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What went wrong with British socialism? The post-war United Kingdom through the lenses of Ralph Miliband

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Abstract

In 2014, a UKIP member wrote about Edward Miliband that he was “Polish and not British so how'd he know what's good for Britain?”(Wintour 2014). The phrase as such is of course just an example of a xenophobic rant, but it is somehow curious: in what sense the then-Labour Party Leader born in Camden (London) could be seen as “Polish” by anyone? Ed’s and David’s Miliband family came indeed from Poland. Samuel (1895–1966) was a member of the Jewish Bund (an organisation of socialist workers in Poland), and moved to Belgium in the early 1920, along with his wife Renia. Their son, Ralph Miliband was born in 1924 in Brussels. After the end of the Second World War, the family reunited in London, where Samuel and Ralph waited for Reni and the daughter, Anna Helena. Ralph later became not only a professor of politics at the LSE, but a leading British scholar of Marxism. His positions were considered by some of his contemporaries as a bit old fashioned (Samuel 1994, 266), yet his criticism of weak British socialism is an interesting entry point to understand the ideological struggles in the post-War Britain. Notably, in 1961, Ralph Miliband proposed a thorough analysis of British parliamentary socialism, which he accused of its refusal not only of any revolutionary ambitions, but also of rejection of “any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell, or which appeared to them to fall, outside the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system.” (Miliband 1961, 13). A few years later, he described the form of state of the post-war democratic regimes as “bourgeois democratic”, where “an economically dominant class rules through democratic institutions, rather than by way of dictatorship” (Miliband 1969, 22). His critical work came with a hope, when he stated that the aim of socialists was to create an “authentically democratic social order, a truly free society of self-governing men and women, in which, in Marx's phrase, the state will be converted ‘from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it’” (Miliband 1969, 277). Whether this process was meant to happen by means of a revolution or of democratic (even though radical) reforms, is not clear. Nevertheless today, almost forty years after Margaret Thatcher’s war on state has been declared in the UK, it is particularly interesting to see what kind of tools the 20th century British socialism left for the 21st century.
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hal-03483225 , version 1 (16-12-2021)

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  • HAL Id : hal-03483225 , version 1

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Anna C. Zielinska. What went wrong with British socialism? The post-war United Kingdom through the lenses of Ralph Miliband. Liberalism and/or socialism: tensions, exchanges and convergences from the 19th century to today, Oct 2021, Nancy, France. ⟨hal-03483225⟩
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