Labor in the Soviet Russia in 1930s

by Irina  Jakovleva

Labor supply in the Soviet Russia was determined by the planning comities and all the population was pressured to participate in the labor force. However, the planners claimed that people still had a choice in a trade-off between leisure and work as well as the choice of occupation, with a number constraints though. Planners could allocate labor directly as they did with materials, for instance. Furthermore, they could and did affect the balance of supply and demand for labor, for example by planning enrolment into different schools and universities. Labor demand was determined by input-output coefficient- the same as for material outputs. The supply of labor was estimated based upon age, gender and skill-based participation. Another estimation added to the process of planning was the perspective productivity of labor.

Planners also held total control over the amount of wages. Firstly, the government determined the absolute wage of the job that had the lowest pay. Afterwards, they created the schedule for each industry, determining explicitly the wages for higher-paid jobs. Such an differentiation in wages allowed planning comities to control the labor supply and shift workers to a particular industry with a higher need for labor.

In the 1930’s Soviet Russia has been experiencing the agriculture overpopulation. Amount of workers necessary to produce certain amount of output was significantly lower than the amount of actual participant labor. This resulted in a low level of effective supply, as overpopulated farms consumed larger amount of their product and send smaller part of it to the market. Therefore agricultural overpopulation to a certain extent remains a major factor in the economic underdevelopment.

To improve such conditions the supply of labor needs to be affected especially for the industry sector. One of the options to create more positions for workers is to increase production. An expansion of the output requires either the employment of some extra factors of production such as labor or increase in productivity of labor overall. In the Soviet Russia, under the full-employment the supply of “manpower” became the main limiting factor. Therefore, mobility of labor would have resulted in the reduction of bottlenecks for raw materials, equipment and imports. Labor resources can be always substituted into capital, if there is a lack of it.

During the first three Five Year Plans the government faced the challenge to reduce the gap between demand and supply of labor. Labor can be mobilized in the following ways: · By redistribution of it between agriculture sector and industry · By the activization of female labor · By an increase in the total volume of working hours · By offering incentives to increase efficiency

By the late 30’s the main work force in Soviet Union was concentrated in the villages and countryside. These workers were skilled and experienced and their marginal productivity was positive. Therefore as part of the labor was shifted to the industry sector, there could be a fall in the agriculture production. The attempt to recruit free labor through collective farms was not successful. Farmers and peasants showed no willingness to work, despite the higher standards of living within the industrial workers.

Another alternative was to implement overtime work. However the “Labor Code”, reform passed earlier by the ruling party brought several restrictions and constraints for workers to have overtime hours. Basically, overtime work was allowed only in emergency cases followed by the approval of “Labor-management” committees.

It was also possible to create the incentives for people to be more productive. However, poor discipline, constant absences and high turnover of labor resulted in waste of time and decline of production, especially in the industry sector. To eliminate such an favorable situation government imposed more control on workers, including restrictions on migrations and invention of workbooks. As a consequence, labor turnover was reduced, however, a fear became the main “incentive” for people to work harder. Therefore in the 30’s there still was no any improvement in stimulating labor efficiency.

So one of the solutions to the problem became the activization of the female labor in the industry sector. Women started to perform services and tasks, that were historically made by men. Such as driving trucks, working with heavy equipment and machinery. However, such an expansion of the females had a negative effect on the real wage. Also it was affecting families, as women could not dedicate as much time to their children.

The government of Soviet Russia after unsuccessful attempt to hire the free labor, turned to the cheaper alternative – prison labor. Overall in the USSR there were few categories of the forced labor but in the 30’s the dominant one was so-called political prisoners. Forced-labor camps were regarded in Russia as “places of isolation for political enemies”. The demand for mandatory labor resulted in mass deportations and infinite number of arrests. At the some point, camps were so packed with people, that they became an integral part of the planning program. However, prisoners were treated almost as slaves. Their standards of living were based on rationing and they received nothing but food and accommodation.

So the bottleneck of the labor supply resulted mainly in a contradiction between hiring the free labor at higher wages and creation of the army of slave laborers, who were not even regarded as humans. I think, majority of the problems persisted in the labor “market”, because the government tried to control people’s intentions and actions too much. Basically, the price of the human labor was set up in an equal way as the price for materials was determined. The forced labor was another prove for inefficiency of planning and desperation and fear of government to lose control. However, the priority was given to the estimates and figures, rather than human needs.






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