The relationship between Marxism and the welfare state is complex. Since there is not one ‘true’ Marxism but many and since the experience of the welfare state under advanced capitalism has proved to be quite diverse, we should hardly expect to find a single and wholly consistent Marxist explanation of welfare state development. And so it proves. Some Marxists have seen the welfare state principally as a controlling agency of the ruling capitalist class. Others have seen it as the ‘Trojan Horse’ within which socialist principles can be carried into the very heartlands of capitalism. Again some Marxists have argued that the welfare state provides the indispensable underpinning for a market-based social and economic order, whilst others have seen it as incompatible with the long-run integrity of a capitalist economy. A number of Marxist and neo-Marxist commentators have managed to affirm all of these principles more or less simultaneously! At the same time, both Marxism and the welfare state have a history. It is clear that the welfare state as an object of Marxists’ inquiry has changed through time and so (often in response to these changes) has the intellectual apparatus with which they have sought to explain it. In this chapter, we try to make sense of this diversity of Marxist explanations and consider whether Marxism can still tell us anything useful about welfare states.
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