Ralph Miliband

Ralph Miliband

Adolphe (Ralph) Miliband was born in Brussels on . Both his parents had lived in the Jewish quarter in Warsaw. His father, Sam Miliband, a former member of the Red Army, had left Poland after the First World War and became a leather worker in Belgium. His mother, Renia Miliband, travelled around selling women's hats.

Tariq Ali has argued: "Hitler's victory in Germany, followed a few years later by the Spanish Civil War, had polarised politics throughout the Continent. It was not possible for an intellectually alert 15-year-old to remain unaffected. Ralph joined the lively, Jewish-socialist youth organisation, Hashomeir Hatzair (Young Guard), whose members later played a heroic role in the Resistance. It was here that the young Miliband learnt of capitalism as a system based on exploitation where the rich lived off the harm they inflicted on others. One of his close friends, Maurice Tran, who was later hanged at Auschwitz, gave him a copy of the Communist Manifesto. Even though he was not yet fully aware of it, he had become enmeshed in the business of socialist politics."

On 10th May 1940, Adolf Hitler launched his Western Offensive. Miliband managed to catch a boat from Ostend and arrived in England on 19th May. He settled in London and changed his name from Adolphe to Ralph. His friend, , has pointed out: "With only schoolboy English, Ralph, aged 16, joined Ealing Technical College, to take the equivalent of A-levels. His father worked as a furniture remover; they lived in one room, where Ralph studied."

During the Blitz Miliband found work removing furniture from bombed houses. Miliband became a student on a course provided by the International Commission for Refugees in Great Britain at the Acton Technical College. Miliband had been dismayed by the anti-Semitism he found in London. For example, he felt he was unable to tell his first girlfriend, Marjorie, that he was Jewish. In his diary he wrote: "The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world ... When you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the continent in general and for the French in particular. They didn't like the French before the defeat: (1) because they don't have order, (2) because they talk too much, (3) because they change their ministers every month, etc. Since the defeat, they have the greatest contempt for the French Army ... England first. This slogan is taken for granted by the English people as a whole. To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation."

Miliband was a victim of the campaign of people like Lord Rothermere, who had used his newspaper, The Daily Mail, to support Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists. Rothermere also used his newspaper to promote the policies of Adolf Hitler and worked closely with Nazi spy Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. As The Daily Telegraph pointed out in an article on 1st March, 2005. "In 1933, the year that Hitler gained power, MI6 circulated a report stating that the French secret service had discovered documents in the princess's flat in Paris ordering her to persuade Rothermere to campaign for the return to Germany of territory ceded to Poland at the end of First World War. She was to receive £300,000 – equal to £13 million today – if she succeeded. Rothermere, meanwhile, was paying the princess £5,000 a year – £200,000 today – to act as his emissary in Europe."

While studying English History (1066-1914) at college he became a Marxist. Although he initially received poor marks his improvement was spectacular and in October 1941 He won a place to study at the (LSE). Miliband was active in a variety of left-wing groups and in January 1943 was elected Vice President of the LSE Students' Union. His friends at university included , Norman Mackenzie, Claus Moser and Jacob Talmon.

At the LSE he was taught by . He later recalled: "We did not feel overwhelmed by his knowledge and learning, and we did not feel so because he did not know the meaning of condescension. We never felt compelled to agree with him, because it was so obvious that he loved a good fight and did not hide behind his years and experience." Miliband was deeply influenced by Laski but the two men often clashed about politics. Miliband went to see Laski in December, 1942: "He was very friendly with me.... As soon as I came in he started to talk to me about the need to judge things for myself and not only through the eyes of Karl Marx etc." He then added: "Sorry to talk like this, but I am talking like a father; at least that's how I feel towards you."

Miliband later explained why he was so impressed with Laski: "I think I know now why he gave himself so freely. Partly it was because he was human and warm and that he was so interested in people. But mainly it was because he loved students, and he loved students because they were young. Because he had a glowing faith that youth was generous and alive, eager and enthusiastic and fresh. That by helping young people he was helping the future and bringing nearer that brave world in which he so passionately believed."

Miliband was anxious to join the war effort and volunteered to be parachuted into Belgium to work with the resistance. In January 1942 he passed his medical examination, but was told that he could not "voluntarily join until authorisation was sought from the Polish authorities (as he was not yet a Belgian national)." Miliband now asked Harold Laski for help to join the armed forces. "A few days later, I had a letter from A.V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty, telling me that he was pleased to hear from Laski about my wish to join the Navy and advising me to go and see a vice-admiral at the Admiralty, who would fix it up. Which he did."

Ralph Miliband
Ralph Miliband in 1943.

In June 1943 Miliband joined the Royal Navy. He served on HMS Royal Arthur and HMS Valorous. On 12th February 1944 he wrote: "I joined the Navy on June 28th 1943 and at that time I felt a tremendous sense of exhilaration at the thought of participating in the task of winning the war. It seemed to me quite beyond doubt that the mere fact of joining the Navy made it possible for me to do some really useful work. Well, that feeling is wearing off fast. I have been on a destroyer for the last three months or so, and done my work I think carefully and efficiently. There is no need to elaborate on it, but not the wildest flight of imagination would make me honestly feel that I have done anything appreciable towards winning of the war and the liberation of Europe. We have not yet met a German vessel, we have not been attacked by ship or aircraft, we have hit no mine, we have neither sunk nor shot down anything, we have killed nothing apart of some fish who died from the effect of depth charges. In fact, apart of the regular action stations, some frights, some start shells and some exercise at shooting, we have just gone along as if it had been peace time. No wonder the feeling of exhilaration has worn off. That is a euphemism. I am heartily sick of it."

