Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Miliband on Miliband

My collection of reviews on Amazon includes this
Available for download now

Read it and you will be jumping the gun because it has not appeared in Socialism Today yet :) I had to listen to Ed Miliband toadying to Margaret Thatcher on the BBC News. A particularly nauseating token of what "One Nation Labour" has become.

Miliband on Miliband

Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Miliband
Second Edition 1972
ISBN 0850361354

The first time I tried to get a copy of this book in 1972 I was confronted by a very angry librarian who demanded to know “Are you one of those people who go around libraries asking for books?” Clearly I had quite the wrong idea about what libraries are for. I recommend that you get this book from the library quickly before the politicians close down the lot.

Although this book is from the 1970s it could have been written as a searing criticism of the present Labour leadership. The small detail is that they have continued the process which Miliband outlines by making the Labour Party a servant of the rich and powerful.The supreme irony is that it is Ed Miliband who is currently leading “One Nation Labour!”

The book traces the development of parliamentary socialism through the first six decades of the twentieth century but it is by no means simply a matter of historical interest. Ralph Miliband's criticism of the Labour leadership in the 1960s was that all the reforms for which they genuinely crusaded were “deliberately set within the context of an economic system whose basic features were accepted...the changes of which he (Wilson) spoke, if they were to be as far-reaching as he proclaimed to be necessary, would require precisely the kind of challenge to that economic system which his whole approach precluded.”

The book records how Wilson discussed with Lord Cromer, the Governor of the Bank of England, who insisted that all-round cuts in expenditure were incumbent on any government regardless of party. Wilson retorted that he was not prepared to go as far as Lord Cromer wished. “There is a Tory way of carrying out Tory policies and there is a Labour way of carrying out Tory policies. It may readily be granted that the government carried out Tory cuts in a Labour way, with heart-searching, qualifications, exceptions and so forth. But carry them out it did, all the same. And thus cleared the way for the more drastic application of Tory policies by their Tory successors.”

Conservative Chancellor Maudling taunted the Labour leadership that “it is true that they have inherited our problems. They seem also to have inherited our solutions.”

In fact in this century with such things as academies and privatisation of the health service it is fair to say that New Labour trod where Tories would have feared to go and this enabled the Tories to go much further.

Throughout the book there is a vivid contrast between the willingness of the working class to sacrifice and struggle and the yearning after “pelf and place” which pre-occupied the overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Right from the start there was an alternative way to use parliament. As far back as 1907 there was an Independent Labour Party MP called Victor Grayson. Miliband records that “His impassioned zeal for pressing the cause of the unemployed soon involved him in angry 'scenes' in the House of Commons, and led to his suspension from it. Grayson's activities were profoundly embarrassing to his colleagues, both because these activities were deemed to compromise the Labour Group's respectability, and also because they offered to the activists a striking contrast with the Group's own lack of impact.

It is well to recall this when most workers are asking, if they think of Labour at all, “What are they doing?” and to imagine the impact which a Victor Grayson (or for that matter a Dave Nellist or a Joe Higgins) would have on the situation.

Themes throughout the book are the Labour Party insistence on “gradualism” - which has been described as the idea that you can skin a tiger claw by claw – a rejection of the class struggle in place of their bowdlerisation of the Owenite view that the classes could be reconciled, an urge for respectability and a tendency for compromise with the Liberals. Does this ring any bells?

The decisive test came with the General Strike of 1926. Miliband records in detail how the government prepared for the conflict. Then comes the chilling phrase “Labour did not prepare.” At the present time the TUC has been charged with making preparations for a general strike. Frances O'Grady reported on these preparations to the South East TUC last year. Apparently she had been talking to her lawyers! Hands up those who can remember a mass movement of the working class led by lawyers.

This book stands as a stark repudiation of everything the Labour leadership has come to stand for. Whereas Wilson is roundly condemned for supporting the Vietnam War, the left was sufficiently vertibrate in the 1960s to prevent him sending troops. While Gaitskell tried to remove Socialism from Labour's constitution the trade unions got in his way. Not so Tony Blair who succeeded in removing Clause Four and making the Labour Party into a party of privatisation and war.

The book is a brilliant and meticulously argued account of Labour history. Ralph Miliband did not see it as his job to point out how the left should respond. That is something we will have to do for ourselves.

Tony Benn is fond of listing the various groupings on the left to suggest there is no alternative to the Labour Party. It is clear that the Labour Party is no longer a party of the working class and it is the trade unions – i.e. primarily the rank and file – who will have to break with Labour and create a new party of the working class. This book will be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of those who want to bring that about.

Derek McMillan
08 04 2013

Table of Contents
Miliband on Miliband
Les Miserables 2012
The Apprentice final
Fahrenheit 9/11
Remember me Rescue me
The Exception to the Rulers
The Media in Question
A Child called 'It'
The Root of All Evil
Battleship Potemkin
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The Chatterley Affair
V for Vendetta
Forget you had a daughter
Two lives
Life on the Screen
Ideological dimensions of Taxi Driver
The Iron Lady in meltdown
Various Pets Alive and Dead

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