I’ve recently started reading Ralph Miliband’s Socialism in a Sceptical Age. Partly because someone on twitter wants to quote Ralph every time Ed says something, here are a couple of points so far.
RM felt that the power of Big Media was akin to the power to raise a private army, and he says this with reference to feudalism. Feudalism couldn’t end while the state relied on the barons for mobilisation, and while they controlled mobilisation, they would make sure it didn’t. He may mean that private power over media is to the capitalism of the 1990s (when he was writing) as private power over mobilisation was to feudalism.
RM argues that it’s primarily about power. He doesn’t really take a view about planning vs markets, or if he does I’ve not reached it yet. Whether economic life is dominated by organisations or markets or something else is a secondary point. What matters are the terms of trade between the actors in it. He was very well aware of the criticisms of planned economies and also of Attlee/Nehru nationalised industries. The rigged market is as much an instrument of violence as Gosplan.
Different forms of capitalism are as important as different forms of socialism. It’s still capitalism, but one form may very well be preferable to another.
That said, the difference between a social reformer and a socialist is that one of them wants a society that is egalitarian, democratic, and in which much more of economic life is socialised, which isn’t the same thing as nationalised. The horizon for this may be very long, and in some ways socialism is a way of seeing.
Something else. It’s interesting to run into references to people I otherwise only know as blogs howling at each other about Iraq, like the late Norman Geras, as if they were great intellectual eminences. For example, I made a fool of myself on Crooked Timber not so long ago by demanding to know if there was any reason to care about anything Michael Walzer had ever said. I stand by that one.