Miliband eventually saw action in June 1944 when he was involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy. He wrote that this was "the biggest operation in history" and he "would not miss it for anything". Miliband then joined the Mediterranean war fleet and saw action in the landings near Toulon. During this period he considered the possibility of being killed while fighting for his adopted country: "Because most people just can't visualise getting killed suddenly and soon. I know I can't. I realise full well that within let us say six months I may be dead but somehow it does not assume an air of reality. The words, the idea sound hollow. Better that it does. Yet the possibility and the knowledge of the possibility do make some difference."

Miliband was demobilized from the Navy in January, 1946. He returned to the LSE and he obtained a First Class degree in July 1947. Three months later he was awarded a Leverhulme research studentship to work full-time on his Ph.D. proposal, "The Radical Movement in the French Revolution". With his military record, support from Harold Laski and Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, the Director of LSE, and clearance by Special Branch, he was granted British citizenship in August 1948.

Harold Laski arranged for Miliband to do some teaching at the Roosevelt University in Chicago where he witnessed the early stages of McCarthyism in action. Miliband wrote to a friend: "I am horrified at the atmosphere here. Papers and the radio are just full of stuff about Reds, spies, loyalty and so on. The scare is really on and the Universities from what I read... are being manhandled as much or more as any other organisation, except of course the CP and allied groups."

In June 1949 he obtained the post as Assistant Lectureship in Political Science at . This included teaching "Problems of Comparative Government", "The History of French Political Thought, 1815-1945 " and the "History of English Socialist Thought, 1815-1945 ".

Miliband remained active in politics but refused to join the Communist Party or the Labour Party. Instead he became a member of the Socialist Society. During this period Miliband was highly critical of Joseph Stalin and the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. He was particularly hostile to Stalin's policy towards Josip Tito and his socialist government in Yugoslavia. As Michael Newman has pointed out: "Miliband was... politically homeless in post-war Britain. He regarded himself as a Marxist, but was increasingly critical of the Soviet Union and Communist Party allegiance to it. He had several friends in the Labour Party, but there is little to suggest that he had any great enthusiasm for it and, in any case, the Labour Left seemed extremely weak."

Ralph Miliband
Ralph Miliband and his sister after the war.

Harold Laski died on 24th March 1950. He was replaced by the conservative political philosopher, Michael Oakeshott. Miliband now felt quite isolated politically at the LSE. Another member of the staff, Robert Mackenzie, commented: "The school authorities, who had been much embarrassed by Laski's political activities, half consciously set about exorcising the memory of his political role." Miliband wrote to his friend, Ernest Wolgemuth: "The present position at the School (LSE) may be summarised by the phrase: the bastards are winning out. Robbins pontificates about the need for rearmament, building up stocks and building shelters and a "stringent financial policy". He wrote a long letter to the Times about it some days ago and spreads the good word in the Senior Common Room. And there is hardly anybody to take a different view. Most of the staff are mentally in agreement, a very few, like David Glass, who is very good, but not terribly vocal, represent what there is of dissenting opinion. The same applies to the junior staff."

Miliband was impressed when Aneurin Bevan, Harold Wilson and John Freeman, resigned from the government in April 1951. Miliband decided that he would now join the Labour Party. Miliband's main political friends were left-wing members of the party. This included , Jo Richardson, , , and Dick Clements.

Miliband spoke at the 1955 Labour Party Conference and argued: "We are a socialist party engaged on a great adventure; and that we have a vision which the Tories never have had and never will have; that we are concerned with building that kind of socialist commonwealth which our forebears wanted and which millions of people in our movement have tried to build... We want this Party to state that it stands unequivocally behind the social ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange."

Miliband joined with other left-wing historians such as , , , and John Saville to launch two radical journals, The New Reasoner and the New Left Review. Later he was to play a prominent role in the publication of The Socialist Register, "an annual survey of movements and ideas from the standpoint of the independent new left". Each volume was focused on a topical theme and characterized by the inclusion of relatively long, sustained analyses which cut across intellectual disciplines and geographical boundaries.

In 1961, Ralph Miliband met Marion Kozak, one of his former students at the LSE. Michael Newman, the author of Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left (2002): "From an early age she had been left wing, regarding herself as a Communist when she arrived in Britain. But she had soon rejected this, largely because of the Slansky trial in Czechosolovakia." They married and had two sons, David Miliband in 1965 and Edward Miliband in 1969.

In 1961 Miliband published Parliamentary Socialism: A Study of the Politics of Labour (1961). In the introduction he wrote: "Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic - not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system. Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always made devotion to that system their fixed point of reference and the conditioning factor of their political behaviour."

Miliband played an active role in the campaign against the Vietnam War. In an article in The Socialist Register (1967) he attacked Harold Wilson and his defence of the United States action in Vietnam and described it as being the "most shameful chapter in the history of the Labour Party." In a letter to John Saville he wrote: "Vietnam illustrates better than any other event in this century the fundamental elements of the world as we know it: i.e. American determination to crush social revolution; the existence and endurance of such movements; i.e. the real nature of present day imperialism; the decrepitude of social-democracy, its bankruptcy and moral collapse; ditto for liberalism; the paralysing nature of the Sino-Soviet conflicts;. .. the bankruptcy of liberalism, particularly liberal intellectuals; the paralysis of (Communist Parties) as agencies of protest and action; the nature of the still inchoate forces which are struggling to protest, students, ex-liberals like Russell, etc.; and one could go on like this. This is what the world is about, and which Vietnam pinpoints in the sharpest, most dramatic and bloody way."

