John Saville


Critical friend

(July 1994)

From Socialist Review, No. 177, July/August 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Colin Barker is a personal friend and I have always respected his steadfast political commitment without, of course, sharing all his views. It was therefore with dismay that I read his obituary of Ralph Miliband in your June issue.

Here was a man who died at the age of 70; throughout his whole adult life he had stood firm on his socialist principles. He was an independent socialist, never a Stalinist nor a Western-type Social Democrat. He lectured all over the world and the multitude of his students will bear witness to his dedication towards what used to be called The Good Old Cause. For Colin to write that ‘to his credit’ Miliband spoke strongly in favour of the student struggle in 1968 is unbearably patronising and ungenerous. What else would Ralph Miliband have done?

I will not enter into debate over Colin’s assessment of Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society although I happen to regard it as probably his most important book. But Colin really must not write such silly sentences as, ‘Here he set out to show that the state in the advanced countries was inherently capitalist’.

Colin links his critique with the comment that in 30 years the Socialist Register ‘managed not to celebrate a single revolutionary struggle in the advanced world. It missed out on 1968, on Portugal, Iran, Poland’. Since I was co-editor of the Socialist Register for most of these 30 years I find this a somewhat extraordinary statement.

The Register was never intended to be an annual chronology but rather to provide serious analysis of socialist theory and political practices. On a quick content analysis of just five years, from 1969 to 1973, there were four articles on 1968, six on Africa, two on Chile, and one each on Northern Ireland, South-east Asia and Bangladesh and one on the workers’ control experiments in Czechoslovakia 1945-48. On Portugal over the years there was an historical article on Portugal and colonialism, two articles on Guinea Bissau, and one each on Angola and Mozambique.

As for Iran I am not sure what we are to celebrate. Certainly the downfall of the Shah, but the return of Islamic fundamentalism? Analysis surely, but celebration? Miliband and I go back a long way as Marxists and our record is not exactly lacking in criticism or self criticism. Speaking now only for myself I have always assumed that socialism was fellowship and that whatever differences we have we can always recognise our comrades in the struggle. Miliband was always in the struggle.


John Saville

Last updated on 23 April 2017