In a thought-provoking review of a new book on the legacy of Vichy France, Robert O. Paxton reminds us that the continental European welfare state
was not originally a socialist or Communist project. It was introduced into European political life from the right, first by Bismarck, with sickness and accident insurance in imperial Germany in 1883–1884, and emulated by Count Eduard von Taaffe in the Austrian Empire in 1887. Bismarck had just outlawed the German Social Democratic Party, and his intention was to eliminate its reason for being as well as to consolidate a paternalist and statist social order.
Continental European Marxists opposed piecemeal welfare measures as likely to dilute worker militancy without changing anything fundamental about the distribution of wealth and power. It was only after World War II, when they abandoned Marxism (in 1959 in West Germany, for example), that continental European socialist parties and unions fully accepted the welfare state as their ultimate goal.