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The Working-Class Struggle for Welfare in Britain

Policing during the anti-Poll Tax demonstration (March 31, 1990)

Poll Tax Riots in London, 1990. Photo by Paul Mattsson (via

David Matthews is a lecturer in sociology and social policy at Coleg Llandrillo in Wales and the leader of its degree program in health and social care.

Although there exists no unified Marxist theory of the state, all Marxists would likely agree that whatever its other features, the fundamental objective of the capitalist state is the preservation of the social relations of exploitation. Together, state institutions function so as not to undermine or threaten the long-term interests of capital. Capitalist welfare provision is no exception: even at its strongest, the welfare state has not impinged upon the basic conditions of capital accumulation.

Nevertheless, care must be taken not to fall into economic determinism. The complexity of social policy in any capitalist society is such that it has always been a platform for class struggle. The welfare state cannot be considered exclusively an instrument to support and smooth economic growth, but should instead be understood as a variable mechanism whose power and form are determined by the balance of class forces.

In every advanced capitalist nation, the working classes have actively fought for welfare. Examples abound of collective action to support both the expansion and defense of welfare provision, whether through direct agitation or labor and political organizations.1 While Marxist scholars have rightly demonstrated the advantages that welfare provision offers capitalism, it must also be acknowledged that many of the state’s welfare services are the product of hard-fought gains achieved by labor.

With the gradual erasure of radical perspectives from the social sciences over the last three decades, the Marxist critique of welfare has waned in popularity since its peak during the 1970s and early 1980s. And where Marxism is given any attention in current social policy literature, one cannot help but feel time has stopped. Often the analyses of James O’Connor, Ian Gough, and Clause Offe are cited as perspectives that continue to define Marxist understandings. To varying degrees, all three took a structuralist position, arguing that welfare fulfils systematic economic needs, and that its evolution and expansion constitute a logical process emerging from the wider structural constraints of an increasingly complex capitalist system. By investing in health care, education, and housing, among other services, the welfare state supports the expansion of surplus value through its ability to reproduce and maintain the quantity and quality of labor power and its productive capacity. Furthermore, welfare is conceived as a form of social control, helping to legitimize capitalism and thus to contain any threat of resistance emanating from the working class.2

Such analyses have provided great insights and remain extremely pertinent. But it is regrettable that a class struggle perspective has largely been neglected in what has widely been considered the Marxist position on the welfare state. Recognition of welfare’s structural role in sustaining capitalism has eclipsed the power of conscious class struggle as a framework for understanding welfare provision. To his credit, Gough recognized the potential of class conflict. But his analysis remained dependent on a structuralist paradigm.3 A class struggle approach acknowledges class as a form of collective agency, which consciously attempts to determine social life. Iain Ferguson, Michael Lavalette, and Gerry Mooney have argued for the centrality of active class struggle to the study of welfare, declaring that “the class struggle in its widest sense is an essential backdrop to our understanding of social policy developments.”4 Nevertheless, such a perspective, especially one that invokes the active role of the working class in instigating collective action for social change, is mostly missing from major Marxist accounts of welfare.5

Without doubt the welfare state helps fulfil essential capitalist requirements, including, as Gough argues, the reproduction of labor power and the maintenance of the non-laboring population, along with, as O’Connor illustrates, services that enhance the productivity of labor and reduce the costs to capital of labor’s reproduction. But structuralist explanations have tended to stress such ideas to the exclusion of human agency and collective action. I will argue for the need to strike a balance between these factors. I pay specific attention to the power of the working class, arguing that far from being a passive bystander as the welfare state evolved to meet the needs of capitalism, labor has had a leading role in both driving and resisting welfare change.6 The foundations of this argument can be found in the works of both Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin. Focusing on the United Kingdom from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, I will offer a brief sketch of the circumstances in which the working class took part in the construction of the country’s welfare state. I maintain that the same principles apply to all advanced capitalist nations, while recognizing that the intensity of class conflict has varied historically. I conclude by arguing that the current era of austerity has once again made clear the relationship between the working class and the welfare state, as recent years have seen a resurgence of collective action to defend social provision.

Marx on Factory Legislation

Since the modern welfare state did not develop until after Marx’s death, it is commonly assumed that he paid scant attention to issues of welfare, and accordingly, that comparatively little on the subject can be learned from Marx himself.7 However, clues as to how he may have approached the subject can be found in his studies of factory reform in nineteenth-century Britain.

