The welfare state isn’t now, and never was, a “genuine gain for the working class”.

Otto von Bismarck, great proletarian creator of the Welfare State

In the 1880s Bismarck's social insurance programs - old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance - were the first in the world and became the model for other countries and the basis of the modern welfare state. His aim was to undermine the appeal of the Socialists as well as the networks of working class solidarity, and to recuperate and pacify social contestation.

The following is a long leaflet from 1985, produced (for a union-organised demonstration against Norman Fowler's changes in the welfare system) by some ex-members of Workers Playtime and the London Workers Group. It is still surprisingly pertinent, though obviously the names of politicians and the precise policies have changed.

PDF courtesy of archive.


If nothing else, the Fowler proposals for reforming the Social Security system show what a pack of bastards the present government are. In response to them, the Labour party and TUC are encouraging us to campaign to defend the Welfare State. Do they take us for complete idiots?

The Fowler proposals are not, as claimed, a fundamental reform of the Welfare State. They merely aim to rationalise it to meet the changed reality of mass unemployment, and deepen the divisions within the working class. So aside from half-hearted efforts to tidy up the accumulated mess of conflicting benefits and regulations, and to end the ‘poverty trap’, they are intended to reduce provision for ‘the poor’. This is being done to increase their dependency, force them to devote their energies to surviving rather than revolting, and frighten the rest of the working class with the threat of the ‘abyss’ of poverty. The poor are to be more visibly separated from the relatively well off - those with jobs and average wages. These are supposed to form the ‘home-owning, two-car-owning, share-owning democracy’ which the Tories see as a vital bulwark against resistance to,the redistribution of wealth back to the ruling class. This much is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

Less obvious to many who can see this much is that the Welfare State isn’t now, and never was, a “genuine gain for the working class”. Even less is it something we should be fighting to defend. The oppressive reality of the Welfare State is all too obvious to those in receipt of its ‘benefits’. The appalling misery of old age on inadequate pensions. The endless bureaucratic swamp of Housing Benefit and public housing provision. The arrogance of the medical and social work priesthoods. The inhuman nightmare of the Social Security system - and so on.

Yet many still think that their experience isn’t a reflection of the nature and function of the Welfare State, but is simply the result of ‘problems’ and deformations which would only take a few reforms to sort out. This sort of misapprehension has been played on by the Labour Party and the left throughout the history of the Welfare State. They present themselves as the Progressive Forces which alone will sort out these ‘problems’ and defend these ‘gains’. This campaign is yet another attempt to mobilise ‘our people’ into voting Labour at the next election.

Today these ‘problems’ are blamed on the Tory cuts and Tory monetarism. We’re not supposed to remember that it was the Wilson/Callaghan governments which started the cuts arid first adopted monetarist policies.

The Welfare State is just the contemporary face of the capitalist state. If it offers all kinds of services and financial support - things that we need to survive - it doesn’t do this because we need them, but because capitalism needs us to have them in order for it to survive. We shouldn’t be surprised if capitalism “snatches back” benefits or imposes new conditions for granting them as its priorities change. It is only able to ‘service’ our needs because capitalist society has developed through destroying our opportunities for doing so ourselves.

The modern British Welfare State evolved over many decades as individual capitalists were slowly brought to accept the need to control the wider social conditions within which their profits were produced. Because they need an educated, healthy workforce. Workers who are motivated through a sense of having a stake in society, and are not motivated by the anger generated through complete dispossession and destitution. On the other hand, they need to directly intervene in order to shape and dominate ever greater areas of social life and promote the spread of capitalist social relations to every part of society

The Beveridge Report was just a high point in the development of the modern capitalist state, in its evolution as a framework within which workers and their dependents were simultaneously compelled and enticed towards becoming Citizens. People who are economically ‘free’ (in other words, free to sell their time and creative activity to capitalists), but who have a material stake - however small - in the order of things. Something to vote for, something to lose. But at the same time, people who are dominated and influenced to an extent unprecedented in human history.

Labour see this stake being developed through democratic participation and extended ‘social’ ownership and control; the Tories see the stake arising from democratic participation in extended personal property~ownership or control (through credit). Both are tied to the Welfare State, however welfare is to be doled out. The reality is that 56% of the adult population receive their main income from the state. 14 million through pensions and other benefits, 71/2 million through state employment (including the administration of the Welfare State).

Today, left-wing squealing about the “attack on Beveridge” is part of a whole mythology concerning the 1945 Labour government. This is held up to us as the model of Socialism in Action, since the left want us to forget the socialism in action of the Wilson and Callaghan years. Let’s look at some of these myths.

