In the 1950s the Democratic Party in California grew from a struggling, rump organization into the major political party in the state. This was in large part due to the activities of a network of liberal activists in the California Democratic Council, a group formed in 1953 to encourage the creation of local Democratic ‘clubs’ across California in which those interested in left-of-centre politics could debate issues of the day and campaign for Democratic candidates in elections. This article argues that the rise of the Democrats in the Golden State was predicated on the espousal by both amateur activists and party politicians of an explicitly social democratic ideology that provided a bridge between the policies of the New Deal in the 1930s and the more ambitious goals of the Great Society at the national level in the 1960s. The article examines the ideas embraced by liberal politicians in the 1950s and looks at how those ideas underpinned a massive expansion of California's welfare state in the early 1960s.
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