Ralph Miliband, The Daily Mail and Stalinism
Ralph Miliband, the late father of the current Labour leader, and a Marxist academic, has been the subject of much media commentary following continuing attacks on him in the Daily Mail.
It might be thought that Miliband, who died in 1994, was a card carrying member of the Communist Party or, alternatively, a Trotskyist.
In fact he was neither. He was a member of the Labour Party, a supporter of Nye Bevan, in the 1950s and recorded that he left ‘around 1960’ when the right-wing leader Gaitskell was Labour leader. There is no indication that he ever joined another political organisation. Rather he belonged to that group, still very much a feature of the left of British politics, who don’t see a great deal of hope that Labour will fundamentally change things, but don’t see an immediate chance of anything further to the left doing so either.
According to the Mail -2nd October-and a writer called Michael Burleigh, while Ralph Miliband did not defend Stalin or the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 [though this admission is in brackets two thirds of the way down an article]he knew people like Eric Hobsbawm who possibly did, or at any rate did not condemn them. There is a name on the left for this technique of argument and it is known as the ‘Stalinist amalgam’. That is to put together actually unrelated pieces of information and by doing so claiming that they are connected.
The Mail also seems to think that because Miliband was a marxist, and Russia claimed to be Marxist then he must have been some form of apologist. I know this will be a great effort for Mail journalists but by using something called Google on the interweb the back archive of the Socialist Register which Ralph Miliband edited is available free. In the 1973 edition, the inquisitive journalist will find a book review written by Miliband, Stalin and after, where he not only lays out the reality of the crimes of Stalinism but also demolishes various intellectual attempts to apologise for them.
The reality which the Mail either wants to ignore or is ignorant of is, that many marxists were anti-Stalinists, and some faced show trials, the gulag and death in Russia for saying so.
In reality Miliband was associated with the New Left which developed after the crisis in the Communist Party in 1956 and was affiliated with one of its leading journals The New Reasoner which was edited by the socialist historians E P Thompson and John Saville.
The New Reasoner merged with another new left journal Universities and Left Review to form New Left Review in 1960. Miliband wrote some pieces in early issues but left when the new new leftists around Perry Anderson assumed control arguing that he felt the political direction was uncertain.
At the point Miliband formed with Saville [Thompson was also invited but declined] the yearly journal of left-wing comment and analysis, the Socialist Register, published by Merlin. It continues to this day and Miliband was associated with it over four decades, co-writing with Saville many of the the Editorials in its early issues.
The second issue in 1965 carried EP Thompson’s seminal essay The Peculiarities of the English which argued amongst other things that the British labour movement had less time for theoretical debates than its European counterparts because it had so ‘bloody much to oppose’ in terms of British imperial activity.
It’s worth noting that all this was part of the broader mainstream left of the 1960s. Indeed Miliband who had written a noteworthy history of the Labour Party, Parliamentary Socialism, published in 1961 set out to prove Thompson wrong by developing part of a British school of Marxist thought. Books such as the State in Capitalist Society  a set text on University courses in my days as an undergraduate underlined his point.
Miliband’s survey of what subjects and issues the Socialist Register had covered published in its 30th anniversary edition in 1994, which appeared only months before his death, indicates the broad range of socialist and Marxist views and debates it carried.
Miliband’s dilemma of 1960, being frustrated with Labour and with the left alternatives to it remained with him to the end. His 1976 essay Moving On, reaffirmed his critique of the Labour Party but acknowledged the weakness of the left beyond its ranks.
In reality Miliband never did affiliate with any of the left-wing groups that developed after 1968.
For the Daily Mail to suggest that he hated Britain is of course absurd. Ed Miliband has recounted to the BBC’s Test Match Special how his father took him to cricket matches in Leeds when a boy [where Ralph Miliband taught for a period] and where he remembers watching Geoffrey Boycott in action.
What the Mail means of course is that Ralph Miliband was part of a post-1956 marxist left that it didn’t like at the time and still doesn’t like. One slight problem with that is that campaigning against a left that existed 40 or 50 years ago as if it was 2013 does look rather odd, as even right-wing commentators have noticed.