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Socialist competition or socialist emulation (социалистическое соревнование, "sotsialisticheskoye sorevnovanie", or "соцсоревнование", "sotssorevnovanie") was a form of competition between state enterprises and between individuals practiced in the Soviet Union and in other Eastern bloc states.
Competition vs. emulation
The first variant is a literal translation of the Russian term, commonly used by Western authors. The second form is an official Soviet translation of the term, intended to put distance from the "capitalist competition", which in its turn was translated as "капиталистическая конкуренция", "kapitalisticheskaya konkurenciya".
Implied was that "capitalist competition" only profited those that won, while "socialist emulation" benefited all involved.
In Soviet practice, according to Victor Kravchenko and Mikhail Heller, the competition between workers and industries was, however, not voluntary and much fiercer than the Western one. It was enforced by the collective pressure orchestrated by state security services (KGB) and local communist party representatives using collective responsibility and laws on dronery or wrecking. The race between teams and team members for overcompletion of the plans led to increasingly unrealistic targets, which could be only satisfied with cheating, double accounting, hoarding of resources, and shturmovshchina (last-minute cramming)—which, in the long term, led to a collapse of the supply chain in the economy. This was the dark side of Stakhanovism, udarniki, and the subbotnik. In 1987, Soviet economist Nikolai Shmelov estimated that out of 450 billion roubles worth of inventories of raw materials and parts, around 170 billion was kept as surplus, with the sole purpose of securing the successful completion of plans.
Socialist emulation was nominally voluntary everywhere where people worked or served: in industry, in agriculture, in offices, institutions, schools, hospitals, army, etc. With the natural exception of armed force, committees of Soviet trade unions were in charge of managing the socialist emulation.
An important component of socialist emulation was "socialist self-obligations" (социалистические обязательства). While the production plan was the major benchmark, employees and work collectives were supposed to put forth "socialist self-obligations" and even "enhanced socialist self-obligations" (повышенные соцобязательства) beyond the plan.
Deadlines for tallying up the results of a socialist emulation were usually set at major Socialist and Communist holidays or notable dates, like the birthday of Vladimir Lenin or the anniversary of the October Revolution.
Winners were awarded both materially and morally. Material awards were money, goods or perks specific to Socialist system, such as tickets to resorts, authorizations for a trip abroad, right to obtain a dwelling or a car outside the main queue, etc. Moral awards were honorary diploma, honorary badges, putting winners' portraits on the "Board of Honor" (Доска Почета); work collectives were awarded with the "Transferrable Red Banner of the Socialist Emulation Winner" (Переходящее знамя победителя в социалистическом соревновании).
Vladimir Lenin was the originator and the promoter of the idea of socialist emulation as a means for organising "the majority of working people into a field of labour in which they can display their abilities, develop the capacities, and reveal those talents". His milestone article was "How to organize the emulation?" ("Как организовать соревнование?"), in which among the important goal of the emulation was discovery of persons with organizational and management skills, to replace tsarist-era specialists. Also, he was the first to set "socialist emulation" against "capitalist competition". Later, Joseph Stalin wrote in his streamlined style:
- Principles of (capitalist) competition: defeat and death of ones and victory and dominance of the others.
- Principles of socialist emulation: friendly assistance to lagging ones by the leading ones in order to achieve a common rise. ...etc.
While criteria of socialist emulation were easy to set, understand and quantify in production areas, it was not so in non-production areas: medicine, education, work of clerks, etc., where significant formalism took place and among the criteria a significant weight was attributed to "social activism", not related to the work done.