Social Protest, Hegemonic Competition and Social Reform: The Political Origins of the American Welfare State

Document Type



Recent neo-Marxian and state-centric analyses of the origins of the American welfare state have misspecified the autonomy of the state, thereby conflating policy formulation with policy-making and missing the complex political struggles that shaped the formulation of the Social Security Act of 1935. Synthesizing Poulantzas's "class struggle" theory of state with social protest theory and Domhoff's analysis of capitalist dominance, we advance a political struggle theory that identifies two major processes leading to social reforms: (1) sustained protest waves by excluded groups and threatened polity members that create a sense of political crisis among elites; and (2) hegemonic competition between capitalist blocs that use policy-planning and electoral investments to promote alternative political programs. This model is then applied to the formulation of the Social Security Act. Unemployed protests, industrial strikes, and middle-class reform movements, interacting with electoral instability, created an elite sense of political crisis. Simultaneously, rival capitalist blocs centered in bank groups and industrial segments competed for political dominance, creating opportunities for protest and placing major reforms on the national political agenda.


Contemporary Marxism; Hegemony; Marxism and culture; Minorities; Public policy (Law); Public welfare; Reformation--Social aspects; Social conflict; Social movements; Social policy; Social reformers; Social security; Social Security Act (United States); Social service; Strikes and lockouts; Unemployed


Ethics and Political Philosophy | Inequality and Stratification | Philosophy | Politics and Social Change | Sociology


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