Don Filtzer

Thursday June 29 2017, 6.30 pm. Birkbeck, University of London. Lecture Theatre B36, Malet Street Building (enter via Torrington Square).

The Working Class and the First Five-year Plan, 1928-32

In the development of the Soviet state that emerged from the Russian revolutions of 1917, a great turning point was the policy of forced industrialization and collectivization of the Stalinist five-year plans (1928-1941). The huge social transformation caused by these plans effectively fixed the class relations of Soviet society until the USSR’s collapse in 1991. Yet they did not take place without tremendous social conflict – not just from peasants who en masse resisted forced collectivization, but among workers as well. Workers protested the sharp deterioration in living standards and regime attempts to impose draconian speedup in the workplace. Spontaneous strikes and street protests were common. Labour turnover reached unimaginable proportions, as workers fled one job after another in search of less oppressive conditions. Eventually, however, the Stalinist regime weathered the storm. Strikes and demonstrations were repressed, while the day-to-day struggle for individual and family survival helped further to atomize the workforce. The regime’s “victory” over its working class came, however, at a cost.  Deprived of the ability to organize collectively to defend their position, workers opted for individual solutions. One was frequent job-changing. Another was the usurpation of partial control over the pace at which they worked and the quality of what they produced. These tendencies, which during the First Five-Year Plan were only embryonic, soon solidified into permanent features of Soviet production relations. They placed severe limits on the pace, volume, and quality of capital accumulation, and thus played a major role in the Soviet Union’s long-term decline and eventual disintegration.


Donald Filtzer is Emeritus Professor of Russian History at the University of East London.  He is the author of Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialisation (1986) and several other studies of Soviet workers during the Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev periods. He is currently co-authoring with Wendy Goldman (Carnegie Mellon University) a detailed study of life and labour on the Soviet home front during World War II.

Don Filtzer | Article