Socialist Competition

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Socialist Competition


(also, socialist emulation), a social relation under socialism, an objective law expressing the new nature of labor that is free of exploitation; one of the driving forces in the development of a socialist society, a mass movement of workers to achieve the highest results in the production of material and cultural wealth and to attain the highest possible labor productivity as the decisive condition for the victory of communism. Socialist competition reflects the creative initiative of workers in the effort to fulfill national economic plans, to improve the quality of the goods produced, to accelerate scientific and technological progress, and to reduce the expenditure of labor and materials per unit of output.

In the USSR, where a developed socialist society exists, socialist competition has penetrated every sphere of labor and practical social activity and has become an intrinsic feature of the Soviet way of life. Socialist competition is a powerful instrument for developing the productive forces and improving production relations, for giving workers a communist upbringing and mobilizing them to increase the efficiency of socialist production in every possible way, and for drawing the masses into the management of industry. It is also an important means of raising the workers’ cultural and technical level, of heightening their consciousness, and of increasing their labor and sociopolitical activity. Socialist competition contributes to improved living standards because the higher the workers’ labor productivity, the greater their material reward. In addition to material incentives, exemplary workers (peredoviki) are given moral incentives. The government confers the title of Hero of Socialist Labor on such workers and awards them orders and medals. Victors in socialist competition may be awarded challenge red banners by the Central Committee of the CPSU, by the Council of Ministers of the USSR, by the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, or by the Komsomol Central Committee. All-Union badges designating the wearer a Victor in Socialist Competition or a Shock Worker of the Ninth Five-year Plan have also been instituted.

Competition arises as labor becomes cooperative. Marx noted that “mere social contact begets in most industries an emulation and a stimulation of the animal spirits that heighten the efficiency of each individual workman” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 337). Inasmuch as the products of labor are privately appropriated under capitalism, competition inevitably becomes business competition (konkurentsiia). Lenin observed that whereas in small commodity production “competition could develop enterprise, energy and bold initiative to any considerable extent,” under monopoly capitalism competition “means the incredibly brutal suppression of the enterprise, energy, and bold initiative of the mass of the population, of its overwhelming majority, of ninety-nine out of every hundred toilers” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 35, p. 195). While promoting rivalry in work, socialist competition is based on cooperation, mutual assistance, and collectivism.

As a socialist society develops, the forms of socialist competition change and improve. Relying on the creative initiative of the masses, the Communist Party discovered and encouraged those forms of competition that best served the tasks facing the Soviet government at each stage of social development. In the first months of Soviet rule Lenin wrote, “The organization of competition must take a prominent place among the tasks of the Soviet government in the economic sphere” (ibid., vol. 36, p. 150). He explained the basic methods and principles for organizing socialist competition (publicity, comparability of results, the practical possibility of repeating an achievement) and called it a great training school of socialist labor discipline.

In the first years of Soviet rule socialist competition took the form of shock-worker groups and Communist subbotniki (unpaid voluntary mass workdays). Production conferences having important elements of socialist competition were initiated in 1923. The shock-worker movement (udarnichestvo) was a new stage in socialist competition. Shock brigades were especially numerous during the first five-year plan (1929-32). Of historic significance was the publication in January 1929 of Lenin’s “How to Organize Competition” and of the appeal for organized competition of the Sixteenth Party Conference entitled “To All Workers and Toiling Peasants of the Soviet Union.” An important influence on the development of the mass movement for socialist competition were the public inspections (smotry) and roll calls (pereklichki) at factories. In March 1929 the work force at the Krasnyi Vyborzhets Plant in Leningrad appealed to the entire working class to join in socialist competition.

In May 1929 the Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) adopted the resolution On Socialist Competition in Factories and Plants, which played a tremendous role in improving the supervision of competition by party organizations and trade unions. One of the measures outlined by the Central Committee was especially important for the further development of socialist competition. Trade union, economic, and Komsomol organizations were instructed to launch a massive campaign to bring planning targets to each workshop, plant unit, and work station so that each shock brigade could, on the basis of the targets in the production and financial plan, assume specific obligations (including the deadline for their fulfillment) to increase output, improve quality, reduce production costs, or raise labor productivity. The Central Committee’s instructions were of programmatic importance for the development of socialist competition at all stages.

