Tony Cliff

A World to Win

Chapter 3
The Socialist Review Group

Coming to England

I was so excited. I had to learn Marxism afresh.

By force of circumstances, my Marxism, shaped in Palestine, was very one-sided. I hungrily read Marx’s works. Before I reached the age of 18 I had read the three volumes of Capital. I also read a number of Marx’s other writings, as well as the works of Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. Alas, my Marxism was very abstract even though I repeated again and again that the heart of Marxism was the unity of theory and practice and that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’. [1]

Until this point the restricted scope for activity in Palestine meant that Marxism had been for me very much a science. It is true that Marxism as a guide to action is of necessity a science, but it is also an art, a creative art. Newton’s law of gravity is scientific. Using this science to throw a stone at a target, or even more, to direct an artillery bombardment, is an art which can be achieved only by the application of experience to the science. It was not an accident that Napoleon was a brilliant artillery officer: he was very good at mathematics, but also endowed with imagination, a realistic grasp of circumstances resulting from experience and practice.

London opened a new chapter in my political life. I felt like a pupil, having to learn the ABC of Marxism as an art, which is the foundation for turning knowledge into practice.

Straight after coming to London Chanie and I joined the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), British section of the Fourth International. It had 400 members, practically all of them workers, trade unionists and worker intellectuals.

From the moment I came to Britain I was invited to attend the weekly meetings of the Political Bureau of the party. I believe the main inducement for the leadership to invite me was that, they, like me, did not agree with the perspective of the International Secretariat regarding the state of world capitalism. With full employment in Britain, rising production and rising wages, it was ridiculous to repeat the International Secretariat’s dictum that ‘the revival of economic activity in capitalist countries weakened by the war, and in particular continental European countries, will be characterised by an especially slow tempo which will keep their economy at levels bordering on stagnation and decay’. The leadership of the RCP welcomed my participation in debates on the subject in party meetings. They also welcomed my article criticising Mandel, entitled All that Glitters is not Gold, published in the Internal Bulletin of the RCP in September 1947.

My article was a critique of an article by Mandel dealing with the perspectives for capitalism after the war. Mandel’s statement was mechanical in the extreme. He did not grasp the dialectical relation between the destruction of capital during the war and the prospect of accelerated capital accumulation after the war. The one contributed to the other. He also forgot that so long as capitalism exists the rhythm of slump and boom cannot be avoided any more than a heartbeat can be avoided so long as a person is alive.

At that time I had very close, warm relations with Jock Haston, the general secretary of the RCP. He was a very impressive worker-intellectual, a few years older than me, and he referred to me as his ‘young brother’. Also at the time, in 1947, Jock did toy with the idea that perhaps Stalin’s Russia was not a workers’ state. But a few months later he dropped this idea completely.

I had a marvellous time in Britain. Sadly, at the end of 1947 the British authorities threw me out of the country when a long struggle to renew my permit to stay was lost. The permit had been renewed repeatedly, but only for a month at a time.

Throughout this uncertain period we made great efforts to move to France. I was registered as a student at 17 French universities. Chanie went over to Paris to try to clinch the move. The French foreign office was still under wartime restrictions, so she had to use the telephone to speak to someone. The official she spoke to was delighted to practice his English and spent an hour talking to her, ending: ‘Don’t worry, just ring back in an hour and I’ll have everything ready.’ She rang back in an hour, and was bluntly told, ‘Your husband will never come to France.’

I was very pessimistic about my prospects. I had already had a few rejections previously. In 1938 I was registered at Columbia University in the US, but I was refused entry by the American authorities; my police record did not cast me in a good light. In 1946 I tried, on my way to Britain, to pass through South Africa, where Chanie was born and where the majority of her family still lived, but I had been refused entry there too.

Finally, one day, towards the end of September 1947, I got a letter from the Home Office. I did not keep the letter, but I remember it very clearly. It said something like, ‘Dear Sir, unless you leave the country within 24 hours, we shall have to use force against you. Your obedient servant, Chuter Ede, home secretary.’ I thought, ‘What hypocrisy. If he was my servant, he could not kick me out of the country; I could kick him out.’ I was allowed back to Britain in 1952 which was, of course, a great relief. However, at that time I said, ‘Until now there were two people who took my politics seriously – the home secretary and me. Now only I am left.’

Thirty one years later, in 1978, I applied to the Home Office to get British citizenship. I had already been 26 years resident in the country. My application was supported by Michael Foot, at the time deputy prime minister, and other prominent MPs. In due course my application came up to the office where it was to be dealt with but the Daily Mail somehow got wind of the story. It decided to make headline news of Michael Foot’s sponsorship of ‘this Trotskyist’. A worker in the Daily Mail notified us of this. Our house became surrounded by journalistic snoopers with cameras. Chanie warned her headmaster that her school might be invaded by them, and we went down to Fleet Street at 2am to see the first edition of the paper. To our amazement there was nothing. We learnt subsequently that Michael Foot had used a D notice to prevent the paper publishing the story.

Michael Foot could browbeat the Daily Mail, but he could not browbeat Special Branch into granting me British citizenship, which they refused. Special Branch had a grudge against me. After all, in 1939, the British authorities in Palestine had imposed a detention order on me for one year. It raises the question: who is more powerful, the elected MP and deputy prime minister, or the Special Branch?

Coming back to September 1947, the same post office delivery that brought me the letter from Chuter Ede telling me to get out of the country included a letter from the Irish authorities, allowing me to come to Dublin to be a student at Trinity College. It seems that the Irish authorities, not being on friendly terms with the British at the time, did not check with them whether I was an undesirable person. As a matter of fact, a few weeks after I went to Ireland, I got a letter from the authorities, asking to see me. When I arrived an official said to me, ‘You came here on false pretences. You did not tell us you are a Trotskyist.’ I answered, ‘You did not ask me.’ I stayed in Ireland for four and a half years.

Chanie came with me to Ireland. She tried to find a job that would provide for both of us. The best she could find was a teaching post in a Protestant school – living in – and offering the princely salary of £3 a week. Not even a single person could dream of living on that!

So Chanie returned to England, and for the next four and a half years we lived in separate countries. For nearly a year I was not allowed to visit Britain, but then the authorities relaxed and I was allowed to come to Britain during the university holidays. Chanie came to visit me in Dublin during many of her school holidays.

