Thursday, October 3, 2013

Have the Ralph Milibands won?

The  Miliband saga rolls on. Yesterday's Evening Standard carried a heartfelt plea from the Leader of the Opposition and potential Prime Minister, Ed Miliband not to drag the next election into the gutter, that being where it is now thanks to the nasty attacks on him by the Daily Mail and their persistent assertions that Ed's father, Ralph Miliband, was a highly influential left-wing Marxists who had little time for British democracy or, indeed, democracy of any kind, considering that to be a bourgeois construct.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ed Miliband the sensitive and honourable politician who sees nothing wrong in having his photograph taken in the company of a young supporter whose t-shirt is ... ahem ... not very nice about a previous Prime Minister. An odd companion to take to the moral high ground, which little Ed seems to want to occupy at the moment.

It is more than possible that non-British readers of this blog do not know what all the fuss is about though British ones may well feel that they have heard more than they ever wanted to about the Miliband family. So here is a brief summary of the whole brouhaha.

Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition and a potential Prime Minister who seems to be reinventing himself as a firebrand socialist is the younger son of the highly influential, extreme left-wing Marxist thinker and writer, Ralph Miliband, who came to Britain as a refugee from the Nazis in his teens. Before we go any further, let me remind everyone that neither being a refugee from the Nazis nor serving in Her Majesty's forces is a guarantee of a person's loyalty to the country or to the political regime of (relative) freedom, democracy and constitutionalism. The history of the second half of the twentieth century bears me out.

The row of the father of the Leader of the Opposition started on Saturday when Geoffrey Levy wrote an article about him and his possible influence on his son, whom the Daily Mail does not like, being on the other side politically speaking. The article was not about the personal life of any Miliband and dealt exclusively with political matters, which, one would think was entirely reasonable when you are writing about a leading politicians and a leading political theorist who happens to be his father. Not so but far from it.

Ed Miliband reacted furiously at the aspersions cast at his father and demanded apologies, withdrawals, resignations, for all I know, sentences in the Gulag. How dare the Daily Mail sink so low as to write the truth about smear his father? This, despite the fact, that, as the Labour supporter and son of Labour MP Dan Hodges has pointed out, little Ed tends to drag his father and his mother into his speeches rather a lot.

What little Ed and in his wake the Labour Party, left-wing journalists and twitterati, even the right-wing commentariat objected to was the Daily Mail expressing the view (and refusing to apologize for it) that Ralph Miliband, to whom this country gave shelter, responded by hating it and every institution in it, particularly those that prove so attractive to refugees. Untrue, sobbed little Ed; untrue shouted his Labour Party chums; untrue shrieked the left-wing commentariat; really not nice muttered the right-wing commentariat. Time was a real socialist would have been proud if he were described as someone who hates his country in the name of international socialism but socialists ain't what they used to be.

Ralph Miliband wrote at length of the need to adopt Marxist ideas; he chastised the Labour Party for not being radical enough; and while he expressed some reservation about Stalin and the Soviet system in general, he supported and advocated the destruction of capitalism and western bourgeois democracy. Does this mean he was not a patriot? One could argue so and argue successfully. One could say as Tim Montgomerie, an impeccably right-wing columnist, does [no link as the Times is behind a pay wall] that wanting to change a country is no proof that you hate it. To which one can reply that surely it depends on how much one wants to change and how deep those changes are intended. In the case of Miliband senior the changes he advocated were wholesale. He did not like anything about this country's political and cultural set-up.

But he served in the Royal Navy during the war, comes the plaintive response. How can anyone who does that be unpatriotic? Quite easily, as it happens. A good many people served in the forces during the war, among them, I dare say a number of the maligned Daily Mail journalists of the day. Many Communists served in the armed forces though usually after June 22, 1941. Before that they and their rag, the Daily Worker, called on members of the armed forces to desert and decried the capitalist war waged on their great leader's buddy, Hitler. Unlike the British Union of Fascists, the CPGB was not made illegal despite clearly expressed treason and their rag not shut down because Churchill did not want to antagonize the unions.

