Vorkuta: Three Chapters in the Making of a Working Class
MetadataShow full item record
In the 1930s, Vorkuta in Siberia emerged as one of the Soviet Union’s principle sources of coal. It was also the principal site of the final horror of Stalin’s extermination of the politicized workers who had raised the Bolsheviks to power in 1917. Before their extermination, the prisoners at Vorkuta, followers of Leon Trotsky, organized a magnificent hunger strike, which became the stuff of whispered legend in the years which followed. By the 1950s Vorkuta was the principal supplier of coal to Leningrad – and the miners who dug that coal were almost all forced labourers. In 1953, several thousand of these forced labourers organized a massive strike against the slave labour system, serving in large measure as the final blow ending forced labour in the Soviet Union. By the late 1980s, the mines of Vorkuta were operated by “free” wage labourers, and in 1989 a series of strikes by these miners – some of them the grandchildren of the 1930s Vorkuta workers –accelerated the collapse of “communism” and served as a buttress against the return of the old regime during the attempted coup in 1991. The paper will suggest that a) the 1930’s era of strikes revealed clearly the class nature of the Soviet Union; b) the 1950’s era of strikes were shaped by and helped to end the moment of “primary accumulation” in the Soviet Union; and c) the 1980’s and early 1990’s era strikes were harbingers of the 21st century Russian working class, emergent in an era of neoliberalism.