Beginning in 1833 and continuing throughout the remainder of the century, a sequence of factory legislation was enacted, primarily regulating the length of the working day. In volume one of Capital, Marx illustrates the decisive role of active class struggle in winning these legal concessions.8 “The creation of a normal working day,” he wrote, “is the product of a protracted civil war…between the capitalist class and the working-class.”9 Indeed, Marx argued that unrest had begun as soon as labor had recovered from being catapulted into the factory system. At the same time, from the initial Factory Act of 1833 through every subsequent attempt at regulation, the capitalist class was determined to block this progress.10 Capital was able to circumvent legal requirements largely by introducing alternative patterns of work. Nonetheless, working-class agitation intensified. Unequivocal in its demands, labor took the Ten Hours Bill, which would limit the working day of women and those under eighteen, as an “election-cry.”11 Marx explicitly asserted that the law’s enactment, part of the 1847 Factory Act, was a consequence of class conflict: “official recognition, and proclamation by the State, were the result of a long struggle of classes.”12

Nevertheless, its passage did not prevent attempts to skirt the new regulations. Seizing on a period of weak labor organization, capital launched a sustained assault on the Ten Hours Bill that Marx described as “a pro-slavery rebellion in miniature.”13 The resulting “relay system” of work patterns allowed factories to operate for more than ten hours each day, with nominally protected workers given shifts spread throughout the day. In 1850, responding to the legislation being declared legally ineffective, labor rose up again, demonstrating and demanding further reform. In response, the Factory Act of 1850 increased the working day by half an hour, while reducing working hours for women and young people—with similar restrictions for children implemented in 1853—and reducing hours for all workers on weekends. Marx considered this a turning point for labor, whose demands had gradually solidified after years of tenuous victories and setbacks. As he argued, “after the factory magnates had resigned themselves and become reconciled to the inevitable…the power of resistance of capital gradually weakened, whilst at the same time the power of attack of the working-class grew.”14

For Marx, the impact of this reform could not be overstated. In his address to the inaugural meeting of the First International in 1864, he described the Ten Hours Bill as a “victory of principle…the first time in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.”15 Through such reforms, Marx argued, the values of socialism could counter those of capitalism. The working class did not have to wait for a revolution: the foundations of a socialist society could be laid now, through the continued struggles of a class-conscious labor force. As Ralph Miliband and others have argued, such “reformist” tactics, when deployed by the working class to undermine the power of capital, were always central to classical Marxism.16

From his writings on British factory legislation, it is possible to extrapolate that Marx recognized the potential of the working class to advocate for social reform, and by extension, for the policies and programs that make up the modern welfare state. Marx’s work thus suggests the possibility of welfare provision emerging not merely as a defensive move by capital, but from the collective action of labor to protect and promote its immediate interests under capitalism, as part of a broader movement toward socialism.

Lenin on Social Insurance

Marx was not the only revolutionary socialist to praise reform as a means of undermining capital and advancing socialism. Before 1917, Lenin likewise insisted on the value of working-class reforms under capitalism.17 One such reform he enthusiastically endorsed was social security, which he maintained was essential to alleviating the exploitation and poverty of the working masses in pre-revolutionary Russia. Addressing the All Russian Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in January 1912, Lenin advocated a social insurance system, the costs of which would be borne by both employers and the state, with compensation equal to full earnings. Social security, he argued, should provide for all members of the labor force in every case of incapacity and unemployment. Moreover, coverage should apply to all family members, ensuring that it was universally available.18

For Lenin, of course, the working class could not achieve true liberation until capitalism was abolished. Nevertheless, he was adamant on the need for reforms, with active class struggle integral to their implementation. At the time of Lenin’s speech, social security legislation was making its way through the Russian Duma. Lenin nevertheless decried the limitations of the proposed law, which would have provided compensation only for accidents and illnesses, falling far short of universal coverage. Lenin stated categorically that active labor force organization was essential to modify and expand the legislation: “It is the urgent task…to develop the most extensive agitation against the Duma Insurance Bill.”19 But even if such agitation failed and the law was passed, the reforms should nevertheless be used to further the class struggle. Labor, Lenin argued, should recast the law “into a means of developing its class-consciousness, strengthening its organization and intensifying its struggle for full political liberty and for socialism.”20

