain backward for ever? We never did, did we? (General laughter.) Then what is the trouble? Will we really lack the courage to smash the conservatism of certain of our engineers and technicians, to smash the old traditions and standards and allow free scope to the new forces of the working class?
People talk about science. They say that the data of science, the data contained in technical handbooks and instructions, contradict the demands of the Stakhanovites for new and higher technical standards. But what kind of science are they talking about? The data of science have always been tested by practice, by experience. Science which has severed contact with practice, with experience — what sort of science is that? If science were the thing it is represented to be by certain of our conservative comrades, it would have perished for humanity long ago. Science is called science just because it does not recognize fetishes, just because it does not fear to raise its hand against the obsolete and antiquated, and because it lends an attentive ear to the voice of experience, of practice. If it were otherwise, we would have no science at all; we would have no astronomy, say, and would still have to get along with the outworn system of Ptolemy; we would have no biology, and would still be comforting ourselves with the legend of the creation of man; we would have no chemistry, and would still have to get along with the auguries of the alchemists.
That is why I think that our engineers, technicians, and economic executives, who have already managed to fall a fairly long distance behind the Stakhanov movement, would do well if they ceased to cling to the old technical standards and readjusted their work in a real scientific manner to the new way, the Stakhanov way.
Very well, we shall be told, but what about technical standards in general? Does industry need them, or can we get along without any standards at all?
Some say that we no longer need any technical standards. That is not true, comrades. More, it is stupid. Without technical standards, planned economy is impossible. Technical standards are, moreover, necessary in order to help the masses who have fallen behind to catch up with the more advanced. Technical standards are a great regulating force which organizes the masses of the workers in the factories around the advanced elements of the working class. We therefore need technical standards; not those, however, that now exist, but higher ones.
Others say that we need technical standards, but that they must immediately be raised to the level of the achievements of people like Stakhanov, Busygin, the Vinogradovas, and the others. That is also not true. Such standards would be unreal at the present time, since working men and women with less technical knowledge than Stakhanov and Busygin could not fulfill these standards. We need technical standards somewhere between the present technical standards and those achieved by people like Stakhanov and Busygin. Take, for example, Maria Demchenko, the well-known “five-hundreder” in sugar beet. She achieved a harvest of over 500 centners of sugar-beet per hectare. Can this achievement be made the standard yield for the whole of sugar-beet production, say, in the Ukraine? No, it cannot. It is too early to speak of that. Maria Demchenko secured over 500 centners from one hectare, whereas the average sugar-beet harvest this year in the Ukraine, for instance, is 130 or 132 centners per hectare. The difference, as you see, is not a small one. Can we set the standard of sugar-beet yield at 400 or 300 centners? Every expert in this field says that this cannot be done yet. Evidently, the standard yield per hectare for the Ukraine in 1936 must be set at 200-250 centners. And this is not a low standard; for if it were fulfilled it might give us twice as much sugar as we got in 1935. The same must be said of industry. Stakhanov exceeded the existing standard of output ten times or even more, I believe. To declare this achievement the new technical standard for all pneumatic drill operators would be unwise. Obviously, a standard must be set somewhere between the existing technical standard and that achieved by Comrade Stakhanov.
One thing, at any rate, is clear: the present technical standards no longer correspond to reality; they have fallen behind and become a brake on our industry; and in order that there shall be no brake on our industry, they must be replaced by new, higher technical standards. New people, new times — new technical standards.
4. Immediate Tasks
What are our immediate tasks from the standpoint of the interests of the Stakhanov movement?
In order not to be diffuse, let us reduce the matter to two immediate tasks.