Even after the German invasion of the Soviet Union it was often not patriotism  or love of freedom that motivated the Communists who were serving but a desire to use the situation to forward their own cause, which just happened to be that of the other vile regime of the mid-century, the Soviet Union. Anyone who is interested in the subject could do worse than read Evelyn Waugh's magnificent trilogy Sword of Honour, especially the last novel, Unconditional Surrender (or listen to its dramatization on Radio 4 on Sundays at 3 pm).

Ralph Miliband would have been too young to join the forces before Barbarossa, so we do not know whether he would have done but his subsequent pronouncements show quite conclusively that he was on the enemy's side in the Cold War, as Benedict Brogan points out. His views were well known and something that in the past the left accepted with some pride.

In 2004 the Guardian wrote:
Ralph Miliband died in 1994 as arguably Britain's most charismatic and influential leftwing intellectual. His books about the unequal relationship between business and politicians, and in particular about the tendency of the Labour party, and parties like it, to overcompromise with capitalism have been taught in universities in Britain and far beyond since the 1960s. His teaching is vividly remembered by former students. Outside academia, he also spent countless dogged hours as an activist, trying to establish more genuinely socialist alternatives to the Labour way of doing things. He did not soften with age. "The last conversation I had with Ralph," says a close friend, "he was savage about Blair."
Being savage about Blair is not, I suppose, particularly controversial until one realizes that the savagery is caused by Blair's failure to implement extreme socialist policies and, probably, by his getting rid of that infamous Clause 4. It would appear that Miliband senior's allegiance to the cause predates his service with the Royal Navy:
One boiling afternoon during his first summer in London, he [Ralph Miliband] went to Highgate cemetery, found Karl Marx's grave and, standing with his fist clenched, swore "my own private oath that I would be faithful to the workers' cause". Not that he intended to remain a worker himself: he found clearing bombsites "an arduous business" and felt a distance from his fellow labourers that was partly a matter of nationality but also a matter of aspirations. He wanted to be an intellectual. In 1941, he applied to study politics at the London School of Economics. He was accepted.
The rest of the article gives an interesting and cogent account of Miliband senior's activity in the name of Marxist socialism though it gives no thought to the question of whether he was patriotic or not. Each reader can decide for himself or herself.

All this is straightforward and ought to be the usual coin of political rows and discussions. Yet the whirlwind raised by that article among the commentariat and twitterati has been astonishing and to the Daily Mail gratifying. Day after day they have maintained that they would not apologize (having withdrawn one rather tasteless photograph which was not quite as tasteless as the one of little Ed above) and that they would continue to proclaim the evil legacy of people like Ralph Miliband. If that ensures that his son never becomes Prime Minister, well, the Daily Mail is not going to shed any tears over that.

Yesterday they gave space to Michael Burleigh, a highly respected historian of Nazi Germany and of terrorism. This time round he wrote about Stalin's left-wing apologists who saw nothing terribly wrong with the Gulag or the numbers murdered, tortured and imprisoned as long as it was done in the name of social justice. After describing the horrific camps and their extent as well as some other aspects of the Soviet rule and the terror which was the essential core of it, he adds:
Such a system — whose goal was ‘social justice’ — relied on any number of Western apologists to deny what others had witnessed first-hand.

Many of these were British academics, intellectuals and journalists. Among them were the founders of the London School of Economics, Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

They merely said of Stalin’s terror famine: ‘Strong must have been the faith and resolute the will of the men who, in the interest of what seemed to them the public good, could take so momentous a decision.’

When Stalin decided to purge entire swathes of the Communist party in the mid-1930s — resulting in 600,000 or so people being tortured and shot — Western apologists lined up to excuse actions that had been motivated by his envy, paranoia, hatred and spite. The fact that the vengeance extended to the families and children of the Soviet butcher’s victims, and blighted the lives of others down the generations, was no hindrance to putting a rosy gloss on mass murder.

