Working Class of the USSR

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Working Class of the USSR


In Russia, as in other countries, the proletariat (preproletariat) began to take shape in feudal society. In the 17th-18th centuries serfs constituted the majority of the laborers in the manufactories and mills in the Urals and in the cities of central and northern Russia. The crisis of the feudal system and the beginning of the industrial revolution (1830’s-1840’s) contributed to an increase in the number of free wage laborers, who accounted for 87 percent of the total number of workers employed in industry in 1860 (in 1770, 32 percent; in 1820, 58 percent). During this period, the struggle of the workers was basically antifeudal.

The Russian proletariat in the struggle against the autocracy and capitalism. The industrial revolution and the Peasant Reform of 1861, which abolished serfdom and laid the foundation for the capitalist formation, contributed to the development of the proletariat of Russia as an independent social class. Between 1865 and 1890 the working class increased from 706,000 to 1,433,000, with the number of workers in factory industry increasing from 509,000 to 840,000, in mining and metallurgy from 165,000 to 340,000, and in the railroad industry from 32,000 to 253,000. The characteristics of Russia’s economic development, especially the combination of developed capitalist relations with widespread embryonic forms of capitalism, impeded the growth of class consciousness among the proletariat but resulted in the development of closer ties in Russia than in any other country between the working class and its vanguard and the millions of peasants.

Most members of the proletariat were drawn from the ruined or impoverished peasantry. In the mid-1870’s skilled Russian workers made up an army of hired laborers in the Ukraine, the Baltic region, and Transcaucasia. The first proletarian cadres in Kazakhstan and Middle Asia were primarily made up of Russian workers. The Russian proletariat took shape as an all-Russian, international force counterposed to the great-power, chauvinistic division of the Russian state into the privileged Great Russians and the oppressed “foreigners.”

The Russian proletariat endured very harsh living and working conditions. In the mid-1880’s the workday was 12–13 hours. Wages were extremely low, with a considerable portion lost to fines (in the 1880’s, up to 40 percent) and a portion issued in kind, that is, in products from stores run by factory owners. About two-fifths of the workers lived in barracks-like housing without the most basic conveniences. Almost no occupational safety measures were taken in production. Female and child labor, which received a lower rate of pay than male labor, were extensively used. Only a small group of workers were provided with insurance for sickness, old age, and job-related injuries. Until the mid-1880’s factory legislation was virtually nonexistent. Politically, the working class was completely without rights.

From the 1860’s to the early 1890’s the struggle of the proletariat against capitalist exploitation was primarily economic. The struggle was initially expressed in spontaneous disturbances and later in strikes. In the 1860’s most labor disturbances involved the mine workers in the Urals. With the development of capitalist relations, the working-class movement shifted to the main industrial regions—northern, central, and western Russia. Textile workers, the most numerous and the most poorly paid detachment of the Russian working class, began to play a leading role in the movement. Between 1870 and 1884 there were 318 strikes and 153 disturbances (the presentation of demands without work stoppages). Among them were the Neva strike of 1870, the Krenholm strikes of 1872 and 1882, and the Żyrardów strike of 1883 in Poland. An increasingly important role was played in the proletarian movement by the advanced workers, of whom the best trained studied the works of K. Marx and F. Engels and the experience of the Paris Commune. The Narodniks (Populists) conducted revolutionary propaganda among the workers. Independent working class revolutionary organizations were founded in the 1870’s, including the Union of Workers of South Russia (Odessa, 1875) and the Union of Workers of North Russia (1878). Although they were shortlived, these organizations played an important role in the liberation movement, as the first to “put forward … the demand for political liberty in their programs” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4, p. 172).

The Morozov strike of 1885 (in present-day Orekhovo-Zue-vo), an important landmark in the development of the proletarian movement, was followed by major strikes in the Central Industrial Region and by the intensification of the workers’ struggle in St. Petersburg, the Ukraine, and the Baltic region. The growth of the strike movement forced the government to issue a law on fines in 1886, somewhat restricting the arbitrary power of the entrepreneurs but simultaneously stipulating severe penalties for participation in strikes.

