Stalin’s Shock Worker Cruise

51hOc+KnG-L._SY355_Shock workers in the Soviet Union are the equivalent of “employees-of-the-month” in the United States. Exemplary workers who truly portray the corporate culture and go out of their way to help the organization. In 1930, 257 of these shock workers were given the opportunity to cruise around Western Europe and view “the West” mentality about life, on the dime of their employers. The objective of this cruise was to show the Soviet workers the failures of capitalism. One of Stalin’s goals during the First Five Year Plan was to increase industrialization The timing of this cruise was perfect to portray the failure of capitalist ways, since most of Europe was dealing with the latter part of the Great Depression. Mass Culture in Soviet Russia did a great job discussing this cruise and had multiple worker recordings of their experience. The final recording stated “We were silent all the way, oppressed by what we had seen”(163). This was a perfect statement to sum up the sights these workers had seen in Hamburg, Germany. If I had seen the worker slums and class differences the shock workers witnessed in Hamburg, I probably would join the Communist Party as well. Many specific problems were highlighted by the workers from this cruise.

The immense unemployment hit the workers right off the bat. They noticed shops with no customers, and random people on the streets midday. One worker, V. Shilin, said “It was not Sunday and there was no strike on, and yet – the great warehouses stood empty and silent as if frozen”(159). Empty warehouses epitomized the struggle in Western Europe at this time, while Soviet Russia was not dealing with such issues. Stalin’s First Five Year Plan’s industrialization goal made work plentiful, and warehouses were cranking out goods at full capacity. The shock workers seeing failing warehouses probably gave them the belief that capitalism was at the center of the problems. Capitalist tendencies did cause the financial issues to spread widely, but prior to the crisis, the growth of capitalist countries was much higher than Soviet Russia because of their ability to trade. The other problem came from the gaps in class structure noticed by the Soviet workers. 

A. Salov descriptively wrote, “It was terrible to see workers living like this. Rickety houses, ready to tumble down any minute. An awful stench, mingled with the odor of carbolic acid, came from them. Poverty peered from every crack”(161). What he and the others saw was the true failure of the state to help assist their own people in living a healthy life. Stalin and Soviet Russia provided for all citizens and allowed them to enjoy life with those around them. These poor Germans worked to create wealth, but never got to see it. While this is sad to hear, the same occurred later in the Soviet Union when infrastructure began to fail and food shortages were a daily occurrence. Capitalist countries dealt with these waves of poverty, but always came out ahead because of the market economies controlling business.

Overall, the workers cruise around Europe worked exactly to plan for those in the Communist party, because the workers saw the failures of Capitalism first hand, and immediately began to appreciate the government care in their own countries. Stalin’s First Five Year Plan greatly improved industrialization in Soviet Russia, albeit with certain qualms. On paper, his work looked good, but lying deep beneath the gorgeous surface were structural issues that were bound to destroy the country. These issues didn’t materialize for another sixty years, but at least the workers appreciated the government support in 1930.


– Alex M.

8 thoughts on “Stalin’s Shock Worker Cruise

  1. I like the “Employee of the Month” analogy! Thanks for writing about this — it’s kind of hard to imagine how life changing and surreal such a cruise would have been in 1930. I think it’s likely that for many, conditions in the Soviet Union in 1930 were just as bad as what the workers witnessed in Germany, so maybe it was the interpretation of the cause of the suffering that mattered? (crisis of capitalism vs. sacrificing to build socialism).


  2. This is a good piece that catches a glimpse at a lucky moment for the USSR. Had The cruise happened before or after the depression, the results would have been very different. This definitely gave the Party the results it wanted and helped give their “employees of the month” the positive view on capitalism that would give them reason to sing its praises to their fellow factory man. Good job on the post and breaking down an interesting moment in Soviet History!


  3. C. White says:

    This was really great for helping me understand where the shocker workers gained their expertise in order to help in the Five Year Plan. Was this cruise the only was they went out and learned form “the West”?


    1. I’m sure they had other cruises for workers, but this one was particularly memorable because of the time period in Western Europe, and the fact that they converted many workers to the Communist Party. At least that’s what they say…


  4. M Valentine says:

    it strikes me as remarkably manipulative that the workers were sent to poor areas at the worst possible time (the depression) and it really seems to exemplify the smoke and mirrors approach the Bolshevik’s were using to create support for their regime and the social changes it initiated.


  5. The cruises were a great piece of propaganda for the soviets! Think about how much these star workers and firm believers would preach about what they saw when they returned!


  6. Anna P. says:

    I agree, great analysis of the shock workers. I also thought the quote you chose was especially powerful, “Poverty peered from every crack,” and used great imagery.


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