Rule of Inclusion: The Politics of Postwar Stalinist Care in Magnitogorsk, 1945-1953

By Song, Joonseo | Journal of Social History, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Rule of Inclusion: The Politics of Postwar Stalinist Care in Magnitogorsk, 1945-1953


Song, Joonseo, Journal of Social History


After the Second World War, what many Soviet people desperately sought was care from the state. For the Stalin regime, caring for physically and emotionally wounded subjects was an urgent issue. The Soviet press and party journals frequently published articles defining caring for the needy as the crucial postwar responsibility of Soviet citizens. (1) Caring for the needy--including workers, war widows, families of servicemen, as well as demobilized veterans--emerged as a key Soviet discourse immediately after the war, indicating that provision of support for the needy was a top state priority.

Despite its significance, scholars have paid little attention to postwar social welfare practices because of the limited availability of research sources on the subject and because of the seemingly unimpressive quality and quantity of the welfare benefits provided by the Stalin government compared to those provided by western governments, especially the G.I. Bill in the United States, (2) and by the Khrushchev leadership in later years. A few scholars who have studied the Soviet welfare system characterize the postwar Stalin years as dominated by prewar welfare practices. (3) Seeing the Khrushchev era, especially 1956, as a turning point in terms of significant improvement in welfare benefits, (4) they have suggested that welfare practices during pre- and postwar Stalin years were dominated by the rule of "exclusion." By this rule, the Stalin regime either ruled out unproductive social entities, such as invalids and aged people, or significantly reduced welfare benefits for the less productive groups and appropriated them as rewards to stimulate workers' productivity. (5) In this sense, scholars have considered the Stalinist welfare practices as mere "rhetoric" and "propaganda" (6) or as a post-Stalin phenomenon, appearing in the Khrushchev era. (7) Although this productivity-oriented approach to Stalinist welfare policy explains one aspect of the welfare program, it does not provide a comprehensive view. Soviet scholars' evaluation of welfare in the postwar Stalin years was not so different from that of western scholars. Many Soviet works either focus on the expansion of welfare benefits during Khrushchev era or keep silent on the practices of postwar Stalin years. (8)

Departing from previous scholarship, recent works have enriched our understanding of Stalinist welfare practice by providing either a new perspective or more nuanced interpretations based on newly available archival sources. Portraying the prewar Stalinist welfare program as a modern-state project which aimed to enhance the social insurance system, Stephen Kotkin has valued the extensiveness of state-guaranteed welfare benefits (including housing, education, employment, and health care) compared with those provided not only by the pre-revolutionary Russian government, but also by other modern capitalist countries. (9) However, other scholars have paid more attention to the limits and ineffectiveness of Soviet welfare system. (10) During the immediate postwar years, the demobilized emerged as the group that received extensive welfare benefits from the state. (11) But Edele emphasizes that welfare benefits for war veterans considerably diminished after 1947, when the major demobilization process was over and the "threat" from the demobilized to the Soviet government seemed less realistic. (12) Some scholars have seen the pre-1956 welfare practice as very limited, excluding unproductive populations such as invalids since welfare was given to the labor force with the intention of stimulating productivity. (13) Although the productivity-oriented approach was an important characteristic of postwar Stalinist welfare practices, the approach explains only one aspect of the system. The motivations of the postwar welfare policy went beyond the economic concern of raising productivity.

Integrating and extending these recent studies, this research explores the politics of welfare--the ways that the Stalin government used the welfare system to achieve its socio-political goal, stability between the state and society, through a case study of Magnitogorsk, a city valued for its steel production during the postwar reconstruction era.

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