Rethinking welfare: A radical critique - Lucien van der Walt

In 2006, Cosatu called for the introduction of a universal basic incomes grant in response to the ANC introducing various welfare measures to alleviate poverty. Lucien van der Walt argued that that unions had been sidestracked by technocratic demands and that the demand for welfare should instead be linked to the struggle of the working class to reinvent society.

van der Walt - Rethinking Welfare - a radical critique.pdf648.28 KB

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Aug 25 2013 23:48



Aug 27 2013 11:03

How radical is this critique really? We can probably all feel sympathy with it's emphasis in struggle on equalitarian themes and social solidarity but the author seems to be arguing that a movement can be built up which imposes 'free provision' of services and 'non-contributory' reforms on the capitalist state in a situation where we are already struggling to retain the remnants of such under attack in this age of capitalist austerity. It amounts to a full reform programme within the framework of capitalism that harks back to the early days of social democracy but then concludes ''..that expanding demands from below quickly break the boundaries of current fiscal 'realism'. If, however, the existing system finds it 'unrealistic' to meet the needs of the people to a meaningful life free of the poverty, is it the rights or the system that must go?'' A more fundamental criticism of politics based around the concept of 'rights' aside for now, this sounds to me very similar to the trotskyists lefts strategy of so-called 'transitional demands' but with a libertarian gloss?

Aug 29 2013 16:21

I don't think the author has any illusions that these demands can be realized under capitalism, or in social democracy. Definitely not in South Africa's crisis-ridden semi[-industrial capitalism, in today's period. He's pretty clear on this [url= ]here[/url] - that the old-style welfare state is dead, and that the task is to push for self-management and collectivization. I read this as pushing demands to the maximum, and then beyond, and to do this by building a combative unionism and community movement struggle that breaks with corporatism...

Aug 29 2013 16:59


Thanks for that further linked article which seems a lot clearer especially with it's attack on 'social democratic' illusions and the need to respond to 'policy changes' in a self-organised militant defense of class conditions. But the two articles don't sit happily together - especially in the apparent illusion of being able to impose the kind of extensive reforms listed and the concept of a movement which builds up on the back of such reforms to some kind of frontal assualt on the system. Pushing knowingly unrealiseable demands within capitalism is no strategy for pro-revolutionaries.