I was wondering if Ed Miliband, the new leader of the British Labour Party, is the son of the late Marxist theoretician and sociologist Ralph Miliband and, yes, indeed he is.

I have a copy of one of Ralph Miliband's most important books, The State In Capitalist Society, (1969) and which I bought for $2 in a second hand bookshop some years ago.

I was reading it again last night. In his conclusion Ralph Milband writes:

...social democratic leaders in government illustrate particularly clearly the limits of reform. For while they raise great hopes among their followers and many others when in opposition, the constrictions under which they labour when in government, allied to the ideological dispositions which lead them to submit to these constrictions, leave them with little room to implement their promises. This, however, is only half the story. The other half consists in the fact that, confronted with demands they cannot fulfil, and with pressures they cannot subdue by reform, they too turn themselves into protagonists of the reinforced state. Like their conservative opponents they too seek to undermine the strength of the defence organisations of the working class..

In his final work, Socialism for a Sceptical Age (1994) Miliband continued his demolition job on the fallacies of social democracy.

He describes 'mild social democracy' as an 'adaptation' to capitalism and not an alternative to it.

Ed Miliband though does not share his father's politics - he is, I'm afraid, yet another right wing social democrat. He's perhaps not as bad as Tony Blair (but I could be wrong) but he's not unlike Gordon Brown in many respects.

He's probably got a lot in common with Phil Goff too...


  1. "No lefty"? You're defining the terms in such a strict way that lefties are only those on the extreme; those that you agree with. Are you honestly implying that there's no difference between, say, neoliberalism and social democracy?

  2. Social democracy has capitulated to the demands of neoliberalism. It no longer represents an alternative to neoliberalism.

    The only difference is one of emphasis rather than substance.

  3. This is disingenuous nonsense, Steve - and you know it.

    Josh is quite correct to point out the absurdity of your definition - which eliminates all but a handful of individuals on the Left. Individuals, moreover, with scant opportunities to influence the course of political events other than at the margin.

    And Ralph Miliband is actually a much more nuanced writer than the quote you have carefully selected might suggest. His books demonstrate a very sympathetic understanding of the huge obstacles confronted by those Western social-democrats who attempt to make fundamental changes to mature capitalist economies.

    The challenge he lays down to people like his son, Ed, is to grasp the nature and disposition of the forces ranged against them and to devise ways of either circumventing or negating them.

    So far, Ed Milliband has shown considerable promise in this regard. He has set his face against the City of London - rejecting both Blair's AND Brown's craven capitulation to its interests and influence.

    The road ahead will be extremely difficult and Ed will need all the help he can get from the whole British Left if he is to have any chance of success.

    It is, therefore, neither wise nor ethical to simply write him off as you have done.

    No one ever made a revolution from the sidelines, Steve.

  4. I don't think I'm misinterpreting Ralph Miliband at all.

    Much of his work is a study - and a rejection - of post war social democracy. To suggest that he 'had a very sympathetic understanding of the huge obstacles confronted by those western social democrats who attempt to make fundamental changes to mature capitalist economies' implies he agreed with the validity of the social democratic project. He did not.

    The State In Capitalist Society' is very much a critique of the old social democratic view that capitalism could be reformed from within.

    His argument was with Anthony Crosland who argued that Marxism was no longer relevant because the stats had become some kind of neutral referee above the conflicting class forces. Miliband argued that the state remained a capitalist state.

    Chris - you cannot redefine and repackage Ralph Miliband to suit your own pro-Labour arguments. Miliband, back in the 1960s and 70s, did not believe that the Labour Party could ever be an instrument of progressive political and social change.

    He did flirt briefly with the idea of a socialist Labour Party but, in the end, he argued that 'mild social democrracy' was simply an adaptation to neoliberlism and capitalism and offered nothing transformative.

    I don't think Ed Miliband is anything more than mainstream Labour which makes him centre-right at best.

    I'm not expecting him to advocate anything other than some 'Keynesian lite' policies - there will be no rejection of neoliberalism and the free market.

  5. I live in England in the UK . Ed Miliband is more left- wing than his brother David , who was hot favourite to win the Labour keadership race right up to the ballot , but thatdoesn`t say a lot as David was a Blairite and you don`t get more right wing than the asshole Blair unless you are in the Tory Party.
    I do like the Ralph Miliband quotes above though.The left-wing in the UK died around 1983-4 and lookd unlikely to come back any day soon.William Beeby , Dover Kent England,(left-winger )

  6. Fron a distance New Zealand seems to have a healthy progressive left-wing. Would I be right in thinking that?
    England is no longer in a battle between left and right but opinion is stuck in a turgid teacle-like lake of bewilderment on one hand and indifference on the other.

    Mind you with the middle-class getting hit any day now with sharp cuts in their standard of living and the housing market still falling , this indifference could well change rapidly.Every section of the middle-class will be hit, pensioners now for example with a bank savings account are paid an interest rate of 0.05 per cent while inflation is at 5.5 per cent.Wage increases average 2 per cent and un-employment is rising with record numbers out of work in the 187 - 24 age bracket.
    So, a lot of work for the left to do and maybe a good time to be in opposition as Ed needs time to show us what he is really made of and if he learned anything from Ralph.
    William Beeby Dover Kent England.

  7. I don't think, unfortunately, the left is any healthier in NZ. I think it punches above its weight but it is small.

    Like the UK, NZ is confronted with a Govt that is taking the axe to most Govt services. It's Austerity with a capital 'A'.

    Unfortunately we have a Labour Party that gave up being a social democratic party many years ago. Like Miliband's Labour Party it offers no alternative to neoliberalism.

    We are also hamstrung by a reactionary do- nothing trade union 'leadership' that has put up virtually no resistance to the Govt's austerity policies. Its 'solution' is that we we all vote Labour in the November elections!

    But with the economic crisis deepening, things can change quickly - as we have seen in Europe in recent times.

    I think that huge protest you had in London recently is cause for hope.


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