The eminent Robert Paxton writes in a recent article, somewhat in passing:

Continental European Marxists opposed piecemeal welfare measures as likely to dilute worker militancy without changing anything fundamental about the distribution of wealth and power. It was only after World War II, when they abandoned Marxism (in 1959 in West Germany, for example), that continental European socialist parties and unions fully accepted the welfare state as their ultimate goal.

I am interested in corroboration and amplification of this statement.

  • Why the downvote? Apr 16, 2013 at 21:42
  • 3
    I have no idea. This is a pretty good question about change within reformism / social democracy. One place might be Leszek Kołakowski's Main Currents of Marxism? At least at the ideological rather than the material level. Apr 16, 2013 at 23:03
  • There is a difference between Marxists and Socialists which are you asking about?
    – mmmmmm
    May 25, 2014 at 13:24
  • @Mark Of course, Marxists are a proper subset of Socialists. May 25, 2014 at 13:33
  • I think it would help to make the question very explicit.
    – MCW
    May 25, 2014 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


I assume your interest is primarily in Marxist social democracy as opposed to Marxist bolshevism or Marxist council communism.

Regarding social democracy:

"Welfare" is a suspicious term for an avowedly Marxist party like the 1925 SPD (Germany). The Heidelberg Program (1925, http://www.marxists.org/deutsch/geschichte/deutsch/spd/1925/heidelberg.htm ) believed that Fordism was an impossibility, "Ununterbrochen sind im Kapitalismus Tendenzen wirksam, die arbeitenden Schichten in ihrer Lebenshaltung zu drücken." [Google: Continuously tendencies in capitalism means effective to suppress the working classes in their standard of living.] Please note this isn't relative emiseration, but absolute emiseration.

As Capitalism has no "countervailing" tendency regarding the absolute standard of living of workers, "Das Ziel der Arbeiterklasse kann nur erreicht werden durch die Verwandlung des kapitalistischen Privateigentums an den Produktionsmitteln in gesellschaftliches Eigentum." [G: The aim of the working class can only be achieved through the transformation of capitalist private ownership of the means of production into social property.]

But this isn't the whole story, they're conflicted. Under social policy, without demanding the abolition of capital, "Die Sorge für die Erledigung von Notstandsarbeiten bleibt ausschließlich den Gewerkschaften überlassen." [G: The concern for the execution of relief works is left exclusively to the trade unions.] and, "Vereinheitlichung der sozialen Versicherung bis zu ihrem Umbau zu einer allgemeinen Volksfürsorge." [G: Harmonization of social insurance to its conversion to a general people care.] These alliances with capital seem to be posited both as end-goals and as partially implementable here and now.

We all know where this ends up: http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/pdf/eng/Parties%20WZ%203%20ENG%20FINAL.pdf The betrayal of the concept of revolution in any sense by the SPD in 1959.

I'm not sure Paxton's claims can be substantiated at the programme level. There's clear signs of accommodation with capital in the 1925 programme, like the idea that social welfare funds in capital can be repurposed.

  • Do you have to use the term "betrayal"? Otherwise, it's a good answer. May 26, 2014 at 12:44
  • Do you have iformation for other coutries? Say, France. May 26, 2014 at 12:44
  • I'd only be doing the same thing, comparing programmes to programmes. By late 1914 people were aware that programmes weren't actions. Getting into the nittygritty of state aid resistance by social-democrat aligned workers pre 1939 and post 1945 is beyond me. May 27, 2014 at 2:32

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