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Un Welfare State senza benessere

  • Autore Caroli Dorena
  • Codice ISBN (print) 978-88-6056-124-4
  • Numero pagine 346
  • Formato 14,5x20,5
  • Anno 2008
  • Editore © 2008 eum edizioni università di Macerata
The Russian Review
Eum Redazione

di Sophie Hohmann, 71/3

The history of social security in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1939 has been poorly studied in the West. This book was written within the context of the deep transformation of the Russian society into a Soviet society, whose ideology led to new institutions and to new complex procedures.
These new organizations had specific meanings depending on the context in which they evolved: the October Revolution, followed by the Civil War, the famines which enveloped whole populations in a cruel individual and collective tragedy, and great poverty.
This new publication is a French translation and a remake of the original Italian-language Un Welfare State senza benessere. Insegnanti, impiegati, operai e contadini nel sistema di previdenza sociale dell'Unione Sovietica (1917- 1939), (2008). It is a rich and original reconstitution of a multidimensional history of social security, its institutional architecture, and its financing, presented through various lenses of its central aspects: legal, institutional, and social. The book is richly documented with archive materials from the Soviet era, with other books and documents, and analyses of Soviet journals and newspapers. It is organized around five chapters, following a chronological order, starting with the origin of social security in Tsarist Russia and ending with the new system put in place in the Soviet Union just before the onset of World War II. It illustrates, particularly through numerous personal documents (request letters and complaints from men and women), how the Soviet state failed for a long time to guarantee the living conditions and the security promised by the October Revolution.
The first chapter reports the beginning of social insurances, following the Bismarkian model, in Tsarist Russia. The second chapter presents tbe reform of insurance schemes at the time of the October Revolution. Chapter 3 details the setup of new funds and the development of retirement benefits and disability pensions in the 1920s. The author analyzes in detail at the micro-level the social benefits in the AMO automobile plant in Moscow. Chapter 4 deals with the planning of social security during the "Greal Curve" period (1929, collectivization, the First Five-Year Plan), the difficulties and the administrative paradoxes in the face of growing popular discontent following the deterioration of living conditions, the promises not fulfilled, and tbe worsening of the social debt. This happened in the context of massive industrialization, when the reforms of social security were devoted to workers only. Chapter 5 presents the dissolution of local insurance schemes, and the transition of social security under the control of workers unions at the beginning of the 1930s. In this chapter, the ZIS automobile plant in Moscow is presented as an example of these transformations at micro-level. The Stalin school is also presented (pp. 261--66); however, for me, this section is not really relevant since it does not discuss the sodal security of the teaching personnel, which would have been its justification in this part.
From a methodological perspective, the author follows a comprehensive approach, combining ethnography and sociology. She combines tbe use of microhistory (social security in plants) and macrohistory (laws and institutions), which makes the exercise very convincing. This original approach enables comprehension at a very fine level of local realities, and above all of the interactions between the various social actors. Likewise, the consequences of social policies could be seen at the level of those who think up and organize these policies, as well as at the level of individuals, their life histories, and their needs. In this respect, the importance of the writing of Soviet history is underlined through tbe description of social protests and of personal requests coming from various social strata of tbe population who wanted an improvement of their living conditions. Daily life and its sociocultural and economic aspects is always important in the field of Sovietology, and this approach is at the heart of this work. The analysis of the available materials both at micro- and macro- level enables one to grasp the major discrepancies between the official discourse and the concerns of the population with respect to the reality of daily life and of the administration's unfulfilled promises. This shows the paradoxes and the lack of coherence of tbe bureaucratic Soviet establishment, which was caught in a theoretical mindset bearing little relation to the reality endured by Soviet citizens. Finally, the author shows that the emergence of Stalinian totalitarism solidified the discriminatory and non-egalitarian character of the Soviet social security system.