In late 1929 the first All-Union Congress of Shock Brigades was held in Moscow. The congress called upon the country’s entire working class to fulfill the first five-year plan in four years. The “helping hand” movement (buksiry; literally, “towropes”), which arose in May 1930, received widespread support as a form of assistance given by exemplary collectives to lagging ones. In connection with the sixth anniversary of Lenin’s death, a “Lenin enrollment” of shock workers was announced. The Central Committee of the ACP(B) considered it imperative that every Communist and Komsomol member join a shock brigade. In July 1930 the workers at the Karl Marx Plant in Leningrad took the initiative in proposing counterplans (vstrechnye plany) that would set higher targets than did the plant’s industrial and financial plan. The idea was endorsed by the Central Committee. Counterplanning grew into a powerful movement and was one of the most effective ways of fulfilling and overfulfilling plans and mobilizing all potential for increasing production and economizing. The first brigades to operate on the basis of economic accountability (khrozraschetnye brigady) arose at the beginning of 1931. A major role in stimulating outstanding achievements, training new workers, and raising the level of workers’ skills belonged to the Izotov movement, named after the Donets miner N. A. Izotov.

The technical modernization of the economy gave a new direction to socialist competition—the mastery of technology. This phase saw the rise of the Stakhanovite movement, named after A. G. Stakhanov, a Donets coal cutter at the Tsentral’naia-Irmino Mine. The December 1935 plenum of the Central Committee discussed the topic “Questions Concerning Industry and Transport in Connection With the Stakhanovite Movement” and outlined measures to promote the Stakhanovite movement in every branch of the economy.

During the Great Patriotic War forms of socialist competition arose that allowed more goods to be produced by fewer workers—the movements of the “200 percenters” (200 percent of the norm and more per shift) and the “1,000 percenters” (1,000 percent of the norm), workers operating several machines simultaneously, workers combining jobs and functions, and Komsomol and front-line work brigades. Speed techniques were extensively used in production and construction. Under the direction of the party’s Central Committee and the State Defense Committee, the All-Union Socialist Competition of Workers in Industry, Transport, Construction, Agriculture, Trade, and Other Sectors for Maximum Assistance to the Front was initiated in May and June 1942.

In the first years after the war socialist competition aimed at solving the problems of restoring and further developing the economy and improving output in qualitative respects. Socialist competition among branches of industry spread, and there was a movement among work brigades, work sectors, workshops, and entire enterprises to improve work in technical and economic respects, to economize on materials and fuel, to increase output, and to mobilize production potential more effectively. Within three years, by 1948, the war-ruined economy was restored, and the prewar level of economic development was reached and then surpassed.

In the late 1950’s a new form of socialist competition emerged—the movement for a communist attitude toward labor. In October 1958 the workers at the Moscow-Sortirovochnaia Depot proposed a competition for the title of Brigade of Communist Labor, a proposal that found support throughout the country. A distinctive feature of this movement is the heightened role of socialist competition in the communist upbringing of the working people. Workers could also participate in the improvement of production by joining such creative workers’ associations as public design and technology bureaus and bureaus for economic analysis, technical information, and the organization of labor. V. I. Gaganova, a brigade leader at the Vyshnii Volochek Cotton Combine, initiated a movement for the transfer of exemplary workers to lagging work brigades in order to teach slower groups more advanced ways of organizing work and to help them achieve higher results.

On Aug. 31, 1971, the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted the resolution On Further Improvement in the Organization of Socialist Competition, which summed up the vast practical experience of socialist competition and raised questions of prime importance for perfecting the organization of competition. The resolution stated that the main purpose of socialist competition was “the mobilization of workers to raise the productivity of labor and the efficiency of social production in every way possible—to reduce labor input, to utilize raw materials and other material resources rationally and economically, to raise the quality of production, and to make better use of production assets and capital investment” (KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh, 8th ed., vol. 10,1972, p. 492).

The Central Committee called upon party, trade union, economic, and Komsomol organizations to support energetically the movement for a communist attitude toward labor and to enrich all forms of socialist competition with the experience of that movement. The Central Committee stressed the necessity of developing consistently the democratic foundations of socialist competition as a creative effort of the workers themselves, of vigorously extirpating formalism and bureaucratic distortions from the practical organization and direction of competition, of properly using incentive measures, and of using socialist competition to the fullest extent in the education of Soviet citizens in the spirit of a communist attitude toward labor and public property (ibid., pp. 496-97).

The Central Committee has singled out for special praise the All-Union Socialist Competition for the Successful Completion of the Ninth Five-year Plan (1971-75), initiated by Moscow and Leningrad workers; the patriotic efforts of the metalworkers of the Magnitogorsk and Balkhash combines to increase the output and variety of metals and improve their quality; and the Donbas and Kuzbas miners, who achieved high labor productivity and attained the projected output of enterprises and units ahead of schedule. Also singled out for praise were the enterprises of Novosibirsk for their overall improvement of work processes; the work force of the Shchekino Chemical Combine for expanding its output without increasing the number of workers; the workers of Saratov Oblast for improving the quality of their products; the Urals machinery builders for increasing their output of consumer goods; and the Smolensk construction workers for reaching new production capacities ahead of schedule. Also praised were the textile workers of Ivanovo Oblast for drafting and carrying out intensive plan-obligations exceeding the control targets; the railroad workers of the Western Siberian Main Line for discovering underutilized potential in the rolling stock so that additional shipments could be carried; and the agricultural toilers of the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, the Kuban’, and other parts of the country for increasing the production of grain and livestock products.