The Attlee government agreed to the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima eleven days after it took office, and subsequently initiated Britain’s ‘independent’ nuclear capability. It used troops against strikers on numerous occasions (the first time a mere six days after it took office). During the War for Democracy against the. rival German imperialism, Labour members of the coalition government had been instrumental in the passing of draconian anti-strike laws, with the collaboration of the trade unions: The Attlee administration was still using them as late as 1951. It repeatedly used military force to help make countries Safe for Western Democracy (Indonesia, Palestine, Greece, Egypt etcetera), as well as to police the Empire. Involving among many other instances of Socialist Internationalism the aerial bombing of Indian villages and the massacre of strikers by police in Nigeria. At home, it maintained a wage freeze exactly like subsequent Labour governments and as part of that openly used its new ‘welfare’ provisions to subsidise and thus maintain low pay. (For example through Family Allowances, another Beveridge innovation which the Labour Party had opposed before the war). It even introduced the first Health Service charges after promising not to….

The Fowler proposals are presented as an attack on Beveridge - what rubbish! Beveridge’s proposed system was overturned by events years ago, and the principles behind FowIer’s review are all to be found in the Beveridge report. The basis of the Beveridge plan was National Insurance against sickness and unemployment based on workers’ and employers’ contributions. Social Security, then called National Assistance, was seen as a safety net for those who had no contribution record in the scheme’s early years. The idea was that it would largely ‘wither away’. In reality today, Supplementary Benefit is claimed by more than twice as many people as those claiming Sickness and Unemployment Benefit put together.

Women were to be forced back into the family, and those who were married were not covered by the National Insurance scheme except as dependents. The costs of child care were obviously not met by the insurance scheme, so Beveridge proposed Family Allowances for mothers of two or more children as a universal benefit without contributions or means testing.

“Taken as a whole, the Plan for Social Security puts a premium on marriage….In the next thirty years housewives and mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British race and of British ideals in the world.”
The Beverldge Report (“Social Insurance ard Allied Services”) para. 117.

The basis of the New Order was to be ‘full employment in a free society’ - full employment for male breadwinners, that is, who were expected to be able to bring home a family wage. In this way, Beveridge laid the basis for reinforcing the burden of dependency, unpaid labour and unequal access to benefits on women. This burden has never been significantly lifted by subsequent governments. For the Labour Party to criticise Fowler for increasing it is no more than the pot calling the kettle black.

Because Beveridge was concerned not to undermine the incentive to work, benefits were set at subsistence levels and were either means tested or conditional on the recipients seeking work. Low benefits were also intended to encourage individuals to take out private insurance (Beveridge Report para 375) - another way in which Fowler is proposing to return to the authentic spirit of Beveridge.

In practice, the Beveridge plan was not fully implemented, and the changing needs of capitalism have long since led to fundamental modifications to his structure. The emergence of Supplementary Benefit as the principal form of state welfare, together with the persistence of low pay and the return of mass unemployment deepened the ‘unemployment trap’ (people being better off on benefit and losing any incentive to work). Attempts were made to counter this through a range of new means-tested benefits, mostly introduced by Conservative governments. They include Education Benefits, Housing Benefits and Family Income Supplement, and were to be available to the low-paid as well as the unemployed. However this solution to one problem merely exacerbated another - the ‘poverty trap’, where increases in pay for the low paid simply meant a loss of benefit, and didn’t increase income.

The Labour Party response to this problem was the introduction of various earnings-. related supplements to some National Insurance bepefits, paid for by increased contributions. This was largely to maintain Labour support amongst the male breadwinning caste, as growing redundancies.accompanied industrial restructuring in the sixties. It was a fundamental departure from Beveridge, which implied equal state insurance for all. The Tories have abolished Earnings-Related NI Supplement, and now are talking about abolishing State Earnings-Related Pensions. They are quite happy to maintain the principle of unequal treatment through Selective Targetting. (This is the ‘shifting of resources to where they are most needed’: it implies the abandonment of the notion of a welfare ‘safety net’ or a minimum standard of living, in favour of the notion of cost-effective’ welfare, and also increases the scope for further cuts).

On this march we are being urged that ‘our campaign of opposition must be even more determined” than this “savage and determined assault on the Welfare State.” In reality we are being invited to use the issue to campaign for a Labour government. How savage and determined an opposition to these reforms would this be? The Labour Party has yet to publish its policy on Social Security, but according to Michael Meacher, the Shadow Health and Social Services Secretary, three resolutions passed at the Labour Party Conference form the basis of a full-scale programme to rebuild the Welfare State. They included a proposal to raise pensions to 50% of average earnings for married couples through the reintroduction of SERPS, a substantial increase in Child Benefit, the end of means testing for Supplementary Benefit and a new Housing Aid Benefit. These are no more than a redistribution of the Welfare Cake.