International Review of Social History
Eum Redazione

di Anna Borisenkova, 57/2, August 2012, pp. 298-300

The meeting of the history of social welfare and social history has been one of the most productive encounters in recent years. It has become an object of particular interest for historians, and social and political scientists. Therefore, an attempt to analyse the system of social welfare in a specific historical context is entirely welcome. Dorena Caroli’s book is a remarkable example of in-depth research into the system of social welfare in the Soviet Union in the period between the two world wars, a period in the development of the Soviet state that is not fully represented in English and French literature. Caroli’s book demonstrates a careful study of the archives of the former Soviet Union and a deep understanding of the political and social factors influencing the system of social welfare. Caroli proposes a complex approach based on political and institutional history on one hand, and social history and knowledge of cultural processes on the other.
A few words must be said about the author’s choice of the key expression "protection sociale". Caroli notes that in European historiography "generally no distinction may be found between the expressions welfare state, Etat providence, Stato sociale, social insurance, and social assistance’" (p. 19). When choosing a relevant expression for describing the Soviet system of social welfare, Caroli takes the historical context into consideration. She has chosen the expression protection sociale in French (social’noe obespechenie in Russian), which was born in the Soviet Union with the adoption of a law protecting workers from industrial accidents, whereas in Europe this notion took hold later.
The author explains the genesis of social welfare in European countries by noting the fact that the social insurance system was invented by Bismarck in Germany in order to protect and at the same time to control labour movements. Thus, the state provided workers and their families with social assistance in case of accidents, illness, disability, and unemployment. Bismarck’s model formed the basis of European systems of social welfare (for example, the British welfare state) as well as the social welfare of the Russian tsarist monarchy, which in turn constituted the basis of the Soviet social welfare system. Nevertheless, despite the common roots, the expression "welfare state" is used by English-speaking authors mostly to describe the period after World War II, while Caroli emphasizes the importance of the expression protection sociale when speaking about the 1920s and 1930s in the Soviet Union. Caroli argues that it is paradoxical to use the expression welfare state or Etat du bien-etre in regard to the Soviet government’s transformation of the social assistance system developed by the tsarist monarchy before the Revolution, and then the violent regime of Joseph Stalin. In fact, one of the aims of this research is to demonstrate the reasons why the Soviet system of social welfare could not provide workers with the security and social assistance promised by the October Revolution, and why the Communist Party limited the state’s intervention in social welfare, which eventually led to poverty and the social stratification of Soviet society. The relationship between the state and the people in this historical period implied so many contradictions and perplexities that it is more relevant to use the expression protection sociale rather than welfare state.
Making good use of analysis of labour laws in the 1920s–1930s, statistics of social insurance offices, and a thorough study of relations between individuals and social insurance offices, and social insurance offices and medical institutions, Caroli demonstrates a "double"methodology which combines macro- and micro-historical approaches. This productive combination of methods and levels of observation makes it possible to grasp general tendencies and larger processes, and at the same time understand the micro-level problems of individuals. Along with general arguments, Caroli provides case studies: social welfare in the automobile industry; pensions for the revolutionaries of 1905, partisans, and soldiers of the Red Army; and the development of Stalin’s school, taken as an illustration of the development of secondary education. The case study on Stalin’s school, for instance, not only demonstrates the Soviet state’s contribution to the system of secondary education and its role in the social life of a Soviet school, but also illuminates the "social anthropology" of a new Soviet society and its values.
