Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

What are some good Anarchist critiques of the welfare state?

+5 votes
Other than the fact that it requires a state to administer it and in the same breath defend private property and that in order to pay for a welfare state people are forced to pay taxes on threat of violence and imprisonment.  I can't help thinking that there must be other critiques of the concept of state welfare.
asked Sep 7, 2014 by Anarcho-Goth (740 points)
I think that this topic is very closely related to your question : http://anarchy101.org/7428/how-do-anarchists-feel-about-european-social-democracies

Even if it's not exactly the same.
- somewhat tangential (more on the effects than general critique), uk-specific.

I found interesting the idea that the civil servants who were forced to implement the government schemes were generally indifferent/hostile to both the 'authority' and their schemes.
This squares nicely with my experiences in both governmental and corporate bureaucracies.  There is massive alienation amongst the 'ranks', this is exploited on a broad scale by corporate espionage and corporatized-criminals (that is to say, the mafia et al.).

It is a pity we aren't organised enough to actively recruit.  Many of the street medic groups are already anchored by nurses and paramedics.  And the disillusioned social workers who shuffle the abandoned between foster 'homes'would be valuable allies, and their charges most likely to rebel against the order stamping down upon them (or our cellmates.)
That article is very interesting and demonstrates both an interesting effect of welfare that I was largely unaware of, namely people using welfare as a means to devote their time to political activism. It also demonstrates another damaging effect and potential critique, of the welfare state, the distraction and placation of the oppressed.

1 Answer

+1 vote
To me the problem is that people are considered as individuals but still as "usefull subjects" for "the cause" in this conception, as in some anarcho-syndicalist theories. The question in this conception is again and again : who will recruit who ? And for what purpose ?

The idea of a counter-society (in this conception) sounds very "leninist inspired" to me (the "state in the state" or "double state strategy").

I don't reject, as some individualists or other anarchists, the idea of a counter-society (or multiple counter-societies) that would fight and destroy the state-capitalist society from the inside. But the problem with this idea, that we should "recruit", is that it recreates a model of society that sum up the question of social revolution or insurrection in the will to built "intentional communities". On the other hand, this dichotomy between those who "recruit" and those who are being "recruited" sounds very "militant" to me. And many valuable critics have been made of the militant mentality.

Also, I don't think that create such things are necessarily enterely bad, but that's not a "revolutionary thing" in it self either.

Of course, initiatives like social and autonomous self-managed spaces with anarchist or anti-authoritarian inclinations are great and must be a part revolutionnary projects (like self-organised medical centers, or collective food places, etc). At least, it's always uselful for people to meet at each other and find each other. But it's nothing if you don't link it to the necessity of expropriation and take over of property, and then the destruction of capitalism and the state. That is to say : the necessity to attack, to revolt and to struggle.

Because if some hint like "doing the job of the state" so as to "overwhelm the state" seems very seductive and usefull at first sight, it also seems that barely every projects like this, when they weren't dismentled by repressive forces, have been turned in para-legal social work (often linked to state subsidies, which is nothing but an other mean of controll) and other harmless alternatives.

Same thing should be said about many squat projects, collective spaces, or "small business anarchist projects".

Creating the opportunity for us, as for exploited or excluded people in general, to have more space and time, or ressources on autonomous perspectives is always valuable, but not either intrinsically revolutionnary.

To answer the question on a more general scale, we should be said that the problem with "welfare state" is not also "the state", but the idea of "welfare" that imply the state (and that the state imply), or a statist conception of social and/or collective welfare. Because it's also linked to the very religious idea of "providence" : who provides who, and for what ?

In a society where you are not exploiting anyone, I think that any social "needs" would be satisfied by an organisation simply based on collectivity (on the principle of free association of individuals) and mutual aid.
And then why should we conceive the need to fulfil "social needs" as implying wider social structures that would "take care" of people, especially if we don't want to recreate another kind of state, or "mini-states".

That is one of the reason why I can't read anything of Chomsky about this kind of topics without asking myself what exactly make this "eminent thinker" an anarchist.  

To me this critic is deeply rooted in my conception of the anarchist ethic, that is the only true reason why we should reject the law. Not because humanbeings are "bad or good by nature", but, to speak like Spinoza, because we should recognize the free necessity for everyone to define what's good or wrong for us as a gift of nature, and not an affliction.

Or to say it on other words, I sincerely believe the idea that individual and collective freedom (that is to say anarchy) would necesseraly be synonym of disorder and "anti-social behavior", to be a very bourgeois and reactionnary idea.
I think that what is said in this text about squats should be extended to every kind of social anarchist or autonomous project :


I hope that would light your fire a little bit.
answered Sep 17, 2014 by okapy (2,100 points)
edited Sep 17, 2014 by okapy
Well as far as the existence of a so called "welfare" system, in the time "after the revolution", I would say that in a society without exploitation and deprivation it would no longer be needed, that is to say that it is because of exploitation and deprivation that people are poor and that we must sell ourselves simply to survive.
Its interesting that you mention a 'need to fulfill "social needs" implying wider social structure' I personally don't envision a society that requires disconnected social structures to 'look after' people, I would personally like to see small communes where individuals have come together collectively and based on affinity in order to mutually benefit each other.
I think we are close to think quite the same concerning the way people would be more likely to organize successfully if there were no state and no capitalism.
I like the idea of anarchist communes. But my critique was more about the way we conceive "social needs" and what it supposes. Like how we define it ? How we decide "what is a social need", etc. To me, it seems that such a thing is very linked to the society we live in. Just like "insecurity" : it's as much a question of feelings and personnal views as something you can measure. What I mean is that, not only social need are -as their name indicates- socially determined, but it totally depends on the society we live in : its culture, its ideology, its standards, its habitus, etc.

And so I can't picture myself how a "social need" would look like in a society without oppressions, domination, coercion, the state and capitalism.

Would we still need to built guns ? Or at least "non-lethal weapons", for self-defense ? That could be a vital social need depending on the situation, for exemple. But in this exemple, precisely, the situation also really depends on these... social needs. Right ? ;-) I guess you maybe see what I'm getting at.