Tariq Ali got to know Miliband during this time: "In the late Sixties and Seventies, he was in great demand at campuses throughout Britain and North America.... A Miliband speech was always a treat; alternately sarcastic and scholarly, witty and vicious, but never demagogic. Apart from a brief spell in the Labour Party, he belonged to no organisation. His fierce independence excluded the Communist Party. His dislike of posturing and sterile dogma kept him away from the far left sects. This turned out to be a strength. He was unencumbered by any party line, which made his speeches refreshing. There was music in his delivery and he always varied the peroration at the end and this coupled with his passionate commitment to socialism."

Miliband was horrified by the Soviet reaction of the Prague Spring and wrote to Marcel Liebman: "The invasion of Czechoslovakia show very well that this oppressive and authoritarian Russian socialism has nothing in common with the socialism that we demand, and we must state this very loudly, even at the risk of seeming to be anti-soviet and to echo bourgeois propaganda... And then, there is also this question of 'bourgeois liberties' ... which, I am persuaded, we must put at the top of our programme. Or rather, denounce them as insufficient and to be extended by socialism. Nothing will work if it is possible and plausible to suggest that we want to abolish them. And that is one of the reasons why the democratization of 'revolutionary' parties is essential... The internal life of a revolutionary party must prefigure the society which it wants to establish - by its mode of existence, and its way of being and acting. While this is not the case, I don't see any reason to want to see the current parties take power: they are quite simply not morally ready to assume the construction of a socialist society."

Other books by Miliband include The State in Capitalist Society (1968), Marxism and Politics (1977), Capitalist Democracy in Britain (1982), Class Power and State Power (1983), Divided Societies: Class Struggle in Contemporary Capitalism (1989) and Socialism for a Sceptical Age (1994). He wrote just before his death: "In all countries, there are people, in numbers large or small, who are moved by the vision of a new social order in which democracy, egalitarianism and cooperation - the essential values of socialism - would be the prevailing principles of social organisation. It is in the growth of their numbers and in the success of their struggles that lies the best hope for humankind."

Ralph Miliband died on . Ellen Meiksins Wood wrote in his obituary: "The steadiness of Miliband's commitment owed much to the unflinching clarity of his intellectual vision and the independence of his political judgment, which saved him from both mindless enthusiasm and abject despair, from both blind attachment to a party and a loss of faith in socialism with declining party fortunes, from both the certainties and the inevitable disappointments of socialist determinism. Welcoming every sign of advance toward democracy in the Communist world, he nevertheless showed a prescient scepticism about the direction of reform. Unambiguously committed to a truly democratic socialism, he freely conceded the inadequacies of traditional socialism in confronting the questions of gender, race and nation and accepted the lessons of the 'new social movements'; but he never lost sight of capitalism as an over-arching totality or of class as its constitutive principle."

On 27th September 2013, Geoffrey Levy published an article in the The Daily Mail on Ralph Miliband under the headline, "The Man Who Hated Britain". This created a tremendous political storm and his son, Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, was given the right of reply: "It was June 1944 and the Allies were landing in Normandy. A 20-year-old man, who had arrived in Britain as a refugee just four years earlier, was part of that fight. He was my father. Fighting the Nazis and fighting for his adopted country. On Saturday, the Daily Mail chose to publish an article about him under the banner headline ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’. It’s part of our job description as politicians to be criticised and attacked by newspapers, including the Daily Mail. It comes with the territory. The British people have great wisdom to sort the fair from the unfair. And I have other ways of answering back. But my Dad is a different matter. He died in 1994. I loved him and he loved Britain. And there is no credible argument in the article or evidence from his life which can remotely justify the lurid headline."

Miliband was defended by his former students, including former Conservative Party minister, John Moore: "Ralph Miliband taught me and I can say he was one of the most inspiring and objective teachers I had. Of course, we had different political opinions but he never treated me with anything less than complete courtesy and I had profound respect for his integrity. He had come here as a refugee, done his duty to his adopted country by serving in our Royal Navy during the war, become a great academic and raised a good family. I saw him week after week and it beggars belief that the Daily Mail can accuse him of lacking patriotism. I never heard him ever say one word which was negative about Britain - our country."

Michael Newman, his biographer, also defended Miliband: "For Ralph Miliband's most fundamental characteristic was his absolute integrity. He always sought to probe deeply beneath surface appearances so as to understand the meaning and significance of historical developments. Writing his biography was one of my most stimulating experiences as a researcher, for I was able to read numerous letters and drafts of manuscripts in which he tested and refined his ideas in dialogue with others. I also interviewed so many people who knew him well – including several who disagreed with him politically – who testified to his transparent honesty. In sharp contrast with Levy's article in the Mail, his aim was always to achieve the highest level of analysis of which he was capable, rather than to make cheap political points through traducing the ideas of his opponents. When he criticised existing institutions, it was not because 'he hated Britain', but because he wanted, above all, to see it transformed into a society imbued with socialist values and practices."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Ralph Miliband, extract from an unpublished autobiography.

As a Jewish boy, the son of Polish Jewish parents, I could not avoid being aware of events like the coming of Hitler to power in 1933 - I was nine at the time. German refugees began to appear in Brussels in the following years; and the anti-Semitism, which was what was focused on in my family circle about Fascism, was in any case merged with earlier, Polish, Russian anti-Semitism, which made this appear as the major phenomenon in history, with the Jews as its centre. 'Jewish blood' had been spilt throughout centuries, in many parts of the world; and the world outside the Jews was therefore more or less hostile, suspect at least, not to be trusted, or even penetrated.

