Edited by John Scott and Ann Nilsen
Chapter 5: Mills, Miliband and Marxism
There is much that links C. Wright Mills and Ralph Miliband. They became close friends during the 5-year period from 1957 until Mills’s death; both were on the left, but occupied independent positions that do not easily fall into conventional categories; both wrote highly influential books about the power structure of advanced capitalist societies; and both attempted to engage with Marxism in a spirit of critical but sympathetic analysis without following any ‘line’. They were also linked closely by others, so that, for example, Mills, rather than Miliband, had been the original target of Poulantzas’s attack on elitist theories of the state (Barrow 2007). Yet there were also some crucial differences. Although Mills identified himself with the Left, and was at one time influenced by US Trotskyism, his intellectual interest in Marxism really only developed in the last few years of his life, and he remained outside this tradition. Miliband, by contrast, was never tempted by Trotskyism, but was steeped in Marxism since he had been a teenager. Second, while some critics (from both left and right) regarded Mills’s The Power Elite and Miliband’s The State in Capitalist Society (Miliband 1973) as similar, there were some very important differences between the two books. Third, while both sought forms of agency to bring about a social transformation, the potential ‘solutions’ they identified were quite different. This chapter briefly outlines the relationship between the two men, and then focuses on their political and intellectual development, paying particular attention to their respective attitudes towards Marxism and the politics of the New Left.
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