Socialism, Welfare and Social Security


The People
August 1996
Vol. 106 No. 5


A reader who recently inquired about "the matter of welfare and social security being a result of 'socialism,'" received the following in reply:

It should be noted, first, that neither welfare nor social security has anything to do with socialism; yet, it may also be said that they are a result of socialism.

The reason neither of these social reforms has anything to do with socialism, of course, is that socialism implies an end to the poverty and social insecurity that come from private ownership and control of the economy. Welfare, social security, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, Medicare, minimum wage, etc., are so many concessions to the socialist contention that capitalism is incapable of eliminating the social ills the system creates. They are, as De Leon might have said, so many confessions of wrong-doing by the ruling class, as are all examples of so-called labor legislation. Socialism does not strive to lessen the effect of capitalism's evils on the working class: it strives to root out capitalism and the social evils it spawns.

At the same time, it can be said that all reforms designed to ease the impact capitalism has on the working class result from socialism. They result from socialism in the same sense that defensive fortifications result from the advances of an aggressive army. They are in the nature of capitalist strategic maneuvers in the face of the socialist challenge.

Incidentally, this is literally, not merely figuratively, true. Social security and workers' compensation were introduced onto the stage of the class struggle by none other than Otto von Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor" of pre-World War I Germany. In the 1870s, Bismarck established the infamous Anti-Socialist Laws aimed at destroying the socialist movement. When these failed of their objective, he, in the 1880s, introduced a number of so-called social insurance laws providing some compensation to victims of industrial accidents and old-age pensions. The purpose was not to ease the burden of the victims of the industrial system, but to deflect the socialist movement and, if possible, to split it. It was a brilliant piece of political strategy that worked like a charm, as the difficulty the movement has had in overcoming the seductive lure of such reform schemes shows all too well.

Here we would add the suggestion that our inquiring reader and all others read two basic works of Daniel De Leon: REFORM OR REVOLUTION, on the meaning of reform, and TWO PAGES FROM ROMAN HISTORY, on the dangers of reform. Both can be ordered from the New York Labor News, publishing agent of the Socialist Labor Party.