Stalinism and the Working Class in the 1930s

  • Donald Filtzer
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)

Abstract

In Karl Marx’s conception classes exist not as discrete sociological entities, but as a social relationship. In capitalist society the essential relationship is that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, who exist as opposite poles within a single relational entity. The capitalists, as the owners of capital, employwaged labourers who are unpropertied and have only their labour power — their capacity to work — to offer for sale. These workers create a social product which is expropriated by the bourgeoisie. The latter, after realizing it as money and transforming it back into capital, use part of this capital to reemploy the proletariat as waged labourers in the succeeding cycle of production. The workers, for their part, because the products of their labour are the property of the capitalist, have only their wages on which to subsist, and so must constantly represent themselves for hire. In this way the social relationship between them is reproduced with each renewal of the production cycle. Each side in this relationship — capital on the one hand, wage labour on the other — presupposes the existence of the other. It is only through this relationship that each class acquires its specific social form.

Keywords

Migration Coherence Expense Smoke Defend 

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References

  1. 1.
    This is well documented by Hiroaki Kuromiya in his book Stalin’s Industrial Revolution: Politics and Workers, 1928-1932, Cambridge, 1988, in particular chapter 5. This book is remarkable for the breadth of its historical research and the meticulousness with which its author handles his material. While our works are based on similar, and often identical, sources, the conclusions we draw are almost diametrically opposed. Kuromiya sees the working class in the early 1930s as forming a principal base of support for the Stalinist regime. He is keenly aware of the hardships brought by industrialization: the calamitous fall in the standard of living, the pressure put on traditional work-practices, and the breakdown of the working class’s internal cohesion. But more important from his point of view were the mobilizing effects of shock-work and the regime’s ‘class war’ strategy, which generated widespread enthusiasm for the First Five-Year Plan and brought many workers to find in industrialization a path of upward mobility into the ‘new Soviet elite’. The deficiency of this approach, in my view, is that, because it has no underlying political economy, it sees only the phenomena of the process, but not the developing class relationships at the society’s essence. His tendency is to take shock-workers — who themselves were impelled by many different motives, from political commitment to outright careerism — as typical of the workforce as a whole, ignoring the significance of the behaviour of the overwhelming mass of the rank-and-file workers who were left on the shop floor.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1998

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  • Donald Filtzer

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