(2) Ralph Miliband, diary entry (1940)

The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world ... When you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the continent in general and for the French in particular. They didn't like the French before the defeat: (1) because they don't have order, (2) because they talk too much, (3) because they change their ministers every month, etc. Since the defeat, they have the greatest contempt for the French Army ... England first. This slogan is taken for granted by the English people as a whole. To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation.

(3) Ralph Miliband, diary entry (24th September, 1940)

In every district that you passed, there was either a closed road or destroyed houses, unexploded bombs, roofs without tiles, etc. London is really badly hit. Everywhere it's the same thing to a greater or lesser extent. In Whitechapel, in the Jewish area, and the slums, the devastation is really terrible. Rows of people are waiting ... to be evacuated. New wretched refugees, like the others, with a bundle on their shoulder, mainly Jews... But life goes on; the butcher is trying to rob his customers and the customers haggle. People want beigals but there aren't any now. Everywhere ... you see misfortune and devastation weighing people down. When you see them you almost feel ashamed to live in a relatively quiet area. Shame and indignation and fury... You ask yourself: how can they live like this and how could they have lived like this until now. It is the East End... the shame of their civilisation, the permanent condemnation of their system... But a twenty minute bus ride away, there is the parliament, rich, flanked by its church, near Buckingham Palace.

(4) Ralph Miliband, Harold Laski, Clare Market Review (1950)

His lectures taught more, much more than political science. They taught a faith that ideas mattered, that knowledge was important and its pursuit exciting. I like to remember him in the early days of the war, when the School was in Cambridge. He would arrive every week from London and come straight to School from the station. The winter was bitter and train carriages unheated. He would appear in his blue overcoat and grotesquely shaped black hat, his cheeks blue with cold, teeth chattering, and queue up with the rest of us for a cup of foul but hot coffee, go up to the seminar room, crack a joke at the gathering of students who were waiting for him, sit down, light a cigarette and plunge into controversy and argument; and a dreary stuffy room would come to life and there would only be a group of people bent on the elucidation of ideas: We did not feel overwhelmed by his knowledge and learning, and we did not feel so because he did not know the meaning of condescension. We never felt compelled to agree with him, because it was so obvious that he loved a good fight and did not hide behind his years and experience. He was not impatient or bored or superciliously amused... His seminars taught tolerance, the willingness to listen although one disagreed, the values of ideas being confronted. And it was all immense fun, an exciting game that had meaning, and it was also a sieve of ideas, a gymnastics of the mind carried on with vigour and directed unobtrusively with superb craftsmanship.

I think I know now why he gave himself so freely. Partly it was because he was human and warm and that he was so interested in people. But mainly it was because he loved students, and he loved students because they were young. Because he had a glowing faith that youth was generous and alive, eager and enthusiastic and fresh. That by helping young people he was helping the future and bringing nearer that brave world in which he so passionately believed.

(5) Ralph Miliband, letter to Ernest Wolgemuth (15th January, 1951)

The present position at the School (LSE) may be summarised by the phrase: the bastards are winning out. Robbins pontificates about the need for rearmament, building up stocks and building shelters and a "stringent financial policy". He wrote a long letter to the Times about it some days ago and spreads the good word in the Senior Common Room. And there is hardly anybody to take a different view.

Most of the staff are mentally in agreement, a very few, like David Glass, who is very good, but not terribly vocal, represent what there is of dissenting opinion. The same applies to the junior staff. Oakeshott has just arrived and celebrated his appointment some weeks ago with a full page review in the Evening Standard of James Burnham's "The Coming Defeat of Communism", praising it as one of the great books of the decade. The article appeared under the headline "The man who replaces Laski attacks the Communists". In fairness to him, I must add that he is probably not responsible for that. The Government department is jogging along unexcitingly now the interregnum is over, and we'll soon see how the new boss shapes up. I am not hopeful."

(6) Michael Newman, Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left (2002)

When Miliband had been Laski's student he had been very critical of aspects of his political stance despite his affection for him. He, like many of the Communist students, had believed that Laski had been far too committed to the Labour Party and the parliamentary system. But, apart from his debt of gratitude, two factors led him to re-appraise his former mentor after his death. First, Miliband's increasing distance from the Soviet Union and the Communist movement drew him towards Laski as another figure who was, to an extent, an independent Marxist. Secondly, while he might once have regarded him as too "moderate" politically, after his death it became clear that Laski represented a form of socialism which was now regarded as dangerously extreme by most of the Labour leadership and the academic establishment. He therefore saw it as quite crucial to maintain Laski's legacy both inside and outside LSE. When Kingsley Martin's biography and the Holmes-Laski letters were published, he took the opportunity to write a very sympathetic article about him, and when Herbert Deane savaged Laski's reputation as a political theorist, Miliband leaped to his defence. And it may well have been his fury about the Deane book which now led him to undertake a full study of the work of his former professor.

His object, he explained, was to examine Laski's main ideas on socialism, but the interest here is that his judgments provide a very clear insight into his own thinking at the time. First, he suggested that, although the growing intensity of the social and economic crisis from the mid-1920s had led Laski to become progressively more favourable to Marx's diagnosis, his Marxism "involved much less than the acceptance as scientifically true of that vast, all-embracing structure known as dialectical materialism". He was not "a convert to a new secular faith" for "historical materialism to him was a supremely useful tool of analysis, not a mental straight-jacket". Miliband clearly endorsed this attitude.