After the founding of the Liberation of Labor group (1883) and the establishment in several Russian cities of Marxist groups and circles, such as the Blagoev group, the Brusnev group, and the Fellowship of St. Petersburg Workmen, Russian Social Democracy made its first overtures toward the working-class movement, which “in each of its broader manifestations—has been drawing closer to the Russian Social Democrats in an effort to merge with them” (ibid, p. 245). Vanguard workers, including F. A. Afanas’ev, E. N. Klimanov [Afanas’ev], and V. A. Shelgunov, joined and participated in Social Democratic organizations.

The proletarian stage of the liberation movement, which began in the mid-1890’s, was characterized by a mass working-class movement linked with the theory of scientific socialism. The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class played an enormous role in linking the working-class movement with scientific socialism. Founded in 1895 by Lenin, the League was the embryo of a proletarian party in Russia. Under the influence of the St. Petersburg League, similar Marxist organizations were founded in other Russian cities, including Moscow, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Kiev, and Ekaterinoslav. At the First Congress of the RSDLP in 1898, an important step was taken toward unifying the various Social Democratic organizations.

By the time Russia entered the epoch of imperialism, the proletariat had grown considerably, and its make-up had changed qualitatively. The Russian working class had also become stronger politically. In the early 20th century there were 12–14 million wage laborers, including 2.5 million industrial workers. Between 1865 and the first decade of the 20th century, the number of workers in the mining and metallurgical industry increased by a factor of four, from 165,000 to 672,200, and the number of workers in machine building increased by a factor of 13.5, from 17,800 to 240,900. The solidarity of the proletariat was promoted by the growing concentration of production at the end of the 19th century, when the 458 largest enterprises employed more than 1,155,000 people. Among the largest enterprises were the Putilov and Obukhov plants in St. Petersburg, the Guzhon Plant and Prokhorov Trekhgornaia Manu-faktura Textile Mill in Moscow, the Makeevka steel-casting and pipe-rolling plants and the Iuzovka Metallurgical Plant in the Donbas, the Arsenal Plant in Kiev, the Zlatoust Armory in the Urals, and the Sormovo plant near Nizhny Novgorod. Second-generation workers constituted 30–40 percent of the total. The workers’ level of education, culture, class consciousness, and organization improved. In 1897, 40 percent of the workers were literate, and in the leading branches of industry, up to 74 percent. Literacy was especially high among young workers, many of whom attended evening and Sunday schools. Metalworkers, a vanguard detachment of the proletariat, played a leading role in the working-class movement, accounting for 54 percent of the strikers.

The workers’ transition from economic to political struggle became more intense during the economic crisis of 1900–03. The Leninist newspaper Iskra played an enormous role in rallying the Russian proletariat ideologically and organizationally and in extricating the Russian proletariat from the influence of Economism and the Zubatovshchina. Economic and political demands were closely intertwined in the Kharkov May Day demonstration in 1900, the Obukhov defense of 1901, the Rostov strike of 1902, and the general strike of 1903 in southern Russia. Lenin wrote that in the Rostov strike the proletariat was for the first time counterposing itself as a class to all other classes and to the tsarist government (ibid., vol. 9, p. 251). The working-class movement took the leading position in the liberation movement in Russia. New detachments were drawn into the Russian working-class movement, including the proletariat of the southern Ukraine, Transcaucasia, the Baltic region, and the Volga Region. The formation of a revolutionary Marxist party was accelerated by the mass character of the Russian working-class movement, the spread of the ideas of scientific socialism among the workers, and improvements in the workers’ level of consciousness and organization. The Bolshevik Party, a revolutionary Marxist party, was established in 1903 at the Second Congress of the RSDLP. The task of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat was proclaimed in the program of the party of the Russian working people, which was adopted at the congress.

