Sunday, 26 July 2009

Tony Cliff archive

This article is also published at
I've decided to initiate a new blog - in addition to the luna17 blog - but only for a brief period. It will of course remain online indefinitely, as an archive, but I've set myself the strict (and non-negotiable!) deadline of 31 August for posting new entries. I thought I'd use the extra time freed up by the summer hols to attempt something I've had niggling away at my consciousness for a little while.

The basic idea is simple: to select examples of writing and speeches by Tony Cliff and collate them in one place. Cliff was the founder of the group that later developed into the Socialist Workers Party and a leading member of the SWP until his death in April 2000, aged 82. Born in Palestine and becoming a revolutionary as a schoolboy, he devoted nearly seven decades to Marxist politics and the project of building socialist organisation.

He obviously produced an enormous amount of political commentary, analysis, history and biography - through articles, essays, books and speeches. As well as three printed volumes of his selected writings - and numerous books still in print - there is a major online collection at the Marxist Internet Archive. Ian Birchall, a SWP comrade, is currently writing a biography of Cliff (there's already Cliff's own memoir, A World to Win). So, why bother with a blog devoted to Cliff's work?

One simple reason is that it will include video as well as text - indeed the first link I've posted is a video interview with Cliff, as lucid as ever in 1996. I especially like sites which combine text and video, and frequently check YouTube (especially the channel run by Ady Cousins) for left-wing speeches and other sources. The new blog is a chance to combine different media to provide an accessible selection of Cliff's political contributions.

There's a personal element too: I became a revolutionary socialist in 1992, aged 14, and have read Cliff ever since (I was also lucky enough to hear him speak on numerous occasions). I've learnt a tremendous amount from Cliff - the blog can be regarded as a record of my personal enagagement with his ideas. It should resonate, however, with others of the same political stripe, and hopefully be of interest to those who are new to Cliff's political thought and the tradition he represents.

It is not an attempt at anything systematic or complete - instead it is one socialist activist's selection and will therefore inevitably reflect the editor's own current preoccupations, and the political context we are all presently operating in. Someone else might produce something quite different - indeed I might myself, if I was doing this at a different time.

This leads on to another issue, namely contemporary relevance. A remarkable amount of Cliff's output feels fresh and topical. I am selecting sources I regard as relevant and well worth engaging with today. Cliff was expert at applying the intellectual richness of the Marxist tradition to a changing world - his writings can guide us in doing precisely the same today. I'll be providing brief commentaries on many of the sources, in particular to draw out lessons for us today.

Arguably Cliff's greatest political contribution was in the area of building revolutionary organisation, addressing the questions of what it means to be a revolutionary and which strategies and forms of organisation are needed to enhance the struggle for a better world. This wasn't merely theoretical - he continuously sought to build such organisation in practice, from 1930s Palestine through to the British SWP, numbering thousands, of his later years (and his support for its sister organisations in the International Socialist Tendency). Much of the material I'll be choosing is acutely relevant to the theory and practice of building a revolutionary party.

Finally, I will be considering Cliff's work thematically, i.e. linking different pieces according to a shared topic or focus. A chronological approach - like at the Marxist Internet Archive - can be useful, but I also think it's good to make connections based on the political topic, regardless of when sources are dated. What, for example, did Cliff have to say about the Middle East over several decades, and how might that help our understanding of the region today?


  1. I think this is an excellent idea.

    Here's a great video animated by our very own notthebbc:

    I'll send you other things if i find them.

    Speak soon

  2. Yeah, I love the animated speeches - witty and entertaining as well as very informative. It's always good to hear Cliff speaking, rather than just getting the written word.

  3. Thanks, please keep up to good work on Cliff. He surely is our GIANT! and I am greatful to him for my life! Well done! X