Secondly, Laski feared that propertied interests would do everything they possibly could to subvert a Labour government elected on a socialist programme and, in such circumstances, fundamental conflict would make impossible the continuation of the normal processes of constitutional government. He never believed that this was inevitable, but thought the likelihood was extremely high, and that Labour could not afford to disregard such fears. Miliband maintained that this position was still valid, although he thought that there was some encouragement to be drawn from the experience of the post-war years because Labour's power and influence were far greater than had been the case in the 1930s. Thirdly, although Laski had proclaimed himself a Marxist from the 1930s, he was never a Leninist, refusing to
accept Lenin's assertion of the inevitability of violent revolution or his insistence that the most imperative duty of socialists was to hasten its occurrence. Laski saw Lenin's strategy as the outcome of the circumstances in a non-democratic society, and consistently condemned the attempts of the Third International to bind all working-class parties to Bolshevik theory and practice. He was insistent that socialism would not necessarily be reached by the same road in countries in which there was a liberal tradition. This, Miliband suggested, made Laski's writings seem more contradictory and ambiguous than would have been the case had he adhered consistently either to the Leninist or to the gradualist viewpoint. But he would then also have been a much less interesting thinker.

(7) Ralph Miliband, Harold Laski (1955)

He did not underestimate how heavily the legacy of the past must affect any attempt to reach understanding with the Soviet Union. Nor did he fail to see how much Russian policies increased the difficulties of such an understanding. But he also believed that, when all possible emphasis had been laid on Russia's share of responsibility for the tragic climate of the post-war era, it remained true that one of the essential causes of the post-war tensions was the determination of the West to pursue its ancient and futile crusade against the idea which Russia had come to embody. And it was one of his most bitter disappointments that a Labour Government should have been willing to pursue foreign policies which only had meaning in terms of an acceptance of the values implicit in such a crusade. The first duty of a Labour Government, he insisted, was to come to terms, despite all difficulties, with the Communist world. Nothing that has happened since he died suggests that duty to be less imperative or less urgent.

(8) Ralph Miliband, speech at the Labour Conference (September, 1955)

That we are a socialist party engaged on a great adventure; and that we have a vision which the Tories never have had and never will have; that we are concerned with building that kind of socialist commonwealth which our forebears wanted and which millions of people in our Movement have tried to build...

It needs to be asserted... that we want this Party to state that it stands unequivocally behind the social ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange... We also know that we must reaffirm that we stand for a greater advance in living standards, a process that was begun between 1945 and 1951... Furthermore (this conference)... must instruct the Parliamentary Party, which is the extension of the Movement in Parliament, to give a coherent day-to-day lead and to present the issues of socialism in Parliament and the country. Finally, we ought at this Conference to instruct the National Executive to frame concrete and detailed proposals of policy geared to and fixed in the principles which we have reaffirmed. We do not need the National Executive to reaffirm for us our faith in our principles. We know what that faith and those principles are. But what we do need urgently and imperatively is the Executive to give us at the next Conference and the Conference after that a clear and detailed programme of policy to say specifically and clearly that we stand for socialism, that we are a socialist party, and that we shall go on being a socialist party until we have built the socialist commonwealth.

(9) Ralph Miliband, The Political Ideas of Harold Laski, Stanford Law Review (December, 1955)

He (Harold Laski) did not underestimate how heavily the legacy of the past must affect any attempt to reach understanding with the Soviet Union. Nor did he fail to see how much Russian policies increased the difficulties of such an understanding. But he also believed that, when all possible emphasis had been laid on Russia's share of responsibility for the tragic climate of the post-war era, it remained true that one of the essential causes of the postwar tensions was the determination of the West to pursue its ancient and futile crusade against the idea which Russia had come to embody. And it was one of his most bitter disappointments that a Labour Government should have been willing to pursue foreign policies which only had meaning in terms of an acceptance of the values implicit in such a crusade. The first duty of a Labour Government, he insisted, was to come to terms, despite all difficulties, with the Communist world. Nothing that has happened since he died suggests that duty to be less imperative or less urgent.

(10) Ralph Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism: A Study of the Politics of Labour (1961)

Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic - not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system. Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always made devotion to that system their fixed point of reference and the conditioning factor of their political behaviour.

(11) Ralph Miliband, letter to John Saville (29th May, 1965)

Vietnam illustrates better than any other event in this century the fundamental elements of the world as we know it: i.e. American determination to crush social revolution; the existence and endurance of such movements; i.e. the real nature of present day imperialism; the decrepitude of social-democracy, its bankruptcy and moral collapse; ditto for liberalism; the paralysing nature of the Sino-Soviet conflicts;. .. the bankruptcy of liberalism, particularly liberal intellectuals; the paralysis of (Communist Parties) as agencies of protest and action; the nature of the still inchoate forces which are struggling to protest, students, ex-liberals like Russell, etc.; and one could go on like this. This is what the world is about, and which Vietnam pinpoints in the sharpest, most dramatic and bloody way.