From the beginning of the 20th century a revolutionary situation developed in Russia as a result of an economic crisis, the defeat of tsarism in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05, the upsurge in the revolutionary movement, and the development of the economic struggle of the Russian working class into a political struggle. The center of the world revolutionary movement shifted to Russia. From the beginning of the Revolution of 1905–07 the Russian proletariat, led by the Bolshevik Party, emerged as the main force in the struggle against the autocracy, as the hegemon of the revolution, leading the peasantry and the semiproletarian masses of the city. Lenin pointed out that in the revolution “the leading role of the proletariat has been fully revealed. It has also been revealed that the strength of the proletariat in the process of history is immeasurably greater than its share of the total population” (ibid., vol. 3, p. 13). According to Lenin, the Revolution of 1905–07 was unusual because it was bourgeois democratic in its tasks but proletarian in its motive forces and means of struggle. The first Russian revolution drew millions of workers into political activity. In 1905, 2,863,000 workers took part in strikes. The Russian working class manifested a high level of class solidarity, ideological conviction, and steadfastness in struggle in the October All-Russian Political Strike of 1905 and the December armed uprisings in Moscow and other cities. All the national detachments of the Russian proletariat were rallied to international unity by the task of overthrowing the autocracy. During the Revolution of 1905–07 the militant vanguard of the working class of Russia, the Bolshevik Party, assumed a greater, stronger political role. Lenin noted that in the fall of 1905 “it [the Bolshevik Party] became the party of the millions of the proletariat” (ibid., vol. 17, p. 145). During the revolution diverse forms of proletarian struggle appeared, ranging from uprisings to participation in the State Duma. Through the revolutionary creativity of the working class, soviets of workers’ deputies were established, not only as agencies of the uprising but also as a rudimentary form of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Mass trade unions and independent workers’ cooperatives were founded. During the revolution the Russian proletariat went through a school of political struggle. Lenin wrote: “Without such a ‘dress rehearsal’ as we had in 1905, the revolutions of 1917—both the bourgeois, February revolution, and the proletarian, October revolution—would have been impossible” (ibid., vol. 38, p. 306).

A reactionary phase began after the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–07. The government and the bourgeoisie led an offensive against the Russian working class. The working-class movement declined considerably. In 1909 only 3.5 percent of the factory and mill workers participated in strikes. The workers lost certain economic gains.

In 1910 the industrial depression gave way to a boom period. Imperialism developed rapidly. In 1913 there were more than 3 million workers in the factories and mills, mining, and the metallurgical industry alone. The proletariat became more and more impoverished. In 1910, Lenin wrote: “The very conditions of their lives make the workers capable of struggle and impel them to struggle” (ibid, vol. 19, p. 422). A revolutionary upsurge began with a strike by Moscow workers in the summer of 1910. In 1911, 105,000 workers participated in strikes (5.1 percent of the workers); in 1912, more than 1 million (33.7 percent); and in the first six months of 1914, 1,337,000 (68.2 percent). The legal Bolshevik newspapers Zvezda and Pravda played an important role in the political education of the Russian proletariat and in rallying the majority of class-conscious workers around the Bolshevik Party. World War I (1914–18) disrupted the incipient revolutionary situation. The war deepened the social heterogeneity of the Russian working class and made its backward members receptive to chauvinistic propaganda and calls for “popular unity” from tsarism and the bourgeoisie and vulnerable to the defensist demagoguery of the Mensheviks and SR’s. Protecting the working class against bourgeois and petit bourgeois influence, the Bolsheviks educated the workers in the necessity for a decisive revolutionary struggle and a struggle to transform the imperialist war into a civil war. Thanks to the Bolsheviks, the working class resisted chauvinistic propaganda.

The revolutionary crisis ripened in 1915. The working-class movement, which was led by the Bolsheviks, grew stronger (270,000 workers participated in strikes at the beginning of 1917); the army fell apart; and peasant disturbances increased. The Bolsheviks were the only party calling for the overthrow of tsarism. On Feb. 27–28, 1917, the toiling masses, inspired by the Bolsheviks, overthrew the autocracy. Soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies—bodies associated with the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry —were established throughout the country. The other component of the dual power system was the Provisional Government, the agency of rule by the bourgeoisie and landlords. The soviets, which were dominated by the Mensheviks and SR’s, voluntarily handed over power to the bourgeoisie. Lenin viewed the insufficient political maturity and level of organization of the proletariat as the social reason for dual power. (About 30 percent of the workers with long service records, who had been tempered in class battles, had been mobilized for the front and replaced by members of the petite bourgeoisie of the city and countryside.) According to Lenin, another reason for the system of dual power was the unprecedented activization of the petit bourgeois strata of the population, who constituted an absolute majority in the country. Lenin wrote: “A gigantic petit bourgeois wave has swept over everything and overwhelmed the class-conscious proletariat, not only by force of numbers but also ideologically” (ibid, vol. 31, p. 156).

