Anarchism, the Welfare State, and Social Assistance

By 1 Toronto member, 1 former Toronto member, 2 Kitchener-Waterloo members

Unemployment is a permanent fixture of capitalism. It is not simply the outcome of those who make bad life choices. There are no “cracks” to fall through when the entire foundation is designed with gaping holes. Mass unemployment is not merely a failure to apply a more compassionate capitalism, or a more Keynesian economic model with progressive taxation and better state provisions for the working class. Even the major structural reforms that brought about the post-World War II establishment of the Welfare State never ended unemployment. In fact, in hindsight we can see that these reforms merely set up a system whose subsequent dismantling has left a pacified and disorganized working class in its wake.

For too long, many anarchists have adopted a defensive posture to these issues, focused on the short-term and immediate needs of the unemployed and those on social assistance. Reformist goals cloaked in militant tactics have drawn anarchists like moths to the flame, and have born little reflective analysis on how appeals to the State could ever truly prefigure our broader goals of mutual aid and revolutionary dual power. In this article we’ve attempted to find contemporary and historical examples than can potentially aid in realigning this tendency towards a broader revolutionary strategy.

Defining Parameters

Supporting the welfare of people means more than making sure they have the bare minimum needed to survive, but actually meeting their need to live in fulfilling and creative ways. The Welfare State, in the context of a capitalist economy, has built a social safety net that can support people through hard times―such as unemployment insurance and welfare programs that provide unemployed people with often paltry levels of monetary assistance to help them survive while they find themselves in between jobs. These programs, however, are an attempt at stabilizing an unjust and functionally unstable system, and even the inadequate level of protection that they do provide is under attack. The Welfare State emerged out of a history of consolidation of capitalist and state interest across much of the western world, but within the current historical moment capitalist and state actors currently see many taxpayer-funded programs as extraneous and unnecessary. Worse, many members of the working class, swayed by the commonsense rhetoric of belt-tightening so prevalent under the current international regime of austerity, seem to agree. read more