It would be an impossible task to try to summarize Miliband’s contributions here. Fortunately, MR Press (in conjunction with Merlin Press in London) has recently published an excellent biography by Michael Newman entitled, Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left (2002). Those wishing for a detailed account of the evolution of Miliband’s character and thought and its relation to the development of the New Left would be well-rewarded by reading this book.
We will comment here on just one aspect of Miliband’s thinking: what might be called the dialectic of reform and repression of the advanced capitalist state.
Miliband consistently argued throughout his political and intellectual career that even in the advanced capitalist states the political progress and reform identified with the welfare state would quickly come up against its own limits and prove in many ways temporary. Not only did it run into intractable problems in a society devoted to increasing economic inequality and hence increasing political inequality, but it was dependent on the strength of working-class based parties and movements that in themselves constituted threats to the logic of the system. Hence, reform would give way to repression, which would take the form of conservative authoritarianism.
Thus in The State in Capitalist Society Miliband argued that “the largest of all questions about Western-type regimes is how long their ‘bourgeois-democratic’ framework is likely to remain compatible with the needs and purposes of advanced capitalism; whether its economic, social and political contradictions are of such a kind as to render unworkable the political order with which it has, in general, hitherto been able to accommodate itself.” Miliband’s answer to this question was that “advanced capitalist societies are subject to strains more acute than for a long time past, and their inability to resolve these strains makes their evolution towards more or less pronounced forms of conservative authoritarianism more rather than less likely.”
Today this dialectic of reform and repression has become more important than ever. Hence, Miliband’s analysis – in just this area alone – deserves the close scrutiny of all who are concerned with progressive change. If a general tendency toward “conservative authoritarianism in advanced capitalism may have struck readers of The State in Capitalist Society in the late 1960s as an improbable conclusion – at the beginning of the 21st century the prescience of his views should be obvious. For Miliband, of course, there was no way of breaking with this dialectic except by breaking with the logic of capitalist society and charting a different, revolutionary path – toward socialism.
Miliband’s major books constitute one part of his intellectual legacy. Another part consists of The Socialist Register. The Register was created by Miliband and John Saville, its two founders, in 1964. Since its beginning it has been published by Merlin Press in London and distributed in the United States by Monthly Review Press. It was created as a left intellectual journal geared more to working class struggles, and designed to be more empirical, more accessible in style, and more attuned to British and international realities than other journals emanating from the British left. There is no doubt that the Register was needed at the time and has played a vital role in socialist education during the past four decades. It has provided some of the best, most realistic socialist analyses to be found anywhere – in each annual issue since its founding.
Since the mid-1980s, Leo Panitch, a former student of Miliband’s and an accomplished socialist political thinker in his own right, has played a key role as editor of the Register, first joining Miliband and Saville as coeditor in 1985. Following Saville’s retirement as coeditor in 1989, Panitch and Miliband coedited the Register until the latter’s death in 1994. Since that time, an illustrious international group of contributing editors have supported Panitch and his coeditor since 1998, Colin Leys, in editing The Socialist Register, and in expanding its readership, which has broadened internationally by means of an annual Indian edition (a Greek edition has also just been established). Specific volumes have been translated into languages as diverse as Farsi and Korean. Not the least of Miliband’s achievements was this effecting of a transition for the journal, which would allow it to develop and flourish for decades into the future.
The importance of The Socialist Register is highlighted by this year’s issue, entitled The New Imperial Challenge, and addresses (as its preface puts it) “not only the challenges to human well-being and self-determination presented by American imperialism today, but also the challenge to the left to develop a better theory of imperialism and its relation to global capitalism.” Some of the most important contemporary left thinkers are included among the contributors, with essays by Aijaz Ahmad, Greg Albo, Emad El-Din Aysha, Amy Bartholomew, Jennifer Breakspear, Noam Chomsky, Brett Clark, John Bellamy Foster, Sam Gindin, David Harvey, Michael Klare, Leo Panitch, Paul Rogers, John S. Saul, Bob Sutcliffe and Tina Wallace – taking on themes ranging from “the imperialism of our time” and “the old and new economics of imperialism” to more specific issues such as “ecological imperialism,” “international migration in the new imperial order,” and “the limits and contradictions of ‘Americanization.’”
Marco Schneck would like to start an MR discussion group in the Santa Rosa, California area. Interested readers may contact him at 707-539-4300 or Marcoschneck@earthlink.net.
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