Although brief, Lenin’s interpretation points to a Marxist understanding of welfare framed by class struggle. He clearly approved of social security reforms in a capitalist context, both for the immediate benefit of the working class and to advance the cause of socialism. Further, and crucially, he conceived welfare itself as an object of class conflict, adamant that the working class and its political representatives had the authority and obligation to determine the development of social policy. Both Marx and Lenin understood social reform as a central working-class concern and part of a larger struggle against oppression. While Lenin does not say so explicitly, it can nonetheless be inferred from his critique that capital as a whole opposed such reform, with his 1912 address implicitly attributing the inadequacy of the proposed legislation to negotiations between the government and business leaders. It seems clear that for Lenin, true welfare would originate from the working class itself, through successful struggle from below.

Class and Welfare in Britain, 1890–1945

Although they both placed social reform at the forefront of working-class struggle under capitalism, neither Marx nor Lenin could foresee the complex evolution and increasing interdependence of capitalism and the state over the course of the twentieth century. For this reason, neither seriously considered how seemingly salutary social policy might be used for the benefit of capital. (Though Marx does seem to hint at this idea when he notes acidly that after the acceptance of the Ten Hours Bill, the ruling class “proclaimed the discernment of the necessity of a legally fixed working day as a characteristic new discovery of their ‘science.’”)21 This in no way diminishes the value of their analyses, as they demonstrated succinctly—and, as I argue, correctly—the vital role and potential of the working class in the growth of welfare.

One exponent of the class struggle analysis was the New Left historian John Saville.22 The British welfare state, he argued, evolved from the interaction of three factors. Anticipating the structuralist position of later Marxist accounts, he rightly identified one of these as capital’s need for an environment conducive to accumulation. However, Saville balanced this by acknowledging the role of active class struggle. While “recognition by the property owners of the price that has to be paid for political security” had shaped the modern welfare state, of equal importance was “the struggle of the working class against their exploitation” and what he described in another essay as “the pressures which have come from the mass of the population as the perceptions of economic and social needs have gradually widened and become more explicit.”23 It would be a profound error to underestimate the power of labor in these developments: “In the last resort the determining factors in the evolution of the welfare state will be the degree of organization, and the determination to insist upon change, on the part of the working people themselves.”24

While the class of rulers and owners necessarily dominates any capitalist society, the historical preeminence of capital is nonetheless spotted with moments when the balance of class forces has tipped in favor of labor. The development of welfare provision in Britain is one such case, shaped by successive waves of working-class action.25

Arguably the most significant phase of this development came in the years before and just after the First World War, which John Charlton describes as “the seed-bed of the modern welfare state.”26 From the late nineteenth century on, the growth of the working class was greater than any other class in Britain.27 For many among the ruling establishment, their very existence was threatening.28 This era also saw a flourishing of class consciousness and an upsurge in collective action, with labor growing more organized and assertive.29 Between 1890 and 1918, trade union membership soared from half a million to 6.5 million. By the turn of the twentieth century, intensifying industrial action made clear the deepening class divisions of British society, with the number of strikes rising from an estimated 456 in 1905 to 1,497 in 1913.30 Even these figures likely downplay the level of class struggle, however, since many industrial disputes went unrecorded.31

These years were also characterized by a growing militancy among unskilled and semi-skilled workers, resulting in the growth of New Unionism. Observing these developments, Frederick Engels declared in 1892 that the “founders and promoters” of the new unions “were Socialists either consciously or by feeling.”32 Increasing hostility and a burgeoning class consciousness aided the spread of socialism both within and outside the working class, through the establishment of organizations such as the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society. Although still a minority within the working class, socialists nonetheless advanced collectivist policies which gained widespread approval among the labor force.33 With a growing threat of social upheaval in the air as a result of an emboldened organized labor movement, the ruling class frequently and ruthlessly employed the full force of the repressive powers of the state to safeguard capitalism, cracking down on strikes and demonstrations and imprisoning labor leaders. But more significantly, this period witnessed a dramatic reversal of the laissez-faire regime of the early and mid-nineteenth century, with the state compelled to offer reform as a desperate effort to mollify a newly assertive working class.34 Of these reforms, welfare was paramount. From 1890 to 1914, welfare milestones included the emergence of municipal housing, the introduction of free school meals, medical inspection of school children, old age pensions, and the foundations of both national health and unemployment insurance.