First. The task is to help the Stakhanovites further to develop the Stakhanov movement and to spread it in all directions throughout all the regions and districts of the USSR That, on the one hand. And on the other hand, the task is to curb all those elements among the economic executives, engineers, and technicians who obstinately cling to the old, do not want to advance, and systematically hinder the development of the Stakhanov movement. The Stakhanovites alone, of course, cannot spread the Stakhanov movement in its full scope over the whole face of our country. Our Party organizations must take a hand in this matter and help the Stakhanovites to consummate the movement. In this respect the Donets regional organization has undoubtedly displayed great initiative. Good work is being done in this direction by the Moscow and Leningrad regional organizations. But what about the other regions? They, apparently, are still “getting started.” For instance, we somehow hear nothing, or very little, from the Urals, although, as you know, the Urals is a vast industrial center. The same must be said of Western Siberia and the Kuzbass, where, to all appearances, they have not yet managed to “get started.” However, we need have no doubt that our Party organizations will take a hand in this matter and help the Stakhanovites to overcome their difficulties. As to the other aspect of the matter — the curbing of the obstinate conservatives among the economic executives, engineers and technicians — things will be a little more complicated. We shall have in the first place to persuade these conservative elements in industry, persuade them in a patient and comradely manner, of the progressive nature of the Stakhanov movement and of the necessity of readjusting themselves to the Stakhanov way. And if persuasion does not help, more vigorous measures will have to be adopted. Take, for instance, the People’s Commissariat of Railroads. In the central apparatus of that commissariat there was until recently a group of professors, engineers, and other experts — among them Communists — who assured everybody that a commercial speed of 13-14 kilometers per hour was a limit that could not be exceeded without contradicting “the science of railroad operation.” This was a fairly authoritative group, who preached their views by word of mouth and in print, issued instructions to the various departments of the People’s Commissariat of Railroads, and in general were the “dictators of opinion” in the traffic departments. We, who are not experts in this sphere, basing ourselves on the suggestions of a number of practical workers on the railroads, on our part assured these authoritative professors that 13-14 kilometers could not be the limit, and that if matters were organized in a certain way this limit could be extended. In reply, this group, instead of heeding the voice of experience and practice and revising their attitude to the matter, launched into a fight against the progressive elements on the railroads and still further intensified the propaganda of their conservative views. Of course, we had to give these esteemed individuals a light tap on the jaw and very politely remove them from the central apparatus of the People’s Commissariat of Railroads. (Applause.) And what is the result? We now have a commercial speed of 18-19 kilometers per hour. (Applause.) It seems to me, comrades, that at the worst we shall have to resort to this method in other branches of our national economy as well — that is, of course, if the stubborn conservatives do not cease interfering and putting spokes in the wheels of the Stakhanov movement.
Second. In the case of those economic executives, engineers and technicians who do not want to hinder the Stakhanov movement, who sympathize with this movement, but have not yet been able to readjust themselves and assume the lead of the Stakhanov movement, the task is to help them readjust themselves and take the lead of the Stakhanov movement. I must say, comrades, that we have quite a few such economic executives, engineers and technicians. And if we help these comrades, there will undoubtedly be still more of them.
I think that if we fulfill these tasks, the Stakhanov movement will develop to its full scope, will embrace every region and district of our country, and will show us miracles of new achievements.
A few words regarding the present conference, regarding its significance. Lenin taught us that only such leaders can be real Bolshevik leaders as know not only how to teach the workers and peasants but also how to learn from them. Certain Bolsheviks were not pleased with these words of Lenin’s. But history has shown that Lenin was one hundred per cent right in this field also. And, indeed, millions of working people, workers and peasants, labor, live and struggle. Who can doubt that these people do not live in vain, that, living and struggling, these people accumulate vast practical experience? Can it be doubted that leaders who scorn this experience cannot be regarded as real leaders? Hence, we leaders of the Party and the Government must not only teach the workers, but also learn from them. I shall not undertake to deny that you, the members of the present conference, have learnt something here at this conference from the leaders of our Government. But neither can it be denied that we, the leaders of the Government, have learnt a great deal from you, the Stakhanovites, the members of this conference. Well, comrades, thanks for the lesson, many thanks! (Loud applause.)
Finally, two words about how it would be fitting to mark this conference. We here in the presidium have conferred and have decided that this conference between the leaders of the government and the leaders of the Stakhanov movement must . be marked in some way. Well, we have come to the decision that 100-120 of you will have to be recommended for the highest distinction.
Voices : Quite right. (Loud applause.)
Stalin : If you approve, comrades, that is what we shall do.
(The conference gives Comrade Stalin a stormy enthusiastic ovation. Thunderous cheers and applause. Greetings are shouted to Comrade Stalin, the leader of the Party, from all parts of the hall. The 3,000 members of the conference join in singing the proletarian hymn, the “Internationale.”)
Source: Labour in the Land of Socialism: Stakhanovites in Conference (Moscow: Cooperative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the U. S. S. R., 1937).