As someone who has worked in the field of Soviet history with a particular interest in labor, I can state with conviction and enthusiasm that this book makes an important original contribution to the field of labor history, and Soviet history more generally.
Kenneth Straus weaves together many threads in Russian social history to develop a new theory of working-class formation in the years of Stalin’s First Five Year Plan. In so doing, he addresses a long-standing debate among historians by suggesting new answers to an old question: Was there social support for the Stalin regime among the Soviet working class during the 1930s, and if so, why?
Straus argues that the keys for interpreting Stalinism lie in occupational specialization, on the one hand, and community organization, on the other. He focuses on the daily life of the new Soviet workers in the factory and community, arguing that the most significant new trends saw peasants becoming open hearth steel workers, housewives becoming auto assembly line workers and machine operatives, and youth training en masse rather than occupations categories in the vocational schools in the factories, the FZU.
Tapping archival material only recently available and a wealth of published sources, Straus presents Soviet social history within a new analytical framework, suggesting that Stalinist forced industrialization and Soviet proletarianization is best understood within a comparative European framework, in which the theories of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber best elucidate both the broad similarities with Western trends and the striking exceptional aspects of the Soviet experience.
In this provocative study of industrial workers in the 1930s, Kenneth Straus argues that industrial workers by the mid-1930s had become integrated into Soviet society, forming a new working class that had struck a bargain with the regime, an ersatz social contract that provided for improved status in exchange for loyalty. . . . Straus offers a powerful argument and challenge for a theoretical exploration of social relations in understanding the experience of Soviet industrialization. . . . It deserves a wide audience and it should stimulate a lively debate.
His is a well-conceived and well-supported argument that brings us closer to understanding the stability and survival of the Soviet regime in spite of the terror it inflicted.
Written in a clear style with judicious commentary on previous historiography, this monograph is very accessible to the nonspecialist. Simply put, this is a very good book and deserves a wide readership.
Straus's work gives scholars of the Soviet working class much food for thought. The concept of Russia's dual labor market and Straus's contention that its demise led to increased social cohesion in the 1930s-40s provides a very useful framework for further research.