After the February Revolution the working class faced new tasks, associated with the development of the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. The new tasks were formulated in the April Theses of V. I. Lenin, who returned to Russia on Apr. 3, 1917, after a long period abroad as an émigré. The Bolshevik Party quickly freed the proletariat from petit bourgeois influences and revolutionary defensism. The weakness and insignificance of the “labor aristocracy” and the absence of narrow, shop-oriented and trade unionist traditions in the Russian working class were also conducive to the growth of revolutionary consciousness among the workers. The membership of the Bolshevik Party grew rapidly. In February 1917 the party had 24,000 members; in August, about 240,000; and in October, 350,000. By October 1917 workers made up 76.7 percent of the Bolsheviks’ Petrograd organization. A mass trade union movement emerged. In June 1917 there were about 1.5 million trade union members in the country, and by October, more than 2 million. Factory committees were established at most enterprises, and a workers’ militia, the Red Guard, was formed. By the beginning of June 1917, there were about 400 soviets and associations subordinate to them. The prolongation of the war, economic collapse, and hunger impelled the proletariat to engage in antigovernmental actions, such as demonstrations and strikes. The working class expressed its opposition to the reactionary politics of the Provisional Government in the April, June, and July demonstrations, and it deserved most of the credit for the defeat of the Kornilovshchina. Russia advanced steadily toward a socialist revolution. The Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B) adopted a line of armed uprising.

Socialist construction. In October 1917 the working class, led by the Bolshevik Party and allied with the poorest peasants, carried out the Great October Socialist Revolution, opening up a new epoch in history, the epoch of communism. The power of the capitalists and landlords was overthrown, and the dictatorship of the proletariat was established. The working class was transformed from an oppressed, exploited class into the ruling class, and its vanguard, the Communist Party, became the ruling party. A qualitatively new revolutionary force appeared in the historical arena—a working class that was building a socialist society. Having taken power, the working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, destroyed the old machinery of state and established a new, Soviet state apparatus. Workers’ control was introduced at enterprises formerly owned by the capitalists. Thousands of advanced workers filled responsible state, economic, and military positions and learned the art of governing the country and managing production. The means of production were expropriated from the bourgeoisie by the working class and turned into socialist public property. The party rallied the poor peasantry around the working class and, with the aid of detachments of vanguard workers and committees of the poor, crushed the resistance of the kulaks in the countryside, winning the middle peasantry over to the side of the proletariat and ensuring the consolidation of Soviet power on the basis of the alliance of the working class and the poorest peasantry. The fierce resistance of the overthrown classes made it necessary for the working class to mobilize its best cadres into the Red Army. During the Civil War and Military Intervention of 1918–20 the working class was in the front ranks of the defenders of Soviet power. Battalions and regiments of workers were sent to the most crucial sectors of the front. The working class played the decisive role in the victory of Soviet power over the White Guard counterrevolution and military intervention and in the economic victory over the overthrown exploiter classes. The workers’ food appropriation detachments played an important role in implementing the food dictatorship of the Soviet state.

As Lenin pointed out, during the Civil War “the finest members of the working class perished…. The workers have made great sacrifices, they have suffered epidemics, and mortality among them has increased. But they will prove that the workers did not rise up against the capitalists out of vengeance, but with the inflexible determination to create a social system in which there will be no landowners and capitalists” (ibid., vol. 40, p. 296). The working class declined considerably as a result of the collapse of the economy, famine, the closing of factories, and the departure of experienced workers for the front and for the requisitioning detachments. By the end of the Civil War the number of workers employed in industry was only 47.1 percent of the 1917 level. Under the conditions of the Civil War and economic ruin the working class, led by the Bolshevik Party, displayed a high level of revolutionary organization and determination.

A new, socialist attitude toward labor emerged among the working class. In the spring of 1919 communist subbotniki (voluntary, unpaid work on Saturdays), which Lenin termed “a great beginning” (ibid., vol. 39, pp. 18, 26, 27), were widely introduced. In 1921–22 the reconstruction of the national economy was begun. By the end of the period of reconstruction in 1925, the industrial working class numbered more than 1.8 million, or 151.5 percent of the 1920 figure. The period was marked by the formation of groups of advanced workers, such as the shock groups, who combined a creative approach and socialist purposefulness in their labor. These qualities were also displayed by heroes of labor and by the peredoviki (factory workers recognized for their initiative or exemplary work). The party sent many workers from the factories to workers’ schools (rabfaki). Production propaganda and production conferences and commissions involved the masses of the workers in management activity.