What is important in Caroli’s research is that it also benefits from individual narratives. The author provides a series of personal documents containing the demands and complaints of people of various ages addressed to the Soviet authorities and directly to Nadezhda K. Krupskaya, who was Lenin’s widow and Deputy Commissar for Education. These personal documents provide insight into the everyday lives of workers, peasants, and their families, i.e. their needs, problems, hopes, and sorrows. This qualitative material serves as a kind of justification of the raw facts and statistical information in the book. In looking at the personal documents, Caroli poses a series of curious methodological problems concerning the linguistic abilities of the petitioners, and their cultural and educational backgrounds, although she does not devote too much attention to them in her study. For instance, she notes that it is not always possible to define the level of literacy of a petitioner, because the writing and editing of petition letters by a third person was a widespread practice in the Soviet Union. The third person could be a parent or a writer skilful in this genre (p. 31). Caroli also sees these personal documents as rather representative data (exceptionnellement normaux in French, eccezionalmente normali in Italian), demonstrating the extent to which individuals belonging to different social groups were equalized in the face of a lack of social assistance and legal aid. Writing a petition letter or complaint was the only means by which people could insist that their rights be protected. The analysis of personal documentation therefore makes a significant contribution to the study of the new collective identity being constructed in the 1920s–1930s.
The five parts of the book, arranged in chronological order, deal with a "double methodology" of macro-historical and micro-historical analysis. Chapter 1 looks at the origins and evolution of the tsarist social welfare system in the context of industrialization after the great Russian reforms of 1864 to 1917. Caroli focuses on two aspects: implementation of social insurance offices, protecting workers from illness in Moscow and St Petersburg, and the foundation of social assistance offices for school teachers. The development of the social welfare system was quite limited in this period because of economic crisis and war. The reforms did not noticeably change the everyday lives of workers in the cities.
Chapter 2 examines the Bolsheviks’ reforms of social welfare. The author highlights ideological attitudes between 1918 and 1920 that to a large extent formed the Soviet system of social insurance and shaped its key elements. Here, Caroli provides a case study of the AMO automobile plant in Moscow.
Chapter 3 analyses the reforms in social insurance during 1922-1927. Caroli carefully examines three reforms that constituted the foundations of social insurance and the system for distribution of funds on centralized and local levels. The author makes a penetrating analysis of the Bolsheviks’ reasons for fostering social stratification by offering benefits to a few social groups while depriving other groups of social assistance. In fact, the privileged target groups were high-level specialists such as qualified workers, school teachers, and a few categories of bureaucrats, whereas peasants, who formed the majority that was developing the economy of the Soviet Union, had almost no access to benefits. Furthermore, school teachers were considered to be a special group, as they were responsible for rearing a new Soviet generation by promoting revolutionary values and principles.
Chapter 4 discusses the results of two five-year plans that launched a new system of social welfare in industries. A corporate system of control was introduced in different branches of industry during 1928–1932. Caroli carefully traces how priority fields of industry were being formed and how social assistance in the case of illness, accidents, and unemployment was being rigidly controlled by the Soviet authorities. In order to provide a clear picture of the transformation, the author shows the way the evolution of Soviet social insurance was mediated by the local practices of social insurance offices in Moscow and the ZiS automobile plant. The concluding Chapter 5 is meant to concentrate on micro-historical analysis by focusing on the everyday dimension of the interactions between common people and the Soviet authorities. The above mentioned case studies and personal documents are presented here.
This work by Dorena Caroli is a rewarding example of careful research into a particular period in social history. One of its main advantages is a combination of macro- and micro-historical methodologies, such as statistical analysis and work with archives and personal documents. The book could serve as a guide through Soviet history, pointing out not only the aspects of a complex social welfare system but also the cultural and political peculiarities of the emerging Soviet society. It will be of interest to those who deal with the history of the Soviet Union, or anyone interested in an informed social analysis of a specific historical period.