That the welfare state originated with and was inspired by the working class was made explicit by the British welfare scholar and socialist Richard Titmuss, who argued forcefully that “the major impulse came from below, from the working-man’s ethic of solidarity and mutual aid.”35 Prior to the welfare state, it was left to cooperatives, mutual societies, and medical aid associations to guarantee some security against the social afflictions of industrialization. However, after 1884, the expansion of working-class male suffrage coincided with, and contributed to, a change in attitude among labor radicals toward the state. Where once the latter was perceived as an instrument of oppression, it subsequently came to be identified as a means to advance their demands. This gave rise to an increasing electoral representation of labor, first in local government, and then at the national level. Drawing on existing working-class self-help organizations, the state now served as the focus of the welfare aspirations of the working class. As Titmuss writes, the evolution of welfare “found expression and grew spontaneously from working-class traditions and institutions to counter the adversities of industrialism.”36 State social policy up to the outbreak of the First World War represented a decisive shift in the balance of class power, a period of mass working-class revolt and the increasing electoral influence of labor which accompanied it.37

Inevitably, the war years saw a reduction in industrial action. Nonetheless, workers were far from quiescent: engineers, coal miners, transport operatives, and munition workers all organized significant strikes during the war, primarily over wages and food shortages. Nor was the cause of welfare forgotten, as shown by the wave of rent strikes that began in Glasgow in 1915. After an influx of munition workers to the city prompted landlords to raise rents, a movement emerged, primarily led by women, calling on tenants to withhold payments. At the height of the Glasgow strike, over 20,000 families defied their landlords, and the movement soon spread to other major British cities. Fearing further industrial unrest that would harm the war effort, the government took the tenants’ side and imposed national rent controls.38

In the years just after the war, labor’s influence continued to rise, as a spirit of revolution gripped Britain. With soldiers returning home from the barbarism of the trenches only to find poverty and austerity, industrial militancy rapidly spread. Inspired by the Russian Revolution two years earlier, 1919 saw a significant increase in industrial actions, with coal miners, engineering and shipyard workers, railway operatives, and—especially worrying for the ruling class—the police and army and navy recruits, among others, striking, organizing, and agitating. Labor’s power was such that in the spring of that year, Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced to the three largest trade unions that the government “was at their mercy,” and that if industrial disruptions continued, “you will defeat us.”39 The unions were eventually crushed—aided by rising unemployment and labor leaders’ willingness to ignore the demands of their rank and file—but not before winning major welfare concessions, including the extension of unemployment insurance, increased finances for municipal housing (prompted in part by the wartime rent strikes), and an expansion of health care for women in the form of maternity services provided by local governments.

Between the world wars, working-class aspirations remained constrained by weakened labor organization and economic stagnation. It was only after the Second World War that labor once again exerted a decisive influence on welfare policy—but unlike the earlier wave of working-class power, this one was supported not by any wave of industrial unrest, but by elite fears of labor’s potential for collective action. The experience of poverty and mass unemployment in the interwar era, and the Second World War itself, helped sweep Britain’s first majority Labour government into power on a tide of political radicalization.40 While the Labour membership at the time comprised both socialists agitating for radical change and reform-minded social democrats, it was the latter who dominated the government. Great unease prevailed on both left and right regarding the probable consequences if the government failed to implement social reforms after decades of war, poverty, and unemployment. The specter of working-class insurrection compelled Labour leaders, along with the opposition Conservatives, to act. As one wartime Tory MP observed: “If you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution.”41 Consequently, the years after 1945 marked the greatest expansion to date of the British welfare state, including wider and more generous social security provision, increased educational opportunities, and most notably, a universal public health care system.

