The Ralph Miliband I knew - A Riposte To The Daily Mail

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The Ralph Miliband I knew - A Riposte To The Daily Mail - OCT 2013

Like so many others, including the leaders of Britain’s political parties, I was shocked by the Daily Mail’s attack on Professor Ralph Miliband claiming that he hated Britain, including institutions such as its education system, the House of Lords, the Church of England and so on.

I knew Ralph Miliband when he was my tutor for part of my undergraduate days at the LSE in the 1950s. I did not always agree with him, but I found him a charming, kind individual with a passion for life as well as for understanding and improving the world around him.  His personal circumstances led him to ask the question “Why?”, “Why?” “Why?”. No doubt to start with, “Why is there such anti-Semitism in Poland, the land of his father, Belgium, the land of his birth, England, the land that took him in, the USA where he worked for some time, and, above all, Germany which had produced so many great Jews? (See below)*. Why the great disparities of wealth and income which he had witnessed in Belgium and Britain?  And why war, when ordinary people the world over did not seem to want it?” Miliband searched for answers and discovered Karl Marx, a fellow Jew.

Many fine individuals embarked on this journey, genuine workers - electricians, plumbers, draughtsmen, miners, teachers and others. Among them, as Rev. Fr. Martin D’Arcy put in his Communism and Christianity, there were “so many able and generous minds”. For them, Labour, after a good start in 1945, was squeezing working class living standards, engaging in massive rearmament, and pursuing an imperialist line abroad in relation to Malaya, Iran, Egypt and other areas. It appeared that Britain had become a satellite of the USA.

Miliband rejected the Stalinism of the ‘Communist’ regimes which had little to do with Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) but felt the research of Marx and Engels offered some explanation of the chaos of capitalism which, to be fair, they had also admired.

As for Miliband being critical of the British education system, future Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, wrote, “In so far as snobbery and class alienation exists in this country, it is largely a product of class differences in education.” He recognised the need to close the gap between the ‘two nations’ and make a better world for the less privileged.

I believe that Miliband recognised the progressive wing in the Church of England, personified by individuals such as Archbishop William Temple, Archbishop Robert Runcie, Bishop George Bell, Canon John Collins and many others.

Miliband admired many individuals who were appointed to the Lords, individuals like Joan Bakewell, Melvin Bragg, Meghnad Desai, the Kinnocks, Bill Morris (TGWU), David Puttman, Donald Soper, Robert Winston to name but a few.  No doubt, he welcomed the fact that they used their experience to criticise and improve legislation. However, there are few who uphold the Lords as it was and as it still is. On 7 March 2007, members of the House of Commons voted for an 80% elected chamber by 305 votes to 267, and the vote for a wholly elected chamber was won by an even greater margin: 337 to 224. This last vote represented an overall majority of MPs.

 What was Miliband’s view of revolution? I have no doubt he shared the view of Marx that peaceful revolution was a possibility in Britain, the USA and similar ‘bourgeois democratic’ states. In the Hague Congress of 1872, Marx modified his stance on revolution by declaring that, “there were countries with democratic institutions where reformist measures could be advanced…” and saying that, “workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means, but this is not true of all countries.”

The Daily Mail claims Miliband ‘hated’ Britain. You can love a country yet detest some of its institutions, the way it is run, and the actions of its leaders, the anti-Nazi plotters loved Germany but detested Nazism; De Gaulle loved France but detested the Vichy regime; Martin Luther King, loved the USA but detested the institutionalised racism of certain of its states; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn loved Russia but hated the Soviet regime.

Among the individuals and institutions of ‘Miliband’s Britain’ were, from the past, William Shakespeare, William Blake, Charles Dickens, Robert Owen, William Morris, DH Lawrence, George B Shaw, HG Wells, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the peaceful Peterloo demonstrators cut down by the cavalry in 1819, Mary Leigh, Sylvia Pankhurst and the other suffragettes, the Naval ‘mutineers’ in 1931 at Invergordon, the Jarrow Marchers of 1936, and the Cable Street anti-Mosley protesters of 1936.

From Miliband’s own era, his Britain would have included, Graham Greene, Doris Lessing, George Orwell, the Redgraves, Alan Sillitoe, Arnold Wesker, Ted Willis, Edward Boyle, Barbara and Ted Castle, Michael Foot, Harold J Laski, Sydney Silverman, Stephen Swingler, Edward Thompson , Dick Clements, editor of Tribune, publisher Victor Gollancz, Lord Bertrand Russell, the WEA, the BFI, the Royal Court Theatre, the Roundhouse, Unity Theatre, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the New Left Review, New Reasoner, CND, the anti-Suez protesters of 1956 and very many others.

Miliband did not hate Britain; he hated gross inequality, hypocrisy, complacency, mendacity. He rejoiced in Britain’s many achievements, and wanted to build a New Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.  

*Herein a selection of German-Jewish Nobel Prize winners: Who could have thought they were ‘Untermenschen’?

Hans Bethe, nuclear physics, Nobel Prize (1967)
Max Born, quantum mechanics, Nobel Prize (1954)
Albert Einstein, theoretical physics, Nobel Prize (1921)
James Franck, quantum physics, Nobel Prize (1925)
Sir Ernst Chain, developed penicillin, Nobel Prize (1945)
Paul Ehrlich, developed magic bullet concept, Nobel Prize (1908)
Fritz Haber, chemist, Nobel Prize (1918)
Sir Bernard Katz, biophysicist, Nobel Prize (1970)
Sir Hans Adolf  Krebs, biochemist, Nobel Prize (1953)
Fritz Lipmann, biochemist, Nobel Prize (1953)
Otto Fritz Meyerhof, physician and biochemist, Nobel Prize (1922)
Otto Loewi, pharmacologist, Nobel Prize (1936)
Otto Stern, experimental physicist, Nobel Prize (1943)
Otto Wallach, chemist, Nobel Prize (1910)
Richard Willstätter, chemist, Nobel Prize (1915)

LSE students in the 1950s: from left, David Childs (UK);Christian Kuhlo (Germany), Norberto Gonzalez (Argentina); W. Max Corden (Australia)  from left, José Francisco Tenreiro (1921–1963), (Portugal/ S.Tome), David Childs, Alan Greenberg (New York)


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David Childs