This must be seen in the context of Kinnock’s recent announcement that an incoming Labour government could offer no miracle cures or instant repairs to the damage done by government cuts in the last six years. “We would not offer you such a mirage”. In the same way, the pledges to reduce unemployment to a million that Labour campaigned on at the last election have been publicly scrapped. The party clearly hopes that this display qf the New Realism will make it credible. By the same token, even if the Welfare State were worth fighting for, voting Labour would still be pretty pointless.

Many of course will be voting Labour in the hope that a more radical set of proposals can be won at conference and forced on the leadership. This is sheer fantasy. Labour will win with Kinnock or not at all, and he has already shown what he intends to do with resolutions which he considers electoral liabilities. The Social Security system is mined with plenty of potential electoral booby-traps, as the Tories are now discovering with their proposal to end SERPS. Meacher caused a similar row with an unauthorised suggestion about removing married mens’ tax allowances. We can rule out fundamental reform unless a dramatic change in British capitalism compels it. And we can be sure that such reforms will not be to benefit us.

This campaign is intended to link up with Labour Party campaigns on the National Health Service, Community Care, Housing and the Family which will run until the next election. For Labour, welfare is to be the main election issue. So clearly this campaign isn’t seriously intended to resist the present proposals. The main horse-trading about Fowler’s plan is taking place now. By the time the Bill is produced, supposedly November, it will be all over bar any minor concessions and revisions as it goes through parliament. Not even the most naive can still believe that this government will be prevented from implementing its plans by any consideration except electoral expediency. Complaints from middle-class Tory voters about pension reform and Housing Benefit cuts, and the opposition of the pension companies to universal private insurance are likely to count for something. The implications for the poor count for nothing, though welfare lobby crocodile tears might extract a few ‘concessions’. Perhaps increased resources for the new Social Fund or a slightly different balance of winners and losers in the distribution of benefits. But let’s not all touch forelocks at once.

Is this campaign irrelevant to resistance to these changes ? On the contrary, it’s quite instrumental. Instrumental, that is, in the process of disarming any spontaneous outbreak of doing the necessary. It achieves this by generating fears rather than understanding, fears for which the only solutions on offer are to vote Labour, and defend the welfare lobby who can then continue to explain our new ‘rights’ to us. By monopolising the public space for debate, campaigns like this make effective solidarity harder.

What does genuine resistance spring from ? It’s necessary to recognise that resistance to the Welfare State has been there from the start. In the past this has sometimes taken political forms (for example, before the First World War there were campaigns against the Unemployment Insurance Act). Today the political arena is dominated by the left, which only wishes to modify the form, not the content, of capitalist welfarism. But at the deepest level this resistance stems from peoples’ real needs and circumstances, and takes practical forms. Mass unemployment and growing poverty mean that more people than ever have no option but to lie, fiddle, steal and moonlight their way to sufficient income - alongside those who have never had inhibitions about doing this.

Fowler’s proposals are calculated to make this more difficult, and in the long term, to shift Social Security staff from administering to policing claims. In these circumstances people need information about the proposed changes to allow them to decide their future strategy for doing whatever they have to in order to survive. They are confronted today by bafflingly complex arguments within the welfare lobby and inaccurate scare-stories from the Labour bandwagon. In either case, this disinformation goes hand-in-hand with open disapproval of ‘illegality’ and the idea that solidarity means everyone crawling hand-in-hand up Capital’s backside. As the real content of Fowler’s proposals are revealed later this year, it will be necessary to circulate useable information about them as widely as possible.

Resistance at the everyday level is constant within capitalist society and the localised forms it takes has obvious parallels with the current state of workplace class struggle. The aftermath of the miners’ strike has seen the number of strikes reduced. Not, as the left would have it, because people have been frightened into submission, but because they are not prepared to strike when they cannot see it achieving results. By contrast, other forms of workplace resistance have increased. Absenteeism, for example, has jumped to record levels. The highest rates are among manual workers in general services and manufacturing, and regionally in the North of England - precisely those areas where New Realism was supposed to have bitten those still in work the deepest.

Trade union sponsorship of this campaign is understandable in this context. The current reluctance to strike is also due to a realistic perception by workers of the union’s function in maintaining capitalist order, and of the inadequacy of union.organised ‘unity’. This state of affairs will go on until workers begin to develop a unity of their own.

If everyday resistance is constant, it still does no more than sustain our survival. In the long run, the only way of eliminating the need.for survival and resistance would be to overthrow capitalist society and replace it with a society where needs and their satisfaction weren’t separated by systems of private property and exchange. That’s not on the horizon today. It would require widespread and large-scale collective struggles offering a serious challenge to all of the divisions and alienation of capitalist society. In the meantime everyday struggle is the ground on which discontent with this society, and new forms of collectivity based on that discontent, can develop.

