• social democracy;
  • welfare state;
  • power relations;
  • capital;
  • labour

The social democratic golden age is long gone; today its historical legacy is largely maintained by the European welfare state in its various continental, liberal and Nordic forms. But how long can the welfare state maintain its progressive content outside the social democratic era? Through a selection of the contemporary literature on the rise and fall of social democracy and the welfare state, this review article will argue that social democracy and its welfare state heritage are primarily based on the relative strength of the labour movement. Without this fundamental constraint on capital the welfare state's social democratic content has and will continue to come under threat. Due to the centrality of power relations in this analysis of the rise and fall of social democracy and the welfare state, the article will critique the ways in which the literature has portrayed reform as the product of seemingly objective changes within the economy and society external to class relations.

Palier, B. (ed.) (2010) A Long Goodbye to Bismarck? The Politics of Welfare Reform in Continental Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Sejersted, F. (2011) The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wahl, A. (2011) The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State. London: Pluto Press.