Friday, August 3, 2007


Stakhanov was a coal miner in the old Stalinist Soviet Union who in 1935 was reported to have mined an incredible amount of coal in his shift - 102 tons which was 14x the norm. An entire propaganda campaign was based on this claim and workers were exhorted to become, and were rewarded as being "Stakhanovites". Norms were raised and workers were pushed harder for the good of socialism. The Stakhanovite movement and propaganda was used in the old Soviet Union for decades.

Solzhenitsyn exposed it as a fraud in his books about the camps and life in the Soviet Union. In 1988 the Soviet press unmasked the Stakhanov "achievements" as a lie: the mine simply tallied the work of an entire team under one man.

The Stakhanovite movement is a good historical example of a mass delusion promoted by the "big lie" of a totalitarian revolutionary movement. Stalin simply wanted his minions to produce more so used this propaganda to drive them harder.

In 1974, Heddrick Smith, the noted Moscow Bureau Chief for The New York Times, wrote a book called "The Russians". He provided a superb look on life in the Soviet Union for the western reader who really knew nothing at the time. The book was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. I bought and read it at the time as a young student. He describe the Stakhanovite propaganda as he was writing about the five year plans and told a joke he had heard in Moscow.

Here's the joke from it from memory:

A man and his wife are in bed at night.
The man says, "Let's do it twice tonight!!"
His wife says, "Let's do it three times"
The man shouts, "No! Four times!!!!"
When they both know very well they can only do it once a night.

PS: I told this joke to young Ukranians in Kiev around 2000. They had learned of Stakhanov in school and had lived about the propaganda awhile. They roared with laughter!

No comments: