Ralph Miliband: A Great Democratic Socialist Slandered by the Mail.
Hated Britain So Much He Joined the Belgian section of the Royal Navy.
“The man who hated Britain: Red Ed’s pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father.”
The headline over GEOFFREY LEVY‘s Mail article will have outraged many people, on the left and elsewhere.
Ed’s father, Ralph Miliband, was known, and warmly remembered by thousands (if not more) on the left.
He was a founder member of the New Left, a democrat, fiercely opposed to Stalinism, and the author of books that influenced people people across the labour movement.
His more topical articles in the yearly Socialist Register contributed enormously to international and British political debate – and still bear reading (I have cited some only a couple of months ago).
The Mail, barely skates the surface of this.
Thought apart from his ‘hate’ for Britain, Ralph apparently “made plain his disdain for the Establishment, which was, to his mind, nothing less than the old boy network.”
Miliband, father of Ed and David Miliband, died in 1994, aged 70, soon after the publication of his last book, Socialism For A Sceptical Age. In it, the venerated Marxist philosopher and academic continued to espouse his lifelong ‘socialist’ cause.
One voice, however, vehemently informed him that he was still pursuing a lost cause. It was that of his elder son David. He did not mince his words.
Having read the manuscript before publication, David wrote to his father asking, ‘whether you are restating a case that has been traduced in theory or practice, or whether you are advancing a new case.
I was sent the same manuscript (before publication) and reviewed it in Labour Briefing.
Like many I had met Miliband as a member of the Socialist Society Steering Committee – in many ways the continuation of the original New Left.
The print-out text was sent to Briefing so as our obituary of Ralph Miliband could incorporate the insights of his last book.
In the pages of the Briefing I praised Socialism for a Sceptical Age for his hopeful, democratic insights, which came at a time when the free-market hard right (as today) was wreaking havoc in our country and across the world.
Ed, rightly, is outraged at the attack on his father.
He says in his reply,
My father’s strongly Left-wing views are well known, as is the fact that I have pursued a different path and I have a different vision. He was a man with a great sense of humour, so the idea of me being part of some ‘sinister’ Marxist plot would have amused him and disappointed him in equal measure and for the same reason — he would have known it was ludicrously untrue.
But whatever else is said about my Dad’s political views, Britain was a source of hope and comfort for him, not hatred. Having been born in Belgium he didn’t start from a belief in the inferiority of other countries, but he loved Britain for the security it offered his family and the gentle decency of our nation.
Amongst the controversy now flaring up it is important to bear in mind some points.
- Ralph Miliband was a democratic socialist. In Marxism and Politics (1977) he argued for political pluralism and representative elected institutions. He was strongly opposed to ‘Leninist’ vanguard politics and dictatorship of any kind. The Socialist register backed dissidents struggling for democracy in the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc and Asia. He was consistently anti-Stalinist.
- MIliband was sceptical about the Labour Party. That is, he considered that socialism (at the time still officially a central part of Labour’s Constitution) was less important to the party than its loyalty to the British Constitution. That was his famous conclusion to Parliamentary Socialism: A Study of the Politics of Labour (1961). In practice he backed socialists who were members of the Labour Party. His final book left the question as to whether a British left might revive in Labour open.
- Coming from the original 1950s New Left – itself a break with the traditional left – Miliband was open to new movements, such as feminism, and ecology. But he remained committed to ‘class politics’. That is, he considered that the central inequalities of capitalist society were bound up with minority economic rule – the bourgeoisie. Socialists had to tackle the economic sources of this rule in order to fight a much wider range of injustices and oppressions.
Ralph Miliband was a good man, a good socialist, and a good comrade.
And, as Ed shows, he was a good father.
The Mail, we note now says this,
“An evil legacy and why we won’t apologise.”
“But what is blindingly clear from everything he wrote throughout his life is that he had nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished.”
The constitutional monarchy, the bicameral legislature, property rights, common law . . . even ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ — all were anathema to this lifelong, unreconstructed Marxist who craved a workers’ revolution.”
This is the Mail’s own democratic record (Hat-tip Paul F),
A brilliant response to the Mail’s lies, Ralph Miliband: democrat and anti-fascist is given by Poumista.