Miliband on the Labour Party

September 25, 2010 at 3:10 pm (Champagne Charlie, class, elections, history, labour party, Marxism, socialism, strange situations)

“…(T)he Labour Party will not be transformed into a party seriously concerned with socialist change. Its leaders may have to respond with radical-sounding noises to the pressures and demands of their activists. Even so, they will see to it that the Labour Party remains, in practice, what it has always been – a party of modest social reform in a capitalist system within whose confines it is ever more firmly and by now irrevocably rooted. That system badly needs such a party, since it plays a major role in in the mangement of discontent and helps to keep it within safe bounds; and the fact that the Labour Party proclaims itself at least once every five years but much more often as well to be commited not merely to the modest amelioration of capitalist society but to its wholesale transformation, to a just social order, to a classless society, to a new Britain, and whatever not, does not make it less but more useful in the preservation of the existing social order.

“It is very likely that the Labour Party will be able to play this highly ‘functional’ role for some time to come, given its overwhelming preponderance as ‘the party of the left’ in the British political system. There is at present no party or grouping which is capable of  posing an effective challenge to that preponderance; and this helps to explain why so many socialists in the Constituency Labour Parties, in the trade unions (and for that matter in the Communist Party) cling to the belief that the Labour Party will eventually be radically transformed. But the absence of a viable socialist alternative is no reason for resigned acceptance or for the perpetuation of hopes which have no basis in reality. On the contrary, what it requires is to begin preparing the ground for the coming into being of such an alternative: and one of the indispensable elements of that process is the dissipation of paralysing illusions about the true purpose and role of the Labour Party.”

(The excerpt above is from the Postscript to the second edition, April 1972).


  1. Invictus_88 said,

    Hoho. Not that this prevents mainstream Marxists from rallying to Labour in lieu of the SWP!

  2. Mike Killingworth said,

    One reason may be that socialists from the time of Robert Owen (let alone Marx) have been far better at describing the shortcomings, whether vile, ridiculous or both, of capitalist systems than at painting the glories of the socialist paradise. It could even be argued that the Labour Party (in its pomp – now long past) made a better fist of it than, say, Cuba – where the electricity was notoriously unsafe for generations – or China, which by not providing a socialised healthcare system encourages the high savings levels among its people upon which the ability to sustain capitalism’s debts depends.

    But of course as long as Labour politicians think of themselves as shopkeepers (as they have for a generation now) rather than as idealists or even merely educators, there is no particular reason to expect them to stand to the “left” of the other parties on any particular question. As their approach in office to foreign policy, civil liberties, social housing and progressive taxation showed.

    There is of course one codicil to be added to Ralph Miliband’s analysis. That is that the Labour Party is now, in many parts of the country, the party of the ethnic minority vote. Older socialists saw this as some sort of guarantee of leftism, due to a vague connection with anti-colonialism, but the world has moved on. Non-white voters are now far more likely to consider themselves “integrated” into British culture – or at the very least, like Diane Abbott, to want that for their children; to be so alienated as to be non-voters altogether; or to identify with their religion (be it Afro-Christianity or Islam) rather than with any “left” politics as that is generally understood.

    My guess is that the government will find dismantling the 1945 settlement remarkably easy. And that the Labour Party will face every which way in trying to oppose it – every which way, that is, bar effective.

  3. jim denham said,

    Yerst yewar, Blerg…sept wen thenastimen sayyogotufarr…okeydokey???

  4. Oscar Lomax said,

    Hysterical abuse.

  5. Oscar Lomax said,

    In the UK, according to the IMF — the reason for ‘the recovery’ (which isn’t anything of the sort) is the cuts (which haven’t happened yet).

    They is well weird — like in “fuckking deranged tosspots” weird.

  6. Blerg commenntyatrr said,

    Abuse with overblown historical comparisons.

    • Kucing Hitam said,

      Btw — Blerg commenntyatrr’s excised comment was neither abusive nor overblown. It was a salutary reminder 1. of the dangers of Popular Frontism and 2. that liberals are the enemy. Sorry if that is too inflammatory for a ‘blog’ with the word ‘socialist’ on its masthead.

      Now hurry up and copy and paste something from HP Sauce — it’s been at least 6 hours since your last one.

  7. Oscar Lomax's dad said,

    A “BlerG Commentz Policee”.

  8. Max Dunbar said,

    Surely, at 47, your kid should have left home and got a job.

  9. Blerg commenntyatrr said,


  10. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung said,

    […] Ralph Milliband: On the Labour Party […]

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