But to pretend that this will be the inevitable result of increased misery would be stupid. Just as pronounced, is the tendency towards an increased atomisation and isolation of working class people. What we can be confident about is that increased poverty and any rationalisation of the system of policing it as implied in Fowler’s scheme, will only increase the need for people to act more collectively in order to survive. On the other hand, increased alienation, far from bolstering capitalism’s grip, will undermine the basic social co-operation necessary for capitalist accumulation.

The beginnings of collective struggle can be seen in the organised harrassment of Social Security investigation teams, in fighting hospital closures, and most visibly, if also most briefly - in riots and near-riots.

We believe that the only solution to poverty, oppression, exploitation and social division lies in destroying any form of society which perpetuates and institutionalises them. We believe in the need to develop more effective forms of collective and individual resistance and attack. That can’t be done by fighting to defend the Welfare State. It’s more likely to occur in the course of resisting and opposing it.

What the Welfare State needs is a kick in the Tentacles.

Published by the Red Butchers Shop Stewards Committee
c/o 84b Whitechapel High St, London E1

The Welfare State isn't Now and Never Was a Genuine Gain for the Working Class.pdf4.77 MB


Wellclose Square
Oct 20 2011 21:04

That's the big, purple leaflet... remember that (laughed at the publisher's name, too).

Oct 20 2011 22:26

More a post-Playtime thing - the LWG connection was a touch more distant.

Thought the design of it was one of our better efforts. We took the official poster for the event it was aimed at and based it around that, which made handing it out easy. Bit of a shame that we'd lost our printing press at the point we'd got to grips with what we were doing in that respect. . . I think our mates at Aldgate Press let us use theirs.

My recollection is that the meeting which produced the text didn't entirely 'gell' as a collaborative process. Looking at it now I can see one or two awkward bits where people were moving in different directions.

I know I'd hoped it might lead to collectively producing something more substantial about the welfare state but it turned out to be pretty much an end of something rather than a beginning.

Jan 26 2012 18:17

I remember it similarly, Lurdan - post-WP and the lack of gelling - although I recall 2 meetings: 1 in S London and another in N London which took place more or less simultaneously with the final version being typed up. Which bits can you see that showed people moving in different directions? I don't doubt that you're right. Nowadays I'd totally reject the headline, and I think I felt uneasy about it then too.

As far as I know, I was the only person in the room from a working class background. For decades the welfare state was the difference between life and death in my family.

The leaflet talks about the impending abandonment of the state-held safety net, which is still being shredded now, and faced with the question 'are you for or against such abandonment', I would unequivocally answer "AGAINST", rather than "I think that's a silly question, actually, but let me answer the question as to whether I'm for or against capitalism and its form known as the state".

I recall one guy who was close to WP although not in it (there came a time when he wouldn't have got in anyway, because of the 'no couples' rule! smile ) who when I suggested the 1945-50 reforms had been a gain for the working class, said he thought it'd been a draw, given all the killing of WW2. I think he may have been at the S London meeting I was at, but not at the N London one. But although that might have some meaning for many working class families (although especially given the fall in the birthrate, by no means a huge proportion), it can't support the conclusion that the welfare state wasn't a gain, nor the view that the welfare state shouldn't be defended. It was much less humiliating to claim dole in the 1970s than go to church-run soup kitchens(1), as my family did in the 1920s. It was also less humiliating than to claim dole in the 1950s, which must surely have something to do with the wave of struggles that began in the late 1960s. Less humiliation is good.(2) Anyone who disagrees can go into the 'middle class revolutionaries tell-us-what's-what' box, as far as I'm concerned! You can't use things like British post-VE-day bombings, or about Beveridge and the workshy, to argue successfully to the contrary. As it says in the leaflet, revolution isn't on the horizon. Some people's only experience of the mental illness poverty can cause is limited to reading about Charlie Chaplin's mother! Then there's physical illness too.

(1) Soup kitchens today are booming - including many that go under a name that's supposed to signify 'a place where you get useful things from', namely 'food BANKS'!! Run by the Trussell Trust, and supported by Oxfam. OK the food is supplied in boxes rather than in bowls, but still. 'Jobcentres' started referring people to 'foodbanks' last year. Probably around twice as many people went to foodbanks in 2011 as in 2010. They give you a box with three daysworth of food.

