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25 August 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:14am

In the shadow of the state

David Miliband on his father, Labourism and the state in capitalist society.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

I’ve written a piece about David and Ed Miliband’s late father, Ralph, the Marxist intellectual, for the next issue of the magazine. While researching the piece, I asked both brothers which of their father’s books they most admire. David’s answer was particularly intriguing: “Parliamentary Socialism for its unsparing narrative. The State in Capitalist Society for its first line.”

Parliamentary Socialism was Miliband’s first book (published in 1961; a second edition, with an even more “unsparing” postscript, came out 11 years later). It’s a comprehensive analysis of the culture of “Labourism” (I’m pretty sure Miliband was the first to use the term), which he sees as a set of dogmas about democratic socialist politics, the parliamentary system and the institutions of the British state.

Simply put, Labourism holds that Labour politics begins and ends with the capture of the institutions of the central state — not in their democratisation or reform. Its apothesosis, in Miliband’s account, was the Attlee government of 1945-51.

And here’s the connection with the first line of The State in Capitalist Society (1969) that so impressed Miliband’s elder son, for that reads as follows: “More than ever before men live in the shadow of the state.”

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Would it be too fanciful to detect Ralph’s influence in some of David’s recent public statements? Take, for instance, his Keir Hardie Lecture, delivered in July, in which he depicted Hardie as “a socialist not a statist”. And in which he attributed some of New Labour’s failings to a strain of “paternalist authoritarianism” that runs deep in the culture of Labourism anatomised so brilliantly by his father.

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