Role of Soviet Un. in welfare state in West

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Fri Nov 14 21:22:59 MST 2003

I think we would agree there to a great extent, Tom. It is true, the
existence of the USSR was perceived by the bourgeoisie as a genuine threat,
because the Lenin-Stalin regime expropriated them, i.e. it attacked the most
sacred principle of bourgeois existence, namely private property and private
appropriation of wealth (it is illuminating to read Henry Kissinger in this
sense, who articulates the bourgeois viewpoint quite well). The experience
of war also created among the working classes the consciousness of the
necessity to assert their rights, and the desire to re-establish social
justice at the very least.

But you cannot explain Welfare statism just as a response to that threat and
that desire. In the first place, in countries like Australia and New
Zealand, welfare state provisions were already being implemented prior to
the first world war. Secondly, state interventionism is always a response to
a capitalist economic crisis which results in mass unemployment and the lack
of a good investment climate (falling profits, reduced markets, rising
costs), i.e. the state has to "rescue the market" when Say's Law has been
falsified, and provide social stability by buying off critical sectors of a
disaffected population and regulating economic life, even if the Hayekians
say that we should just wait a little longer for market equilibrium to
recover spontaneously. At best, the specific solutions (forms) adopted
depend on how the power relationships between social classes are evolving
and what the popular ideologies are, but the necessity for interventionism
is created by the crisis of the system itself, the obstacles to private
accumulation of wealth. The implementation of "new deals" in response to the
1930s depression (which ranged from Rooseveltism to fascism) were not a
direct response to the intensification of a politically motivated
workingclass struggle, but to general discontent, social fragmentation etc.
and the need to buy off that discontent, stimulate investment and contain
the scope of conflicts. Indeed, after 1923 there was a prolonged downturn in
class struggles overall and that was the whole problem of the Comintern.

The more salient point to be made is that the October revolution immediately
had a big international political impact insofar as working people and
socialists around the world were inspired, stimulated and encouraged by the
event, because it suggested that the working class could actually win and
could actually conquer state power (see e.g. Paul Dukes, October and the
World), and in that sense it strengthened and emboldened workers' movements
everywhere. Which was Lenin's intention, because he saw the uprisings in
Russia as the "tinder" that would ignite revolution in Western Europe within
the context of the fracas of world war 1, irrespective of whether the
Russian revolutionaries would succeed in gaining and maintaining state
power. But the point is that this by itself did not immediately alter the
real balance of power in favour of the working class, because that depended
on the real capacity of the workers elsewhere to struggle and fight, their
organisational strength, their cultural cohesion, the existence of credible
social alternatives, a conscious political project, and so on. Here the
bolsheviks frequently misjudged the situation.

The successes of the Red Army and the anti-fascist resistance in world war 2
certainly provided a strong impetus for the growth of the Left in Europe
subsequent to the second world war, but a lot of state interventionism just
grew purely out of economic and social havoc, and the desire for social
reconstruction, which the Marshall Plan, a revision of the monetary system
and credit facilities sought to address. The redistributive policies of the
state grew out of practical requirements and if anything were inspired in
Europe at least by social-democratic ideas (the social democrats were mainly
antipathetic to the communists) but in the case of New Zealand for example
state interventionism occurred in the 1930s even before Keynesian ideas had
even become wellknown in policy circles, as NZ social democrat Brian Easton
pointed out once. The most important effect of the USSR was to show
practically that there was a genuine alternative to the capitalist market
and it legitimated redistributive state interventionism, but from the
existence of a model of "actually existing socialism" not so much can be
inferred, except that it provided the Left with a certain amount of
political leverage in other countries.

Overall, the welfare state system reflected the incapacity of capitalist
society to regulate income distribution exclusively through the market, the
incapacity of containing class conflict in any other way, and the need to
integrate and co-opt social alternatives. But paradoxically, when you need a
welfare state the most, it has the least ability to operate, i.e., the
expansion of the welfare state was founded on sustained above-average growth
of the capitalist economy, which provided resources which could be
redistributed in such a way that all social classes could make gains and
unemployment was reduced to a low level, and the magnitude of the "reserve
army of labour" (Marx) has usually been the most critical factor in the
balance of class power.


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