Skip to main content Accessibility help

Convergence Theory and Social Change: The Development of Welfare in Britain and the Soviet Union

  • Ramesh Mishra (a1)


This paper examines convergence theory in relation to welfare-the institutional pattern of a society concerned with meeting needs. In contemporary industrial societies needs are met through a variety of patterns, viz. social services, tax rebates, fringe benefits provided by enterprises, mutual-aid, and voluntary and charitable assistance. The question is whether in the course of transition from early to advanced industrialization, Western and communist societies have become more alike in respect of such institutional patterns.1 The proposition has been examined in relation to evidence drawn from one communist and one Western country and the underlying theory criticised in the light of evi-dence.



Hide All

1 This paper is focussed on the ways in which the four major needs of industrial man, viz. income security, medical care, education and housing, are met. Of the different ways of meeting these needs, fiscal measures have been excluded from this study, mainly because of the difficulty of marshalling evidence on taxation.

2 Kerr, Clark et al. , Industrialism and Industrial Man, London: Heinemann, 1962. See also Postscript to Industrialism and Industrial Man’, International Labour Review, Vol. 103, No. 6, 06 1971, pp. 519–40, by the same authors. In some form or another the notion of similarity or increasing similarity of the social structure of industrial societies is to be found in the work of many sociologists and economists. Galbraith's, J. K.The New Industrial State, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967, is perhaps the best-known recent example. For a critique of convergence theory see Goldthorpe, J. H., ‘Social Stratification in Industrial Society’, Halmos, P. (ed.), The Development of Industrial Societies (Sociological Review Monograph No. 8), Keele: University of Keele, 1964, pp. 97122, and The Future of FuturologyEuropean Journal of Sociology, Vol. XII, No. 2, 1971, pp. 263–88;Feldman, Arnold S. and Moore, Wilbert S., ‘Industrialization and Industrialism: Convergence and Differentiation’, Transactions of the Fifth World Congress of Sociology 1962, Vol. 2, pp. 151–69. For a defence of convergence theory see Dunning, E. G. and Hopper, E. I., ‘Industrialization and the Problem of Convergence: A Critical Note’, Sociological Review, NS Vol. 14, No. 2, 1966, pp. 163–85.

3 Kerr, et al. , Industrialism and Industrial Man (op. cit.), esp. chs. 2 and 10.

4 Ibid., ch. 3.

5 Ibid., p. 180. Kerr et al. maintain that the closer a social pattern is to technology the more it is likely to converge (p. 285). However, the notion of closeness to technology is far from unambiguous and nowhere do the authors discuss it systematically. It is clear, nonetheless, that welfare is seen as a convergent aspect of the social structure. Thus, ‘In the logic of industrialization, the responsibility for guaranteeing the minimum welfare and security of industrial man rests in large measure upon his managers and his government’ (p. 180). In short, the state and the enterprise are seen as the twin pillars of welfare in industrial society. However, since the discussion of welfare is brief and en passant we thought it necessary, and legitimate, to relate the structure and development of welfare to the general theme of Industrialism and Industrial Man.

6 Ibid., pp. 174–81, 229, 273–6, 286.

7 Clearly, no single country can be considered as ‘representing’ Western industrial countries as a whole with respect to the structure and development of welfare. However, a study of state welfare in 20 Western industrial countries shows that in nature and scope, Britain's social services are in line with the majority of Western countries and her level of expenditure on state welfare is quite close to the mean for these countries. Some countries, e.g., the U.S.A., were found to deviate a good deal with respect to income security and medical care from the typical pattern. See Mishra, Ramesh, ‘Welfare and Industrial Man’, Sociological Review. NS Vol. 21, No. 4, 11, 1973, pp. 535–60.

8 For example, per capita income and energy consumption, the proportion of labour force in non-agricultural occupations and urbanization. For per capital income in 1965 see Hagen, Everett E. and Hawrylyshyn, Oli, ‘Analysis of World Income and Growth 1955–1965’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 18, No. 1, Pt. II, 10 1969, p. 36; for energy consumption, United Nations, Statistical Yearbook 1971, New York, 1972, pp. 337, 339; for labour force, Yearbook of Labour Statistics 1972, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, 1972, pp. 140 ;1.

