Changes in Soviet Society
Employment rose greatly; 3.9 million jobs per year were expected by 1923, but the number was actually an astounding 6.4 million. By 1937, the number rose yet again, to about 7.9 million, and in 1940 it was 8.3 million. Between 1926 and 1930, the urban population increased by 30 million. Unemployment had been a problem during the time of the Tsar and even under the NEP, but it was not a major factor after the implementation of Stalin's industrialization program. The mobilization of resources to industrialize the agrarian society created a need for labor, meaning that the unemployment went virtually to zero. Unemployment was also eliminated by fixing wages, which dropped in real terms by 50% from 1928 to 1940, thus making it financially viable for the state to employ so many workers. Several ambitious projects were begun, and they supplied raw materials not only for military weapons but also for consumer goods.
The Moscow and Gorky automobile plants produced automobiles that the public could utilize, although not necessarily afford, and the expansion of heavy plant and steel production made production of a greater number of cars possible. Car and truck production, for example, reached 200,000 in 1931.
Because the industrial workers needed to be educated, the number of schools increased. In 1927, 7.9 million students attended 118,558 schools. This number rose to 9.7 million students and 166,275 schools by 1933. In addition, 900 specialist departments and 566 institutions were built and functioning by 1933. Literacy rates increased substantially as a result, especially in the Central Asian republics.
The Soviet people also benefited from a type of social liberalization. Women were to be given an adequate, equal education, and legally had equal rights in employment. In practice, these goals were not reached, but the efforts to achieve them and the statement of theoretical equality led to improvements in socio-economic status for women. Stalinist development also contributed to advances in health care, which was a massive improvement over the health care system under the Tsars. Stalin's policies granted the Soviet people access to free health care and education. Widespread immunization programs created the first generation free from the fear of typhus and cholera. The occurrences of these diseases dropped to record-low numbers and infant mortality rates were reduced by many times, resulting in the life expectancy for both men and women increasing by over 20 years by the mid-to-late 1950s. Many of the more extreme social and political ideas that were fashionable in the 1920s such as anarchism, internationalism, and the belief that the nuclear family was a bourgeois concept were abandoned. Schools began to teach a more nationalistic course with emphasis on Russian history and leaders, although always with Marxist underpinnings. Stalin also began to create a Lenin cult. It was during the 1930s that Soviet society assumed the basic form it would have until the end in 1991.
Urban women under Stalin were also the first generation of women able to give birth in a hospital with access to prenatal care. Education was another area in which there was improvement after economic development. The generation born during Stalin's rule was the first near-universally literate generation. Engineers were sent abroad to learn industrial technology, and hundreds of foreign engineers were brought to Russia on contract. Transport links were also improved, as many new railways were built, although with forced labour, costing thousands of lives. Workers who exceeded their quotas, Stakhanovites, received many incentives for their work, although many such workers were in fact "arranged" to succeed by receiving extreme help in their work, and then their achievements were used for propaganda.
Starting in the early 1930s, the Soviet government began an all-out war on organized religion in the country. Many churches and monasteries were closed and scores of clergymen were imprisoned or executed. The state propaganda machine vigorously promoted atheism and denounced religion as being an artifact of capitalist society. In 1937, Pope Pius XI decried the attacks on religion in the Soviet Union. By 1940, only a small number of churches remained open. It should be noted that the early anti-religious campaigns under Lenin were mostly directed at the Russian Orthodox Church, as it was a symbol of the czarist government. In the 1930s however, all faiths were targeted: minority Christian denominations, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.