(12) Ralph Miliband, letter to Marcel Liebman (1st September, 1968)

The invasion of Czechoslovakia show very well that this oppressive and authoritarian Russian socialism has nothing in common with the socialism that we demand, and we must state this very loudly, even at the risk of seeming to be anti-soviet and to echo bourgeois propaganda... And then, there is also this question of 'bourgeois liberties' ... which, I am persuaded, we must put at the top of our programme. Or rather, denounce them as insufficient and to be extended by socialism. Nothing will work if it is possible and plausible to suggest that we want to abolish them. And that is one of the reasons why the democratization of 'revolutionary' parties is essential... The internal life of a revolutionary party must prefigure the society which it wants to establish - by its mode of existence, and its way of being and acting. While this is not the case, I don't see any reason to want to see the current parties take power: they are quite simply not morally ready to assume the construction of a socialist society.

(13) Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society (1968)

More than ever before men now live in the shadow of the state. What they want to achieve, individually or in groups, now mainly depends on the state's sanction and support. But since that sanction and support are not bestowed indiscriminately they must, ever more directly, seek to influence and shape the state's power and purpose, or try and appropriate it altogether. It is for the state's attention, or for its control, that men compete; and it is against the state that beat the waves of social conflict It is to an ever greater degree the state which men encounter as they confront other men. This is why, as social beings, they are also political beings, whether they know it or not. It is possible not to be interested in what the state does, but it is not possible to be unaffected by it The point has acquired a new and ultimate dimension in the present epoch if large parts of the planet should one day be laid waste in a nuclear war, it is because men, acting in the name of their state and invested with its power, will have so decided, or miscalculated.

(14) Ralph Miliband, Socialism for a Sceptical Age (1994)

The struggle to make the world safe for capitalism will long continue, and will assume economic, political, cultural and, where necessary, military forms. So too will the struggle against governments which, whatever their ideological dispositions, might seek to disturb a status quo which the United States and other capitalist powers are concerned to maintain. The Gulf War with Iraq is the latest instance of this struggle. The murderous dictatorship over which Saddam Hussein presided was perfectly acceptable to Western governments, so long as it served their purposes, as was the case in Iraq's war with Iran. The invasion of Kuwait was a different matter; and any means other than war to bring the invasion to an end were quickly brushed aside by the United States. The point had to be made that leaders of countries in the 'third world' which gravely offended against what the United States and its allies considered to be their legitimate interests in a particularly important part of the world would expose themselves to fearsome retribution. The Gulf War is very unlikely to be the last such episode.

(15) Ralph Miliband, Socialism for a Sceptical Age (1994)

In all countries, there are people, in numbers large or small, who are moved by the vision of a new social order in which democracy, egalitarianism and cooperation - the essential values of socialism - would be the prevailing principles of social organisation. It is in the growth of their numbers and in the success of their struggles that lies the best hope for humankind.

(16) John Saville, The Guardian (23rd May 1994)

His return to the LSE brought him his expected first class honours, and for his doctoral thesis he took one of Laski's favourite subjects: French socialist ideas in the 1790s. Among his fellow impecunious contempories in Paris were Richard Cobb and George Rudé. Ralph was then given a junior teaching position in the department of government at the LSE, having first spent a term at Roosevelt College, Chicago, where Harold Washington, a future mayor of that city, was among his students.

Miliband never joined the Communist Party, unlike so many of his friends, repudiating Stalinism and always keeping his distance from sectarian groups. During the fifties he was a Bevanite within the Labour Party, and was closely associated with some of the leading members of the Victory For Socialism group, notably Ian Mikardo and Stephen Swingler. Towards the end of the decade he became associated with the Reasoner group around Edward Thompson and the present writer, whose ideas and practical attitudes he found congenial, and he became a member of the editorial board of the New Reasoner.

It was at this stage in his career that he began publishing what was to become a lengthy and highly influential series of articles and books. The first, in 1961, Parliamentary Socialism, was to become the major reference for debates on Labourism and social democracy in the 20th century.

At the end of the decade he published The State In Capitalist Society, probably the most discussed and debated of all his writings; its challenge to the dominant conventions exercised a major influence on political science and sociology. With Marxism And Politics (1977) and three further books in the eighties, he set a new agenda for a whole generation of scholars and activists on both sides of the Atlantic and in the third world.

(17) Tariq Ali, The Independent (24th May 1994)

Hitler's victory in Germany, followed a few years later by the Spanish Civil War, had polarised politics throughout the Continent. It was not possible for an intellectually alert 15-year-old to remain unaffected. Ralph joined the lively, Jewish-socialist youth organisation, Hashomeir Hatzair (Young Guard), whose members later played a heroic role in the Resistance. It was here that the young Miliband learnt of capitalism as a system based on exploitation where the rich lived off the harm they inflicted on others. One of his close friends, Maurice Tran, who was later hanged at Auschwitz, gave him a copy of the Communist Manifesto. Even though he was not yet fully aware of it, he had become enmeshed in the business of socialist politics...

After the war he graduated from the LSE with a PhD. and embarked on a long teaching career. He taught first at Roosevelt College in Chicago and later became a lecturer in Political Science at the LSE and later still a Professor at Leeds. This was followed by long stints at Brandeis and New YorK. Teaching, for him, was always a two-way process and, for that reason, it gave him great pleasure. It was an arena for lively debates and a genuine exchange of ideas.

In the late Sixties and Seventies, he was in great demand at campuses throughout Britain and North America. He winced at some of the excesses ('Why the hell do you have to wear these stupid combat jackets?' I remember him asking a group of us during a big meeting on Vietnam in 1968), but remained steadfast.

A Miliband speech was always a treat; alternately sarcastic and scholarly, witty and vicious, but never demagogic. Apart from a brief spell in the Labour Party, he belonged to no organisation. His fierce independence excluded the Communist Party.

