Tony Cliff

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Tony Cliff (born Yigael Gluckstein; 1917-2000), was a Trotskyist who was a founding member of the Socialist Review Group which went on to become the British Socialist Workers Party. Born to a Jewish family in Palestine, he moved to Britain in 1947 and assumed the pen name Tony Cliff.[1] Notable disciples include the late Christopher Hitchens, though he preferred the much more vague descriptor as 'reformed Trotskyist' rather than 'former drooling idolator'.

The Life and Times of Tony Cliff[edit]

With the expulsion of Leon Trotsky from the Soviet Union and the international bounty set on his head, Trotskyists, as they called themselves (don't call them Trotskyites, it makes them mad as hell) began to push for an international program which would both fight Hitler while furthering the reach of a reformed Leninist party in opposition to Stalin. Trotsky played to an underdog mentality, and his followers promoted his views via editorials and articles across the world.

About this time, Cliff was coming into his own as a young man and began to find himself drawn to Communism itself while being repelled by Stalin. So, he took sides with Trotsky and began to organize laborers, both Muslim and Jewish, in the British Mandate of Palestine. On the surface, this seems like a miracle. But the real issue is that he was also advocating for active resistance to the draft and constantly parroting the bits from Trotsky that were, with the hindsight of history, utterly wrong. For example, while Trotsky was Stalin's arch-nemesis, he also believed that the Soviet expansion itself was bringing a Communist liberation to Europe. As such, when Stalin made a shaky alliance with Hitler and took over whole swaths of Poland, Cliff said this was a good thing. He said it was so good, all faithful British Communists should resist the war at any costs and allow Hitler to do his thing before he petered out, got old, died, and left the remains to the Soviets. Obviously, this was just a tad annoying to the British governors, who threw him into jail for the entirety of the war.

After the war, he emigrated to the UK while everything went to hell in Palestine. Unlike others in the era, who wanted to organize the workers, Cliff saw the chance to create a vanguard of the coming revolution by focusing his speechifying on British college students. By the time of his death, Cliff had created several generations of politically-active thinkers who can be seen often at various demonstrations against all forms of capitalism.[2]

The Prophet?[edit]

One of the most popular offerings in political biography when Cliff was young was the epic Prophet trilogy by Isaac Deutscher. The trilogy profiles the life of Trotsky in a way so powerful even Tony Blair (a Fabian) thought it was one of the best pieces of writing he ever read. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the trilogy obviously becomes much more of an intellectual curiosity than a call to action, but in its time, it was the smart man's version of Steal This Book. Hitchens ruefully would recall how he had tried in vain with his comrades to re-create Soviet Communism in a much cleaner, softer form, utilizing the writings of Trotsky and Isaac Deutscher as guides to their thinking.

The problem, of course, is that most of Trotsky's major economic ideas are based in a reality which ceased to exist around the end of the Great Depression. Trying to enact the Trotskyist program in a unified world market powered by computers would have as much effect as implementing the Ron Paul platform (namely, it would be a socioeconomic disaster whose equivalent has not yet been dreamed of by any science-fiction author). How would Trotsky handle a Goldman Sachs, a Bank of America, or the Eurozone? Despite the fact that Trotskyists insist they have the answers, it really is closer to the religious adoration of the holy scriptures than legitimate thinking when a Trotskyist labels someone as heretical for suggesting these ideas may be a tad out of date. In America, the International Socialist Organization is the closest to a derivative of Cliff's program, though he expelled them for not being revolutionary enough. For a political movement opposed to religion, this sounds all too familiar.[3]

References[edit]