Tony Cliff

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Tony Cliff
File:Tony Cliff.jpg
Tony Cliff in 1986
Born Yigael Gluckstein
20 May 1917
Died 9 April 2000 (aged 82)

Tony Cliff (born Yigael Gluckstein; 20 May 1917 – 9 April 2000), was a Trotskyist activist. Born to a Jewish family in Palestine, he moved to Britain in 1947 and by the end of the 1950s had assumed the pen name of Tony Cliff. A founding member of the Socialist Review Group, which eventually became the Socialist Workers Party, in 1977 Cliff became effectively the leader.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Tony Cliff was born Yigael Gluckstein in Zikhron Ya'akov during World War I, the son of Esther and Akiva Gluckstein, Jewish immigrants from Poland. He had two brothers and a sister. He grew up in British-ruled Mandatory Palestine, and in his youth, he came to identify with Communism, though he never joined the Communist Party of Palestine, as he had not met any of its members before becoming a socialist activist. However, he did join the socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, and soon became not only a Trotskyist in 1933, but also a confirmed opponent of Zionism. Along with other Hashomer Hatzair members, he joined the illegal Palestine Revolutionary Communist League, necessitating the use of several pseudonyms in three languages.

During World War II, Gluckstein was imprisoned by the British authorities. After his release, he moved to Britain in 1947, but was never able to become a citizen and remained a stateless person. To the end of his life, he spoke English with a distinct Israeli accent. He was for a while deported to the Republic of Ireland and was only permitted to take up British residency due to the status of Chanie Rosenberg, his wife, as a British citizen. Living in London, he again became active with the Revolutionary Communist Party onto whose leadership he had been co-opted. For most purposes Gluckstein was a supporter of the leadership of the RCP around Jock Haston,[1] and as such he was involved with the discussions concerning the nature of those states dominated by Russia and the Communist parties initiated by a faction within the RCP. This debate was linked to other discussions on the nationalised industries in Britain and the increasingly critical stance of Haston and the RCP as to the leadership of the Fourth International with regard to Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia in particular.

On the break-up of the RCP, his supporters joined Gerry Healy's group The Club, although, having been deported to Ireland, Gluckstein himself did not. In 1950 he helped launch the Socialist Review Group which was based around a journal of the same name. This was to be the main publication for which Gluckstein wrote during the 1950s, until it was superseded by International Socialism in 1960, eventually ceasing publication altogether in 1962.

By the time he gained permanent residency in Britain, his supporters in The Club had been expelled due to differences on Birmingham Trades Council as to socialist policy concerning the war in Korea, where Gluckstein's co-factionalists refused to take a position of support for either side in the war.

Owing to his lack of established residency rights in Britain and during his earlier exile in Ireland the name Roger or Roger Tennant was used as a pseudonym. The first edition of his short book on Rosa Luxemburg in 1959 was possibly the first use of the pen name 'Tony Cliff'. In the 1960s Cliff would revive many of his earlier pseudonyms in the pages of International Socialism in which journal reviews are to be found by Roger, Roger Tennant, Sakhry, Lee Rock and Tony Cliff, but none by Yigael or Yg'al Gluckstein.

His group was renamed the International Socialists in 1962, and was to grow from less than 100 members in 1960 until it claimed in the region of 3,000 in 1977, at which point it was renamed the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Cliff remained a leading member until his death in 2000. He was central to the various reorientations carried out in the SWP from time to time to react to changes in the situation of the working class. In particular, after the high level of strike activity in the early seventies, he argued in the late seventies that the working class movement was entering a "downturn" and that the party's activity should be radically changed as a result. A fierce debate ensued, which Cliff's side eventually won. Trotskyist writer Samuel Farber, a long-time supporter of the International Socialist Organization in the US, has argued that the internal party regime established by Cliff during this period is "reminiscent of the one established by Zinoviev in the mid-twenties in the USSR" consequently leading to the various crises and splits in the group later on.[2]

Cliff's biography is, as he himself remarked, inseparable from that of the groups of which he was a leading member.

Shortly before his death, he underwent a major surgical operation on his heart.[3]


Cliff was a revolutionary socialist in the Trotskyist tradition attempting to make Lenin's theory of the party effective in the present day. Much of his theoretical writing was aimed at immediate tasks of the Party at the time.

Cliff was one of several leading Marxists of his era (including Raya Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James) to develop a version of the theory that Russia and the 'glacis countries' (buffer states), as they were referred to in the Fourth International at the time, were "state capitalist". This theory was not at the time as iconoclastic as it came to appear later. The Fourth International held until 1951 that the 'glacis' states had remained capitalist even while the FI maintained the position that Russia was a degenerated workers' state. In fact one leader of the Fourth International (Ernest Mandel, writing under the name 'Germain') remarked that the ideas that both Russia and the glacis were capitalist, or that both Russia and the 'glacis' were workers' states, were both obviously incorrect and had no place in the Fourth International. However within months he would adopt the viewpoint that both Russia and the 'glacis' were workers' states.

Since then the consensus in most Trotskyist groups has been that all the states dominated by Stalinist parties and characterised by state planning and state ownership of property are to be seen as 'degenerated workers' states' (The Soviet Union) or 'deformed workers' states' (other Stalinist states, including much of Eastern Europe). In many ways Cliff was the main dissident from this idea although some of his opponents have sought to associate his state capitalist view with other ideas, for example the theory of 'bureaucratic collectivism' associated with Shachtmanite Workers Party in the United States. However Cliff himself was insistent that his ideas owed nothing to those of Max Shachtman, or earlier proponents of the theory such as Bruno Rizzi, and made this clear in his Bureaucratic Collectivism – A Critique. Nevertheless, in the 1950s his group distributed literature published by Shachtman's group and the theory of the 'permanent arms economy' which was considered one of the pillars of what became the International Socialist Tendency originated with Shachtman's group though it is sometimes alleged that Cliff refused to acknowledge this publicly.[4]

Besides Cliff's theory of state capitalism, and an adaptation of the idea of permanent arms economy, central to the ideology of the International Socialist tradition has been Cliff's theories on "Deflected Permanent Revolution," and the social roots of reformism.

Personal life

Cliff had little or no time for any activities not directly linked to the needs of building his party (with the exception of caring for his family). He did not drink or smoke, or socialise very much. Cliff's wife, Chanie Rosenberg, was herself an active member successively of the SRG, IS and SWP, in which she remains active. As well as authoring many articles on social questions for the groups' publications, she was an activist in the National Union of Teachers until her retirement. In addition, three of the couple's four children became members of the SWP, with one son, Donny Gluckstein, co-authoring two books with his father.

Cliff is depicted as Jimmy Rock of the Rockers in Tariq Ali's satire Redemption.

Selected works

Cliff was a prolific author and journalist. His works were published in many languages as a result of the international nature of the movement of which he was a leader. A list of some of the more important of his works appears below. The date shown is mostly that of first publication.


  • A Summary Description of the Tony Cliff papers held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick Library. Online abstract available. Retrieved 16 June 2006.

See also


  1. The War and the International: A History of the British Trotskyist Movement, 1937–1949 (with Al Richardson), Socialist Platform, London 1986.
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  3. Birchall 2010.
  4. This allegation seems to have originated from Jim Higgins in his booklet More Years for the Locusts, but it would seem to be contradicted by the fact that International Socialism, Nos. 47 and 49 carried prominent ads for the book The Permanent War Economy by T.N. Vance, who is now acknowledged to be the originator of the theory. Both Higgins and Cliff are listed in No. 49 as editors of that issue.


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  • Ian Birchall, Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time (London: Bookmarks, 2011)

External links