Life was very hard. Finances were a real headache. Chanie’s income of £7 a week, in today’s prices some £150 a week, had to provide for two separate rooms, one in London and one in Dublin, food for two people, and after the birth of our first child, Elana, in 1949, for three, and also for travelling to and from Dublin. After paying the rent I had the princely sum of £1 a week to spend on myself. That was enough to keep body and soul together – bread and jam and a cup of tea for breakfast, the same for dinner, and the same plus an egg for supper. I never used the bus or bought a newspaper. I went to the public library to read. My only luxury was the theatre. At that time a ticket to both Dublin theatres was very cheap. Chanie had it tougher. As a teacher she worked through the lunch hour to get a free meal during the week; the problem as regards food was the weekend. Incidentally, when Elana was born I related the glad tidings to my Palestinian Arab co-tenant. ‘Oh,’ he replied sympathetically, ‘too bad. Better luck next time.’

Politically, life in Dublin was very tough. I felt even more isolated and lonely than in prison; I hardly knew anyone. When I moved to Ireland the Quatrième Internationale journal reported that Comrade Cliff moved to Ireland to work under the auspices of the Irish section. Alas, it was difficult to do so, as the total membership of the section was one – Johnny Byrne, a very fine, honest, tough council worker, tall and well-built with astonishing hands – as big as five hands, we always said. The report in Quatrième Internationale was probably written to encourage Trotskyist comrades elsewhere.

In this desert there was one oasis – the household of Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, his wife, Andree, and their lovely children. His father, Francis, had been executed by the British in 1916 because of his sympathy for the Easter Rising. It was a most welcoming and warm family. Every Friday I was invited to have supper with them, but more important, to enjoy their warm friendship.

Owen Sheehy-Skeffington (1909-70) was a radical socialist pacifist. He had a beautiful personality. He was very honest, morally courageous and had a fine sense of humour. I shall give a few examples.

There was a mass open-air meeting in Dublin, chaired by the Irish president, Éamon de Valera, dedicated to the resurrection of the Gaelic language. The Green Tories in the Irish Republic were using the Gaelic language as a figleaf to hide their capitulation to the partition of Ireland. After the main speech, Owen moved forward and asked to speak to the meeting. Being the son of a martyr he got a warm welcome. He said one sentence in Gaelic, to further applause. He then spoke in English, saying, ‘For those who don’t understand Gaelic, I’ll translate what I just said. I said, "I hardly know a word of Gaelic, and the whole language is not worth a farthing".’

Another example. We both went to a meeting organised by the Stalinists in Dublin. In the discussion Owen said the following, ‘In 1938 Chamberlain said we were not living in the medieval time of religious wars. If the Germans want to support the Nazis it is their business.’ He then stopped a moment and went on to say, ‘I’m terribly sorry. I made a mistake. It was not Chamberlain in 1938, but Molotov [the Russian foreign minister] in 1940 at the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact.’ You should have seen the face of the Stalinist speaker!

The third incident was this. Father O’Brian, a professor in Galway University, declared, ‘Socialism believes in free love. Free love is prostitution.’ Owen wrote a letter to the Irish Times saying, ‘I know we have prostitution in Dublin. I did not know we had socialism.’ For contradicting the priest Owen was expelled from the Labour Party.

Things became much tougher when a complete break took place between me and the leadership of the RCP. We had a common position regarding the economic perspectives of the West. But when I developed the theory that Stalinist Russia was state capitalist, our paths diverged completely.

The difference was sharpened by the reaction of the RCP leadership to the February 1948 Stalinist coup in Czechoslovakia, when a totalitarian regime was established. The Socialist Appeal of March 1948 had the following headline: ‘Capitalists Routed In Czechoslovakia’ by Jock Haston. Although the article had strong criticisms of the Stalinist regime’s lack of democracy, it still hailed the February 1948 coup as a great triumph for the proletariat. We in Britain ‘should be rejoicing at the victory over the capitalists’.

A comrade from Britain who visited me in Dublin brought me the paper. My reaction was clear and sharp. That was the end of the RCP. One cannot maintain a Trotskyist organisation while singing the praises of Stalinism. The RCP practically disintegrated a year later.

Jock Haston, general secretary of the RCP, by far the strongest member of the leadership, made astonishing zigzags. After kowtowing to Stalinism, he veered sharply rightwards, and in effect aligned himself with the Labour Party.

When Nye Bevan resigned from the Labour government in April 1951 in protest at the imposition of prescription, denture and spectacle charges, Jock Haston opposed Bevan’s resignation from the right. When the debate raged in the Labour movement on the issue of German rearmament – the right Labour leaders following the Tories in supporting it, the left (including the Communist Party) opposing it – Haston supported German rearmament. The last time I came across Haston was when I read in the Confederation of British Industries journal a glowing report of his role as education officer of the Electrical Trade Union, at that time under the control of the McCarthyite right wing leadership of Frank Chapple and Les Cannon: ‘Now some 1,000 trade unionists attend the courses given by Jock Haston and his staff. They include shop stewards, branch secretaries, and other full time officials.’ Jock Haston told Ford management, ‘I’m a socialist but we have a common interest to see the job is run efficiently’. [2]

My break with the RCP leadership crystallised around my document The Class Nature of Stalinist Russia, which saw the light of day in June 1948. For a year I worked on this essay. I finished a section at a time and posted it to Chanie in London. My English had improved since I left Palestine, but it was still very imperfect. I would write a couple of sentences in English, then a sentence in Hebrew, and then possibly a sentence partly in English and partly in Hebrew. Chanie had to translate. Every time I sent a section it was ‘Found open or damaged and sealed by the Post Office’. As a matter of fact I was very careful to wrap it up well. When Chanie informed me about what happened to the manuscript I suggested she contact Special Branch, as probably they had already typed it, so that she could save time and effort! The document was for the Internal Bulletin of the RCP. The normal size for articles in this publication was two to five pages. But mine grew and grew like topsy. When Chanie finished cutting the stencil the RCP leadership was aghast. But they found it difficult to reject publication of the document as I had been but a few weeks earlier the darling of the party. In addition, Chanie did all the typing and another comrade did all the duplicating. An editorial statement accompanied the document, saying, ‘This long work of Comrade T Cliff has been published as a concession to the author. It cannot be regarded in any way as a precedent.’