Aside from the direct development of welfare services, labor’s impact on social reform in these years was apparent in the way these services were organized and delivered. The self-help societies that had first inspired labor to fight for state welfare were built on working-class values of collectivism and universalism. As a result, these same values were embedded within welfare state services, slowly at first, but becoming more prominent until they were explicitly evident by the time welfare was expanded after 1945.42 A decade after the Second World War, Titmuss proclaimed: “The values and objectives which underlay in the past the search for security…are still relevant to an understanding of the role of social welfare…. The ways in which they shaped its origins and development permeate the principles on which systems of medical care and social security operate today—comprehensive in scope, universal in membership.”43 With much of the welfare state in the postwar years publicly funded and delivered, the state acted as an instrument of universalism, with all members of society, regardless of social class, eligible to receive support, while its collective provision through the state allowed all members of a community to contribute to each other’s welfare needs, further fostering values of solidarity and altruism. No achievement of the era better exemplifies these ideals than the founding in 1948 of the National Health Service, which arose after decades of class struggle over access to medical care and which in its original organization embodied principles of universalism and collectivism.44

It would nevertheless be historically inaccurate to concentrate solely on the working class as the source of social reform in the United Kingdom.45 For instance, welfare reforms before the First World War were grudgingly accepted by the ruling class amid increasing anxiety over Britain’s relative global economic and military decline. This included fear of the perceived physical inferiority of the British working class, which supposedly threatened to further diminish British imperial power in its competition with other capitalist states.46 Welfare reform was thus accepted in part because of the potential economic advantages it would accrue to capital. That social reforms may benefit and be supported by capital as much as the working class is not disputed. As the socialist historian Dorothy Thompson, argued, welfare reforms have often been achieved by the working class in alliance with sections of the ruling class.47 The point, however, is that the contribution of labor to the evolution of welfare provision should not be underestimated. As Saville argues, it is vital to recognize both that reforms have only ever come about through the development of a labor movement, and that those reforms often overcome the initial opposition of the ruling elite by being modified to simultaneously support the interests of capital and labor.48

Marxism and Welfare Reform

Undeniably, the primary purpose of the capitalist state is to safeguard private property and enhance the conditions for economic growth, for with the welfare state is a vital instrument. Existing welfare states are far from islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism. Nor has any welfare state ever challenged the very existence of capitalism, or even seriously threatened the gross inequalities of wealth on which capitalism is based, instead limiting its redistribution to within the working class rather than between social classes. At best, welfare states have mitigated against economic insecurity, rather than removed it. Furthermore, although influential in its establishment, labor itself has rarely controlled the operation of the welfare state, whose organization tends toward hierarchy and bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, the state under capitalism should not be conceived as a monolithic instrument of capital, which combines with welfare services to form “the iron fist in the velvet glove.”49 Given the real benefits it has brought for labor, there should be no obscuring the fact that the working class has constituted a significant force to advance the establishment of welfare and acted in its defense during times of attack. Although barriers to social mobility in many advanced capitalist nations remain rigid, a universal system of compulsory education and expansion of tertiary institutions has without doubt strengthened working-class opportunity. While frugal, existing social security for families vitally enhances family budgets, especially in an era of stagnating wages. Similarly, it modestly reduces the threat of destitution, particularly for those unable to work due to illness or disability. Moreover, a public health care system does ensure the financial costs of poor health are collectively met by society. A class struggle analysis stands firmly opposed to any idea that the welfare state as only serves the interests of capital. Rather, welfare states are constructed under the influence of the class struggle, in the dialectical relation between capital and labor.50 It is not enough to consider the advantages the working class has gained from the welfare state as a fortunate by-product of capitalism’s efforts to enforce and protect its own dominance.

Class Struggle and Austerity

The influence of the working class on the welfare state persisted for a generation after the Second World War. For instance, supported by trade unions and socialists, labor was instrumental in establishing the 1967 Abortion Act, which legalized the procedure, allowing working-class and other women greater control over their lives. Further, in 1972, in response to attempts to reduce national government subsidizes for municipal housing rents, thousands of public housing tenants withheld payment in protest. Occurring within a wider climate of industrial action characterizing the era, these protests contributed to the fall of the Conservative government of the time, and the demise of the legislation proposing the reduction of subsidies. And between 1987 and 1991, millions demonstrated against proposals to implement a regressive local government tax which would have forced cuts to welfare services. The rebellion culminated in the Poll Tax riots of 1990, which contributed to the proposal’s eventual rejection.51

Still, relative to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, working-class influence in Britain diminished during most of the postwar era, and qualitative advancement of the welfare state slowed significantly. Moreover, the neoliberal assault of recent decades may lead some to question whether the working class retains any active relation to the welfare state. Arguably, this has much to do with the stifling of organized labor.52 Anti-trade union legislation and a fragmented, precarious labor market that makes industrial action ever harder has seriously weakened the role of the working class as agents of social change, both in Britain and beyond. Nonetheless, events of recent years can be said to have reignited the collective bond between labor and state welfare. The current era of austerity is unequivocally an example of the continuing impact of class conflict on welfare, an overt attempt to restructure the state in the interests of capital in the face of a weakened working class. However, this challenge has been met with growing resistance from below.