(2) The other day, I had to go to a county court, where I'd been sued by my filth of an ex-landlord. Most cases being heard were repossessions. There was someone going round asking everyone if they were in for rent or mortgage arrears, and offering help. She surely can't have been a solicitor - I don't think their anti-touting rules have been relaxed that far.(3) She looked as though she was from a charity or state support service. At least I hope she was, rather than from some scumbag company of 'debt reorganisers'. (Maybe I'm naive to think such a company wouldn't be allowed to tout itself with such impunity in a court waiting room?) Anyway there were some very very worried looking people. You wouldn't have wanted to tell them the welfare state isn't a gain for the working class.(4) They looked far more under the weight of things than I ever saw in dole offices in the 1970s or 1980s - you could compare the way they looked with the way some people look outside criminal courts, but this wasn't a criminal court.

(3) This is unless someone knows differently. For years, solicitors have been allowed to tout in hospitals by printing 'advice sheets' that the nurses give out, with their firms' details on the back, advertising their services relating to injury cases. They have an 'arrangement' with the hospitals whereby they won't take any cases against the hospital itself. I suspect they also act like little dickybirds, and discouragers, if someone does come to them with a grievance against a hospital.

(4) There was also that unnecessary spat between Cajo Brendel and Dave Douglass. One of CB's comrades in 'Echanges et Mouvement' tried to lecture DD to explain to him that nationalisation of the coalmines wasn't a gain for the miners and in fact miners had it worse after nationalisation than before. Frankly I wouldn't want to stand next to someone expounding such a view, whether they called themselves a 'council communist' or anything else. If we assume the guy had good faith, he came across as an ideological fanatic whose unconscious mind was strongly resisting recognition of things that are patently obvious to working class people who experience them, and making him bray out stuff that basically boiled down to Tory shit. Of course nationalisation of the coalmines brought improved conditions.

Jan 26 2012 18:58

The reason for Bismarck's decision gets a bit lost in the description in the preamble.

There was a big demand for labour. They needed lots of workers in good health, capable of producing, serving in the armed forces, and breeding.

His aim was to reduce capitalist expenditure (especially on administration) by means of an economy of scale.

Meanwhile a few decades later in Britain, having workers fit enough to serve in the armed forces was explained as the reasoning behind housing changes. This related to both council housing and private working class housing in the suburbs. Referring to military fitness classifications, a poster said: “You cannot expect to get an A1 population out of C3 homes”.

Aug 28 2017 18:07

It has it's faults but surely the main thrust of this leaflet is right in it's attack on the joint Labour Party/trade union campaign of that time and it's exposure of the function of the so-called welfare state as it has actually evolved.

The fact that we face yet another attack on particular social benefits associated with the concept of the 'welfare state' in what we can see is an almost endless re-working of the system by all governments, demonstrates the need to differentiate our class struggle for our everyday material needs from the reformist campaigns of the LP and trade unions (and their liberal supporters in the press eg the Polly Toynbees of this world).

There is a link historically between Keynesian economic policies, nationalisation and the 'welfare state' etc which represents a capitalist response to both working class struggle and competition between states. This brought at least some gains for the working class but was also a mechanism for limiting that struggle and incorporating it as a means of further modernising capitalism. (John Holloway deals reasonably well with this in his 'The abyss opens...' elsewhere in the library - here

Jan 28 2012 15:41

I disagree. If you are going to think about the welfare state you should start by understanding that it has been A MAJOR GAIN for the working class, and in particular, for the poorer part of the working class. This leaflet says the opposite. Its basic premise is wrong.

Its authors' families never survived for long long periods on welfare, as far as I'm aware. (Me being the exception here, but although I was formally in the collective that wrote it, I made very little contribution).

Most who survive from welfare aren't in unions and have little or no connection with the Labour Party, and have never heard of Polly Toynbee. This has been true for generations. It has never not been true. (This is more a response to your post above than to the leaflet itself.)

Your third para - well yes, indeed. Obviously the bosses don't improve things for the exploited out of the kindness of their hearts, and obviously too, the building up of the national state machinery as a capitalist tool is involved. Just think of the handling of all those NI contributions. You aren't really saying much that most people don't know. Yes indeed the price was more incorporation and, for that part of the proletariat that goes out to work, the price was also rising productivity, intensification of labour, and the consumer-side cultural degeneration that goes with that (the cheap prices of the commodities battering down what resistance to passivity people have in their heads).

However, you have to realise that the price that working class people paid for benefiting from the welfare state was WORTH IT.

There is no place for an 'on the one hand A, on the other hand B' position on this. The position MUST be that it was worth it. Otherwise you are just in the position of people who want to bring the light to the working class, thinking you understand their experiences more profoundly than they do.

I believe there really is no other possible position that can come out of working class people's reflection on their own experiences and on the experiences of other working class people they know.

And the issue is an extremely important one.

You sound as though you are coming from the position of external agitator who wants to show working class people it's silly to believe that the Labour Party and trade unions advance their interests. My feeling is to say "thanks for the advice, Mr leaflet hander-out".