9 This is implicit in the long and unspecified time-scale of convergence envisaged by Kerr and his associates. See Kerr, et al. , op. cit., pp. 33–4 and ch. 10 passim.

10 See, for example, Rostow, W. W., The Stages of Economic Growth, London: Cambridge University Press, 1960, pp. 38, 59.

11 The Report from His Majesty's Commissioners for Enquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, H.M.S.O., London, 1834.

12 See Bruce, Maurice, The Coming of the Welfare State, London: Batsford, Second edition, 1965, pp. 7687.

13 Twelfth Report of the Poor Law Board, H.M.S.O. 1860, p. 7.

14 Mitchell, B. R. and Deane, Phyllis, Abstract of British Historical Statistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962, pp. 366, 396–8.

15 Local authorities other than the Poor Law Guardians were empowered to build hospitals in 1875. See Bruce, , op. cit., p. 103.

16 During the period under review (1830–60), public health measures consisted of compulsory vaccination and the removal of nuisances. The Poor Law authorities were involved in the administration of both, especially in rural areas, but vaccination was not regarded as poor relief. Neither compulsory vaccination nor the other public health measures were effectively carried out until the 1870s. See, for example, The Final Report of the Royal Commission on Vaccination, H.M.S.O., London, 1896, p. 33.

17 Peacock, Alan T. and Wiseman, Jack, The Growth of Public Expenditure in the United Kingdom, London: Oxford University Press, 1961, gives data on public expenditure from 1890 onwards (p. 86). As a proportion of national income, expenditure on social services amounted to 1.9% in 1890 and 2.6% in 1900 compared with 2.4% in 1821 and 2.0% in 1831 on the Poor Laws (see Table 1 above).

18 After 1885 Poor Law medical relief did not disfranchise except for the Poor Law Guardians––2 elections. All other forms of poor relief disqualified from voting in local and Parliamentary elections until 1918. See Keith-Lucas, B., The English Local Government Franchise, Oxford: Blackwell, 1952, pp. 161–2 and Abel-Smith, B., The Hospitals 1800–1948, London: Heinemann, 1964, pp. 129–30.

19 For the role of charity in early and mid-Victorian Britain see Owen, David, English Philanthropy 1660–1960, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964, chs. VI and XVII. By the mid-1880s, the income of London charities alone was said to exceed the revenue of several European governments, including those of Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland (ibid., p. 49). According to one estimate, the charities in England were spending ‘tens of millions of pounds’ in the 1860s compared with government expenditure of £5.8 million in 1861 and £7.9 million in 1871 on poor relief. See Hanson, C. G., ‘Welfare before the Welfare State’, Institute of Economic Affairs, The Long Debate on Poverty, London: 1972, p. 117. Membership of various friendly societies, mainly providing sickness and death benefits, was estimated at 4 million in 1872. Welfare benefits were also provided by the trade unions whose membership was, however, below 1 million in the 1870s. See Gosden, P. H. J. H., The Friendly Societies in England 1815–1875, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961, pp. 7, 13–4.

20 Rimlinger, Gaston V., Welfare Policy and Industrialization in Europe, America and Russia, New York: John Wiley, 1971, p. 258.

21 Field, Mark G., Doctor and Patient in Soviet Russia, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957, pp. 16–7, 28.

22 Rosen, Seymour M., Education and Modernisation in the USSR. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1971, p. 32.

23 See Balinky, Alexander S., ‘Non-housing Objectives of Soviet Housing Policy’; Problems of Communism, Vol. X, No. 4, 0708, 1961, pp. 17–8;Sosnovy, T., ‘The Soviet Housing Situation Today’, Soviet Studies, Vol. XI, No. 1, 07 1959, p. 1.

24 Rimlinger, , op. cit., pp. 260, 266–7.

25 Madison, Bernice Q., Social Welfare in the Soviet Union, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968, p. 52.

26 Rimlinger, , op. cit., pp. 263, 271.

27 Ibid., pp. 266–7.

28 Ibid. See also Rimlinger, Gaston V., ‘Social Security, Incentives and Controls in the US and USSR’ in Zald, Mayer N. (ed.), Social Welfare Institutions, New York: John Wiley, 1965, p. 114.

