While a framework of statist welfare practices was constructed in the 1930s, the principles that underwrote it—and that defined the interaction of individual citizens and state agencies—were changed as a consequence of World War II and transformed as a result of Stalin’s death and the onset of de-Stalinization. Following a major sequence of welfare reforms in the Khrushchev period, most people’s encounters with social risk were substantially minimized. By the Brezhnev era, problems associated with moral hazard were creating new challenges for policy makers: not only did people enjoy the right to a job, as they had done for decades, but perverse incentives discouraged innovation and, for some, hard work. A welfare system had been established that went far beyond the universalism of Western Europe. Cash transfers diffused social risks. Furthermore, welfare touched almost all areas of life, from jobs to leisure, creating a new kind of industrial society, in which many social risks had been artificially eliminated. The effectiveness of this system was highly uneven, and many miserable examples of welfare provision persisted, but this revised relationship between risk and welfare guided the mentalities of policy makers and ordinary people alike. This article offers a commentary on the long-term nature of this process but focuses particularly on the reforms associated with Khrushchev, especially the pension laws of 1956 and 1964.


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pp. 129-148
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