I don't mean to be rude, and hope you get some of what I'm trying to say.

I really doubt there is anything the tenured academic "screamer" John Holloway could teach me in this matter smile

Jan 28 2012 18:39


It's ok, I've had a lot worse thrown at me.

I wasn't associated with this particular leaflet though I did have some more remote association with Worker's Playtime comrades.

Since 'I'm not saying much that people don't already know' we presumably do agree on the dual nature of the past welfare state reforms. There is little to be gained from projecting ourselves backward to judge on wether the problems associated with that were worth it - they are part of our inherited history - but much still to reflect on and oppose in todays misplaced and manipulative left-wing campaigns 'in defense of the welfare state'.

I'm not much of a leafleter these days but I will argue my point of view with fellow workers when I can.

Jan 29 2012 18:45

I think I know who you are, spiky... [Admin; personal info deleted; "posting up personal details without permission" contravenes site posting guidelines. Please don't do it again.]

Imagine this.

On a demo to defend the welfare state...

A: Here's a leaflet.
B: Thanks. Er...wait a minute...I just noticed the headline... Are you here to defend the welfare state or oppose it?
A: We're here to explain that it has a dual nature, in the hope that struggle against the bosses becomes even more profound, obviating the need to be for or against certain mechanisms which while they have involved concessions have only done so at the cost of requiring submission to more advanced forms of incorporation. Beveridge didn't want to feed the workshy, you know. And whatever you do, fellow, DON'T FALL FOR THE LIES OF THE LEFT!
B: If you've discussed the welfare state with other working class people in the "Red Butchers Shop Stewards Committee", it might be quite interesting, but if you want me to read the leaflet, can you start by answering yes or no
A: Er
B: (thinks 'we've got a right one here' and walks off)

Here's a much better position: defend the welfare state and be proud of it.

Otherwise, the style and the attitude make for being the pseudo-opposition to the pseudo-opposition (to the...) Political competition. Never mind how many calls get made for autonomous working class action or whatever. Is it really much less batty than the ICC?

There is little to be gained from projecting ourselves backward to judge on wether the problems associated with that were worth it - they are part of our inherited history - but much still to reflect on and oppose in todays misplaced and manipulative left-wing campaigns 'in defense of the welfare state'.

Our inherited history (as you put it) is extremely important, and I can hardly envisage a rising wave of struggle in which stuff becomes much clearer without people starting to relate differently to what they've always known, from their own history and family history, but haven't previously reflected on much or verbalised or dared to relate to social issues they increasingly feel they're able to struggle over. (Not that this is likely to happen in the next few decades). Mystification falls away or stays. The past isn't 'backwards' in this sense.

I'm not saying you should project yourselves into the past to make judgements. Nor am I talking about how politicos should or shouldn't deal with any issue in their leaflets. I rarely encounter politicos and have little or no time for them. The reason I'm posting about this leaflet is because of my personal involvement in it and in the hope that saying what I think might chime with someone else's thoughts and feelings.

I'm talking about how people who one assumes have good faith should have a clue. This leaflet suggests a lack of clue about working class people's lives.

It's insulting, but it's also ridiculous, to put 'the poor' in inverted commas, as if it's a notion used by Polly Toynbee that the leafleters have contempt for. Oh how radical! Except that it isn't. Many working class people have lived a lot of their lives on welfare, in periods when they have had sporadic or no involvement in paid work, are often shat on like nobody's business in the 'health' system, and they have living standards that are a lot lower than many paid workers, e.g. than the majority of workers who have cars in their families, mortgages, etc., and (even now) many of the fuck-you-Jack social attitudes that go with them.

But conditions now are ones in which the 'lifestyle' of the 'working class family with a mortgage' is about to collapse.

Defending the welfare state is absolutely vital.

People start struggling more when their bodyweight goes down a bit, then less when it goes down some more(academic reference here). I mention this to ground this dialogue in the present and near future...

In terms of what I feel about this leaflet, the issue isn't 'the past' against 'today'. It's a proletarian approach to the past against an academic approach to it.

It's a terrible clueless leaflet except in the academic sense. It gives some examples of British bombing attacks after VE Day that might be awfully useful in debating with God know's what (other) leftist faction. I can say 'thanks' in a sarcastic way, but hopefully you will see the funny side of this?

It has no proletarian anger or understanding or verve in it. It reads mostly as a counter to the proclamations of Labourite politicians and journalists.

I'm not much of a leafleter these days but I will argue my point of view with fellow workers when I can.

Great! (Although many many proletarians are not workers).

Jan 30 2012 03:17

Another ridiculous line I remember from the time, was on a cover of the LWG's London Workers' Bulletin. It had a picture of Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor shaking hands with NUM President Arthur Scargill. MacGregor was saying, "When I said put it there, I meant this, not your tongue up my arse."

