While struggling to read through an old Soviet Russian language children’s textbook the other day, I found a short mention of a curious Soviet social experiment that triggered my curiosity. It was a reconfiguration of the calendar into weeks of five days duration. I decided to do some armchair anthropology and look into it.
Following the death of Vladimir Lenin, in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power and became General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, effectively a dictatorship. Stalin replaced Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” with a centralized “Command Economy”. The idea was to quickly transform the nation from an agrarian society into a major industrial power.
The communist government analyzed the standard calendar and retained the general idea of measuring days and nights according to the regular solar cycle (year) divided approximately into portions according to the lunar cycle (months). The concept of week, however was a completely arbitrary division of months. Add to this the fact that weeks in the Julian and the later Gregorian calendars were identified with Abrahamic religion. The Soviets wished to downplay the place of religion in this new society.
In the effort to expand industrial productivity, the idea to reshape the old Julian calendar into a new “Soviet Calendar” was put into practice. On August 26, 1929, the Council of People’s Commissars decreed all industries and workplaces must transition from the traditional work week, that was interrupted by inconvenient weekends, into a continuous week of production.
The nepreryvka or uninterrupted week was simple enough. The ironically named “Soviet Eternal Calendar” retained the 365/366 day per year concept. Each week would last five days. Each month would equal six weeks. This meant there would be five days (or six in a leap year) that needed to be placed. These days were five (or six) national holidays created throughout the year.
The way the five day work week affected regular working people was that each work week consisted of four working days and one off-duty day. The day off was not the same one for each person. Each rotated day off was indicated by an assigned color. A worker was assigned a color: red, yellow, green, pink, or purple. Each color coincided with one of the five days. For example, if Ivan was assigned the color red, his days off would be those days of the year marked in red.
It’s easy to imagine the immense social problems that would spring up with this sort of arrangement. Family life was disrupted because each family member might have different resting days. In Russia, family is supreme, so the different days off caused major friction. Also, even though religion was officially discouraged, people worshipped privately and celebrated religious holidays anyway. The elimination of Sundays became another major objection.
Another major problem with continuous factory production is that the machinery could not withstand constant use. Breakdowns were frequent.
The problems of unhappy families and worn-down machinery was joined by internal sabotage by workers who were isolated from spouses, children, friends, and neighbors. They were unhappy because there were very few opportunities for socializing except for the five or six official state holidays each year.
Each person’s “real” life happens on her or his days off of work. The Soviet Eternal Calendar meant that the population was divided into fifths. Families and societies were no longer harmonious nor integrated. The five divisions lived parallel, not intersecting lives. People could not put up with this for very long. A non-integral society is devastating to any nation.
In 1931, the USSR scrapped the five day week. In December of that year, a new six-day week was adopted. With this calendar, everybody received the same off-duty day. Even though the six -day per week calendar did not recognize Sunday, efficiency did not increase very much. There was still too much popular resentment over the failed five-day per week “Eternal” calendar. Russians associated the six-day week with the five-day week.
Finally, due to the pressures of an unhappy population coupled with the urgency of the Second World War, the Central Committee and Stalin needed optimum cooperation and productivity. The Soviet Union finally relented and restored the seven-day week in 1940.