The Socialist Review Group

The comrades who held the state capitalist position were either expelled by Gerry Healy, who took control of what was left of the RCP and formed the Socialist Labour League, or left it. To start with, we had eight members. [3] Among them were two very impressive worker-intellectuals, Duncan Hallas and Geoff Carlsson, both engineers. Duncan had a fantastically rich knowledge. He had read and absorbed wide areas of world history, history of the international labour movement, Marxian economics, historical materialism and philosophy. It was a pleasure to listen to him speak. Geoff Carlsson was also a very serious worker-intellectual. However, his knowledge was not as broad as that of Duncan. But still Geoff had a very great desire to learn. I remember him in 1954 writing an article on Guatemala for Socialist Review. He was, quite rightly, very proud of it.

Late in 1950 we began to publish a duplicated monthly paper, Socialist Review, the new group taking its name from the paper. It held its founding conference in summer 1951. At the first recorded meeting (September 1950) there were just 33 members present. Groups existed in London, Thames Valley, Crewe, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester. Nineteen of the 33 were in the Labour League of Youth. We were a minute force. We produced 350 copies of the first issue of the paper; sales were apparently sufficiently encouraging for the figure to be raised for the second issue ... to 375! [4] A little later the print order went up to 500. Half the sale of Socialist Review was done by three comrades: Chanie, her sister Mickey Kidron and her brother Mike Kidron. (Chanie, although one of the SWP’s oldest members, is still one of its best paper sellers!) The Socialist Review Group was, throughout the 1950s, a purely propagandist group; it was not able to make any meaningful intervention in the class struggle. But even propaganda has to have an audience. [5]

Mike Kidron, Chanie’s youngest brother, came to Britain in 1955. He joined us straight away. He became a leading member of our group, and very popular as a lecturer. He was, for five years, the editor of what became our monthly magazine, Socialist Review. In 1960, when we started a theoretical quarterly, International Socialism, Mike became the editor, and held this position for five years. In 1968 his book Western Capitalism Since the War was published. This made a significant contribution to the theory of the permanent arms economy. Sadly, in the late 1970s, he drifted away from revolutionary socialism. However, he never made any open criticism of our organisation.

I drew great encouragement in building the Socialist Review Group from two veteran revolutionaries I met in the early 1950s: Alfred Rosmer (1877-1964) and Heinrich Brandler (1881-1967). Rosmer was one of the few revolutionary socialists who opposed the First World War from its beginning, collaborating with Trotsky. He was a member of Trotsky’s Left Opposition. He was so full of enthusiasm hearing about our tiny group, that it really gave me courage. He told me how small the anti-war grouping in France was at the beginning of the First World War, and so he did not pooh-pooh our tiny little group. It was inspiring to hear him arguing seriously and with respect with my daughter Elana, who at the time was five or six years old!

Another meeting which was important to me was with Heinrich Brandler, who was the leading member of the German Communist Party (KPD) after the deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Brandler was the key leader of the party in 1923, when the revolutionary wave rose in Germany, and the Communist Party had the majority of workers behind it. I asked him why the KPD did not take power at the time. He replied, ‘We were waiting for instructions from Moscow.’ I said to him, ‘I’m sure Lenin and Trotsky would not have dreamt of waiting for instructions from Rosa Luxemburg, however brilliant she was, on the eve of October.’ He explained that the Communist Party of Germany was very inexperienced. At its foundation in December 1918 it had about 4,000 members who ‘were really not Marxists, but pacifists’. The KPD was founded one month after the overthrow of the Kaiser. As against this the Bolshevik Party was founded some 14 years before the overthrow of Tsarism. This strengthened my conviction that time was needed to train cadres. One cannot wait for the revolution to do that. This spurred us on in building the Socialist Review Group. Of course Socialist Review disseminated ideas. We followed Lenin in seeing a revolutionary paper as an organiser, as ‘scaffolding’ for building the party. And, of course, our puny magazine was nothing compared with Lenin’s Iskra, In an article, Where to Begin, Lenin wrote that ‘the role of a newspaper’ should not be:

... limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour. With the aid of a newspaper, and through it, a permanent organisation will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence those events. The mere technical task of regularly supplying die newspaper with copy and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united party, who will maintain constant contact with one another, know the general state of affairs, get accustomed to performing regularly their detailed functions in the all-Russian work, and test their strength in the organisation of various revolutionary actions.

This network of agents will form the skeleton of precisely the kind of organisation we need – one that is sufficiently broad and many-sided to effect a strict and detailed division of labour, sufficiently well-tempered to be able to conduct steadily its own work under any circumstance, at all ‘sudden turns’, and in the face of all contingencies; sufficiently flexible to be able, on the one hand, to avoid the open battle against an overwhelming enemy, when the enemy has concentrated all its forces at one point, and yet, on the other, to take advantage of his unwieldiness and to attack him when and where he least expects it. [6]

Writing articles for Socialist Review, selling it, and contributing to its financing, cemented the comrades together and created bridges to the periphery of the group, trying to win them over. We always looked at two key features: what was common between us and the people who did not belong to our group, but whom we talked to, and what differences there were between them and us. If there was nothing in common, there was no way we could influence them – it was like speaking Greek to English people. On the other hand, if we only confirmed what there was in common we would not teach them anything, and once they have one issue of the paper, there is no reason for them to buy another one. There must be a tension between members of the group and people outside. At one and the same time there must be tension inside the group – intellectual tension. It is neither only agreement or only arguments. Both are needed.

We were worried that a sectarian spirit would dominate out members if we had no regular contact with people in the Labour movement. Hence we decided to work in the Labour Party. Alas, there was also a danger of opportunism arising from this. This became clear in 1954 when the debate on German rearmament took place in the Labour movement and at least one of our members took an extremely opportunist position. In a way it was funny when he met me and bragged, ‘You see I won my Labour Party General Management Committee to oppose German rearmament, unlike Jean who lost the vote in her GMC.’ I then compared the two resolutions that were put forward. Jean Tait’s resolution said more or less the following: ‘We, who oppose all imperialist armament, also oppose German rearmament.’ His successful resolution said something to this effect: ‘Those Germans, who made two world wars, cannot be trusted.’

We, unlike many in the Trotskyist movement, had no illusions then or later, about transforming the Labour Party into a revolutionary party. In a speech to the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 Lenin denned the Labour Party as a ‘capitalist workers’ party’. He called it capitalist because the politics of the Labour Party do not break with capitalism. Why did he call it a workers’ party? It is not because workers voted for it. At that time more workers voted for the Conservative Party; and the Conservative Party is, of course, a capitalist party. Lenin called the Labour Party a capitalist workers’ party because it expressed the urge of workers to defend themselves against capitalism.