His dislike of posturing and sterile dogma kept him away from the far left sects. This turned out to be a strength. He was unencumbered by any party line, which made his speeches refreshing. There was music in his delivery and he always varied the peroration at the end and this coupled with his passionate commitment to socialism.

(18) Ellen Meiksins Wood, Ralph Miliband, Radical Philosophy (1994)

Miliband clearly believed, and even more so in recent years, that socialism is an objective that cannot be achieved in a single life-time. It should perhaps be seen, he wrote in his last book, Socialism for a Sceptical Age (the proofs of which he lived to see but not to correct), as a striving toward a goal rather than the goal itself. But against the background of recent history and mass defections from the socialist project, what is remarkable about this testament is not its hint of pessimism but its steady conviction that the goal is worth striving for and is finally attainable.

The steadiness of Miliband's commitment owed much to the unflinching clarity of his intellectual vision and the independence of his political judgment, which saved him from both mindless enthusiasm and abject despair, from both blind attachment to a party and a loss of faith in socialism with declining party fortunes, from both the certainties and the inevitable disappointments of socialist determinism. Welcoming every sign of advance toward democracy in the Communist world, he nevertheless showed a prescient scepticism about the direction of reform. Unambiguously committed to a truly democratic socialism, he freely conceded the inadequacies of traditional socialism in confronting the questions of gender, race and nation and accepted the lessons of the 'new social movements'; but he never lost sight of capitalism as an over-arching totality or of class as its constitutive principle.

(19) Geoffrey Levy, The Daily Mail (27th September, 2013)

One hot summer day in 1940, Ralph Miliband made his way to Karl Marx’s grave at Highgate Cemetery, in North London, and made a pledge.

In his own words: "The cemetery was utterly deserted. I remember standing in front of the grave, fists clenched, and swearing my own private oath that I would be faithful to the workers’ cause."

It was a lifelong cause the 16-year-old immigrant, who fled here with his father from Belgium to escape the Nazis, never deserted.

Ralph’s Marxism was uncompromising. "We want this party to state that it stands unequivocally behind the social ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange,’ he declared to the 1955 Labour Party conference as the delegate from Hampstead. "We are a Socialist party engaged on a great adventure."

Of course, he could only embark on this ‘adventure’ because of the protection, the education and, crucially, the political freedom, that this country gave him.

So how did he view this country? As an already politically aware 17-year-old, he wrote in his diary: "The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world. You sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the Continent. To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation."

To help defeat Hitler, Ralph Miliband volunteered and served three years in the Royal Navy. When Labour, under Clement Attlee, swept to power after the war in 1945, he joyfully described the victory as "the country’s capture from its traditional rulers".

Miliband relished what he called the "genuine sense of outrage... of bourgeois England," adding that "the nationalisation proposals of the Government were designed to achieve the sole purpose of improving the efficiency of a capitalist economy".

(20) Michael Newman, The Guardian (1st October, 2013)

Levy claims that Harold Laski, his teacher and mentor at LSE, "encouraged his growing interest in Karl Marx". This is highly misleading. In fact, Miliband had already regarded himself as a Marxist at the age of 16, and Laski urged him to consider other influences and to reach his own judgments. Subsequently, Miliband would always seek to reconcile Marxism and democracy because both were equally important to him, and his passionate commitment to democratic values is evident in such works as Marxism and Politics (1977) and his final book, Socialism for a Sceptical Age (1994). Again, while acknowledging that Miliband never justified Stalinist death camps, Levy suggests that he was less than honest in welcoming Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts to democratise Soviet society.

But this is a complete misrepresentation of his position. In fact, he had never joined the Communist party and was already critical of Soviet policies in the early postwar period.

Certainly, in the early 1960s he hoped that the USSR might eventually evolve into a more democratic system, but the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 finally crushed any optimism on this score. After this he always insisted that democracy was an integral part of socialism, and he pronounced his verdict on the collapse of the east European regimes as follows: "The simple fact of the matter is that capitalist democracy, for all its crippling limitations, has been immeasurably less oppressive and a lot more democratic than any communist regime, whatever the latter's achievements in economic, social and other fields."

Of course he also deplored the fact that this also led to a general expansion of neoliberal capitalism and the weakening of all forms of socialism, but he was totally honest in welcoming the end of communist regimes that he regarded as indifferent to humane values.

For Ralph Miliband's most fundamental characteristic was his absolute integrity. He always sought to probe deeply beneath surface appearances so as to understand the meaning and significance of historical developments. Writing his biography was one of my most stimulating experiences as a researcher, for I was able to read numerous letters and drafts of manuscripts in which he tested and refined his ideas in dialogue with others. I also interviewed so many people who knew him well – including several who disagreed with him politically – who testified to his transparent honesty. In sharp contrast with Levy's article in the Mail, his aim was always to achieve the highest level of analysis of which he was capable, rather than to make cheap political points through traducing the ideas of his opponents. When he criticised existing institutions, it was not because "he hated Britain", but because he wanted, above all, to see it transformed into a society imbued with socialist values and practices.

But, of course, Levy's real target is not Ralph Miliband at all, but Ed, whom he accuses of being determined to bring about his father's vision. Apart from being absurd, this is also ironic for, ever since my biography was published, I have constantly been asked to explain how both of Ralph's sons became politicians in a party that he had often regarded as a barrier to the attainment of socialism. In fact, Ed Miliband has pinpointed both the differences and the continuities between himself and his father very convincingly in an interview with Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph last year. The differences, he noted, were that Ralph believed that the notion of "responsible capitalism" was a contradiction in terms, while he wanted to save capitalism from itself by making it "more decent, more humane, more fraternal". But there are also some striking continuities in Ed's insistence that socialism is "a set of values" and that "while there's capitalism, there'll be socialism, because there is always a response to injustice".