29 Rimlinger, , Welfare Policy and Industrialization (op. cit.), pp. 264–5.

30 Ibid., pp. 274–6, 280, 284; Madison, , op. cit., pp. 58–9, 195.

31 Block, Alexander, ‘Soviet Housing: The Historical Aspect’. Soviet Studies, Vol. Ill, No. 1, 07 1951, pp. 13. Since over 60% of the Soviet population was still living in rural areas in 1950 (Bergson, Abram and Kuznets, Simon (eds.), Economic Trends in the Soviet Union, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963, pp. 72–3), the large majority of the Soviet population lived in private sector housing during the period of early industrialization. Much of this ‘private sector’, however, consisted of somewhat primitive cottages built by the peasants themselves.

32 Of the total urban housing stock, just over one-half was publicly owned in 1923, nearly three-fifths in 1940 and two-thirds in 1950. See Sosnovy, , op. cit., p. 14.

33 Ibid., p. 4.

34 Ibid., pp. 2, 13.

35 Witt, Nicholas De, Education and Professional Employment in the USSR, National Science Foundation, U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington, 1961, pp. 64–5.

38 The share of consumption (household plus communal services) in the national product was 70% in 1928, 63% in 1937, 61% in 1940 and 45% in 1944. After the war-time low it rose to around 60% in mid-1950s. See Janet Chapman, ‘Consumption’, in Bergson, and Kuznets, , op. cit., p. 262. In the United Kingdom, the share of consumption in the national product in the 1860s (the earliest date for which estimates are available) was well over 80%. See Deane, and Cole, , op. cit., p. 332.

37 In 1926 over 80% of the labour force consisted of farmers and handicraftsmen (roughly ‘workers on their own account’) and only 11.4% of wage and salary earners. The corresponding proportions were 57.3% and 38.9% in 1939 and 41.2% and 55.5% in 1959 (Bergson, and Kuznets, , op. cit., p. 84). Thus the proportion of population covered by state income security was rising rapidly throughout this period.

88 Rimlinger, , op. cit., p. 280.

39 Ibid., pp. 274–5.

40 See Roberts, David, Victorian Origins of the British Welfare State, Archon: Hamdon, 1969.

41 See Taylor, Arthur J., Laissez-Faire and State Intervention in Nineteenth Century Britain, London: Macmillan, 1972, esp. pp. 13–7 for a summary of this controversy.

42 See Bruce, , op. cit., pp. 126, 171–3, 183–9, 245–6.

43 Though we have not attempted to quantify any of the three welfare models, statutory services in education, medical care and income security covering at least the majority of the population may be regarded as one of the basic features of the institutional model. In this respect, the main lacuna in state welfare in the 1930s was the absence of medical care for the dependents of the insured population. See Bruce, , op. cit., p. 213.

44 See Reid, G. L. and Robertson, D. J. (eds.), Fringe Benefits, Labour Costs and Social Security, London: Allen and Unwin, 1965, esp.Wiseman, Jack ‘Occupational Pension Schemes’, pp. 169–70.

46 Reid, and Robertson, , op. cit., pp. 24, 29.

47 See, for example, G. L. Reid, ‘Sick Pay’, and Jack Wiseman, ‘Occupational Pension Schemes’ in Reid, and Robertson, , op. cit., esp. pp. 169–80 and 219. At the end of 1967, 65% of all male employees and 50% of all employees in the United Kingdom were members of occupational pension schemes. See Government Actuary, Occupational Pension Schemes, Third Survey, H.M.S.O., London, 1968, p. 8.

48 For example, the total membership of registered friendly societies fell from 6.2 million in 1909 to 4.8 million in 1970, while the total population of Britain rose by 50% between 1901 and 1970. See Henson, C. G., ‘Welfare before the Welfare State’, Institute of Economic Affairs, The Long Debate on Poverty, London, 1972, p. 137.

49 See Rimlinger, , op. cit., pp. 286;Madison, , op. cit., pp. 195–6.

50 Rimlinger, , op. cit., pp. 285, 290.

51 Ibid., pp. 292–3.

52 Witt, De, op. cit., p. 64.

53 See Donnison, D. V., The Government of Housing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967, pp. 118–9;Barry, Donald D., ‘Housing in the USSR’, Problems of Communism, Vol. 18, No. 3, 0506 1969, pp. 34, 8.

54 Balinky, , op. cit., pp. 17–8, 20, 22.Witt, De, op. cit., p. 64.Grant, Nigel, Soviet Education, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968, pp. 75–6, 83.