Compare this with the nature of the revolutionary party as set out in the Communist Manifesto:

The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: (1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. (2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parries of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. [7]

So our stay inside the Labour Party had strictly limited aims – to recruit to the cause of revolutionary socialism. Recruitment was especially possible in the youth section of the party. A resolution carried by the Socialist Review Group in the 1950s, decided ‘that we concentrate in the next period on recruiting, and direct our primary efforts towards the League of Youth, accepting all elements who will accept our theoretical position, even though their theoretical level is low.’

We also did our best not to limit our activities to the Labour Party or the League of Youth. Birchall wrote, quite rightly, that trade union intervention was necessarily very limited for a small group with few industrial workers. But priority was always given to the few opportunities that did exist. Minutes of the first few months of the group’s existence record discussion of the coming USDAW shop workers’ union conference, at which a comrade was to be a delegate, and the recommendation that a comrade should stand for the national executive committee of the NALGO local government union. There was also regular work on the Birmingham Trades Council.

And in 1959 Geoff Carlsson, a founder member of the group and now chair of shop stewards at the ENV factory in north west London, ran for the presidency of the engineers’ AEU union. The number of AEU members in the group could have been counted on the fingers of one hand, and there was no intervention other than the work of individuals. But candidates had the right to circulate an election address and Carlsson used this to put forward an alternative policy for the union. After criticising the right wing leadership of the union for failing to give a lead over wages or redundancies, he went on, ‘In the elections over the past years, members have had to choose between candidates backed by right wing Labour or the Communist Party. The choice has not been easy. Although most members owe allegiance to the Labour Party, they cannot accept the policies pursued by the right wing of the trade unions and Labour Party when these have included wage freezing, class collaboration and "sell outs". Alternatively, although they respect the militant activities of the individual Communist Party member in the daily struggles on the shop floor, they cannot ignore the external loyalties of the Communist Party to Russia; nor forget the anti working class measures adopted by that country in East Berlin, Poznan, Hungary, etc.’

That there was some response to this position was shown by the voting; Carlsson, without any machine at his disposal, got 5,615 votes out of a total of 91,400, against 57,127 for right wing Carron and 19,799 for Communist Party member Birch.

One person who was quite removed from the pantheon of the ‘greats’ of Marxism for many years was Rosa Luxemburg. Stalinism was not compatible with her concept of the self-activity of workers, with the unity of economics and politics and her concept that in the mass strike there is to be found the heart of the socialist revolution.

In Stalinist theory the party replaces the class as the active force. However, for Marxists, the revolutionary party does not substitute for the class. The party does not relate to workers as the foreman relates to his subordinates in the factory, or the officer to the privates in the army – barking at them. The role of the revolutionary is to raise the self activity and confidence of the workers. We do not emulate hierarchical capitalist institutions; after all, the essence of Marxism is ‘the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class’.

However, the Trotskyist movement, being isolated, fell into the trap of substitutionism. This is the idea that the mass self activity of the working class is unnecessary and that other groups or forces can substitute for it. In the conditions of the 1950s the particular form that substitutionism took was the belief, common to all sects, that if it has the right position the problem is solved.

For the intellectual ideas are not a weapon for action, the ideas are themselves the action. This would be the approach of the New Left growing up in Britain at this time. For the New Left the concept of the unity of theory and practice was the following: Marx wrote a book – that was theory. I read the book and interpret it – that is practice. Actually, both of them remain in the realm of theory. The practice is when the theory relates to die class struggle.

To the rest of the far left, the Socialist Review Group were the ‘state caps’. The far left emphasised that which was a point of distinction, that which separated them from others. Our standpoint was different. State capitalism as a theory was important, but only if it was a starting point for a correct orientation in practice, not a mark of difference.

One rule I have always followed is not to read sectarian literature. I never read Healy’s newspaper, nor that of the International Marxist Group. Once I met Gerry Healy after his paper had carried a long series of articles attacking our tendency and me personally, and asked him, ‘Why do you spend so much time on criticising me? I am not a commander of US troops in Vietnam; I am not the head of die CBI.’ While I avoided sectarian literature I always read the wider left press avidly. This included Tribune, the left Labour paper which had a significant influence on the left in general and whose arguments, therefore, were important to know about.

That the Socialist Review Group was small and had very little influence in the conditions of the 1950s was inevitable, but that it should adopt the attitudes of a sect and fall into substitutionism was not. To fight against this danger I wrote two things. One was a summing up of Rosa Luxemburg’s life, Rosa Luxemburg (1959), and an article called Trotsky on Substitutionism. [8]

The monthly production of Socialist Review was quite an effort. Because our human resources were very limited, I had to be a Jack of all trades. I wrote about half of all the articles, using a number of pseudonyms: articles on Britain were signed R. Tennant; on Russia, L. Turov; on France, De Lacroix; on Spain and Latin America, L. Miguel; there were another couple of pseudonyms I have forgotten. I remember a funny incident. Looking into the paper of the POUM, published in Paris, I saw an article by L. Miguel, ‘our correspondent in Puerto Rico’. The nearest I came to that country was the reading room in the British Museum!

I was also the circulation manager of Socialist Review and acted as secretary of the group, though without a title. For many years I was also the treasurer of the group. I used to give an annual report. Sadly, practically every year the finances did not balance. Either the expenditure was larger than the income, or vice versa. In the first case, in drafting the financial report I added to the plus side an item called ‘Miscellaneous Income’. If the income was larger than the expenditure, I added ‘Miscellaneous Expenditure’. The difference was never more than a couple of pounds, and as I never managed to buy a Rolls Royce, I was never mired in sleaze. In addition to these multifarious roles, Chanie and I had quite often to act as psychotherapists. Individual members were often sunk in depression.

In 1960 the Socialist Review Group was still tiny, some 60 members in all. Its small size had prevented it benefiting, in a limited way, from the events of 1956 – the radicalisation caused by the Tory invasion of Egypt and the split in the Communist Party following the Hungarian Revolution.