When industry had been reconstructed, the working class, in accordance with decisions adopted by the Fourteenth Party Congress in December 1925, focused on the socialist industrialization of the country, the implementation of which was a great feat of the working class and the entire Soviet people. Between 1928 and 1937 the working class created enormous productive forces and transformed the USSR into a mighty industrial power, ranking second in the world after the USA and holding first place in a number of branches of industry. The labor of the working class of the USSR created a second coal and metallurgical base, the Urals-Kuznetsk Combine, in the eastern part of the country; the V. I. Lenin Dneproges; the Stalingrad and Kharkov tractor plants and the Gorky Automotive Plant; the Kuznetsk and Magnitogorsk metallurgical combines; the Be-rezniki nitrogen fertilizer plant; and the Turkestan-Siberia railroad. Construction of a major petroleum base, equal in importance to Baku, was begun between the Volga and the Urals. Socialist emulation contributed to the acceleration of the industrial transformation of the country. A. G. Stakhanov, a miner, launched a movement of worker-innovators in production (the Stakhanovite movement). The Stakhanovites broke outdated quotas, using the latest labor technology and the latest technical achievements.

During all stages of the development of the USSR the cohesive foundation for Soviet society was the alliance of the working class and the peasantry. The working class assisted the toiling peasantry in the socialist reconstruction of agriculture. Industry supplied the countryside with agricultural machinery. Responding to an appeal from the Communist Party, more than 25,000 vanguard workers entered permanent jobs in agriculture at the beginning of 1930. In May 1930 every fifth kolkhoz was headed by a Twenty-five Thousander (dvadtsati-piatitysiachnik). In the countryside the envoys of the working class followed the proletarian class line of rallying the toiling peasantry.

During the prewar five-year plans the Soviet people, headed by the working class under the leadership of the Communist Party, realized the Leninist plan for building socialism in the USSR, carrying out socialist industrialization, the collectivization of agriculture, and the cultural revolution. The working class became a socialist class that owned all the means of production. The size of the working class increased substantially, and its composition and sociopolitical outlook changed fundamentally. In 1937 there were 17.5 million workers, and in 1940, 19.7 million. In 1940, 8.3 million workers were employed in industry, 2.4 million in transportation, 1.9 million in construction, and 1.6 million in agriculture. The occupational composition of the working class changed radically. The number of personnel in heavy industry increased, constituting up to 43.5 percent of the workers in 1940, as compared to 28.8 percent in 1928. Technological progress in socialist production resulted in an increase in the number of workers in machine building, who accounted for 30 percent of all industrial workers in 1940. The composition of the working class by age changed. In 1940 workers between the ages of 18 and 49 made up 85 percent of the entire working class. The proportion of women employed in industry rose from 28 percent in 1929 to 41 percent in 1940.

The period of socialist construction was marked by the formation and development of the working class in the Union and autonomous republics. Party policies for the elimination of the de facto inequality of the once backward national borderlands focused on ensuring accelerated rates of growth in the detachments of the working class in these regions. Between 1928 and 1940 the number of workers, including junior service personnel, increased by a factor of 2.7 in the USSR as a whole, 2.6 in the RSFSR, 6.4 in the Uzbek SSR, 3.6 in the Kazakh SSR, 4.3 in the Kirghiz SSR, and 3.4 in the Tadzhik SSR. In the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkmenia the national detachments of the working class grew considerably.

During the period of socialist construction the working class assumed a stronger political role in society. A party stratum developed among the workers. By the mid-1930’s, every tenth worker belonged to the party. The material condition and the cultural and technical level of the working class improved. Wages almost doubled, housing conditions improved, and the seven-hour workday was established. The leading role of the working class in society and politics attained a higher level. In 1937 workers accounted for 40 percent of the deputies elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Workers participated in trade union, Komsomol, and other social organizations. A new type of worker emerged, characterized by creative labor, collectivism, literacy, technical knowledge, a high degree of organization and class consciousness, and eagerness to participate in mutual assistance in production and in political activity.

