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The Accidental Proletariat

The Accidental Proletariat: Workers, Politics, and Crisis in Gorbachev's Russia

Walter D. Connor
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    The Accidental Proletariat
    Book Description:

    Walter Connor shows how the seven decades since Stalin launched the First Five Year plan have changed Soviet workers from a disorganized mass of unskilled ex-peasants into something very much like a class--not the working class intended by Lenin and Stalin but a new and powerful "accidental proletariat," produced by forces partly beyond the state's control. Does this new "proletariat" threaten glasnost and perestroika? To address that question, Connor examines the growth of the new "class" and its role in the crisis-ridden politics of Gorbachev's USSR. In this book, as in his earlier works, Connor focuses on the interplay of social and political forces. Do workers support economic reform, he asks, or oppose it? Are they beneficiaries or victims of Gorbachev's policies? Can a Soviet state already under severe ethnic and economic strains accommodate an emergent working-class politics? Connor probes these issues in a work that is essential reading for students of Russian politics, government officials faced with the uncertainties of a new Russia, and people seeking to do business in any economy previously isolated behind geographical, military, and institutional barriers.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6240-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    In January 1989, the economist Robert Heilbroner—hardly an unqualified cheerleader for capitalism and an unfettered market—began aNew Yorkerarticle thus:

    Less than seventy-five years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won. The Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe have given us the clearest possible proof that capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism: that however inequitably or irresponsibly the marketplace may distribute goods, it does so better than the queues of a planned economy; however mindless the culture of commercialism, it is more attractive than...

  2. 1 Workers and Society: From Tsarism to Socialism
    (pp. 19-47)

    The developments that concern us in this book are deeply rooted in the past, despite the revolutionary transformations that gave first birth, then shape, to the USSR. The focus here is the period from Stalin’s death in 1953—a benchmark for so many facets of Soviet life—to these, the twilight years of the system in the “Gorbachev era.” But an appreciation of some of those roots, both tsarist and Soviet, is essential to an understanding of the issues raised by the emergence and growth of today’s Soviet working class, in the context of the decline of the 1970s and...

  3. 2 A New Working Class? Hereditization and Education under Khrushchev and Brezhnev
    (pp. 48-72)

    Forty-nine years separate Brezhnev’s confident words from the concerned ones of Manuilskii that introduced the previous chapter. The first twenty-five were years of social revolution and war, massive transformation, and massive destruction. The remaining twenty-four were marked by more gradual, yet inexorable, social and demographic processes that were once again to change the society, both exhausted and mobilized, that emerged from World War II.

    The toll of the war was great. Physical destruction of the plants in which ex-peasants were becoming workers, the deaths of millions—hereditary workers, ex-peasants who had made the agricultural-industrial transition during the first and second...

  4. 3 Forming Workers: Choice, Selection, and Tracking
    (pp. 73-102)

    For a long time, the pretensions, if not the reality, of the Soviet planned economy included fitting together, with minimal friction, those entering the labor force and the available jobs, while tolerating neither the unemployment nor the “anarchy” that market systems were deemed to foster. For the majority, this involved being slotted into workers’ occupations. Generating enthusiasm about entering rank-and-file jobs is a difficult matter, and one may wonder how effective tub-thumping measures such as those quoted above were, and are.

    Some people are ready to become workers: their occupational aspirations have neither a higher nor, most often, a sharp...

  5. 4 Work, Wages, and Welfare
    (pp. 103-154)

    The words quoted above, by a distinguished Soviet sociologist and student of the working class, offer a commentary on a proverb long common to the USSR and the East European states—“we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” The proverb makes several points. It admits that few work hard. It implies the reason—low wages, or the difficulty of assuring an expected living standard on the basis of what those wages can actually buy. It expresses, from a grass-roots perspective (“we”), the social dichotomy that makes a distinct “they” of state authorities, as bosses, paymasters, and welfare...

  6. 5 Labor, Authority, Autonomy
    (pp. 155-199)

    The half-century that separated the Stalinist industrialization from the Brezhnev-to-Gorbachev transition saw massive changes in many contexts of Soviet life, among them the factory floor. This chapter deals with post-Stalin changes in the world of work, the continuities that developed in Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s times, and some of Gorbachev’s early responses to that legacy.

    Workers had been driven harder and harder in the 1930s plan era for the sake of production. With the 1938–40 period,¹ this drive was capped with a set of new laws and regulations deservedly labeled “draconian” by Western commentators. December 1938 brought an intensification of...

  7. 6 Regime Control and Worker Opposition
    (pp. 200-257)

    From Lenin on, Soviet leaders have feared the spontaneity likely to emerge in a society not yet (and likely never) sufficiently “conscious,” by way of social and economic development and unending political education, to be left to regulate its own affairs. Workers and their families, the core of that society, have been the objects of tutelage and control on a large scale. Today’s better-educated, hereditized workers, no less than the ex-peasant factory hands of the 1930s, were the targets of the regime’s organizational “active measures”; the difference may be in why and how they react. A prime aspect of this...

  8. 7 Worker Politics and Economic Crisis
    (pp. 258-302)

    The journalist-economist Seliunin would have words even more grim than these as 1989—a bad year in the economy—faded into 1990—a much worse one. From 1988 to the autumn of 1990, the Soviet political scene grew more dynamic and “democratic” but also inchoate, as more actors—groups, “movements,” charismatic individuals—crowded a stage that for so many years had been carefully managed. A complex society, woven of many groups and categories representing conflicting political principles, economic and ethnic-territorial interests, had emerged into a politics that was much more than “post-totalitarian,” much less than that characteristic of a civil...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 303-322)

    May Day, 1991, saw a subdued observance—it could hardly be called a celebration—of the traditional workers’ holiday in Red Square. Gorbachev, without the Politburo, stood on Lenin’s tomb, flanked instead mainly by representatives of the official trade union, the VKP. The smallish number of those who marched past, having been organized and issued signs by the VKP, bore slogans such as “No to Price Rises and Unemployment” and “Out with the Sales tax.” As civic ritual, it was half-hearted and understated, andobviously so.The placards said essentially no more than the union had been saying in its...