Saturday, 12 October 2013

THE NEWSPAPER THAT HATED THINKING (aka THINGS WHICH RALPH MILIBAND MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE SAID)




Let's look at Ralph Miliband's now-infamous diary entry in slightly fuller detail
than when the Daily Mail splashed it for their hatchet piece. Writing shortly after arriving in Britain, as a young refugee from fascism, he wrote:

“The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world ... When you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the continent in general and for the French in particular. They didn't like the French before the defeat... Since the defeat, they have the greatest contempt for the French Army ... England first. This slogan is taken for granted by the English people as a whole. To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation."
Perhaps I am the only person alive who is able to spot the word 'almost' in a sentence. Perhaps I could sign up for one of those super teams, using that as my specialist power. “We need to know whether the word 'almost' is written here. Hey Almost Boy, step up!”
Many have mused on the irony of Miliband volunteering... I say again, volunteering to fight at Normandy while the Mail published the headline 'Hurrah For the Blackshirts'. (After their printing of contact addresses for interested parties to enlist with the British Union of Fascists, and competitions for the reader who could come up with the best reason for joining, even the Spectator commented “The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made.”)

But try actually reading that piece. In some absurd self-parody their chief concern about fascism isn't the violence, isn't the authoritarianism. It's that fascism is European. “Because Fascism comes from Italy, short-sighted people in this country think they show sturdy national spirit by deriding it.”
Which makes Almost Boy wonder if the young Miliband didn't almost have a point.
But really, it's all a distraction isn't it? Who cares whether Miliband “hated Britain”? They'd probably say I “hated Britain” too and, given the skewed way they tend to define it, I probably do.
I'm more concerned that they say he's a Stalinist.
Notably in his claims today Mail editor Paul Dacre has hedged this bet, calling him “a man who gave unqualified support to Russian totalitarianism until the mid-50s”.
Which means he must know more about Miliband than his own biographer, Michael Newman, who described the man as “politically homeless in post-war Britain. He regarded himself as a Marxist, but was increasingly critical of the Soviet Union and Communist Party allegiance to it.”
But then again perhaps this sympathetic biography of Miliband isn't to be trusted. Perhaps it's yet another case of these sinister Lefties covering up for one another. So it's a good job, isn't it, that we have the Mail to counterbalance things. Such as this diary quote they pulled up to set the record straight. The one they got from Newman's book.


But let's say, just for the sake of argument, Dacre isn't lying. It's a tough call, I know, but let's see if we can manage it. Even if what he says is true – so what? Even an ignoramus such as himself must be aware the Soviet Union did not fully lose it's credibility among the European left until 1956. (When Soviet tanks rolled in to Hungary to bloodily crush a worker's uprising, rather giving the game away.) After Kronstadt, after Stalin's purges and show trials, this may seem to us to have happened late. But hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.
More to the point, Miliband's first book was published in 1961. I am going to argue that 1961 came after the mid-50s. I am going to argue that Miliband could have believed in the tooth fairy in the early 50s and it would not have made a scrap of difference to his writing career.
And Ralph Miliband the writer, the Ralph Miliband most of us mean when we say “Ralph Miliband”, was saying things such as:
“The invasion of Czechoslovakia show very well that this oppressive and authoritarian Russian socialism has nothing in common with the socialism that we demand, and we must state this very loudly, even at the risk of seeming to be anti-soviet and to echo bourgeois propaganda...”
(An interesting contrast to the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia, after which Mail owner Viscount Rothermere wrote to Hitler to congratulate him. Oh wait, you were ahead of me there, weren't you?)
But of course the crux of their argument is that Ed knew Ralph as a father. So perhaps sinister Stalinist Ralph was influencing his son at an undue age, whispering comments about Five Year Plans instead of lullabies as the lad lay in his cot. Except Ed was not born until December 1969. Another date commonly thought to have come after the early 50s.
Paul Dacre is normally wrong about everything he says. But this time, he has outdone himself. This time, even if he is right, he is still wrong.
Dacre's game is of course to counterpose “Russian totalitarianism” with “the market economy”, turning up the heat until there's no other show in town. That's how he came to be chief of the newspaper that hated thinking. Despite the fact that guys like Ralph Miliband spent their lives considering that other choice, what it might look like and how we could get there.
Four years ago it was revealed the global economy was essentially running on thin air and the banking system almost collapsed overnight. Even with the massive cuts to people's living standards that ensued, that we are all now supposed to obligingly suffer, there is not a single lesson to be learnt from that. We should rebuild the “market economy” exactly as it was at the point just before it broke.
But back in 1917 the Russian revolution ended in...yes... totalitarianism. First they installed a command economy. (With, inevitably enough, themselves in command.) They didn't even stick to that very well themselves. But that is the single point in world history that we must keep coming back to. Everything we need to know about everything is here. Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain.
There could however be an upside to this sorry story. If as a result of it a few more people were to pick up one of Ralph's books, they might find that what he advocated bears no relation to Ed's sorry business-as-usual policies and is actually something quite sensible. They might find that other show in town.
Post-script: Are you hated by the Daily Mail? Try this simple test.

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