Portraying Arthur Scargill as a bosses' lackey! Ideology leading to such an obviously false conclusion has gone mad!

Jan 30 2012 09:04

Do you agree, spiky, with the view (expressed in the leaflet) that we should not be fighting to defend the welfare state, with the view (mine) that we should, or with neither?

Apr 28 2012 14:18

Late in to this discussion ...

The point of the Welfare State piece was not that the working class shouldn't or wouldn't fight to defend the social wage, however made up, but that such a fight shouldn't become a defence of a welfare state that systematically delivers confidence-sapping paternalism, violence and poverty on working class people - about which the leftist defenders of the welfare state have little to say (WP did not regard itself as a leftist group). This view was, and still is, absolutely right, however much misplaced nostalgic fondness you want to attach to institutions like the NHS, the education system and the benefits regime.

And re Scargill, if you read the artcles WP published around the miners' strike, the point was that the NUM was leading the miners into a fight they were very unlikely to win - not because of the scabs, but because coal stocks were high and the state and coal board well prepared for a long standoff. Scargill's personal vanity was a big element in this disastrous failure of strategy and tactics. Similarly, and as anyone with an ounce of sense could see, the NGA and SOGAT - also led by arrogant fantasists - led the printworkers into a fight at Wapping they were almost certain to lose from the moment Murdoch locked them out, which he'd been blatantly and publicly preparing the ground for for over a year. It's all in WP and it wasn't hindsight. Nor was it armchair revolutionism - we were mostly very active in working for a different outcome on the ground, even if we knew it would take class generalisation to stand any chance of victory. Being right wasn't, and still isn't, any consolation for two disastrous campaigns that took the stuffing out of all of us.

Apr 28 2012 14:55

The pamphlet is pretty good and I agree with its argument that the welfare state was created to diffuse class tension, but IMHO the welfare state was just another evolution of capitalism that was a response to the 19th century harsh reality of laissez-faire industrialism, thus it was an improvement in social conditions for capitalism. But as the pamphlet points out, it was created not by the working class themselves or for their benefit necessarily, but for capitalists to maintain their hegemony by giving the illusions of benefits for the working class.

Apr 28 2012 17:38

Sorry earthfire, only just noticed these additional questions but I largely agree with Scumboni's response above, though i'd agree about the lack of 'fire' in the leaflet if it was intended for workers/claimants involved in particular attacks on their social benefits rather than a more polemical article in a magazine.

Apr 28 2012 18:06

Yep, it was quite magaziney, like WP, which was consciously prone to a 'bizarro' political writing style - but it would have stood out from most of the simplistic, exhortational crap handed out on demos.

Apr 28 2012 20:34

Some aspects of the 'welfare state' are easier to argue for than others - public housing, free education and healthcare are in a different bracket from welfare benefits, which are handed to us rather than run by us. Notice that the public treasury of homes, hospitals and schools has already been undermined before the benefits system faces complete overhaul - now the universal gains are more conditional, worthiness and degrees of need are brought into question. This is more than just a problem of labelling. We need better arguments to defend the welfare safety net, but a new name for what has become known as the welfare state would help here.

May 3 2012 00:00
Scumboni wrote:
Late in to this discussion ...

The point of the Welfare State piece was not that the working class shouldn't or wouldn't fight to defend the social wage, however made up, but that such a fight shouldn't become a defence of a welfare state that systematically delivers confidence-sapping paternalism, violence and poverty on working class people - about which the leftist defenders of the welfare state have little to say (WP did not regard itself as a leftist group).

Yes scumboni, I understand that. Well, except for saying it "delivers (...) poverty", which is a mixture of social-worker lingo and ultra-left shrieking. (The leaflet wasn't actually done by 'WP', if you remember.) But you can't wriggle out of it - the leaflet says the welfare state was never a gain for the working class, and that's completely idiotic untrue bullshit. And when I say that, that doesn't mean I'm apologising for everything - or indeed anything - that's bad about it. Of course it was a huge gain for the working class. Probably people in three generations of my family would have starved to death without it. Meanwhile the glorious vanguard opposes leftist misconceptions. Yeah, right, thanks. I think you need to change your perspective a bit. I don't really care about opposing leftist misconceptions. Only a right-winger or a nutter opposes the welfare state.

(That's unless I'm completely wrong and in fact anti-faminism is the worst product of famine?)

This view was, and still is, absolutely right, however much misplaced nostalgic fondness you want to attach to institutions like the NHS, the education system and the benefits regime.

Would you mind retracting that, please? I do NOT think the 'education system' (if you mean schools) was a gain for the working class. I would, however, support the restoration of the system of student maintenance grants and zero fees at university. They WERE a gain for the working class.

