Russia 1917-85- social developments


Full employment, housing and social benefits, 1917

Labour market under Lenin

  • collapse of industrial production during the civil war made factory workers drift to the countryside
  • demobilisation of Red Army left soldiers in the cities looking for work
  • food shortages in the countryside and collectivisation made peasants drift into the cities
  • arteli- workers who offered their services and were paid in a group
  • number of hired workers rose from 11.6 million in 1928 to 27 million in 1937

Industrialisation and full employment

  • trade unions could no longer negotiate with trade unions
  • health and safety ignored
  • In October 1930, unemployment benefit was cancelled in the light of full employment
  • In 1927, the average Soviet worker only produced half of what a British worker did
  • managers had to schedule day and night shifts so make the machines work 24/7
  • In 1932, an internal passport system was needed to change jobs
  • governemnt used honours and medals to motivate the workforce
  • by 1939, absenteeism was made a criminal offence
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Full employment, housing and social benefits, 1917


  • In 1917, the Bolsheviks confiscated large houses from the rich, partitioned them and rented them to families of workers
  • housing recieved few resources and low priority
  • workers had to sleep in tents, make shift huts and sometimes the factories
  • In 1936, only 6% of rented units consisted of more than one room and in 24% of cases it was part of one room
  • improvements to rural housing was even worse- peasants were expected to provide their own housing
  • lack of housing was made worse by WW2
  • housing was not a priority of the Fourth and Fifth Year Plans

Social benefits

  • by the early 1930s, cheap was food was available in workforce canteens
  • workers were given two weeks payed holiday
  • compulsory vaccination programme implemented in 1921 for cholera epidemic
  • many doctors fled Russia in 1917, weakening healthcare
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Promotion of a stable society, 1953-85

  • Soviet Constitution of 1977 guarenteed citizens employment, but jobs were made that were sometimes pointless
  • wages rose by 50% between 1967 and 1977
  • minimum wage introduced in 1956
  • low standards of work discipline often ignored by managers 
  • working week reduced in 1957 and paid holiday days increased
  • economic resources turned towards consumer goods
  • Ninth Five Year Plan (1971-75)- higher rate for consumer goods than heavy industry
  • due to the nomenklatura systen, a worker's employment depended on securing an internal passport and dwelling permit
  • party membership grew from 6.9 million in 1953 to 17 million in 1980
  • By the end of the 1970s, 20% of all males over 30 were Party members
  • education became one of the most important vehicles for gaining a good socila status in Soviet society
  • boys and girls had equal access to eductaion by the 1980s
  • youth groups made young people into committed Comunists
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Promotion of a stable society, 1953-85 (2)

  • between 1950 and 1980, social welfare spending increased five fold
  • in 1956 the pension scheme was expanded and retirement age reduced
  • since pensions were still insufficient, many still searched for part time work after reaching retirement age
  • housing blocks were nicknamed khrushchoby (Khrushchev slums) as they were drab, uniform and often poorly finished in a rush to meet targets
  • in 1978, there were over 2000 sanatoria (rest homes) and 1000 rest homes linked to medical care
  • provincial cities had fewer healthcare services and those in rural areas were limited
  • incomes of collective farmers were increased in 1966
  • by the mid-1970s, the wages of rural workers were only 10% less than their urban counterparts
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Role of women 1917-85

  • Islamic women were often veiled and denied an education, so young female activists encouraged unveiling while explaining basic contraception, personal hygiene and child care
  • Islamic attitudes were slow to change and there was often violence
  • Women provided the bulk of the agricultural workforce, and in rural areas traditional attitudes to women were slower to change
  • As late as the 1950s you could find villages populated only by women and children
  • In the Khrushchev and Brezhnev years, maternity benefits were extended to the countryside
  • Although the extension of the passport system to collective workers in 1974 allowed women to move to towns, it was more likely for young men to do this
  • There were 3 million female industrial workers in the 1928, and 13 million in 1940
  • In 1929, the government reserved 20% of higher education places for women
  • by 1940 over 40% of engineering students were female
  • those married to Party officals or industrial managers were encouraged to do social work, such as providing classes on hygiene
  • 800,000 women served in the Red Army from 1941-1945
  • In 1932, women made up 16% of party membership
  • Alexandra Kollontai was the first woman to become a people's commissar, serving as the people's Commissar for Public Welfare in 1917-18
  • Only 7 women were on the Central Commitee pre-WW2
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Attitudes to the family

