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Bolshevik bargaining in Soviet industry: communists between state and society in the interwar USSR
2021-06, Kokosalakis, Yiannis
Drawing on the records of the Kirov PPO, this article provides a view of the Soviet industrialisation process placing the party at the centre of analysis. The account begins from the winding down of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the late 1920s and follows the process of industrialisation through the 1930s and up to the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. It will be shown that throughout this tumultuous period, the PPO provided the political space within which the many conflicts of the Soviet factory were played out and contained. Alongside the social-contractual accounts of Soviet industrialisation, this article argues that Soviet workers did indeed operate in relative autonomy from the state. However, this was predicated on active support for the state and the taking on of specific tasks in its service via party membership. Rather than stressing structural factors or forms of resistance as sources of workers’ power, this account highlights the extent to which active engagement with the Soviet system on its own terms was entirely consistent with workers’ pursuit of their immediate interests. This was not therefore the autonomy that is gained by carving out a niche, but that inherent in the delegation of certain powers from an authority to its functionaries. By institutionalising activism at the very heart of industrial relations the communist party ensured that, to borrow a phrase from Thompson, the Soviet working class would be present at its own making. The centrality of industrialisation to Stalin’s revolution from above lends this fact significance exceeding the bounds of labour history, prompting us to consider the mutual constitution of the workers’ state and the society it governed.