Under the hegemony of neoliberalism, capital and the wider ruling classes within government have implemented in earnest rules mandating reduced budget deficits, minimal government debt, and fiscal surpluses. Notwithstanding the advantages welfare offers capital in the long term, levels of existing welfare expenditure have been presented as an obstacle to economic expansion. The slashing of welfare budgets in many advanced capitalist nations has galvanized ordinary citizens to respond in an eruption of collective action. Over the last decade, notably in Western Europe, pensioners, the disabled, students, children, single parents, social housing residents, and the many people who rely upon public health care and education have assembled in displays of collective unity against deliberate attacks upon welfare services. Converging in mass movements such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the People’s Assembly in Britain, Solidarity in Ireland, and, in North America, Occupy Wall Street, both the labor movement and the unorganized working class, combining both moderate and radical approaches, have joined forces in solidarity. Often peacefully, but sometimes exploding in violence, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in protest, with the anti-austerity movement representing a global awakening of class consciousness not experienced for decades.

Supporting the millions of welfare recipients in public protest have been welfare professionals. General strikes have gripped Greece during the last decade, and have featured prominently in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, with welfare workers among the central actors. In Britain, the attempted dismantling of welfare services has encouraged some of the most powerful displays of industrial action in thirty years. Teachers, medical professionals, and social workers, among others—along with the wider public-sector labor force—have united in opposition to budget cuts, with as many as a million workers withdrawing their labor during various bouts of industrial unrest. Moreover, in the United States, with public education under particular threat, from Sacramento to Chicago, education professionals have been instrumental in organizing resistance through strikes or, where teachers’ strikes are illegal, by taking collective sick days.

The contradiction of welfare provision under capitalism is that although, as Marxist analyses have rightly shown, the welfare state is used to solidify and sustain the dominance of capital, it also serves as an instrument of social reform actively embraced and defended by the working class. History from the late nineteenth century to the current era of austerity illustrates that for labor, the welfare state is not just a mechanism to enhance the accumulation of capital or reinforce working-class oppression. From the beginning, it was a vital part of the class struggle—and so it remains today.

Resistance to capital is a fight with many fronts, and the struggle for welfare also holds a crucial link to the struggle against imperialism. Although the early welfare victories of the British working class were in part funded by the extraction of surplus from colonial markets, the new imperialist era of finance capital has threatened the very existence of welfare provision in the advanced capitalist nations. Amid the superexploitation of a growing global reserve army of labor in the global South, the working classes in the mature economies now face chronic unemployment, deflationary wage growth, and reduced welfare provision, as the advanced capitalist nations are forced, it is argued, to remove barriers to capital if they are to compete with developing nations. Now more than ever, the global working class must unite in solidarity to combat their exploitation, a struggle to which the fight for welfare is inextricably tied.


