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In the Belly of the Beast

The 2014 issue of journal Socialist Register is the 50th since the journal was founded by Ralph Miliband – together with John Saville – in 1964. Tomorrow will see a discussion in Parliament, chaired by John McDonnell MP, on the legacy and ongoing relevance of the political project he initiated (see details below)

The concern to interpret anew, but rigorously and relevantly, the politics of Marx became the hallmark of the politics of the Register: theory, by all means, but theory that bore relevance to the editors’ preoccupations with contemporary politics”. (Marion Kozak)

The present Labour leader’s late father, the Marxist academic Ralph Miliband, was famously sceptical about any socialist strategy which sought to engage principally at the level of Parliament. And who could blame him? Popular esteem for politicians is at a low ebb, and understandably so. Voters might look for Labour to soften the roughest edges of neoliberal austerity, but who today dares hope for a fundamental shift in wealth and power across society to emerge from the corridors of Westminster?

The terms of contemporary political debate have become incredibly narrow. So too is the range of backgrounds and life experiences of those filling up the green benches. Increasingly empty of ideas, and remote from the concerns of ordinary people, formal party politics is desperately in need of a radical transformation.

The cardinal mistake of the Westminster bubble is to mistake public disaffection in politicians, for a lack of interest in politics. On the contrary, the effects of a colossal, ideologically-driven attack on the interests of working class communities are producing new formations of resistance to the neoliberal model promoted by all three major parties. New social movements like UK Uncut, Disabled People Against the Cuts, or Boycott Workfare have shown a willingness to take direct action themselves rather than wait for someone to speak up on their behalf.

Ralph Miliband might no longer be with us, but the journal he founded – and the politics it exists to promote – are very much alive and kicking. So far from having receded into historical memory, class divisions are as inescapable and pressing a feature of our daily lives. The need for a critical and internationalist socialist politics, pluralistic but committed and rooted in everyday struggles, is as relevant as ever. Generations of politicians, from Thatcher to Blair and beyond might have sought to relegate these ideas to the margins of history – but they haven’t been killed off. They’re still being discussed, even – as tomorrow – in the belly of the beast.

“Socialist Register: Ralph Miliband and the Politics of Class Today” will take place in Committee Room 9 in the House of Commons, Tomorrow (Wednesday 27) at 7pm – Speakers: John McDonnell MP (Chair); Andrew Murray, UNITE; Madeleine Davis, UEL; Colin Leys, former Co-Editor, Socialist Register; Hilary Wainwright, Co-Editor, Red Pepper. Reserve your tickets here

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