Traditions, Utopias, Deconstruction – Concepts of the Social State in the Eastern Bloc (1945-1990)


  • Sabine Hering Universität Siegen


The welfare state concepts in Eastern Europe under state socialism (1945-1990) were based on the conviction that only the state was responsible for solving all social problems. The 'bourgeois' manners of individual care were substituted by general measures in the field of labour- and family politics, as well as urban development. The experience showed however that this way of substitution was an illusion, because certain target groups were still in need of help (for example ill or handicapped children and adults, elderly people etc). Nevertheless, most of the Eastern European countries - with the exception of Yugoslavia - decided to abolish the existing forms of professional social work and the training for social workers. Instead, they invented 'surrogate structures' to manage the care for the 'needy': Various institutions and occupational groups (schools, hospitals and ambulances, employees groups etc.) took over the tasks of social workers and were trained to fulfil this as a kind of 'social practice'.

Therefore, it is wrong to claim that social work was completely abolished under state socialism, But: as social work 'as such' did not exist any longer, it is more reasonable to speak of welfare state concepts, including social policy on one hand, and non- or paraprofessional social practice on the other. To characterize the effect of these welfare state concepts three parameter of interpretation seem to be useful: 'traditions', 'visions', and 'deconstructions' - embedded in a system of repression as well as incentives.

Traditions: The huge 'social laboratory' that was installed was not a totally new one - it still carried on the heritage of the bygone: some bourgeois traces as well as elements out of the fascist heritage and -last but not least - the traditions of their own socialist movement.

Visions: The socialist traditions included visions of social justice, the creation of a 'new mankind', a classless society, the end of exploitation and a peaceful living together of all people. Although the 'real existing socialism' has destroyed most of these visions, the power of these utopian ideas has outshined a lot of the every day’s misfortune and injustice for quite a long time.

Deconstructions: The term of 'deconstruction' has a threefold meaning: the deconstruction of professional welfare, the deconstruction - in the sense of reinterpretation - of the socialist ideals such as social justice and social security, making an instrument of inclusion and exclusion out of it. And the deconstruction that is necessary to free the history of social work under state socialism from the prejudices and distorting practices, from both sides, the east and the west.

In the contribution these three parameter of interpretation are applied on the following issues: The gaps in the 'overall system' of social security; working morale and education for work; mass organisations as an instrument of egalitarianism and general prevention; de-professionalisation by 'surrogating' social work; the 'transparent client'; church as refuge or 'state organ'; women’s politics as bio-politics.





European Social Policy