For Stalin established a few model prisons especially to show visiting Western dupes such as Professor Harold Laski, the mentor of Ralph Miliband at the LSE and chairman of the Labour Party.

Laski, who was seemingly not shocked by prisoners having their teeth smashed out with iron bars, reported back: ‘Basically, I did not observe much of a difference between the general character of a trial in Russia and in this country.’
Ralph Miliband may be tangential to the story but his views fit in well though, to be fair, he occasionally disapproved of his friend Eric Hobsbawm's slavish admiration for Stalin.

So why should there be such a fuss at the Daily Mail's possibly slightly intemperate but not wholly inaccurate and politically understandable attack on the two Milibands (David having left the British political scene)? Ed's slightly ridiculous self-righteousness is understandable, given the mood of present-day politics. Those nasty journalists are attacking is just the sort of plaintive cry one would expect from him with lots of references to smear tactics and gutter journalism. The same goes for the left in general, and the Labour Party in particular. While their own methods of throwing muck at everyone they disagree with and going on at length about David Cameron's education are not perhaps of the highest order, they are quick to take offence when the "extreme right-wing nutcases" point out obvious truths about them.

That still does not explain why the Conservatives are tut-tutting and the right-wing commentariat is calling for smelling salts at the vulgarity of it all. It could be, as Benedict Brogan says, that we have forgotten the Cold War, which ended technically 25 years ago. I think the reason is a little more profound and has something to do with the phenomenon described by Michael Burleigh. The truth is that the Ralph Milibands of this world have won this battle and to reverse that victory we need to fight hard. They have made it unacceptable across the political spectrum to criticize anyone with a left-wing tendency even if that tendency involves supporting some of the worst tyrannies, some of the most savage political systems of world history.

Allow me to remind my readers of something that happened in 2008 when Max Mosley, younger son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the one-time member of practically every political party and the one-time leader of various fascist organizations in Britain. Mr Mosley who was not a politician but a man deeply involved with Formula 1 racing and thus unknown to most of us was caught out in some unsavoury sexual behaviour. If memory serves me right, the girls in question were blackmailed by the late unlamented News of the World newspaper to give them stories about Mr Mosley. When he won his court case on the grounds that his privacy had been invaded, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the dreadfulness of controlling the press when it was merely doing its duty of purveying smut about a little known individual, which was of no public value at all.

The other thing I recall is that there were numerous articles about Mr Mosley's father and mother, all describing at great length and with no reference to the case in question their political activity. That, apparently, was acceptable, yet describing the political activity of the father of the Leader of the Opposition and his possible influence on the son is "beyond the pale".

Would anyone care to dispute my assertion that the Ralph Milibands have won?


  1. I suspect that mush of the wailing from them is their idea that only the left must be allowed to have political attack dogs. If they cede their domination of this technique they are in a very different position. Their argument is lungely defunct so this is all they really have left.

    All that said, maybe they have won. With the "climbdown" comes the notion that not have they dominated the language of the "nasty right" but they own that thought in the minds of those who would oppose them.

  2. "That still does not explain why the Conservatives are tut-tutting and the right-wing commentariat is calling for smelling salts at the vulgarity of it all."

    That they are 'Conservatives' is questionable.

    I have noticed, that whenever the BBC uses the term 'Right wing', it usually means something that is 'nasty', at least in their view, and wishes the listener/viewer to dislike it also.

  3. Absolutely nothing wrong in calling out someone's upbringing, political or otherwise, as an indicator of their beliefs and as a guide to how they would govern.

    The fact he does not want his Marxist upbringing discussed says that, in the UK, Marxism is still not looked on favorably, which is a hopeful sign.

    As for the smelling salts act, they want you and everyone else to shut up. Don't do it.

  4. Thank you. As a non-Briton, I was somewhat confused about what was going on with Miliband other than some vague assertions of anti-semitism. Your explanation is superb. Gratitude.

    1. Thank you for those kind words. I wasn't sure whether the story got beyond these shores though I did cross-post on Chicagoboyz.