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How a 1930s Soviet miner helped create today’s toxic work culture

One summer night in August, 1935, a young Soviet miner named Alexei Stakhanov managed to extract 102 tonnes of coal in a single shift. This was nothing short of extraordinary (according to Soviet planning, the official average for a single shift was seven tonnes).

Stakhanov shattered this norm by a staggering 1,400%. But the sheer quantity involved was not the whole story. It was Stakhanov’s achievement as an individual that became the most meaningful aspect of this episode. And the work ethic he embodied then – which spread all over the USSR – has been invoked by managers in the west ever since.

Stakhanov’s personal striving, commitment, potential and passion led to the emergence of a new ideal figure in the imagination of Stalin’s Communist Party. He even made the cover of Time magazine in 1935 as the figurehead of a new workers movement dedicated to increasing production. Stakhanov became the embodiment of a new human type and the beginning of a new social and political trend known as “Stakhanovism”.

Credit: SOVFOTO/TimeUSA