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Archive for December 2010

Reading Miliband’s “The Sickness of Labourism” after 50 years

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There simply isn’t enough wind in present-day Labourism to fill the political sails of another Labour administration.

While Papa Miliband had already concluded this in 1960 (even before that), Miliband sons are busy filling the political sails of the Labour Party, which papa had declared to be a “sick party”, with something else.

Ralph Miliband’s decent commentary on the Labour defeat in 1959 in the first issue of NLR, “The Sickness of Labourism”, must be distributed to the new Labour leadership. In this article, he started with a quote from Tawney (1932):

“The Labour Party is hesitant in action, because divided in mind. It does not achieve what it could because it does not know what it wants”.

Miliband considered it to be a mild judgement in 1960. For him, things had further changed within the Labour Party. This hesitation and ambiguity might have existed on the part of the Party itself, however, its leadership knew what it was aiming for.

“It is true that leaders reflect tendencies. But there are times when leaders can powerfully re-inforce tendencies and greatly help to give them sharp political content. To ignore this in relation to the recent history of the Labour Party is to fall into the crassest kind of determinism.”

It was in the 1944 annual conference that the rank and file could force the leadership to the nationalisation programme for the last time, and,

In an historical perspective, the achievements of the Labour administrations of 1945—51 may well come to be seen as the maximum expression of Labourism in action.

His comments on the Tories too are astute:

The Tory Party has always been a much more complicated and sensitive animal than Labour has made allowance for. It has been, is and will remain, the main political expression of ruling class power—the party of property and privilege. It is also (and in this it really differs from the Labour Party) the political repository of much civilised savagery; a high proportion of its activist rank and file, as indeed of its parliamentary representation, can safely be relied on to express, publicly, but even more, privately, views and opinions which often seem to be part of the domain of psychopathology rather than of politics.

Were this all, the Tory Party would not be the most successful conservative Party in the world; indeed, it would long have ceased to occupy a significant place in political life.

But this is not all. The Tory Party is a deeply class-conscious party, much more so than the Labour Party, and its class-consciousness includes an awareness, however reluctant, however delayed its effects, that if the essentials of the social system it serves are to be preserved, some concessions have to be made to the pressures of the democracy. Thus the Tory Party adjusted itself to an extended suffrage, to trade union growth, to welfare services, to the emergence of the Labour Party as Opposition and as Government, to State intervention in economic affairs, even to the nationalisation of public utilities. It is now well advanced in the process of adapting itself to a mean, half-hearted, messy kind of labourism.

This flexibility at least helps to explain why a substantial proportion of the Tory Party’s electoral clientéle and of its support in the country has always included masses of people who had neither power, nor property, nor privilege.

Well, with hindsight, the state of the Labour Party as described by Miliband in 1960 resembles much of the parliamentarian left in India.

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

December 29, 2010 at 2:14 am

The effect of Binayak Sen’s conviction

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Yesterday, we saw many faces and forces converging on the streets, whom we missed during many programmes against the operation greenhunt over the past several months.

Binayak Sen’s conviction only reaffirms for those who forgot the simple civic science fact that the judiciary is ultimately part of the State, and it has to complement other organs of the State. This complementarity is sometimes contradictory. Such contradictory complementarity has its own functions, which are not simply ideological. Only through such contradictions the state subsumes its own excesses – resolving the problem of coordination between its various organs. One must not confuse these contradictions as some sort of autonomy, as many rights activists do. The overall tenor that the State acquires at a particular phase of societal development is what informs all its organs, one complementing another, even at many times by countering, so that the normality is established.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

December 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

Stuart Hall’s editorial for the inaugural issue of NLR

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It is sometimes useful to read the older texts of socialist movements. They provide insights into our socio-ideological reality too. Stuart Hall’s opening write-up for NLR in 1960 is a decent piece to ground an effort like NLR in its contemporary context. We are still in the need to undertake the same tasks:

What we need now is a language sufficiently close to life—all aspects of it—to declare our discontent with “that same order”.

How very true, the language of discontent should be sufficiently close to life. If they are not so, it is once again ideological like any other ideology.

Now, on the dialectic of theory and practice:

At some point, the distant wariness between intellectual and industrial workers must be broken down.

The gap is seen as between workers, which is institutionalised through the so-called division of labour.

What we need are not only discussion groups, but centres of socialist work and activity—rallying points of disturbance and discontent within the local community, the nerve centres of a genuinely popular and informed socialist movement.

We definitely need “centres of socialist work and activity” grounded in concrete locations, today.

The last refuge of scoundrels today is no longer the appeal for “patriotism”, but the cry that we must sink our differences in the interests of Party Unity. Socialists should cease to squander their energies upon scoundrels, and should cease to allow them to betray the enthusiasm of the young.

How much we have wasted our energies in preserving Parties’ Unities (!), we know that.

And finally,

The Labour Movement is not in its insurrectionary phase: we are in our missionary phase. [We] must pioneer a way forward by working for socialism as the old missionaries worked: as if consumed by a fire that is capable of lighting the darker places in our society. We have to go out into towns and cities, universities and technical colleges, youth clubs and Trade Union branches, and—as Morris said—make socialists there.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

December 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm

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