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New Left Review I/12, November-December 1961

Eric Hobsbawm

Parliamentary Cretinism?

Parliamentary Socialism,

by Ralph Miliband: G. Allen & Unwin, 35s.

of all parties the social-democratic ones have been by far the least successful. Conservative parties do not have to win or achieve anything, but need merely avoid being defeated, and this several of them have done with great skill. Liberal parties have had their day of glory in the 19th century, transforming the world in the image of the bourgeois. The very Tory and Labour parties in Britain testify to the completeness of this triumph. Communist parties have established socialism in large parts of the world, nationalist movements have liberated nations, even fascism has had its, fortunately temporary, triumph. Only the great bodies of the social-democratic movement, which have for long suggested the image of large, slow-moving and clumsy animals to cartoonists and commentators, have lumbered sadly, and entirely unsuccessfully, in pursuit of the new Jerusalem which almost all of them were founded or committed to achieve. They have not always been politically impotent; but what they have done, though admirable in its way, is not what they set out to do. The “welfare state” is not socialism, and indeed its foundation does not require a social-democratic party in office or even in existence.

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Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Parliamentary Cretinism?’, NLR I/12: £3

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