The Hungarian Revolution

My document The Class Nature of Stalinist Russia, written in 1947-48, ends with the following words:

The struggle in Stalinist Russia must inevitably express itself in gigantic spontaneous outbursts of millions. Till then it will seem on the surface that the volcano is extinct. Till then the omnipotent sway of the secret police will make it impossible for a revolutionary party to penetrate the masses or organise any systematic action whatsoever. The spontaneous revolution, in smashing the iron heel of the Stalinist bureaucracy, will open the field for the free activity of all the parties, tendencies and groups in the working class. It will be the first chapter in the victorious proletarian revolution. The final chapter can be written only by the masses, self-mobilised, conscious of socialist aims and die methods of their achievement, and led by a revolutionary Marxist party. [9]

Eight years later, in 1956, this prognosis was confirmed by the Hungarian Revolution. On 24 October mass strikes broke out throughout Hungary, culminating in a general strike. On 26 October Revolutionary Workers’ Councils were established throughout the country – in every town and village, in factories and government offices and newspapers. Dual power came into being: side by side with the official Stalinist government a revolutionary workers’ government was in place. Dual power, by definition, is unstable and cannot carry on for long. One side or the other must win. In Russia the February 1917 revolution created dual power: side by side with the bourgeois government was a new government, that of the Soviets. In October the former was eliminated by the latter.

A crucial element for the victory of October 1917 was the existence of a revolutionary party in the Soviets since February. It is true there were only 40 Bolsheviks out of 1,600 delegates (or 2.5 percent) in the Petrograd soviet of February 1917. After a hard struggle, with Lenin arming the Bolshevik Party and guiding it, in September the Bolsheviks won the majority and took control of the Petrograd soviet as well as the Moscow soviet.

Tragically, in Hungary, as a result of eight years of the rule of totalitarian Stalinism, there did not exist a revolutionary party. In addition, there was no time granted for the development of such a revolutionary party. On 11 December 1956, 30 days after the birth of the Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest, all members of the council were arrested.

Workers reacted to the arrests by a mass wave of strikes. On 15 December the death penalty was introduced for inciting strikes. And this did not remain a dead letter; immediately strike leaders were executed. The Hungarian Revolution was given no time to develop. The presence of some 200,000 Russian troops, with 3,000 tanks, guaranteed the victory of the counter-revolution.

During the first week of the Hungarian Revolution, I could hardly close my eyes. I stayed up practically throughout the night, every night, listening to the radio.

Now that the prognosis of 1947-48 was confirmed by the Hungarian Revolution, one could assume that this would bring many of the people in the Communist Party who were disgusted with the Russian butchery into our camp. But this did not happen. Some 10,000 left the British Communist Party in reaction to the events in Hungary. Of these the total number who joined our group could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

There were other political forces in the field that were much more attractive to disappointed Stalinists. First of all there was Isaac Deutscher; secondly, there was the Socialist Labour League led by Gerry Healy.

Isaac Deutscher, a founding member of the Trotskyist organisation in Poland, and the biographer of both Stalin and Trotsky, with his serious research and majestic style, was attractive to dissident Stalinists. Above all, he was less demanding than we were for a complete break from Stalinism.

Deutscher argued that the Stalinist regime was bound to reform itself and automatically bring forward socialism. Following Trotsky, he argued that scarcities caused the rise of the bureaucracy. Therefore a rise in production would bring abundance and with it equality:

With the growth of productive forces, which makes possible an alleviation of the still existing poverty in consumer goods, a reduction of inequality becomes possible, desirable, and even necessary for the further development of the nation’s wealth and civilisation. Such a reduction need not take place primarily or mainly through the lowering of the standards of living of the privileged minority, but through the raising of standards of the majority. In a stagnant society, living on a national income the size of which remains stationary over the years, the standard of living of the broad masses cannot be improved otherwise than at the expense of the privileged groups, who therefore resist any attempt at such improvement. But in a society living on a rapidly growing national income, the privileged groups need not pay, or need not pay heavily for the rise in the well-being of the working masses; and so they need not necessarily oppose the rise.

The privileged minority in the USSR has no absolute interests – it may still have a relative and temporary one – in perpetuating the economic discrepancies and social antagonisms that were inevitable at a lower level of economic development. Nor need they cling to a political regime designed to suppress and conceal those antagonisms behind a ‘monolithic’ facade. [10]

The reform of the most anachronistic features of the Stalinism regime could be undertaken only from above, by Stalin’s former underlings and accomplices. [11]

What mechanical thinking! Scarcity led to the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy; increased production would automatically lead to the withering away of bureaucracy. A fish gets gills because it lives in water; take it out of the water and it will grow lungs, run around and start barking!

Writing after the death of Stalin in 1953, Deutscher concluded that the locus of all reforms would be the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:

The process by which the nation may relearn to form and express its opinions may at first be slow and difficult. It can start only from inside the Communist Party. The regime will, either from self-preservation or from inertia, continue as a single party system for years to come. This need not be an important obstacle to democratic evolution as long as party members are permitted to speak their minds on all matters of policy. All politically minded and active elements of the nation are, anyhow, in the ranks of the Communist Party, if only because there has been no other party to turn to. [12]

According to Deutscher Stalinism was revolutionary. It not only protected the achievements of the revolution, but also deepened and enlarged them:

In 1929, five years after Lenin’s death, Soviet Russia embarked upon her second revolution, which was directed solely and exclusively by Stalin. In its scope and immediate impact upon the life of some 160 million people the second revolution was even more sweeping and radical than the first. [13]

Stalin ... remained the guardian and trustee of the revolution. He consolidated its national gains and extended them. He ‘built socialism’; and even his opponents, while denouncing his autocracy, admitted that most of his economic reforms were indeed essential for socialism. [14]

Deutscher opposed all the popular uprisings in Eastern Europe, from June 1953 in East Germany, to October 1956 in Poland and Hungary. He declared the latter to be a counter-revolution trying ‘unwittingly to put the clock back’. [15] He cheered the Russian tanks which smashed the workers’ uprisings:

Eastern Europe, [Hungary, Poland, and East Germany] ... found itself almost on the brink of bourgeois restoration at the end of the Stalin era, and only Soviet armed power (or its threat) stopped it there. [16]

The conclusion: one should keep detached and passive. The ex-Communists should ‘withdraw to the watchtower’:

To watch with detachment and alertness, this heaving chaos of a world, to be on sharp lookout for what is going to emerge from it, and to interpret it sine ira et studie [without anger but with attention] ... this is now the only honourable service the ex-communist intellectual can render to a generation in which scrupulous observation and honest interpretation have become so sadly rare. [17]

For thousands of ex-Stalinists, Deutscher gave a very soft option. For many of them on the way out of active politics, the offer to sit in a ‘watchtower’ served as an intellectual justification for giving up all struggle. I remember going to lectures by Deutscher at which there were 1,000 or more present. Twice I spoke from the floor in the discussion, criticising Deutscher’s position, but I hardly cut any ice with the audience. My criticisms of Deutscher were published later in an article in International Socialism entitled The End of the Road: Deutscher’s Capitulation to Stalinism. [18]

Our puny group, offering a tough approach to Stalinism, could not overcome Deutscher’s soft soap. Gerry Healy and the Socialist Labour League were more attractive to ex-Stalinists who wanted to continue public activity. Deutscher himself was far more friendly to the SLL than to us. Defining Russia as a workers’ state, even if a deformed one, was more attractive than defining it as state capitalism. Hundreds of members of the Communist Party joined the SLL. Among them were a number of prominent intellectuals (like Brian Pearce, John Daniels and Cliff Slaughter) and several prominent workers (among them Brian Behan, the popular building worker and a former member of the national executive of the Communist Party).

Formal logic cannot explain why we were not successful in attracting many to us when events proved we were so right in our analysis. Dialectical thinking makes things much clearer. Our group did not expand very much as a result of the Hungarian Revolution. Quantitatively the impact was minimal, but qualitatively it was significant. We became harder and more convinced in the rightness of our position. And that of course applied to me also.

The state capitalist regime survived the 1956 revolution in Hungary. While surviving in the whole of Eastern Europe and Russia, it withered on the vine; 1989 was not far away.

CND and beyond

At the end of the 1950s new possibilities beckoned. These came with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) calling for unconditional, unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons by all powers.

The movement grew rapidly, and at Easter 1960 and 1961 about 100,000 people took part in the marches from Aldermaston. Many of them were young and a significant proportion were working class. CND groups provided an initiation into politics for a whole new generation of young people. Most of them had little experience of the Labour Party, though some of them later moved into its youth movement. (The Communist Party was absent in the early years of the campaign, arguing that it was ‘divisive’, but joined CND by Aldermaston 1960.)

For the Socialist Review Group this new upsurge offered the chance to go beyond the routine of Labour Party and trade union work. Without abandoning its fundamental orientation on the working class, Socialist Review (now printed fortnightly) tried to find an audience among those newly radicalised by the CND.

Socialist Review’s rejection of capitalism East and West – summed up in the slogan ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism’ – clearly meant that it condemned equally British, US and Russian H-bombs. This distinguished it from the Communist Party, and from certain ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist groupings – notably Gerry Healy’s SLL – which argued that the Soviet possession of H-bombs (and by implication their possible use against Western workers) was somehow different. The Socialist Review position was certainly close to the impulsive reactions of the majority of CND supporters, even if most of them didn’t have a very clear analysis to back up their feelings. As a result of its politics and activity, the Socialist Review Group was able, in the early 1960s, to recruit a new set of cadres to supplement the small number who had survived the pressures of the 1950s.

Towards the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, a new opening beckoned. In February 1960 the Labour Party decided to launch a new national youth movement, the Young Socialists (YS), five years after the disbandment of the Labour League of Youth. By the spring of 1961 there were 726 YS branches, and the first national conference had over 300 delegates.

Although Socialist Review Group members were active both in the CND and in the YS, the latter offered much greater opportunities. First of all branches of the YS met weekly, unlike the CND. Secondly, it allowed discussion of a variety of subjects, not only the bomb. Finally its composition was far more working class. We especially put great emphasis on the importance of the apprentices’ strike of 1960, whose main centre was Glasgow.

The dominant theme of discussion in the YS was the nuclear bomb. There were three positions: the right wing, followers of leader of the Labour Party Hugh Gaitskell, who was in support of the Western powers’ bomb, and the followers of Gerry Healy, who argued that Russia should keep its bomb, as it was a workers’ bomb. The Socialist Review members denounced all bombs. We argued that we were not pacifists, and hence we did not oppose all weapons. However the H-bomb was inherently reactionary. A gun in the hands of British troops oppressing a colonial nation, is reactionary. A gun in the hands of colonial rebels is progressive. Alas, the H-bomb cannot differentiate between the two camps. It will annihilate all. I remember I used to recite a song of the Russian Red Air Force from the 1930s. The song went, ‘While we bomb your bosses, workers of the world, we distribute leaflets to you.’ I used to add, ‘The leaflet should be short, as you will have only four minutes to read it.’ You cannot have a progressive H-bomb any more than you can have progressive racism, as the bomb does not differentiate between capitalists and workers, rich and poor. Young Guard, our youth paper, carried a big headline: ‘No Bombs, No Bosses’. Another headline I remember was to an article supporting the Russian bomb. The editor, with a good sense of humour, gave it the heading ‘The Workers’ Bomb for You and Me’.

The question of nuclear disarmament was the point of departure of the development of many youth. However, their interest was not confined to this. The relation between the bomb and capitalism was of interest to them. The relation between war industry and civilian industry, the fact that, to use Marx’s words, ‘the slaughter industry is part of industry’, fascinated them. The productive forces determine the destructive forces. Under feudalism the serf used a horse and a wooden plough, so the knight had a horse, perhaps a better one than the serf, and a wooden lance. The armies of millions of the First World War could not come into being without millions of workers being mobilised into the munitions industry.

The first time I came into serious contact with a member of the Labour Party youth was in 1958 when I met Roger Cox, who was then 18 years old. He was the son of a railwayman who used to be taken by his father, when he was a child, to union meetings. Now he was an apprentice motor mechanic and member of Shoreditch YS. He used to come every Sunday to our house. We had dinner together and would then spend hours talking. I used to give him lectures for half an hour, or an hour, or even more, at a time. I taught him Marxism, economics, historical materialism, etc. It was a joy to see him developing. He taught me a lot about conditions at his workplace, the workings of the engineering union, the thoughts and feelings of young workers, and so on. In this microcosm I saw the whole world of young workers. More recently I asked Roger what motivated him to come and listen to my lectures on Marxism. He said it was the workers’ uprising in Germany in June 1953 and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.

Besides Roger, another six or seven members of Shoreditch YS used to come every Sunday to sit in the tiny room we had and listen to my lectures on Marxism. I was also invited to speak to the branch meeting of Shoreditch YS held in the rooms of the Labour Party.