Cahiers du monde russe
Eum Redazione

di Susan Solomon, «Dorena Caroli, Histoire de la protection sociale en Union soviétique (1917‑1939)», Cahiers du monde russe [En ligne], 52/4 | 2011, pp. 729-731, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2012, Consulté le 11 décembre 2012.

Dorena Caroli has written a rich study of Soviet "social protection" in the first two decades of the fledgling Soviet regime (1). A historical treatment of this long‑neglected subject is particularly timely today, as Russian policy‑makers review the scope of their system of social protection. Imaginatively and thoroughly researched in archival, published and unpublished sources, Caroli’s book will be a "go‑to" resource for historians interested in social policy in inter‑war Russia.
The book is organized chronologically. Five chapters, of uneven length, take the reader from the first foray into the provision of sickness and accident benefits under late tsarism through the troubled thirties, when responsibility for social protection was transferred from the social insurance kassy to the trade unions. Of particular significance for historians interested in the formative years of Soviet state structure will be the chapter on NEP, when an identifiable "system" of social protection was put in place, and the chapter on the First Five Year Plan, when the provision of social benefits was balanced against the priorities of economic development. The author’s historical sweep is long and her canvas broad. Under the umbrella of social protection, Caroli includes sickness, disability, unemployment, maternal and child health, and pension benefits. She analyzes not only the policies governing the allocation of benefits but also the construction of the categories of the working population which underpinned the entitlements.
The most innovative aspect of the book is Caroli’s "bridging" of macro‑ and micro‑historical approaches. Going beyond an exclusive focus on the legal, financial, and institutional structure of social protection, the author examines the impact on the everyday life of the population of the way benefits were delivered or, as the case may be, not delivered. To tap that lived experience, she presents material from some seventy letters written by Soviet workers to a variety of authorities to complain about unresponsiveness to claims of entitlement. These letters, drawn from the archives (particularly the archive of Krupskaia’s secretariat) create a vivid portrait of the constraints under which some workers, deprived of their pension or sickness benefits, labored. To deepen her examination of lived experience on the ground, the author adds two case studies. The AMO automobile plant in Moscow, which the author follows from the NEP period through the end of the First Five Year plan, turns out to be an ideal site to observe the way the structure of social protection shaped the daily life and struggle of workers. By contrast, the second case study —the examination of School # 25 in Moscow— is strangely disconnected from the story the author is telling. Be that as it may, the larger project of bridging macro‑ and micro‑history is of first rate importance. In the spirit of that project, the reader wonders whether the bridge functioned as a two‑way conduit. Is any evidence that the letters of complaint had an impact on the framing and re‑framing of provisions for benefits and the categories on which those provisions rested?
Caroli’s book is animated by two arguments. The author documents in some detail the way the newly forming central state administration — itself in the process of formation and re‑formation — progressively removed itself from direct involvement in social protection, ceding function first to local insurance funds and, ultimately in 1933, to the trade unions. Whether this was a case of institutionalization or de‑institutionalization might be debated. What is beyond question is that the fledgling Soviet state in the thirties was weak, with little capacity.
Second, Caroli argues that the driving force behind the welter of social protection policies was not the commitment to create a socially inclusive polity, but rather the desire to support the industrialization drive. More to the point, so runs the argument, by privileging some categories of workers over others, the social protection measures had a discriminatory impact. (Hence Caroli’s reservations about describing Russia as a social welfare state, my emphasis). The author acknowledges the role played by the economic exigencies of forced industrialization and the Great Depression in the setting aside of the bold revolutionary promises of social protection, yet sometimes she also implies that the regime’s normative commitment to universalism was soft. What, the reader wonders, is the relative strength of these two factors and in what way, if any, are they connected?
Finally, there is the question of the place of the Soviet project of social protection in the European canvas. As Caroli points out, Russia was not the first country to introduce social protection provisions. Drawing on literature on German and British welfare measures, she compares the scope and design of those European measures to the Soviet project. But the reader sorely misses a sustained analysis of how those who designed Soviet social protection measures viewed their project vis‑a‑vis similar projects undertaken by other countries. What were their models and their negative exemplars? (2) Research on the Soviet framing of measures for health protection revealed that foreign models and experience were discussed at great length not only in the Russian Commissariat for Public Health but also in the public health and medical journals and monographs. (3) Was there nothing of this sort in the case of social insurance? At issue is more than a fine point of intellectual history. An analysis of the discussions by the Soviet architects of social protection measures would deepen the arguments Caroli makes.
A few quibbles with what was otherwise a fine book. First, the book would have benefitted from a road map. At points, the chronological framework is not sufficient to hold the pieces together. Secondly, Caroli’s book would have benefitted from a subject and author index.

(1) The book was originally published in Italian as Un Welfare State senza benessere: Insegnanti, impiegati, operai e contadini nel sistema di previdenza sociale dell’Unione Sovietica (1917‑1939), (Macerata: Eum, 2008).
(2) For the role of foreign models in domestic debates, see Susan Gross Solomon, "The Politics of Inclusion: John Kingsbury and the Soviet Health Care System", in Anne‑Emanuelle Birn and Theodore Brown, eds., US Health Internationalists, Abroad and at Home (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2012).
(3) David Hoffmann, Cultivating the Masses: Modern State practices and Soviet Socialism, 1914‑1939 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press: 2011).

