In a six-hour shift in a Donets coalfield on 20th August, 1935, Alexei Stahanov, the leader of a team using an automatic coal-cutting machine, hewed a record 102 tons of coal. This compared to an average of 14 tons per six-hour shift. Stahanov achieved this by reorganizing the working processes to be performed by his team of miners.
The Soviet government gave Stahanov's system a great deal of publicity and his new labour-saving methods became known as Stahanovism and rapidly spread to other industries throughout the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin also gave his approval to the idea that Stahanovites should be given special privileges and paid higher wages.
On 14th November, 1935, the first All-Union Conference of Stahanovites was held, where Stahanov and his supporters explained their methods of working and gave details of the higher wages that could be obtained by the rationalization of labour.
A resolution passed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party on 25th December, 1935, supported Stanhanov's methods: "The Stahanov movement implies the organization of labour in a new way, the rationalization of technological processes, and the proper division of labour in production; it implies relieving skilled workers from the performance of secondary and auxiliary work and a better organization of the working place."
By the outbreak of the Second World War Stahanovism had spread to all branches of machine-building, including the manufacture of motor cars and tractors, to metallurgy, the chemical industry, and electrical stations.
Our visit to the Stalin Auto Plant gave me a shock. We passed through an avenue, banked on either side with scrap metal - it looked like the walls of a canyon. This was made up, the interpreter told us, of the cars which had been unable to start when they left the belt. They were picked up by a crane and dumped on to this scrap heap. As this had been going on for some years there was enough scrap to keep the place going for some time. The factory itself was a colossal organisation after the style of Ford's at Dagenham, producing tractors, lorries and cars, on the moving belt system. It was on reaching the large workshop with the hundreds of engineers, each at his own lathe, that I received a most unpleasant surprise. I was well aware of the Stakhanovite Movement, which is the Russian equivalent of our piece-
work system. I remembered, and had taken part in, the protest against "Bedaux" and was therefore quite shocked when the interpreter started to explain the meaning of the hundreds of small red flags, each attached to a wire on every lathe.
Here and there a flag would be at the top of the mast, but in the main they all remained at the same level. As a trade unionist I needed no more explanation. The mass of workers were deciding just how fast they intended to go, and the efforts of the Stakhanovites were being treated in exactly the same way as those of our own speed merchants in any British factory - with mistrust and resentment. I noticed the glances of the majority of the engineers when our deputation was taken over to one of these speed boys. I had understood that communism won the goodwill of the workers because of the righteousness of its case. Here a system of coercion was being used, and it looked as though the mass of the workers had little time for it.