Another group of Labour Party youth I met two years afterwards, in 1960, was in Newcastle. Once a fortnight I would come on Saturday for a day school. I gave them a series of lectures that dealt systematically with Marxism: dialectics, historical materialism, Marxist economics from the labour theory of value to the decline of the rate of profit and the nature of the capitalist crisis, monopoly capitalism and imperialism, state and revolution, state capitalism, permanent arms economy. Everyone in the school received a duplicated pamphlet containing a synopsis of every lecture. We took things very seriously indeed. The same pamphlet was used afterwards more widely in the education classes that we held for youngsters everywhere. It is interesting to note that 40 years later everyone I interviewed for writing the present book mentions with real excitement the education in basic ideas such as state capitalism and the permanent arms economy that he or she got at the time.

In Newcastle there were about 15 comrades in the room, all of them youth with the exception of Terry Rodgers, a leading militant in the engineering factory C.A. Parsons, who was in his early 40s. Five quite quickly joined our group: Terry, John Charlton, Jim Nichol, Jim Hutchinson and a fifth one whose name escapes me. Of these four are still with us.

Meeting Jim Nichol while engaged in preparing the present book, I reminisced with him. He reminded me that he was aged 15 at the time. Two issues in the main motivated him to come to the meetings: state capitalism and the permanent arms economy, the first because of the Hungarian Revolution – the same issue Roger Cox mentioned – as he wanted to understand how and why the Russian Revolution was followed by the victory of Stalin. Jim was interested in the theory of permanent arms economy, because he wanted to understand how and why Western capitalism went through a very long boom with full employment, rising wages, social services, etc.

He reminded me of an incident during my talk on state capitalism. I gave figures on the Stakhanovist movement in Russia where Alexei Stakhanov, the model miner, cut a massive quantity of coal in one shift, serving as a benchmark for other miners to emulate. I explained how Stakhanov achieved those fantastic figures. A specifically selected group of miners prepared a very thick seam with good machinery ready for Stakhanov’s work. The line of carriages was in perfect order, and everything else perfect and at the ready. Then Stakhanov came, accompanied by the press and photographers. Jim was staggered by the figures I gave about Stakhanov’s output. He was at the time working for the National Coal Board, in an office administering two neighbouring pits. He came from a miners’ family; both his father and his uncle were miners. I assuaged Jim’s doubts about the figures for output, when I opened a book and showed him in black and white that the figures were authentic. He was convinced, but later said, ‘I did not know you were the author of the book you were quoting from. Had I known, my doubts might have persisted.’

I came to Newcastle every fortnight, and this went on for months.

Besides the London group of youngsters and the Newcastle ones, I came in touch with Young Socialists in Glasgow. Some time in the winter of 1961 I was invited to a dayschool organised by the Gorbals YS. The subject was ‘The Soviet Union’.

There must have been some 40 to 50 people in the room. The youngsters were overwhelmingly working class, many of them engineering apprentices. A short time before they had been involved in a very large apprentices’ strike which covered the whole of Glasgow and also Newcastle. Among those present was Gus MacDonald, an apprentice in the shipyards who played a leading role in the strike. I am bound to admit that he was not only a leading member of the strike, but also a leading member of our youth, and was one of four who represented us on the National Committee of the Young Socialists. At present he is in the House of Lords. [1*]

I started with the following words, ‘I can’t speak on the Soviet Union because in Russia there are no Soviets – they were liquidated by Stalin – and the country is not a union but an empire. The four letters USSR represent four lies: it is not a union; it is not a soviet; it is not socialist; and there are no republics.’

My meeting in Glasgow was followed a few weeks later by the surprise visit of Glasgow apprentices turning up at our home in London. Within a few weeks 42 Glaswegian apprentices had turned up at our tiny house. They all took off their boots to go to sleep on the floor – the atmosphere was heady. Eighteen stayed for breakfast for a period. We had an enormous problem understanding what they said with their working class Glaswegian accent, especially their constant jokes, which had to be repeated over and over for us till they were jokes no longer. Gradually they were absorbed into the workforce and got their own accommodation.

I was very serious in relating to our contacts. I thought every one of them was invaluable. To illustrate this I shall relate a sad story. One day we got a letter from Glasgow, from a man who came across Socialist Review and was interested in our group. I decided to visit him, but being poor and unable to afford a rail ticket, I got a comrade to take me on the back of his motor bike. After a long, uncomfortable journey from London we arrived in Glasgow and met the man. He was a very impressive worker in his seventies. We had a very good discussion. But we never heard from him again – a few days after our visit he died.

I was prepared to, and did, travel up and down the country to speak to and recruit contacts. These events were not always guaranteed to run smoothly and efficiently. For instance, I was asked to speak in Liverpool by Peter Sedgwick, a fine and longstanding comrade. I travelled up, met Peter in the pub and waited. No one turned up. After a long wait I asked to see the leaflet advertising the meeting. An excellent leaflet. There was only one little snag – the leaflet did not give the date of the meeting.

The meeting was rearranged. I travelled up, met Peter in the pub and waited. No one turned up. After a long wait I asked to see the leaflet advertising the meeting. An excellent leaflet with the correct date. There was only one little snag – the leaflet had no place for the meeting.

On one occasion I travelled up to Northampton to speak. The town hall, seating 1,500, was booked. On the platform were the three speakers, of whom I was one, and the chairman. Below was the audience, numbering exactly seven!

Once I spoke in York to an audience of about 30. The chairman was more than friendly. He introduced me and told the audience what I would be talking about – for five minutes, ten minutes, 15, 25, 40 minutes (despite urgent notes to stop). The audience drifted out. By the time I got to speak, there were 10 minutes left, and 10 in the audience.

Contact visiting was sometimes comical. We got a letter from a person who had read Socialist Review, explaining that he was interested. We decided to visit him. It was seven or eight in the evening. We knocked on the door. A woman opened the door and we asked if we could see the person. She replied, ‘He’s in bed, fast asleep.’ We asked, ‘Is he on an early shift?’ to which she replied, ‘No, he’s ten years old, and he was tired.’

Comrades reading the story about our serious attitude to contacts, the readiness to patiently spend a lot of time and effort with them, could learn something from this. When Lenin wrote, ‘There cannot be a revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory,’ he meant that one had to take Marxism seriously – education classes are very important indeed. When Trotsky adapted Marx’s term ‘primitive accumulation of capital’ and from it coined the term ‘primitive accumulation of cadres’, he meant that you have to look after every individual contact seriously.