Ricerche di Storia Politica
Eum Redazione

di Maria Teresa Giusti, 1/10 anno XIII

Uno dei principali obiettivi di questo interessante volume è quello di dimostrare dove e come abbia fallito il sistema sovietico nel creare lo Stato del benessere per i lavoratori, a dispetto delle intenzioni e delle dichiarazioni degli slogan rivoluzionari. Lo stesso titolo contiene un ossimoro, laddove si sottolinea l'assenza del benessere in un sistema di welfare che si rivela parziale o meritocratico-occupazionale, cioè diretto a proteggere solo alcune categorie sociali. Se per Welfare State intendiamo lo Stato del benessere, realizzato attraverso una serie di interventi tesi a rimuovere i bisogni dei soggetti e delle famiglie in difficoltà mediante decisioni di politica sociale, la ricerca della Caroli dimostra quanto invece lo stato sovietico sin dai suoi esordi abbia ridotto tali interventi limitandoli a certe categorie di cittadini. Il welfare sovietico ha condannato quindi alla povertà vasti strati della popolazione perché meno utili al regime o considerati meno fedeli. Generalmente per i regimi totalitari, e in particolare per le economie pianificate come era quella dell’Urss, parliamo di welfare totale, dove l'unico soggetto o attore legittimato a realizzare interventi sociali è lo Stato, il quale dovrebbe compensare la mancanza di alcune libertà con l'erogazione di servizi. In realtà sin dalla sua nascita il governo bolscevico ha limitato i suoi interventi o non ha mai implementato leggi in materia di assistenza sociale. Del resto, il regime totalitario dell’Urss non cercava legittimazione né consenso, al contrario delle élite politiche dei paesi democratici che hanno cercato di risolvere le situazioni di bisogno dei cittadini.
Il tema della protezione sociale nell’Urss, spesso ignorato dalla storiografia, si presenta in maniera esaustiva in questo volume, che si aggiunge agli studi già svolti dall'autrice in materia di storia sociale sovietica, sull'infanzia abbandonata e sulle associazioni giovanili di massa dei pionieri nell’Urss degli anni Venti e Trenta. Nella prima parte di questo saggio l'autrice ripercorre l'evoluzione del sistema previdenziale zarista e della legislazione sulle assicurazioni sociali che accompagnò la nascita dell'industria russa a fine Ottocento. Nella seconda parte viene illustrata la riforma bolscevica della previdenza sociale, mentre nella terza l'autrice tratta le successive riforme che vanno dal periodo della NEP (nuova politica economica) al 1927. In questa fase, il governo bolscevico introdusse marcate differenziazioni tra categorie di lavoratori, favorendo gli operai qualificati a svantaggio ad esempio degli insegnanti - malgrado questi ultimi avessero il delicato compito di educare le masse ai principi rivoluzionari; dei contadini, ben più numerosi; degli impiegati e dei burocrati, che in seguito avrebbero costituito il nerbo del complesso sistema burocratico sovietico. Gli ultimi due capitoli analizzano in maniera approfondita l'evoluzione del sistema previdenziale nel corso del primo (1928-1932) e del secondo (1933-1937) piano quinquennale.
Il metodo di indagine scelto coniuga sapientemente il livello della macrostoria con la microstoria: infatti, oltre che offrire un quadro dello sviluppo delle politiche sociali nell’Urss degli anni Venti e Trenta, l'autrice per la sua indagine si serve delle numerose lettere di lagnanza e di richiesta (60 lettere selezionate tra le 300 esaminate), inviate dai comuni cittadini alle autorità centrali per rivendicare i propri diritti sociali, legittima ricompensa e frutto della mobilitazione e del sacrificio richiesti dalla rivoluzione prima e dalla guerra civile poi. Molte erano le lettere di aiuto inviate a Nadezda K. Krupskaja, vedova di Lenin e all'epoca vice-commissario del Popolo per l'Istruzione. Tra queste la supplica di una donna di 50 anni che, spinta dalla disperazione, implorava di essere rinchiusa in un ospizio o in un ospedale psichiatrico per poter sopravvivere (p. 210). Un caso questo emblematico della condizione drammatica delle donne, in particolare delle vedove, che rischiavano di morire di fame con i loro figli perché non sufficientemente protette dallo stato. Per questo studio denso e a tratti anche molto particolareggiato l'autrice si è servita della ricca documentazione proveniente dagli archivi centrali e locali dell'ex Unione Sovietica, tra cui l'archivio della Direzione centrale dell'Assicurazione sociale dell'Urss, gli archivi del Commissariato del popolo per la Protezione sociale e del Consiglio centrale pansovietico dei Sindacati.