The consolidation, development, and complete, definitive victory of socialism. Successfully carrying out the third five-year plan, the working class, together with the kolkhoz peasantry and the intelligentsia, strengthened the foundations of socialist society and developed the economic potential of the USSR. During the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (1941–45) the Soviet working class, guided by the Communist Party, accomplished a great feat of labor and ensured economic victory over the enemy. In the first six months of the war, 1,523 industrial enterprises, including 1,360 large, primarily military enterprises, were evacuated from the western regions to the eastern regions of the country. The relocation of industry, which accelerated the development of the productive forces in the eastern regions, was an event of epic proportions in the history of labor. Under the slogan “Everything for the front, everything for victory!” the working class expanded All-Union Socialist Emulation in May 1942, and this effort became a powerful movement throughout the country. The practice of having one workman operate several machines at a time became widespread, and new forms of competition emerged, including frontline brigades; patriotic movements of those who overfulfilled the production plans by factors of two, three, five, and ten; and movements for progressive organization and technology in production. By the second half of 1942 the Soviet Army was no longer experiencing any serious shortages in weapons, ammunition, and equipment, thanks to the working class and engineering and technical workers, who did without days off, not leaving the workshops for months. In 1942 there were only 65.5 percent as many workers and office employees in industry as before the war. A substantial portion of the workers went to the front, and a portion of the population was in occupied territory. Women and young people took the place of experienced workers. During the war women made up 52–53 percent of the entire industrial labor force. Soviet women did not fail to master any special skill. More than 1 million young workers labored in the Komsomol “frontline” brigades, which became a school of production experience. Under difficult wartime conditions, the working class of the USSR carried out major military and economic tasks, supplying the needs of the front and the national economy. Between May 1942 and May 1945, output per worker increased by 43 percent in the industrial sectors and by 121 percent in military industry. Thanks to the self-sacrificing labor of the working class, by the end of 1942 Soviet production of military matériel and weapons exceeded that of fascist Germany, and by the summer of 1944 the Soviet military economy was so strong that it was possible to begin a gradual transition to producing civilian goods. In regions not affected by military actions, the level of industrial output in the first six months of 1945 was 201 percent of the level of industrial output for the first half of 1941. The corresponding figure for the people’s commissariats of the defense industry was 565 percent. During the war, Soviet industry produced 489,900 artillery pieces, 136,800 airplanes, and 102,500 tanks and self-propelled guns. The army in the field fired 427 million shells and about 17 billion cartridges manufactured by Soviet workers during the war.

After the war, replenishing the ranks of the working class was the most important economic and political task. During the war the number of workers in industry declined by nearly 2.5 million. In areas of the RSFSR liberated from the enemy, only 17 percent of the workers remained; in the Ukrainian SSR, 17 percent; in the Byelorussian SSR, 7 percent; in the Moldavian SSR, 15 percent; and in the Baltic republics, 30 percent. The working class was built up chiefly by means of the system of labor reserves. During the fourth five-year plan, trade schools and factory schools trained more than 3.3 million skilled workers for industry, construction, and transportation. The Soviet armed forces shrank after the war, serving as an important source of reinforcements for the working class. Between July 1945 and March 1948, 8.5 million men were discharged from the Soviet Army, and a large proportion of them took jobs in industry. On-the-job instruction was one of the most important ways of training skilled workers. Between 1946 and 1950 more than 2.26 million persons a year acquired special skills in enterprises. The task of improving workers’ skills took on vast proportions. Minimum requirements for technical knowledge were stipulated, and schools of advanced experience and industrial technical courses were established. An annual average of more than 3.2 million workers improved their skills. As a result of measures adopted by the party, by 1950 there were 40.4 million factory workers and office employees in the national economy, or 6.5 million more than the prewar figure. During the postwar period important changes took place in the territorial distribution of the working class. As industrial installations in formerly occupied territory were reconstructed, large-scale workers’ groups were reestablished, particularly in the enterprises of the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the western and southern regions of the RSFSR. In 1950 about 8 million factory workers and office employees were employed in the economies of the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR, or 1.6 times as many as in 1945. The national detachments of the working class increased substantially. In republics with a preponderantly peasant population, the growth of the working class promoted the improvement of the social structure.

During the postwar period the working class of the USSR, led by the Communist Party, equalled its exploits during the Great Patriotic War. In a very short time and without foreign aid, the working class, along with the peasantry and the intelligentsia, restored the national economy from ruins. Thanks to the selfless enthusiasm of the working class, industry had reached the prewar level by 1948. The five-year targets for the basic indicators of industrial production were overfulfilled.

