Topic 10. Finding Workers to Build Socialism

Read: Brunnbauer, Ulf and Visar Nonaj. “Finding Workers to Build Socialism: Recruiting for the Steel Factories in Bulgaria and Albania.” In Labor in State-Socialist Europe, 1945–1989 (ed. Marsha Siefert). Budapest – New York, NY: CEU Press, 2019, 73-98.

This case shows the recruitment practices and experiences of the two largest industrial enterprises in Bulgaria and Albania from 1960 to 1991. The steel plants in Kremkovci (Bulgaria) and Elbasan (Albania) were industrial mammoths epitomizing the communist leadership’s penchant for heavy industry. They were supposed to be production sites not only for steel but also for a new society populated by the New Socialist Man. However, neither of these countries had much of an industrial tradition; they faced the problem of finding workers for these plants. The paper explains how the communist leaders solved the recruitment problem and to what extent they succeeded.

The authors argue that both enterprises served important social, political, and cultural functions, while they were a failure from a business point of view. At the same time, state initiatives sometimes opened new opportunities for “ordinary people” different from those supported by the state. In the case of Kremkovci and Elbasan, industrial projects increased the social mobility of the rural population and social inclusiveness. The permanent demand for workforce created a co-dependence between managers and workers which translated into the workers’ increasing bargaining power. The case contributes to our understanding of the perception of industrial work by “ordinary people.” It illustrates the room for maneuver of enterprises and their administration. It reveals the state’s reaction to unforeseen problems and how its responses created a new contradiction. Overall, it sheds light on the social fabric of state socialism.

Questions for preparation:

1. Why did Bulgaria and Albania decide to build giant metallurgy plants despite the absence of a tradition of having large industrial enterprises, and lacking sufficient human and mineral resources?
2. Why did the communist leadership continue to allocate resources to the plants even after they realized the enterprises were unprofitable?
3. What were the advantages and disadvantages of the high-level politicization of the operation of both enterprises?
4. How did the leadership of Bulgaria and Albania find workers to build socialism? Why was it a challenge to attract sufficient workforce even despite the leadership’s powerful political leverage?
5. Why did these projects fail to help the ruling communists to construct the New Man, that is, a hard-working, disciplined, class-conscious proletariat?