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.