Of course, the right might not want to be reminded that capitalism leads to injustice, but they need to confront the arguments seriously rather than to carry out character assassinations of either the father or the son.

(21) Priyamvada Gopal, The Guardian (2nd October 2013)

Whatever their views of him, most decent people backed Ed Miliband this week as he defended his father against jingoist attacks on him by the Daily Mail. The Labour leader angrily described Ralph Miliband as a British patriot, and correctly noted that he does not share his father's principled commitment to socialism. Labour is right to demand an apology from the Mail, not only for a frankly bigoted attack on a respected Jewish intellectual, but also for claiming that the party's politics bear any resemblance to the socialism it formally abandoned nearly two decades ago.

The defence of Ralph Miliband runs along wearyingly familiar lines – that he unambiguously proved his patriotism by fighting in the anti-Nazi war, which along with "no apology for the empire" has become the principal litmus test for love of Britain. His lifelong commitment to a supple Marxism is noted but quietly skimmed over as an embarrassingly anachronistic aspect of an otherwise decent and loyal man. Yet a defence of Miliband senior which does not also challenge the red-bashing that often goes hand in hand with antisemitism is, at best, equivocal. More perniciously, it accepts the distorted terms set by the rightwing press which defines patriotism narrowly through obedient adulation of monarchy, militarism and elitism.

Ralph Miliband was not a patriot because he served in the navy. He was a lover of this country and its people precisely because he understood that institutions like the monarchy and the House of Lords symbolise and perpetuate inequality, and that militarism usually encourages the poor to die defending the interests of the privileged. His patriotism has more in common with long progressive patriotic traditions in Britain, from the Diggers and Levellers to the Chartists and anti-privatisation campaigners. It was about claiming land and country for the majority of its labouring denizens rather than the plutocrats and the powerful who live off the fat of the land while spouting an insincere "nationalism" which serves less to create collective wellbeing than to prevent their privileges being questioned.

Even while noting that Ralph criticised Eric Hobsbawm for not repudiating Stalinism, the Daily Mail recyles the false charge that adherence to Marxism is indistinguishable from commitment to a poisonous Sovietism. This is no different from claiming that Christianity is indistinguishable from the bloody crusades and inquisitions conducted by some of its adherents. However, Ralph Miliband would also have found his son's claim that capitalism can be "made to work for working people" incoherent, and wilfully ignorant of how capitalism actually works, constitutively reliant as it is on concentrating wealth among relatively few while extracting the labour of the many.

For years, captains of corporations in the affluent west have been able to peddle the myth that capitalism can be made to work for everyone by outsourcing its most exploitative aspects to other parts of the world, extracting both resources and labour ruthlessly. Now, however – as the centre of capitalist gravity shifts southwards, the western social democratic compact unravels, and the foundations of the welfare state are disastrously undermined – it will be less easy to keep up this pretence of affluence for all.

(22) Colin Shindler, The Jewish Chronicle (3rd October, 2013)

Geoffrey Levy’s Daily Mail article seemed like a family affair — only Jews were the main protagonists — Ralph Miliband, Eric Hobsbawm, Harold Laski.

Each grappled with their Jewishness and how to repair the world in dark times. Hobsbawm remained an unrepentant Stalinist, who, despite his Jewish origin, supported the Nazi-Soviet pact at a time when the Miliband family was fleeing from Hitler’s stormtroopers.

Laski became a passionate supporter of the Zionist cause and a scathing critic of anti-Jewish feeling within the Labour Party. His targets included Sidney Webb, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. In a broadcast from Germany in April 1943, the traitor William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw”, described Laski as “this detestable and wily Jew”. He became chairman of the Labour Party and mentor at LSE to the young Ralph Miliband.

Miliband’s family left Poland in the mid-1920s during a terrible economic crisis. The odyssey of the Milibands — from Poland to Belgium to Britain — indicates the fragility of existence for the wandering Jew during that period.

Many were torn between a universalism which supported the oppressed everywhere, and a particularism in following a national path. This was starkly depicted when the Balfour Declaration and the Russian Revolution occurred within days of each other in 1917.

One proclaimed a national home for the Jews in Palestine, the other declared that a new dawn would see the disappearance of injustice and evil in the world. Jews were attracted to both and had to make a choice...

At Cambridge in the 1940s, his friend and fellow Polish Jew, Yaakov Talmon, tried to persuade Miliband to emigrate to Palestine with him. Miliband remained; he was wedded to the intellectual socialist tradition of Orwell, rather than to the Marxism of the kibbutz. Talmon became one of Israel’s most revered historians.

On the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, Miliband entered into a ferocious correspondence with a fellow Belgian Jewish Marxist, Marcel Liebman, in which he strongly supported Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. Miliband sarcastically asked Liebman how many Arab protests about persecution of Jews in the Arab world had taken place.

Miliband further commented: “It is no duty of socialists to support pseudo-socialist revolutions unconditionally, they should do it in a nuanced way. But the rottenness of official Marxism in our time makes this kind of attitude impossible.”

Geoffrey Levy repeated the kind of ignorance that allowed the Daily Mail to flirt with home-grown fascism in the 1930s. One can certainly differ with the path that Ralph Miliband took, but nothing, as history records, is ever black or white.

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