Peter Petroff December 1937

Social Insurance in the U.S.S.R.

Source: Labour, December 1937, p. 82;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

When the Russian Trade Unions took over the functions of the People’s Commissariat of Labour they became responsible for the administration of social insurance and for the application of the labour laws.

Social insurance in the Soviet Union covers a very wide field. The number of insured person is enormous. In 1936, 25,100,000 persons came under the insurance scheme.

The contributions are paid by the employers alone. In 1936, the average contribution per insured person towards the insurance funds amounted to 334 roubles; the total sum of the insurance budget reached 8,380,000,000 roubles.

Social insurance in the Soviet Union provides for the workers and employees in case of temporary incapacity through sickness, pregnancy, childbirth, quarantine or care for sick relatives. It grants old age and invalidity pensions, layette and nursing allowances and orphans’ pension. Free medical aid and treatment in hospitals and sanatoria is given; rest houses, parks of culture and rest are maintained; physical culture and tourism is financed. For the children the insured a number of institutions are either provided or aided from insurance funds – milk kitchens, creches, playgrounds, kindergartens, holiday camps and special sanatoria for children and juveniles.

Out of insurance funds various public utility schemes and activities are financed which, have actually nothing to do with insurance – such as factory inspection and housing – and certain functions have been taken over which really should belong to the sphere of the People’s Commissariats of Heath or of Education. Thus, in 1935, more than 16 per cent, of the total insurance m budget – 982,000,000 roubles—-have been assigned to the building of workers’ dwellings.

In 1937, new legislation has been introduced freeing the insurance budget from the expenditure on housing, on pensions to persons unfit for work and certain functions of public health. This expenditure was transferred to State and local budgets. However, expenditure on factory inspection and grants to “mutual aid funds” (1937 100,000,000 roubles) remain. These mutual aid funds are an insurance, indeed – against inaccurate payment of wages by the State. In such cases they advance loans to the workers to help them through. Consequently, the sum of the insurance budget in 1937 is lower than in the two preceding years, although the expenditure on a number of items has increased. It was:

1935   5,903,000,000 roubles
1936   8,380,000,000 roubles
1937   5,045,000,000 roubles

The new legislation places the employees on the same level with the workers of their particular industries. In heavy industry, transport, etc., they will now be eligible to a pension of 55 per cent, – in other industries of 50 per cent.- of their wages at the age of 60, provided they have been working for twenty-five years, Women at 55 after twenty years service.

The all-round speeding up through shock brigades and the Stakhanov “movement,” and the general breakdown of protection of labour through the failure of the Trade Unions as revealed by practically every one of the recent congresses has led to an increase of illness and accidents. The result was increased expenditure on sickness benefits.

Now the Trade Union administration and the government are carrying a strong campaign against the sick and the doctors. On September 4, 1936, the Council of People’s Commissars and, pa September 8, the General Council of Trade Unions (V.C.S.P.S.) ordered the Unions to start a campaign for a “decrease of illness.”

To encourage this campaign the factory committees were empowered to retain 75 per cent. of the sums economised on sickness benefit for “the improvement of the cultural and medical services,” while the remaining 25 per cent. were to be handed over to the Executives of the Unions for similar purposes.

On August 17, 1936, the People’s Commissar of Health issued an order (No. 13) warning medical officers that for issuing unwarranted certificates of illness they would be prosecuted “not only in a disciplinary manner but under criminal law as participants in plundering public property.”

Speaking, at the Congress of the Union of Engineering Workers on August 19, 1937, Shvernik, the General Secretary of the V.C.S.P.S., declared: “It is necessary to hit particularly at the sham patients, and at those medical institutions that are issuing certificates of illness right and left.”

In most large works “Insurance Councils” are being organised by the now Stakhanovised Trade Unions, who are applying great pressure to reduce the number of workers on the sick list, There is not yet enough material available showing the results on a large scale. Occasional reports reveal however, that where the number of cases of illness has been reduced the average length of illness increases.

At the metallurgical works “Tviordye Splavy,” the Insurance Council, commenced its activity in November 1936; immediately reducing the number of cases of illness to 161, as against 242 in October. In the first half-year, 1936, 10,091 days of illness had been paid for; in the same period in 1937 only 8,182 days.

Notwithstanding the peculiar attitude of these administrators the social insurance system is an important achievement of the working class. It does a great deal to ameliorate the hardships of life under State Capitalism in a still backward country where the standard of life is low.

The report of the Executive of the Donbass Miners’ Union is a good illustration of what social insurance means to the Russian worker.

In the two years, 1935-1936, the expenditure on social insurance in the Donbass (300-350,000 miners) amounted to 228,900,000 roubles.

On maternity and infant welfare in 1935 4,600,000 roubles have been spent; in 1936 6,900,000; and in 1937, 14,000,000 roubles.

In 1935-1936, 162,582 persons were sent to rest homes, involving an expenditure of 37,300,000 roubles.

To serve the miners there have been established 283 medical stations, 180 ambulatories, 36 semi-clinics, 74 hospitals with 6,432 beds and 25 X-ray cabinets.

A problem for social insurance in the Soviet Union will arise through the sudden enormous increase in the birthrate. In the first half-year, 1937, the number of births increased in some of the big towns by 40-70 percent.

The insurance budget for 1937 forecasts an increase of expenditure on maternity benefits of almost half a milliard roubles. Taking into consideration the reports from various factories as to the astonishing increase in the number of births this sum will hardly suffice.