  1. Michael Lavalette and Gerry Mooney, “Introduction: Class Struggle and Social Policy,” in Michael Lavalette and Gerry Mooney, eds., Class Struggle and Social Welfare (London: Routledge, 2000), 5.
  2. See Ian Gough, The Political Economy of the Welfare State (London: Macmillan, 1979); James O’Connor, The Fiscal Crisis of the State (London: St. James, 1973). Claus Offe, Contradictions of the Welfare State (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984). O’Connor and Offe identify the welfare state as exhibiting a contradictory role within the structure of capitalism. Increasing state expenditure on welfare services from which capitalism benefits, O’Connor argues, means costs are increasingly socialized while profits remain privatized, resulting in growing budgetary and fiscal crises of the state which ultimately undermines its ability to support capitalism. For Offe, capitalism is inherently crisis-prone, tending to underutilize labor and its productive capacity. Unable to mediate directly to ensure their profitable use, the state intervenes indirectly through methods such as investment in infrastructure, socializing the costs of fixed capital, and enhancing the quality of labor. However, this requires increasing decommodification of resources which, Offe claims, ultimately undermines the foundations of commodity exchange.
  3. Gough, The Political Economy of the Welfare State, 62.
  4. Iain Ferguson, Michael Lavalette, and Gerry Mooney, Rethinking Welfare: A Critical Perspective (London: Sage, 2002), 75.
  5. Michael Lavalette, and Gerry Mooney, “Introduction: Class Struggle and Social Policy,” in Ferguson, Lavalette, and Mooney, eds., Rethinking Welfare, 4–5.
  6. Gerry Mooney, “Class and Social Policy,” in Gail Lewis, Sharon Gewirtz, and John Clarke, eds., Rethinking Social Policy (London: Sage, 2000), 157.
  7. Ramesh Mishra, Society and Social Policy: Theories and Practice of Welfare (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), 69. Marx died in the same year that Otto von Bismarck of Germany implemented what is widely considered the first sickness insurance program.
  8. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1977): 264–86.
  9. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 283.
  10. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 265.
  11. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 267.
  12. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 268.
  13. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 271.
  14. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 280.
  15. Karl Marx, “The First International,” Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association, 1864, available at
  16. Ralph Miliband, Marxism and Politics (London: Merlin, 2004), 164.
  17. Miliband, Marxism and Politics, 42.
  18. V.I. Lenin, “The Sixth (Prague) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.,” 1912, available at
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 280.
  22. John Saville, “The Welfare State: An Historical Approach,” New Reasoner 3 (1957–58): 5–25, available at
  23. Saville, “The Welfare State,” 5–6; “The Origins of the Welfare State,” in Martin Loney, David Boswell, and John Clarke, eds., Social Policy and Social Welfare (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1983), 11.
  24. Saville, “The Welfare State,” 9.
  25. Ferguson, Lavalette, and Mooney, Rethinking Welfare, 72.
  26. John Charlton, “Class Struggle and the Origins of State Welfare Reform,” in Lavalette and Mooney, eds., Class Struggle and Social Welfare, 52
  27. John Charlton, “Class Struggle and the Origins of State Welfare Reform,” 57.
  28. John Charlton, “Class Struggle and the Origins of State Welfare Reform,” 58.
  29. John Newsinger, Them and Us: Fighting the Class War 1910–1929 (London: Bookmarks, 2015), 12.
  30. Derek Fraser, The Evolution of the British Welfare State (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 166. Newsinger, Them and Us, 66.
  31. Newsinger, Them and Us, 11.
  32. Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 325.
  33. Fraser, The Evolution of the British Welfare State, 166–67.
  34. Charlton, “Class Struggle and the Origins of State Welfare Reform,” 53.
  35. Richard Titmuss, “Social Welfare and the Art of Giving,” in Pete Alcock et al., eds., Welfare and Wellbeing: Richard Titmuss’s Contribution to Social Policy (Bristol: Policy, 2001), 130–31.
  36. Titmuss, “Social Welfare and the Art of Giving,” 130.
  37. Norman Ginsburg, Class, Capital and Social Policy (London: Macmillan, 1979), 140.
  38. Newsinger, Them and Us, 48–50.
  39. Julie Sherry, “1919: Britain in Revolt,” Socialist Worker [UK],
  40. Saville, “The Origins of the Welfare State,” 15.
  41. Chris Jones and Tony Novak, Poverty, Welfare and the Disciplinary State (London: Routledge, 1999), 123.
  42. Titmuss, “Social Welfare and the Art of Giving,” 131.
  43. Ibid.
  44. David Matthews, “The Battle for the National Health Service: England, Wales, and the Socialist Vision,” Monthly Review 68, no. 10 (March 2017): 25–35.
  45. Saville, “The Welfare State,” 6.
  46. Lesley Doyle, The Political Economy of Health (London: Pluto, 1979): 161.
  47. Dorothy Thompson, “Discussion: The Welfare State,” New Reasoner 4 (1958), 126.
  48. Saville, “The Welfare State,” 10.
  49. Steve Bolger et al., Towards Socialist Welfare Work (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1981): 18–19.
  50. Bolger et al., Towards Socialist Welfare Work, 19.
  51. Lavalette and Mooney, Class Struggle and Social Welfare.
  52. Ferguson, Lavalette, and Mooney, Rethinking Welfare, 71.
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