In carrying out the ninth five-year plan certain practices have become common, such as the assumption of individual and collective obligations to raise labor productivity, the keeping of individual accounts in economizing, the fulfillment of five-day targets in four days or of the target for a shift in seven hours, working one day a month with materials, fuel, or electric power that has been saved, introducing economic accountability on the brigade level, and “tutoring” (nastavnichestvo) by more advanced workers. The party’s Central Committee commended the S. M. Kirov Dynamo Plant for drawing up individual plans to increase labor productivity at every work site, praised the workers of the Likhachev Automotive Plant for organizing socialist competition in order to introduce scientific and technological advances into production more rapidly and to increase the output of high-quality goods, and endorsed the socialist competition organized in the coal industry to produce 1,000 or more tons of coal from the working face in 24 hours. The method known as brigadnyi podriad (self-accountable brigade), introduced by N. A. Zlobin’s brigade in Moscow, has been widely adopted in construction work. Other important recent developments are competition between enterprises in related sectors of the economy, the participation of engineers and technicians in socialist competition, and the conclusion of joint obligations with respect to socialist competition agreements between collectives in industrial enterprises and scientific personnel in higher educational institutions and research institutes.

Between 1973 and 1975 the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Council of Ministers of the USSR, the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, and the Komsomol Central Committee passed resolutions calling for an all-Union socialist competition of workers in industry, construction, and transport to fulfill production plans ahead of schedule and of workers in agriculture to increase production and the delivery of crops and animal products. The resolutions recommended that socialist competition be organized on the oblast, krai, and republic levels for the successful fulfillment of current economic plans by all enterprises and construction projects and urged that an all-Union competition among research, planning, and design organizations be organized by branch of industry. The resolutions also endorsed the movement among work groups to draw up and fulfill counter-plans. The proposal of counterplans has become a mass phenomenon. According to the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, as of Jan. 1, 1975, 83.5 million workers, or 90.5 percent of the work force (including agricultural specialists and machine operators on kolkhozes), were participating in socialist competition, and 50.7 million, or 55 percent of all workers, were taking part in the movement for a communist attitude toward labor.

Socialist competition has developed on a large scale in other socialist countries, which have not only successfully adopted the practices of the workers of the USSR but have also engendered original forms of socialist competition corresponding to their specific conditions and historical experience.

In the People’s Republic of Bulgaria the movement for a communist attitude toward labor is spreading, and the practice of drafting counterplans with the participation of workers has been widely adopted. In the Hungarian People’s Republic socialist competitions are held for the title of Exemplary Enterprise, and the movement for the formation of brigades of socialist labor is gaining momentum. In the German Democratic Republic the movement to “work, study, and live in the socialist way” is an important form of socialist competition. In the Democratic Republic of Vietnam industrial and office workers compete to increase their output, raise labor productivity, and strictly economize on resources. In the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea the Chollima movement, named after a legendary winged horse, may be described by the slogan “Work better today than yesterday, and tomorrow double your rate.” In Cuba the aim of socialist competition is to raise labor productivity and economize on resources. In the Mongolian People’s Republic socialist competitions are held to fulfill and overfulfill planning targets, to produce high-quality goods with minimal expenditures, and to ensure the steady growth of livestock raising.

In the Polish People’s Republic there are socialist competitions for such titles as Best in the Profession and Best Teacher and Tutor. In the Socialist Republic of Rumania competitions to achieve outstanding results are held in each economic sector, the victors receiving such titles as the Leading Enterprise of the Country, Leading Brigade (Shop, Work Sector), and Shock Worker of Competition. In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic the main form of socialist competition is the creation of brigades of socialist labor, whose motto is “Live and work in the socialist way.”


Lenin, V. I. “Kak organizovat’ sorevnovanie?” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 35.
Lenin, V. I. “Pervonachal’nyi variant stat’i Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti.” Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. “Velikiipochin.” Ibid., vol. 39.
V. I. Lenin, KPSS o sotsialisticheskom sorevnovanii. Moscow, 1973.
Materialy XXIVs”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Materialy XVs”ezdaprofessional’nykh soiuzov SSSR. Moscow, 1972.
KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s”ezdov, konferentsii i plenumov TsK, 8th ed.: Vol. 2 (Moscow, 1970), pp. 153-54; Vol. 4 (Moscow, 1970), pp. 248-53, 264-66; Vol. 5 (Moscow, 1971), pp. 231-43; Vol. 7 (Moscow, 1971), pp. 301-15; Vol. 10 (Moscow, 1972), pp. 488-97.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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