The 1950’s were marked by the enhancement of the leading position of the working class in society. This objective process was chiefly a result of the expansion and strengthening of the position of the working class as the main productive force in society. By the end of the fifth five-year plan (1951–55), socialist industry was producing almost three-fourths of the social product of the USSR. Between 1951 and 1955 the working class increased from 25.2 million to 33.3 million, and the proportion of the working class among the gainfully employed population rose from 25.6 percent to 31.6 percent. The detachment of agricultural workers grew considerably. Increasingly, the working class played a direct role in scientific and technological progress, inventing new machines, equipment, and technological processes.

In its efforts to increase the ranks of the working class during the 1950’s, the party focused on young people with a secondary education. Between 1955 and 1959 more than 6 million graduates of secondary general education schools entered the national economy. Changes in the qualitative make-up of the working class were determined by the party’s efforts to develop the most progressive branches of industry, which constituted the foundation for the scientific and technological revolution and for precision machine building, radio electronics, the chemical industry, and atomic energy.

As a result of measures adopted by the party, the general cultural and technological level of the working class rose considerably. The workers’ level of occupational training improved, chiefly as a result of mechanization, automation, and the improvement of production technology. Between 1948 and 1958 the proportion of workers engaged in mechanized labor increased from 43.3 to 50 percent. The occupational structure of the working class changed. Many of the trades once associated with manual labor disappeared. With the change in the character of labor, there was an increase in the proportion of skilled workers, who made up about 52 percent of the labor force in 1959. Changes in the size and composition of the working class during the 1950’s were accompanied by a general increase in the creative capacity of workers in all spheres of Soviet society. The working-class stratum in governmental bodies increased significantly, particularly in the municipal soviets, where the proportion of working class deputies rose from 27.7 percent in 1937 to 39.4 percent in 1955.

The period of developed socialism and the building of a communist society. On the threshold of the 1960’s the USSR entered the stage of developed (mature) socialism. The Twenty-first and Twenty-second Congresses of the CPSU (1959 and 1961), as well as the third party program, underscored the leading role of the working class in the people’s state, in the continuing improvement of socialist society, and in the creation of the material and technical basis for communism. Under the seven-year plan (1959–65), as well as the eighth (1966–70) and ninth (1971–75) five-year plans, the role of the working class continued to grow. Through the efforts of the working class, many major enterprises have been put into operation, including several hydroelectric power plants on the Volga, the Krasnoiarsk and Bratsk hydroelectric power plants in Siberia, the Volga Automobile Works, and a 5,000-cubic-meter blast furnace at the Krivoi Rog Metallurgical Works. Moreover, the efforts of the working class made possible the construction of the Baikal-Amur trunk line and a complex of enterprises for the production of trucks (the Kama Truck Plant, or KamAZ).

The working class of developed socialist society differs substantially from the working class of the period of building the foundations of socialism. Under the five-year plans (that is, since 1928), the working class increased by a factor of almost eight. By 1973 the working class, including junior service personnel, included 67.7 million persons. Workers and their families made up more than 60 percent of the population in 1973 (12.4 percent in 1928, 33.5 percent in 1939, and 49.5 percent in 1959).

The level of general education, occupational skill, and culture of the working class has improved immeasurably. At the beginning of 1973,66 percent of the workers had a complete or incomplete secondary or higher education (in 1939,8.4 percent, and in 1959, 38.6 percent). As a rule, members of the younger generation of the working class have completed their secondary education or are completing it while working. Scientific and technological progress has resulted in the emergence of many new occupations that demand a high level of skill, substantial scientific knowledge, and a broad range of technical and economic interests. The proportion of occupations requiring unskilled, semiskilled, and heavy manual labor is declining. The worker intelligentsia, which engages in an integral combination of skilled manual and mental labor, is expanding rapidly in the Soviet working class. In 1972, 700,000 specialists with engineering and technology degrees were employed directly in industry as workers. Many members of the working class are engaged in rationalization projects, inventing, and nonoccupational creative work in the arts. As of Jan. 1, 1973, 3,039,000 workers belonged to the All-Union Society of Inventors and Rationalizers (VOIR). As of Jan. 1, 1959, only 504,400 workers belonged to VOIR. Scientific and technical societies play a major role in developing the technical creativity of the worker.