55 Block, , op. cit., p. 6.

56 Sosnovy, , op. cit., p. 14.

57 Barry, , op. cit., p. 10;Donnison, , op. cit., p. 6. In the 1960s, co-operative housing was expected to constitute about 10% of urban residential building.

58 Increasing urbanisation is also likely to have the same effect since housing in the rural areas has been almost exclusively owner-occupied. For Soviet housing drive see Hanson, Philip, The Consumer in the Soviet Economy, London: Macmillan, 1968, pp. 66–7.

59 Field, , op. cit., pp. 19, 30;Sir Newsholme, Arthur and Kingsbury, John A., Red Medicine, London: Heinneman, 1934, pp. 218–9.

60 A World Health Organisation team reporting on Soviet medical care in 1958 wrote that ‘although private practice is not forbidden, it is so restricted that it exercises no influence whatever in the general set-up of health services in the country’. See Health Services in the USSR, W.H.O., Geneva, 1960, p. 11. According to a Soviet source (Oct. 1965), however, ‘more than fifteen hundred patients visit a clinic on Kirov Street in Moscow every day, paying a fee for their treatment’.Quoted in Heinrich Vogel, ‘Satisfaction of Consumer Needs’, in Treml, Vladimir G. (ed.), The Development of the Soviet Economy: Plan and Performance, New York: Praeger, 1968, p. 204.

61 In 1958, about 10 million Soviet citizens were said to be insured under various schemes, including fire and related risks, life and accident insurance and the so-called ‘mixed’ insurance which combines endowment insurance with accident disability. See Report on Social Security Programme in the Soviet Union, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Social Security Administration, Washington, D.C., 1960, pp. 107–11. Frederic L. Pryor in Public Expenditures in Communist and Capitalist Nations, London: Allen and Unwin, 1968, suggests that ‘sizeable proportions’ of the population in the USSR and Eastern Europe have voluntary insurance policies (p. 144). Data on private insurance in communist countries appear to be scarce.

62 Little information seems to be available on the number and activity of nonstatutory welfare organisations in the Soviet Union. But see Madison, , op. cit., ch. 6 passim and pp. 25, 188–90, 215.

63 On poverty in the Soviet Union see Matthews, Mervyn, Class and Society in Soviet Russia, London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 1972, pp. 8190, and on farmers–70. Using Soviet authorities' income standard for a modest level of living (non-farm families), Matthews estimates that about a third or more of such families could be said to be poor (p. 88). On Soviet income differences see ibid., pp. 90–7; Miller, Jack, Life in Russia Today, London: Batsford, 1969, pp. 108–9;Yanowitch, Murray, ‘The Soviet Income Revolution’, Slavic Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, 12 1963, pp. 683–97;Wiles, P. J. D. and Markowski, Stefan, ‘Income Distribution Under Communism and Capitalism’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, 01 1971, pp. 344–69 and No. 4, 12 1963, pp. 683–97;Wiles, P. J. D. and Markowski, Stefan, ‘Income Distribution Under Communism and Capitalism’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, 01 1971, pp. 344–69 and No. 4, 04 1971, pp. 487511.

64 Madison, , op. cit., p. 226;Miller, , op. cit., pp. 119–20.

65 Balinky, , op. cit., p. 21;Block, A., ‘Soviet Housing: The Historical Aspect’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3, 01 1951, pp. 249, 251.

66 Gamarnikow, Michael, Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968, pp. 6572.

67 See, for example, Madison, Bernice, ‘Soviet Income Maintenance Policy for the 1970’, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 2, Pt. 2, 04 1973, p. 113.

68 Whereas consumption as a whole less than doubled, communal consumption (‘free educational, health and physical culture services’) rose more than five-fold. See Janet Chapman ‘Consumption’ in Bergson, and Kuznets, (eds.), op. cit., pp. 236–40. It should be noted that housing subsidy and transfer payments are not included in this computation of ‘communal consumption’.

69 Excluding housing but including transfer payments, ibid., p. 264.

70 In 1966–67, expenditure on health, education and income security amounted to 17.8% of the national product (Table 3 above). The value of housing subsidy is not known but in view of the extensive provision of state housing at a nominal rent, it is likely to be substantial. Thus the expenditure of social services including housing may well be over one-fifth of the national income.

