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  • Histoire de la protection sociale en Union soviétique (1917–1939) by Dorena Caroli
  • Wim van Meurs (bio)
Dorena Caroli, Histoire de la protection sociale en Union soviétique (1917–1939) (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010). 316 p. ISBN: 978-2-296-13548-2.

Almost half a century after Sheila Fitzpatrick’s paradigmatic study of the Commissariat of Enlightenment in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Dorena Caroli has explored another key policy field of the revolutionary regime – social protection. Much has changed – the USSR no longer exists and the sources are more readily available. In retrospect, one wonders why studies of such a key policy field are few and far between even in revisionist studies of Stalinism. Caroli has previously published (in French and Italian) work on related policy fields and social phenomena – orphans and delinquent youth, the Komsomol, school curricula, and children’s literature. She has studied both the discourses and the formal institutions of the respective policy field. Selected case studies (“microhistory”) demonstrate the policy implementation and the reactions of common citizens.

Typically, the study of a policy field known to every modern or modernizing state allows for a broader, comparative perspective on Stalinist policies. First, the (dis)continuities from social protection under the tsars [End Page 301] to Soviet endeavors in this field can be addressed. Second, (Soviet) Russia is no longer an entirely unique case when compared to the expansion of social policy in West European states. Caroli addresses this longue durée from the Romanov’s reforms of the 1860s and 1880s to Stalinist legislation of the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, she does not explore the comparison to Western Europe beyond a juxtaposition of Nazi Germany. Considering the apparent revisionist pedigree of Caroli’s study, her unconsidered use of the term “totalitarian” and frequent references to Nazi Germany as “the other totalitarian state” are somewhat off-putting in the opening chapters (Pp. 23–26, 32), although the introduction refers appropriately to Fitzpatrick, Kotkin, and Kershaw.1 All the more so, as Caroli demonstrates that the role models of tsarist and Soviet policies in this field are indeed to be found in Bismarck’s social legislation and in the German social-democrats’ endeavors at the turn of the century. In the conclusion, however, she argues that “the functioning of social security opens a new perspective on the debate between the totalitarian and revisionist schools as it demonstrates how the regime imposed a development strategy whilst at the same time cultivating the expectations of the workers” (P. 277). How this dual agenda of the regime has an effect on (or even helped to sway) the timeworn debate between these two schools remains unclear.

The study is based on extensive research in several Russian archives, the tracing of numerous rare Soviet pamphlets and other publications from the 1920s and 1930s, and the reading of recent academic publications in Russian, English, German, Italian, and French. In addition to brief descriptions of tsarist social security and the stopgap measures of the period of war, revolution, and civil war, Caroli’s study distinguishes three periods: the buildup of Soviet social security institutions (1922–27), the (re)structuring of social benefits (1928–32), and the transfer of responsibilities to the trade unions (1933–39). A key dilemma of any such policy study is the choice of three largely incompatible options of what to analyze: first, the stated intentions and ideological rhetoric of the rulers; second, the formal institutions and legal frameworks of policy implementation; or third, the realities and perceptions of ordinary citizens. Evidently, the resulting portrayals of Soviet social security are bound to differ greatly. [End Page 302]

Despite the variety of archival sources and academic literature used, the narrative leans toward the formal institutions and number crunching. The author underlines the inadequacy of the assistance provided by the funds for unemployment and health insurance. The institutional reforms of 1922, 1924, and 1926 structure the third chapter. The archival documents evidently encompass legal and institutional amendments, on the one hand, and reports on individual cases and petitions, on the other hand. Hence, the realm of agents and their reform strategies or political and policy debates within the party and state apparatus...


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pp. 301-303
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