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IELTS Reading Passage – Soviet’s new working week
Soviet’s New Working Week
Historians investigate how Stalin changed the calendar to keep the Soviet people continually at work.
There are no strongholds the Bolsheviks cannot conquer. When Stalin said, “poor and backward Russia is to convert overnight into a mighty modern industrial nation,” he was expressing the confident optimism of the Soviet Union’s Five Year Plan. New industrial towns sprouted up between 1928 and 1932, along with the world’s largest dam, and output of coal, iron, and steel surged at an incredible pace. Everyone’s lives were altered by the rise of the industrial proletariat as a result of collectivist agricultural practices. Under Stalin’s rule, private business vanished from cities and rural areas alike, and the State became paramount. The tone was one of boundless optimism, with communists certain that sheer determination and hard work would usher in a new world.
Enthusiasm expanded to the concept of time as a result of the desire to transform the state. Lenin was already interested in the theories of American Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), whose time-motion studies revealed methods of streamlining labor so that every worker might achieve the utmost. The Bolsheviks imported hundreds of Fordson tractors and were huge fans of Henry Ford’s assembly line mass manufacturing method. Its engineers’ ability to travel with vehicles and instruct new owners contributed to the rapid growth of what has become a genuine Ford cult. The new Soviet Man, a heroic figure with an infinite capacity for effort, was trained in part by mimicking and then exceeding such capitalist models. All of this led up to the Plan, which has been called “the victory of the machine” due to its goal of transforming employees into superhumanly efficient robots.
But this was Communism, whose aims had always included bettering the proletariat’s lot in life. The abrupt announcement in 1927 that shortened the workday from eight to seven hours was a significant step in that direction. Each industry was given until the conclusion of the Plan in January 1929 to adjust to the shortened day. In addition, on the Saturday before Sundays and holidays, employees were to have one additional hour off. While this was part of a plan to improve productivity via the implementation of a three-shift system, the state often took more than it provided. This meant that factories were open around the clock, forcing many people to work unsociable hours.
Although this strategy had just been proclaimed, Yuri Larin, a close friend of Lenin’s and the architect of his radical economic policy, had already come up with a plan to increase efficiency even further. On Sundays, factories and offices were closed, giving workers the day off. A continuous workweek would ensure that machinery are always running at peak efficiency, eliminating the need to eliminate a day of the week. In May 1929, Larin submitted his plan to the Congress of Soviets, but no one paid any attention to it. Though, not long after that, he had Stalin’s ear and approval. In June, pieces applauding the new plan appeared suddenly in the Soviet press. In August, at the height of excitement for the Plan, the Council of Peoples’ Commissars ordered that the continuous workweek be put into immediate operation.
The concept looked easy to grasp, but the execution was everything but. Workers may not be forced to put in extra time at the office or work on weekends. The answer was brilliant: everyone would work four days a week and have Fridays off, holidays would be cut from ten to five, and the additional hour of vacation time on the eve of rest days would be eliminated. This method of staggered rest days ensured that all employees worked the same amount of hours per week, but the factories operated for 360 rather than 300 days each year. The 360 was easily divisible into 72 sets of five-day weeks. The new Uninterrupted Work Week calendars were issued nationally, and workers in each facility (at first factories, subsequently shops and offices) were split into five groups, each allocated a colour. Given that employees’ days off would rotate every week, color-coding was a useful mnemonic strategy to help them keep track of the schedule. Employees would be able to quickly identify their day off by looking at the calendar and marking it with the appropriate colour. The exceptions to this rule were industries that required frequent shutdowns for maintenance (such as factories and mines), as well as jobs such as construction and seasonal work (where employees took the same day off each week). However, Sundays were never given any less importance than other days.