  • youth groups were encouraged to attack the 'capitalist tyranny of parents' and women were encouraged to be more independent
  • Party thought that the role of the family unit could be taken over by the government
  • Family Code of 1918- new rights and freedoms for women, such as rights within marriage and making divorce easier. abortion was made legal and créches were encouraged 
  • By the mid-1920s, Russia's divorce rate was the highest in Europe and in 1926, 50% of all marriages in Moscow ended in divorce
  • In Moscow, abortions outnumbered live births by 3:1
  • Great Retreat 1936 worked to restore the traditional family
    • divorce was made more expensive, male homosexuality declared illegal, abortion outlawed unless the mother's life was at risk, gold wedding rings, previously labelled bourgeois, reappeared in shops
    • new view that the family was a necessary unit of a socialist society
  • By 1960, women made up 49% of the workforce, placing a double burden of work and family
  • Soviet society respected the elderly , resulting in many multi-generational family units
  • alcoholism undermined the family and historian Nemstov concluded that it contributed to a quarter of all deaths per year
  • Family Code 1968 required couples to give one months notice before a wedding took place
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The growth of education

  • In 1917, Lunachevsky and the Bolsheviks lauched a programme to provide free, universal and compulsory education for all children 7-17
  • Teachers were poorly paid and were expected to teach classes of 40 or more as well as clean the school unpaid
  • number of children in education increased from 14 million in 1929 to over 20 million in 1931
  • in the 1980s the government turned many general academic schools into specialist schools, for things like science, maths and foreign languages
  • Under the NEP spending on schools declined
  • low wages discouraged people from entering teaching
  • parents were expected to pay for uniforms, textbooks and individual equipment
  • The Fifth Five Year plan (1951-55) implemented a ten-year compulsory education for urban schools by 1955 and rural schools by 1960
  • Russification- imposing Russian language and culture on ethnic minorities
  • short courses taught adults basic literacy and numeracy
  • In 1964, 500,000 people were studying in hugher education part-time
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Reduction of illiteracy

  • In the final years of the Tsarist regime, the illiteracy rate was at about 65%
  • Bolsheviks aimed to make everyone between 8 and 50 literate
  • tens of thousands of liquidation points were set up. where people could undertake literacy courses
    • between 1920-26, five million people undertook these courses
    • all soldiers recruited into the army had to attend literacy classes
    • particular emphasis on women- 14 million of the 17 million who were illiterate in 1917 were women
  • In 1939, literacy rates were 94% in urban areas and 86% in rural areas
  • By 1959, literacy rates were 99% in urban areas and 98% in rural areas
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State control of the curriculum

  • propaganda in education indocrinated children from and early age
  • important method of Russification
  • all students studied the same curriculum until the last years of secondary school
  • particular attention on mathmatics and sciences 
  • all history taught had to be approved by Stalin first
  • all students were required to learn Russian
  • emphasis given to vocational education increased with Khrushchev's reforms of 1958
  • Marxist-Leninist theory woven into the curriculum
  • no difference between what was offered to boys and girls
  • Communist scouts (not actually called that)
    • Octoberists (ages 5-9)
      • informal gatherings with nursery rhymes and simple games
    • Pioneers (ages 10-14)
      • members had to promise to follow to teachings of Lenin and the Communist Party
    • Komosol (ages 14-28)
      • expected to support community schemes
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