While the Daily Mail's attack on Ralph Miliband's patriotism is clearly unjustified, it should not be forgotten that his politics were still at odds with British democracyby Oliver Kamm / October 7, 2013 / Leave a comment
You need strong evidence to claim that a man who fled Nazi persecution and made his home in this country “hated Britain”. In levelling that accusation against Ralph Miliband, father of the Labour leader, the Daily Mail had no evidence at all. It does not follow from Miliband’s having been a leading Marxist theorist that he lacked patriotism. Ed Miliband has good reason to be incensed by the Mail’s attack, which can justifiably be termed a smear. Even so, Miliband the elder was neither saint nor sage. He was a sophisticated advocate of an ideology that had long since proved its uselessness and whose malevolent certitudes compromised even him.
Ralph Miliband arrived in Britain as a teenager in 1940. For the rest of his life, and in various academic posts, he devoted immense intellectual effort to interpreting and advocating the theory of Marxism. This was a particularly difficult task in the post-war era, when the capitalist economies were defying predictions of doom by radical critics. Miliband didn’t deal in the crude Leninist rhetoric of smashing the State and establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat. He also, unusually, for a Marxist academic, wrote clear prose.
Miliband denied that capitalism had been tamed and transformed by the “managerial revolution”, in which ownership and control of the enterprise were separated. In his most influential work, The State in Capitalist Society (1969), he maintains that the State is still repressive in the democratic societies of the West – not by overtly cracking down on dissent but through subtler and more insidious techniques of social control. In modern capitalist democracy, differences are “safely contained within a particular ideological spectrum, and do not preclude a basic political consensus in regard to the crucial issues of economic and political life”.
However roundabout the rhetoric, that’s a nice example of the essentially anti-democratic approach of Marxism. It can’t entertain the notion that voters may want a degree of consensus on matters of values. People have a material stake, literally, in not trying radical social experiments that have uncertain outcomes. The main political parties are responding to that commonsensical view when they project themselves only as better economic managers than their opponents. When the parties abandon those informal conventions of constitutional politics, as Labour did in its Bennite phase in…