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What is Shturmovshchina?

  Some curious people ask me why do the Russians tend to postpone their work to the very last moment, and then show heroic efforts to fulfil the task. I’d like to use that occasion to reflect on the common Russian practice of shturmovshchina – short bursts of extremely intense work after procrastination.  

Avral (emergency rush)  is probably predetermined by geography and climate: short growing season (three or four month; on average it takes only twenty-five days to carry out all ploughing-sowing- harvesting, compared to, for instance, forty days in Sweden) for centuries made the Russian peasants concentrate their agricultural labor in summer leaving winters relatively free for idleness , contemplation, or philosophizing. And the modern urbanized Russian society has inherited the archaic habit of rushed work, sporadic effort, rather than systematic, regular and balanced job. As a traditional Russian proverb says, the Russian man harnesses slowly, but drives fast.  As modern Russian saying goes, do not put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

It was no different under the communist rule.  In the centralized planned economy all managers and workers struggled to meet the deadlines. Fulfilling the plans was rewarded by bonuses, so the managers often filed phony reports about the projects being completed.  Looking through the filing of old Soviet newspapers, we can find numerous stories about the shturmovshchina, abundantly evidencing its ineffectiveness. For instance, Trud (the newspaper of the Soviet trade unions), on June 14, 1973, tells the story of a new power generator in Siberia at the place called Nazarovo. In December, 1968, a solemn opening ceremony marking the start-up of the generator was held. But in five years after the opening, the generator itself was not still supplied by the manufacturer.

Worrying to finish construction of houses and other objects on time, Soviet workers typically put bricks, plaster and painted all at once, while each of these operations requires some time to wait before the next.  Bricks must shrink, and plaster must dry before painting. No wonder that very soon paint would peel away, plaster would flake off, and big cracks appear in the brickwork.

In September 2010, a number of schools in Taganrog, where I live, didn’t start the school year on Sept. 1, because repair works had not been completed.   It took ten days of shturmovshchina to finish all the works.  So the Knowledge day was celebrated, but the knowledge itself was delayed.  The kids were happy! But what an example had been set for them?

 Will we ever get rid of that harmful shturmovshchina?

Inna Gritsenko