Friday, 21 August 2009

Remembering Tony Cliff - how you can help

Over the last few weeks I've been collating a blog archive dedicated to Tony Cliff - founder member of the Socialist Workers Party - alongside this blog. I've just got a few posts still to do - linking to articles by Cliff that I think are really essential reading today - and I'll be sticking to my promise to complete it by 31 August. After that it will remain online indefinitely. I have a small request to make too - more of which in a few moments...

The intention has never been to collate anything definitive: there's already a magnificent, and exceptionally wide-ranging, online archive of Cliff's works - ranging from 1935, when he was a teenager, until just before his death in 2000 - at the Marxists Internet Archive. I wanted to choose some of the pieces I regard as most historcally important, well-written or pertinent to contemporary concerns (a few even meet all three criteria). I hope I've succeeded, through succinct commentaries, in placing the selected articles, essays and book chapters in their historical context so they become more accessible.

I've generally avoided explicit comments on how Cliff's writing is applicable today -it's likely the reader can infer this anyway, and I've made a point of selecting carefully with a view to relevance. My most recent post, for example, is on Israel/Palestine - sadly, this remains as significant today as when it was written in 1982. I've included a chapter from Cliff's 1984 book on women's liberation, for example, because I think we can still learn from him on this topic. New material may be needed on the focus of the chapter I chose - the family - to account for recent developments, but theoretically Cliff's still incredibly useful.

As those two examples probably indicate, there's considerable breadth in the selection: from Lenin to the union bureaucracies, from Egypt in the 30s to France in '68. At the core of the selection, however, is Cliff's deep preoccupation with the project of building revolutionary socialist organisation. As well as being his life's calling in practice, this was theoretically an area where he made an enormous contribution to the Marxist tradition (the greatest since Lenin). My hope is that Cliff's ideas and wealth of experiences can guide revolutionaries in the future.

So, finally, a modest request. If you have personal recollection of Cliff, e.g. hearing him speak at the anuual Marxism festival or at a public meeting, this is your chance to make a small contribution to my permanent Cliff archive. Early on I asked for examples of the metaphors, anecdotes, jokes, analogies and catchphrases Cliff used. He had a rich repertoire of these. Although I've had some very good examples sent to me, I would love some more.

These will be featured in the final blog post. For this to be possible I really need material by next Saturday - 29 August - so please get in touch. You can add a comment to this post or send me an email:

It would be great if many of Cliff's rhetorical gems could be preserved for posterity - if you can, please help.

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