The working class has always been the most revolutionary, most organized, most unified, and most disciplined class, possessing political maturity and a collectivist psychology. In all of these qualities the working class rises to a new level under the conditions of developed socialism. Unlike the working class of the period of industrialization, which included not only experienced workers but also peasants who had just been introduced to industrial labor, the contemporary working class has no in-traclass differences, and it is becoming increasingly homogeneous.

In developed socialist society there have been significant changes in the branch structure of the working class. Scientific and technological progress leads to the growth of the working class, partly as a result of the emergence of new occupations, owing to modern production methods. Between 1960 and 1970 the number of workers in industry as a whole increased by 36 percent; in the chemical and petrochemical industries, by a factor of almost two; in machine building and metalworking, by 60 percent; and in the electric power industry, by 48 percent. In these branches of industry, which are responsible for technological progress, there was a corresponding increase in the proportion of workers. In ferrous metallurgy, light industry, and the building materials industry, the number of workers increased at a slower rate, and in the coal industry there was an absolute decline in the representation of the working class.

The party’s policies for the most purposeful distribution of the productive forces and for the equalization of the levels of development of the national republics in the unified national economy have resulted in an acceleration of the increase in the number of workers in the national republics. Between 1960 and 1972 the number of workers in the USSR as a whole increased by 47 percent, with the biggest increases in the working class taking place in Armenia, Moldavia, and Tadzhikistan, where the number of workers more than doubled; in Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Kirghizia, and Uzbekistan, where there was an increase of 80 percent or more; and in Kazakhstan, Georgia, Byelorussia, and Turkmenia, where there was an increase of 59 percent. From the early 1960’s, as a result of the creation of a substantial

Table 1. Comparative rates of growth and changes in the branch composition of the working class of the USSR, 1940–73
 Entire working class1IndustrialConstructionTransportationAgriculturalService
1 Excluding junior service personnel and guards
1940 Number (millions) ......
Proportions (percent)
1945 Number (millions) ......
Proportion (percent).....
1950Number (millions) ......
Proportion (percent).....100.044.913.911.58.721.0
1960Number (millions) ......43.518.
Proportion (percent).....100.043.413.111.013.818.6
1970Number (millions) ......60.725.
Proportion (percent).....
1973Number (millions) ......67.726.
Proportion (percent).....100.039.412.69.414.424.2
1973 as percentage of 1940 .............343.6321.7447.4262.5 298.2

number of sovkhozes, there were a considerable number of kolkhozniks among the agricultural workers, who made up 15 percent of the total working class in 1970. In developed socialist society the alliance of the working class and the peasantry has become stronger, as a result of the scientific revolution.

The working class plays a leading role in the affairs of state. Of the 1,517 deputies elected in 1970 to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 481, or almost one-third, are workers. The proportion of workers in the local soviets increased from 18.8 percent in 1959 to 36.5 percent in 1971, and in the municipal soviets, from 43.9 percent to 65.4 percent. The influence of the working class on society and politics is determined by the leading role of the Communist Party. The proportion of workers among party members increased from 32 percent in 1956 to 40.7 percent by the beginning of 1973.

Soviet society is becoming increasingly homogeneous. Owing to changes in the position of classes and social groups, the working class is growing closer to the kolkhoz peasantry and the intelligentsia in social status, the conditions and character of labor, standard of living, education, and culture. The leading role in these processes of rapprochement is played by the working class, the vanguard representatives of which are, in their production activity, not simply the principal creators of material values but also, to a certain degree, the creators of nonma-terial or cultural values.

The entire history of the working class in the USSR confirms the following Leninist proposition: “Only a definite class, namely the urban workers and the factory, industrial workers in general, is able to lead the whole mass of the working and exploited people” not only in the revolutionary transformation of society but also in the creation of “the new, socialist social system and in the entire struggle for the complete abolition of classes” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 39, p. 14).

The historical experience of the working class of the USSR in preparing and carrying out the socialist revolution, in building socialism, and in the construction of communist society, has great significance for the working class of all countries in its struggle to realize the great plans of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.


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References in periodicals archive ?
Many believe that the trials against wreckers were played up to create the impression that most of the misfortunes that have befallen the working class of the USSR are due to those wreckers.