The Process of “Peopling” in Industrialization

Stephen Kotkin’s article Peopling Magnitostroi explores the industrialization period of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, specifically regarding the newly built industrial city of Magnitostroi. Located in a remote area of the steppe, the soviet regime mobilized and recruited the masses to come and work at this factory center. The workers sent there – a mix of skilled workers, unskilled peasants or exiled kulaks, and seasonal workers, otkhodniki, were overall reluctant to go there, especially those sent there from other factories in the cities. Despite the high number of workers who passed through Magnitostroi, there was a fluctuation or fluidity in when the workers came and left. Often workers would sign up only to leave again the next month ((Stephen Kotkin, “Peopling Magnitostroi,” in Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 85)) .

It was combination of the bad working conditions, lack of food and water, and lack of shelter that kept the workers there for only a few months. Many workers also had to be trained there at the factory due to a need for more skilled men. Despite all the problems the officials Magnitostroi faced, they called it a success because they still achieved their goals within the chaos of running a new industrial city with a lack of resources ((Kotkin, 90)) .

Kotkin’s exploration of the conditions in industrial cities and the workers temperaments gives us an idea of what the Soviet Regime was trying to achieve and how they were trying to achieve it. They were entirely focused on increasing production and were willing to go to great lengths to say that they achieved their goals. The “dekulakization” movement gave the government a reason to send more workers, if by force, and the government also urged seasonal worker-peasants to the factories in order to eliminate seasonal working entirely, which would address permanent employment. This was not well executed though, since the area where the factory was built had no useful resources and they had to transport everything by train. There was also not enough resources for the people, so obviously they had not many incentives to stay there. Despite the ever-changing population of workers and arising problems, the government saw Magnitostroi as an achievement since they managed to educate the workers with both useful skills and the soviet mindset: changing the people to be better soviet citizens.


Starting from scratch, Magnitostroi, a Soviet Union steel plant in 1929, evolved from an premature industrial environment to a site with 250,000 people in three and a half years. (64) Located in the remote Urals, the plant was entirely dependent on long distance train for its imports, including labor force. The labor force in Magnitostroi was mixed, ranging from educated urbanites to peasants and proletariat. The problems that these workers faced, despite the rough working conditions, was their lack of prior experience with industrial machinery. The relationships between the different classes were disjointed, and crash courses were taken by inexperienced peasants to equip them with four years work experience within six weeks. The Soviet Union at the time had a hyper rationalized economy with heavy industry as the top priority, and the working conditions were extremely poor.

The ideologies of the socialists caused inner turmoil at the steel plant, people were considered traitors if they did give maximum relative effort in comparison to their fellow workers, which caused them to turn or one another and even have each other arrested. As socialist competition increased, so did the pace, which caused many mistakes and setbacks to due sloppy management.