The official narrative emphasised the financial and cultural gains to be made from the new system. Employees would receive more rest; productivity and employment would expand (since more workers would be required to keep the plants working continually); and the level of life would improve. Cultural activities (theatre, clubs, sports) would no longer need to be jammed into a weekend, but instead, would thrive every day, with significantly less crowding at their venues. Because of the above, going shopping would be less of a hassle. Since 80% of employees would be present on any given Sunday, ignorance and superstition, represented by organised religion, would be dealt a fatal blow. The only real pushback came from households with several working members, but the Soviets countered that individual interests were less essential than the greater good, and that flexible work schedules could be worked out between husband and wife. Historically, the dictatorship has sought to undermine or marginalise the two most significant institutions—the nuclear family and organised religion—that may pose the biggest challenge to its absolute rule. Eventually, religion gave way, but the family proved far more resilient, as even Stalin had to confess.
The seven-day workweek, which was heralded as a Utopian society in which time was conquered and the lazy Sunday was done away with for good, quickly became the norm. Official statistics show that by April 1930, 63% of industrial employees were doing so, and by June, all industries were forced to switch by the following year. In October, 73% of businesses were hit by the trend. In reality, many executives just pretended that the workweek had changed without really making any adjustments to their operations. Following the Plan’s guidelines was crucial, but any other concerns could wait. However, at that time, it was clear that there were issues. The employees really disliked it, even though they never said so formally. Husbands and wives only saw each other before or after work; leisure days were lonely without family or friends to spend them with; and coordinating family schedules was almost impossible and often neglected. There was a lot of confusion since the new plan was rolled out inconsistently, with some factories running on five-, six-, and seven-day weeks at the same time, and employees often going without their scheduled days off.
It’s possible the Soviet administration didn’t care (it didn’t need popular support), but the new week hadn’t exactly boosted output as everyone had hoped. Because of the intricate rotation structure, the teams had to take on a wide variety of tasks over the course of many weeks. Machines were frequently poorly maintained or damaged since they were no longer in the hands of individuals who understood how to care for them. Workers stopped feeling accountable for the unique work they had been doing before.
This caused the beginning of the week to lose momentum. After Stalin’s speech in June 1931, in which he criticised the “depersonalised labour” its too fast adoption had brought about, things started to go downhill quickly. The government mandated a six-day workweek in November, complete with its own calendar and holidays on November 6, 12, 18, 24, and 30, with Sunday serving as a typical workday. The six-day workweek was on its way out by July 1935, when just 26% of employees still used it. Eventually, in 1940, the continuous five-day week and the innovative six-day week were abandoned as part of the overall back to more conventional ways, and Sunday was reinstated as the universal day of rest. The conclusion of a daring but generally ill-conceived experiment.
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Soviet’s new working week IELTS reading questions
Reading Passage has nine paragraphs A-I.
Choose the correct heading for each paragraph from the list of headings below.
Write the correct number i-xii in boxes 1-8 on your answer sheet.
List of Headings
- The advantages of the new plan and its opposition
- Utilizing previously wasted weekends
- reducing labour hours to improve productivity
- Hope for the bright future
- Negative impact on the actual production
- The Soviet five-year plan
- The elimination of the new work-week plan
- The Ford design
- Response from manufacturing employees and their families
- The color-coded system
- Setting up a three-shift system
- Foreign influence
1 Paragraph A
2 Paragraph B
3 Paragraph D
4 Paragraph E
5 Paragraph F
6 Paragraph G
7 Paragraph H
8 Paragraph I
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Choose the correct letter A, B, C or D.
Write your answers in boxes 9-11 on your answer sheet.
9 Paragraph A claims that the Soviet Union’s 5-year plan was effective because
A Bolsheviks built a strong fortress.
B Russia was weak and backward.
C industrial production increased.
D Stalin was confident about the Soviet’s potential.
10 Daily work hours were reduced from eight to seven to
A improve the lives of all people.
B boost industrial productivity.
C get rid of undesirable work hours.
D change the already establish three-shift work system.
11 Many factory managers argued that they had met the requirements of the new work week because
A they were pressurized by the state to do so.
B they believed there would not be any practical problems.
C they were able to apply it.
D workers hated the new plan.
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Answer the questions below using NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 12-14 on your answer sheet.
12 Stalin supported and helped execute the notion of a seven-day workweek, but whose idea was it?
13 How did employers ensure that their staff remembered their rotating schedule of days off?
14 What did people have the greatest trouble accepting the new work week?
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Soviet’s New Working Week Reading Answers
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