71 Mary Garin-Painter, ‘Public Expenditure Trends’, Table 5, OECD, Economic Outlook, Occasional Studies (July, 1970), quoted in Sleeman, J. F., The Welfare State: Its Aims, Benefits and Costs, London: Allen and Unwin, 1973, p. 136.

72 See ‘Excerpts from the Party Program Adopted by the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’, and Naum Jasny, ‘Plan and Superplan’ in Shaffer, Harry G. (ed.), The Soviet Economy, London: Methuen, 1964, pp. 82, 85–6, 103.

73 Wilczynski, J., Socialist Economic Development and Reforms, London: Macmillan, 1972, ch. 7 passim;Schroeder, Gertrude E., ‘Consumer Problems and Prospects’, Problems of Communism, Vol. 22, No. 2, 0304 1973, pp. 10, 14.

74 Wilczynski, , op. cit., Jasny in Shaffer, (ed.), op. cit.

75 Wilczynski, , op. cit.

76 Schroeder, , op. cit., pp. 19, 21.

77 Ibid., p. 21. Indeed Soviet income security has made impressive strides in the late 1960s. For the scheduled family allowance programme see Madison, , ‘Soviet Income Maintenance Policy for the 1970s’, op. cit., pp. 106–7, 109–11.

78 In Britain, the time-lag has been nearly a hundred years. In other West European countries it appears to have been shorter but five to six decades is probably not uncommon.

79 Kerr, et al. , op. cit., pp. 40, 286, 290.

80 Ibid. Weber has some very similar things to say about the development of the state. See Weber, Max, ‘The Presuppositions and Causes of Bureaucracy’, Merton, R. K. et al. (eds.), Reader in Bureaucracy, New York: The Free Press, 1952, pp. 67–8.

81 Kerr, et al. , op. cit., pp. 288–96.

82 It could of course be argued that some pluralistic features, e.g., owner-occupied housing, mutual-aid (collective farmers), private medical care are present in Soviet welfare. But compared to Western countries, e.g., Britain, their scope appears to be far more limited and on present evidence they seem more in the nature of survivals from the past rather than pointers to the future. The main point is that so far there is no clearly discernible trend towards an expansion of pluralistic arrangements in welfare. Thus the case for some ‘similarity’ with the West in this respect can be argued but not the case for ‘convergence’, resulting from the logic of advancing industrialism.

83 Rostow, , op. cit., is perhaps the best known contribution.

84 The similarity with Britain is evident from Table 3 above. As regards Western countries generally, all provide free and compulsory education for the entire population. In several countries, e.g., Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, medical care is also available to all residents while in many others, e.g., Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Luxembourg, upwards of 90% of the population is covered by public medical care schemes. The income security schemes in operation in the Soviet Union are to be found in the large majority of Western countries except that the USSR has no unemployment benefit and a far less developed system of public assistance. In 1963, eight Western countries spent more (as a proportion of national income) on state welfare (income security, health and education) than the USSR. On these points see Mishra, , op. cit., I.L.O., The Cost of Social Security 1964–66, Geneva, 1972, and U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Social Security Programs Throughout the World 1967, Washington D.C., 1967.

85 See, for example, Azrael, Jeremy R., ‘The Party and Society’, Kassof, Allen (ed.), Prospects for Soviet Society, London: Pall Mall, 1968, p. 73.

86 See Johnson, Chalmers (ed.), Change in Communist Systems, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970.

87 See, for example, Wilczynski, , op. cit., pp. 110–2.

88 In the course of industrial development, state welfare has expanded in all Western industrial countries. And although its scope varies from one country to another, state responsibility for meeting a range of basic needs, especially in respect of education, income security and medical care, could be said to have been institutionalized in_the large majority of these countries. (See Mishra, , op. cit.) As for industrially' advanced communist countries, e.g., East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, there is little doubt about their broad similarity with the Soviet Union in respect of the prominent role of the state in welfare.

89 It should be noted that here we are referring to convergence in respect of one feature of welfare, i.e., the level of state welfare, alone. As regards nonstatutory forms of welfare, there has been little or no convergence. Moreover, contemporary Soviet and British welfare systems show many similarities and dissimilarities in respect of patterns other than the two mentioned above. Our comparison, in terms of models, has been restricted to certain broad structural features of welfare. These limitations must be kept in mind.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed