Construction Workers in the 1930s

  • Jean-Paul Depretto
Part of the Studies in Soviet History and Society book series (SSHS)


The 1930s were marked by a sharp increase in major construction work,1 but, paradoxically, we do not know much about the building workers: in spite of their numbers, they have not caught the attention of historians and have been the subject of few publications. It is not only a question of better understanding of an important section of the working class. Much more is at stake, because building sites provide a privileged view of the industrialisation of the USSR. A systematic study would allow us to consider from a fresh standpoint several questions crucial to the understanding of Soviet development: the extent of mechanisation and the relative importance of Soviet and imported equipment; the place of manual work; and the contribution of prisoners to the development of the national economy. These questions greatly exceed the framework of the present study, which is a first attempt to address just some of the problems. We will examine in turn manpower, productivity, building-site equipment, and the role of the labour camps.


Zinc Sugar Furnace Chrome Platinum 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    N. V. Milyakov’s book Nachal’nyi etap formirovaniya investitsionnogo kompleksa SSSR (Moscow, 1988) came into our hands too late for us to be able to use it.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    M. T. Gol’tsman, ‘Sostav stroitel’nykh rabochikh SSSR v gody pervoi pyatiletki (po materialam profsoyuznykh perepisei 1929 i 1932 gg.)’, in the collection Izmeneniya v chislennosti i sostave sovetskogo rabochego klassa (Moscow, 1961).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See S. Z. Ginzburg, O proshlom — dlya budushchego (Moscow, 1983) p. 163. The author of these memoirs, a building engineer, was a deputy to G. K. Ordzhonikidze from 1929 to 1937 (working successively in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, at VSNKh and at the Commissariat for Heavy Industry).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    V. S. Lel’chuk, lndustrializatsiya SSSR: istoriya, opyt, problemy (Moscow, 1984) pp. 132–4.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    It is true that the starting-point in 1932 was very low. See N. Jasny, pp. 106, 146–8; R. W. Davies, p. 10. In 1937, productivity dropped by 2.1 per cent compared with 1936. E. Zaleski, La planification stalinienne (Economica. 1984) p. 320.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Ch. Rakovsky, ‘The Five Year Plan in Crisis’, Critique, no. 13 (1981), p. 32. (Translation of an article of July–August 1930, which appeared in Byulleten’ Oppozitsii, Nov.–Dec. 1931).Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    V. A. Kravchenko, I Chose Freedom (New York, 1946) p. 78. See also Stroitel’naya promyslennost’, 1933, no. 6, p. 3 and V. S. Lel’chuk, p. 187.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    C. Rakovsky, p. 31 and T. Kirstein, ‘The Ural-Kuznetsk combine: a case-study in Soviet investment decision-making’, in R. W. Davies (ed.), Soviet Investment for Planned Industrialisation, 1929–1937: Policy and Practice (Berkeley Slavic Specialities, 1984), p. 93.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    A. D. Rassweiler, ‘Soviet Labour Policy in the First Five Year Plan: The Dneprostroi Experience’, Slavic Review, Summer 1983, p. 235.Google Scholar
  10. V. N. Zuikov, Sozdanie tyazheloi industrii na Urale (1926–1932 gg.) (Moscow, 1971) p. 167.Google Scholar
  11. 37.
    V. Shukshin, ‘Vybirayu derevnyu na zhitel’stvo’, Besedy po yasnoi lune (Moscow, 1975) p. 29.Google Scholar
  12. A. Platonov, Kotlovan (Ann Arbor, 1979),Google Scholar
  13. 53.
    S. G. Wheatcroft, Soviet Studies, April 1981, p. 281.Google Scholar
  14. 54.
    For all this paragraph, see P. H. Solomon, ‘Soviet Penal Policy, 1917–1934: A reinterpretation’, Slavic Review. June 1980. pp. 200–3.Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    M. Heller, Le monde concentrationnaire et la littérature soviétique (Lausanne, 1974) pp. 65–6Google Scholar
  16. D. J. Dallin and B. P. Nicolaevsky, Forced Labor in Soviet Russia (London. 1948) on. 181–2Google Scholar
  17. 58.
    A. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, vol. 2 (London, 1975) pp. 92–4.Google Scholar
  18. K. Stainer, 7,000 jours en Sibérie (Paris 1983) p. 404; S. Rosefielde insists on this point in his article ‘The First “Great Leap Forward” Reconsidered: Lessons of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago’, Slavic Review (1980) No. 4 no. 570–1Google Scholar
  19. 60.
    S. Kuznets (eds), Economic Trends in the Soviet Union (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), p. 84.Google Scholar
  20. 61.
    D. J. Dallin, The Real Soviet Russia (New Haven, 1944), pp. 194–5; Dallin and Nicolaevsky, pp. 88–92.Google Scholar
  21. P. Barton, L’institution concentrationnaire en Russie (1930–1957) (Paris, 1959) pp. 69–73, 75–7, 371.Google Scholar
  22. S. Swianiewicz, Forced Labour and Economic Development (Oxford, 1965)Google Scholar
  23. W. L. Blackwell, The Industrialisation of Russia: An Historical Perspective (London, 1970) pp. 112–15.Google Scholar
  24. 64.
    A. Solzhenitsyn, pp. 442–4, gives a much longer list; we have limited ourselves to those for which we have detailed information from the memoirs of M. Buber-Neumann, V. Shalamov, E. Ginzburg, G. Herling, K. Stainer and from P. I. Negretov, ‘How Vorkuta Began’, Soviet Studies (1977) no. 4, pp. 565–75.Google Scholar
  25. 65.
    D. Rousset, La société éclatée (Paris, 1973), pp. 759–65.Google Scholar
  26. 69.
    B. S. Utevskii, Sovetskaya ispravitel’no-trodovaya politika (Moscow, 1935) pp. 63–4. S. Firmin lists the following camps: Ukhta (oil and coal); Vorkuta (coal); island of Vaigats (lead and zinc); Yugorskii Shar (exploitation of spath fluorine); Karaganda (agriculture).Google Scholar
  27. 74.
    J. Miller, Soviet Studies, April 1952, pp. 365–86.Google Scholar
  28. 76.
    N. Jasny, ‘Labor and Output in Soviet Concentration Camps’, The Journal of Political Economy, October 1951, pp. 410, 412, 418; Dallin and Nicolaevsky, p. 138.Google Scholar
  29. 94.
    M. Buber-Neumann, Deportée en Siberie (Paris, 1986) pp. 98, 105, 114, 129–31, 135, 158, 160; it was sometimes a question of supplying a machine, cf. pp. 130–1, 133.Google Scholar
  30. 97.
    Y. Dombrovskii, Fakul’tet nenuzhnykh veshchei (Paris 1978) p. 160.Google Scholar
  31. V. Azaev, ‘Vagon’, Druzhba Narodov (1988) no. 7, pp. 154–5.Google Scholar
  32. 98.
    N. Petrov, ‘Of camels and tractors’, Critique communiste, (1986), no. 55, p. 86. (Petrov was deported to Siberia as a ‘Trotskyite’ in 1937.)Google Scholar
  33. 99.
    P. Barton, p. 207; L. E. Hubbard, Soviet Labour and Industry (London, 1942) pp. 148–9; Dallin and Nicolaevsky, pp. 118–20. For a (rather unconvincing) critique of this theory see Jasny, op. cit., (note 78) p. 412.Google Scholar
  34. 101.
    Approximately 21,000 people out of a total of 51,700, according to A. V. Volchenko, Novokuznetsk v proshlom i nastoyashchem (Novokuznetsk, 1971), p. 112.Google Scholar
  35. 102.
    M. Ya. Sonin estimates that during the second plan at least 2 million workers (a ‘probable’ figure) left the building sites for industry or another non-agricultural sector; cf. Vosproizvodstvo rabochei sily i balans truda (Moscow, 1959) p. 154. See also R. P. Dadykin in Istoricheskie zapiski, no. 87 (1971), pp. 49–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nick Lampert and Gábor T. Rittersporn 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Paul Depretto

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations