Magnitogorsk: semi-realized city

Magnitogorsk_steel_production_facility_1930s

Magnitogorsk Steel Production Facility 1930, courtesy of wikicommons

 

The city of Magnitogorsk was founded as a center of industrialization, however even as it failed on many fronts it was a progressive center of industrialization. In the 1930’s the Soviet Union was in need of industry, and so the plan to create industrial cities was implemented. Detailed in the article Peopling Magnitostroi: The Politics of Demography by Stephen Kkotkin is the reasoning, creation and outcome of Magnitogorsk as both an industrial city and as a “factory for remaking people”.1 

In an attempt to industrialize the country, industrial cities were created throughout the Soviet Union. By recruiting citizens, military personnel assignment, foreign workers (European refugees, hired technical personnel and tourists) and the incidental acquisition of wandering peasants (samotek ) Magnitogorsk’s population rapidly grew.2 However, the city became a ‘revolving door’ of workers due to the poor living conditions and low wages. Some of the original workers were otkhodnik- peasant seasonal workers, who saw factory employment as a supplement to their agricultural income.3 In order to maintain steadier population the Soviet Union saw it necessary to eliminate the seasonal workers by “transform[ing] the construction industry into a year-round activity”.4 

In 1933 The Soviet Union became afraid of the “peasnatization” of the workforce. As the ideal underclass was the proletariat efforts to educate the largely literate and unskilled work force began.5 This organized system of education proved to be less effective than on the job training, during which individuals were instilled with the belief that with even the smallest extra effort they could become a hero to the Soviet Union. These sentiments gave rise to workplace competition and national pride.

With the issue of desertion sill prominent within the city, a passport system was created. The passports, which could have prevented the misuse of trains and government money, became an opportunity for the rise of black markets because of the demand for documentation. Even after many of the pitfalls of Magnitogorsk, it is still viewed as a successful industrial center that taught its citizens national pride and created a trained working class.

What struck me as I read the article was the need for progress, even when nothing was in fact achieved. The construction of the damn is the greatest instance of a failed but somehow respected occurrence. While it is true that the damn was built ahead of schedule and as a result party authority vastly increased, the damn was not functional and almost as soon as construction was completed it once again began.6 Thant the Soviet Union was able to turn a major construction failure into a morale booster and convince the workers that even “the lowest individual could become a great hero by straining to pour an extra load of cement” is a testament to the strength of the collective mindset7  The ability of the Bolsheviks to deftly turn a critique of their shortcomings into a party asset is one of the many characteristics that helped to keep the party in power during the Soviet Union.

 

  1. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 63 []
  2. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 70 []
  3. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 71 []
  4. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 72 []
  5. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 75 []
  6. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 80 []
  7. Kotkin, Peopling Magnitostroi 80 []

One thought on “Magnitogorsk: semi-realized city

  1. I think your remarks on the overwhelming need for progress despite failures just about sums up the vision of the Soviet Union at the time. It is incredibly impressive that the Soviet Union was able to turn such failures into motivators. This point reminds me of Hoffman’s article “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism”, and how he argues to extend the definition of modernity to include progress. Once progress is considered, one can draw parallels in modernization amongst the Soviet Union and the nations of the west. It was this constant drive for progress that brought the Soviet Union to modernity and that allowed it to keep up with the world powers of the west despite its shortcomings in policies.

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