And re Scargill, if you read the artcles WP published around the miners' strike, the point was that the NUM was leading the miners into a fight they were very unlikely to win - not because of the scabs, but because coal stocks were high and the state and coal board well prepared for a long standoff. Scargill's personal vanity was a big element in this disastrous failure of strategy and tactics.

The practical conclusion being? The reason the miners were defeated was because of lack of support from other parts of the working class. Goodness knows what contorted ideology leads you to put so much weight on Scargill's 'personal vanity'. Pannekoek had it right, in the very observation quoted on the back of the last issue of 'WP': the working class is not weak because it's divided; it's divided because it's weak. If you agree with that, how can you argue that Scargill's personality was of such great importance?

My recollection is that the WP collective sat around for months during the miners' strike, not being able to get it together to get an issue of their magazine out, and then they got a big thick issue out shortly after the strike ended, which included stuff such as a long article interspersed with quotes from Berthold Brecht! smile We're talking about the same WP, right? smile

WP - the magazine that once published the embarrassing statement that the working class would learn a lot about love and tenderness during a revolution? smile (Admittedly that was in a fairly early issue.)

I can't remember whether it was WP or the London Workers Bulletin which had a photo of Arthur Scargill and Ian MacGregor on the front, with a caption, put into the mouth of MacGregor, saying "When I said put it there, I meant this, not your tongue up my arse".

That supposed joke about Arthur Scargill - was it meant as absurdist art, or what? So Scargill tried to sell out the miners? Give me a break!!

Dunno who you are or what you've been doing for 25 years. I hope you've been happy! But surely you should do better than just saying you think WP's line was absolutely right?

Where I do think the LWG/WP scene were right is in opposing a strike ballot. As was Scargill. Credit where it's due, in both cases.

May 2 2012 23:26


May 2 2012 23:25
Spikymike wrote:
Sorry earthfire, only just noticed these additional questions but I largely agree with Scumboni's response above, though i'd agree about the lack of 'fire' in the leaflet if it was intended for workers/claimants involved in particular attacks on their social benefits rather than a more polemical article in a magazine.

It was intended for people who went on a labour movement demonstration on London's South Bank, most of whom would have been trade union activists and members and supporters of left-wing political parties. The people who produced the leaflet didn't think much about what they were saying in the context of who they might be saying it to.

May 4 2012 10:02

I think that the education system and the NHS, were set up to educate and maintain a healthy workforce, for the benefit of the bosses, not the workers. It's too expensive and impractical for individual bourgeois to maintain their own workers in this way, so they have instituted a state system to do it for them.

Concerning the welfare state in the form of social security benefits, I think this is a way of ameliorating the worst conditions of the bosses shitty system, and staving off and detering working-class unrest.

I was the first person in my family to go to university, and I got a full grant, and my tuition fees were paid by the local education authority. I would probably not have gone if I had to take out loans and stuff, cos I would have been too afraid of the debt and not being able to pay it back.

I graduated in 1991, and last worked in 1992, and have been on sickness and disability benefits ever since. I am really frightened by all these medical assessments that are going on, and a lot of my mates have had their benefits withdrawn, and are being forced to sign on the dole, and look for non-existent jobs.

Also, my nan and grandad lived in a two-up, two-down terraced house, rented from a slum landlord. They had no bathroom, and used an outside communal toilet. When they got their council flat, with a bathroom and hot running water and heating, they thought it was luxury.

I know the welfare system has done a lot for me and my family. But I know also, that it was introduced to buy us off, and will be brutally taken away by capital. They are doing this now.

I want to get involved with fellow anarchists and revolutionaries, to get rid of the bosses, and create a society where me and my fellow workers are running things together. The resources of the planet belong to all of us, and we create the wealth and the products, and the bosses rob them off us.

Jul 31 2021 09:38

pdf added.

Jul 31 2021 15:12

Earthfire says we should be proud of the welfare state. I think that is going too far in the opposite direction to the original article.

'We' can't be proud if something we didn't achieve; this is the point about being clear that the welfare state is not 'ours'. Yes it has helped people and does offer a life line to those who need it but that doesn't change its nature. Its a bourgeois institution that gives the power and empetus to the bourgeoisie.

It has never and will never make the proletariat more organised, conscious or powerful. It can only ever help us survive as individuals in capitalism. That shouldn't be overlooked or downplayed but it also shouldn't take attention from its conservative and anti-proletarian nature.

There's no need to make it sound so confusing and unclear. We defend the 'social wages we defend all our wages but that doesn't imply support for the wage system; infact we should be clearer about this alot of the time.
Saying we support the welfare state ibecause workers are too dumb to understand any other idea is just dishonest and unclear.