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Ralph got it right and his son 100% wrong

In defending him against the malicious Daily Mail, Ed Miliband struggles to depict his father Ralph as a man who “loved Britain” while at the same time distancing himself from his actual views.

The assumption that everyone has to love “their” country is, of course, a patriotic, populist sentiment encouraged by the media and political elites. Its purpose is to bind the whole population together behind the state, especially in times of crisis.

"Your King and Country need you”, went the recruiting slogan of World War I. All the parties supported it, including Labour. Millions believed in it enough to volunteer to join what would be become a human slaughter house on the battlefields of Europe.

For Ed Miliband to suggest that because his father fought in World War II he “loved his country”, is plainly wrong. In the main, British soldiers fought for self-preservation, for their comrades and communities against the Nazis. It was possible to fight without “loving your country”.

Many had spent years on the dole, living in appalling housing with no health service while the political elites were oblivious to their plight. What was there, for these soldiers, to “love” about this class-divided Britain?

As for the notion that World War II was a “war for democracy” against fascism, that was simply not the case. The British ruling classes flirted with the Nazis for six years before war broke out. Rothermere’s Daily Mail found much to admire in Hitler’s Germany. A whole group favoured a separate peace with Hitler after hostilities began and they almost prevailed inside the cabinet.

For the ruling class, it was above all a war to preserve the British empire and, in line with foreign policy down the centuries, an effort to prevent one European power from dominating the continent.

It’s hard to believe that Ralph Miliband “loved his country” in an unthinking way, in the fashion that his son describes. Of course, he was grateful for being allowed in as a Jewish refugee. But as his political thinking developed, he could never espouse a concept that is embraced mainly by the right wing.

As a Marxist academic, he understood the significance of class in capitalist societies like Britain. In place of an abstract “country” there was a society divided along class lines, where interests did not coincide but were in constant conflict.

In 1983, Ralph Miliband wrote an essay called “State Power and Class Interests”. This took up the issues of the state in relation to the rule of capital, which had recently become the subject of intense debate in Marxist academic circles. He wrote:

… The contradictions and shortcomings of capitalism, and the class pressures and social tensions this produces, require the state to assume an ever more pronounced role in the defence of the social order. The end of that process is one form or another of ‘Bonapartism’. Meanwhile, it makes for a steady inflation of state power within the framework of a capitalist-democratic order whose democratic features are under permanent threat from the partnership of state and capital.

This “partnership” is what his son wants to develop under the populist umbrella of One Nation Labour. As he says in his own article in the Mail: “I want to make capitalism work for working people, not destroy it.”

But how on earth can a system that is run for profit, for the benefit of shareholders and funders, ever do what Miliband junior wants? Even if we all declared that we “loved our country”, the real world would confirm that Ralph Miliband was right and his son 100% wrong.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
4 October 2013

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