You may not know the name Ralph Miliband, but the late Marxist professor is a household name in the UK. He was the father of Ed Miliband, the Labor Party’s leader and a possible future prime minister. When the conservative Daily Mail ran a story about the father’s influence on his son, the controversy began.
It started with an October 1 story by Geoffrey Levy in which the journalist wrote that young Ed wants nothing less than to fulfill his father’s dreams and return England from the legacy left by Margaret Thatcher to a new 21st century socialism:
Ed is now determined to bring about that vision. … How proud Ralph would have been to hear him responding the other day to a man in the street who asked when he was “going to bring back socialism” with the words: “That’s what we are doing, sir.”
Ed Miliband’s father, the story continues, was a full-throated Marxist, committed to nationalization and harsh socialist policies. Levy paints the senior Miliband as a man who hated the country he adopted as his own when he sought refuge from Nazi Germany, a man who was critical of the Soviet Union but still believed it was socialist, and who thought Gorbachev had successfully “democratized” Soviet society. Nothing had changed in his belief system, he wrote, since the time when, as a young man, he made the pilgrimage to Karl Marx’s grave in 1940, and he wrote:
I remember standing in front of the grave, fist clenched, and swearing my own private oath that I would be faithful to the workers’ cause.
Now, Miliband is buried in a grave 12 short yards from Marx’s grave, and his tombstone bares the inscription: “Writer Teacher Socialist.”
He had dedicated his life, he wrote near the end of his life, to realizing the socialist dream, and preparing the ground for “such an alternative.” With Ed as prime minister, Levy concludes, “perhaps that ground is indeed now being prepared.”
That one article began the fierce war of words. Ed Miliband told the press that he found the story “appalling,” and “responded by accusing the paper of peddling ‘a lie’ and trying to ‘besmirch and undermine’ his dead father for political ends.” He wrote:
Fierce debate about politics does not justify character assassination of my father, questioning the patriotism of a man who risked his life for our country in the Second World War or publishing a picture of his gravestone with a tasteless pun about him being a “grave socialist.”
The editors of the Daily Mail responded by saying that Ralph Miliband sought to drive “a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation so many of us genuinely love.”
Miliband’s friends were aghast. They particularly did not like tying Ralph Miliband in with the late historian Eric Hobsbawm, an unabashed Stalinist who in a famous late-in-life interview justified the millions Stalin killed as necessary for the triumph of socialism. Norm Geras, a moderate and truly democratic man of the Left — he has been at the forefront of condemning the current anti-Israeli stance and anti-Semitism of the Left in Britain — argued that Ralph Miliband believed in parliamentary democracy under socialism, and was anything but a Leninist who believed in “smashing the state.” Geras wrote: “he was never a Stalinist or an apologist for Stalinism.” Geras was particularly incensed about a column by Benedict Brogan, who called Miliband one of the Cold War’s “bad guys.”
Editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail Paul Dacre responded in both his own paper and in the pages of the left-wing Guardian. He explained his decision to run the first column in these words:
The genesis of that piece lay in Ed Miliband’s conference speech. The Mail was deeply concerned that in 2013, after all the failures of socialism in the twentieth century, the leader of the Labour party was announcing its return, complete with land seizures and price fixing.
Surely, we reasoned, the public had the right to know what influence the Labour leader’s Marxist father, to whom he constantly referred in his speeches, had on his thinking.
It was not Miliband who was evil, but the ideas he believed in and the system he favored for Britain:
Ralph Miliband was, as a Marxist, committed to smashing the institutions that make Britain distinctively British — and, with them, the liberties and democracy those institutions have fostered.
At this point, columnists whose own fathers and ancestors were also Marxist, or who at one point were themselves Marxist, took to the pages of the press. Theodore Dalrymple (who writes often for PJ Media) chimed in with his own thoughts, revealing that his father was also wrong and was himself a hard-core Marxist. He pointed out that the Marxist doctrine is both emotionally and intellectually dishonest:
I quickly grasped that the dialectic could prove anything you wanted it to prove, for example, that killing whole categories of people was a requirement of elementary decency.
Dalrymple brilliantly noted the main problem with the doctrine, which, as he notes, a belief in leads to justification for mass murder:
Marxism was also replete with heresies and excommunications that tended to become fatal whenever its adherents reached power. There was a reason for this. Marx said that it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness. In other words, ideas do not have to be argued against in a civilised way, but rather the social and economic position of those who hold them must be analysed. So, disagreement is the same as class enmity — and we all know what should be done with class enemies.