Another thing. It is extremely important that the person teaching Marxism never forgets that above all he has to raise the confidence of the pupils. This is quite unlike leadership in a reformist organisation.

Even if we ignore the out and out careerists (of which there are many), even the best seek to represent within themselves the rank and file, to gather to themselves the strength and initiative of others. The revolutionary sees progress the other way round – as based on the self activity of the working class, and for this the key thing is self confidence.

There could have been a problem here. For while it was a real joy to meet the YS members, the age gap between them in their teens and me in the mid-40s was very big, psychologically greater than at present when, at 82, I talk to comrades in their 40s or 50s. The danger of talking down, of patronising, was there. I knew that this would be the worst crime that could undermine the confidence of the youngsters.

A few experiences outside the YS helped me. I remember having an argument with my daughter Elana when she was four or five. I don’t remember the issue, but I do remember that she said to me, after a few minutes’ discussion, ‘You must be right, because you are older and cleverer than me.’ My answer was, ‘If I’m more clever than you and you’ll be more clever than your child, people will become more and more stupid.’ I know, however, that I did not always win the argument with my kids. I remember one day when Elana was five years old, she asked me, ‘Do you believe God exists?’ I said, ‘I don’t think God exists.’ ‘Why do you think that?’ I replied, ‘If he exists, how can he see us when we can’t see him?’ She gave me the coup de grace: ‘We see the people on television, but they can’t see us.’ No answer.

A meeting I had a few years later, speaking to a group of Punjabi workers in Birmingham, taught me a lot. At the beginning of the meeting, one of them, said, ‘I must apologise to you for our poor English’. I answered him swiftly, ‘You don’t have to apologise to me. I have to apologise to you. You know some English. I don’t know a word of Punjabi.’ Only then could we look one another in the eye as equals.

Another incident: I spoke to a well attended meeting in Manchester. At the end of my speech the first person to speak from the floor was a middle-aged working class woman. She started, saying, ‘I was very disappointed with Tony Cliff.’ This depressed me. But then she went on to say, ‘I thought he was young, tall and handsome.’ This did not disturb me, as I have no illusions about my looks. She then ended her speech with these words, which made me really happy, ‘When he spoke I felt nine feet tall.’ I would have been very disturbed if she had said after my speech, ‘I felt Tony Cliff was nine feet tall.’ That would have meant that I had made her feel small.

The members of the YS learnt from me, but I also learnt hugely from them. With some individual members I had very warm relations. The revolutionary party has to lead the working class based on all the experience of the past. So the party teaches the workers, but then the simple question arises: ‘Who teaches the teacher?’ It is extremely important to understand that we can be taught by the working class. All the great ideas come from the workers themselves.

One example is Marx. If you read his Communist Manifesto he speaks about the need for a workers’ government, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Then in 1871 he writes that workers cannot take hold of the old state machine, they have to smash it – the old standing army, bureaucracy and police – to establish a new kind of state. This is a state without a standing army or bureaucracy, where every official is elected, where every official gets the same rate of pay as the average worker. Did he find this out because he worked so hard in the British Museum? Not at all. What happened was that the workers of Paris had taken power – the Paris Commune – and that is exactly what they did. Marx learnt from them.

The Stalinists always claim that Lenin invented the idea of the soviet. Indeed, according to Stalinist literature Lenin invented everything. They had a concept of religious hierarchy. Lenin’s correspondence shows that when workers established the first soviet in Petrograd in 1905 he asked, four days later, ‘What the hell is that for?’ In the struggle the workers needed a new form of organisation. They learnt the hard way that if they had a strike committee in one factory it was not effective in a time of revolution. You need a strike committee which covers all the factories. And that is what the soviet was: delegates from all the factories meeting together to run the show. They did it. Lenin followed them. The party has always to learn from the class, always.

The reader must have noticed that up to now, when I refer to our activities around the Labour Party youth, I all the time use the pronoun ‘I’, not ‘we’. This is not an accident, and it is not the result of my being big headed. I describe the situation as it was. For perhaps six months I was the only member of the Socialist Review Group involved with Labour Party youth. To give a lead, one has to create facts. Action and argument must come together. It is no good saying, ‘Comrades should do this, that or the other,’ unless one points to experience to support the suggestion. If there are ten people in a group, one or two will be ready to experiment, to try new things; one or two are so conservative that even a successful experience will not convince them, while the majority will vacillate between the two extremes, and will learn through experience. The key is to be part of the one or two ready to experiment, to find new ways to take things forward, and if successful, to win the majority for the new direction.

When I came to the conclusion that the groups of youth connected with us, however small they were, needed a paper of their own, as Socialist Review did not fit them and could not serve as their organiser, the idea of Rebel was born. The members of the Socialist Review Group were going to be very reluctant to undertake this venture: after all we had only 60 members, and that after ten years of existence! So I convinced Chanie to buy a tiny Adana hand-printing machine. We set the text for the first Rebel letter by letter. This took hours and there was an urgency, as the new Rebel was needed for a coming demonstration. We had to put one sheet at a time in the machine. I remember the blue paper, and also how agonising the job was. Each sheet had to be laid out on the floor or on furniture separate from the next, so that the ink would dry, as we somehow could not get the thickness of the ink right. For the other side of the four page paper we had to repeat the process.

I tell this story because throughout my political activity I had to use the same method again and again: dare to act. Action and argument should come together. One example: Jim Nichol reminded me how during the miners’ strike of 1972 he and I and the other two members of the Administrative Committee decided to appoint 15 full timers for the Yorkshire mining area (Sheila McGregor and Bill Message among others). At present Chris Bambery acts within the SWP in basically the same way as I used to – creating facts as the priority.

One has to avoid being stuck in a niche; every comrade has to do any task needed. There is no place for a hierarchical attitude in a revolutionary organisation. I took it for granted that I undertook many manual jobs, such as printing on the Adana machine. Or again, our monthly paper had six pages, printed commercially. To save money – I think £1 a month – together with other comrades I used to fold the outside pages and insert the middle page. I never understood why one should not speak to youth, to miners, to engineers, to building workers, on any subject under the sun, from historical materialism to payment by results in industry, from the Russian Revolution to the history of the British Labour Party.

Our experience of the YS was of great significance in our development. Prior to our intervention in the YS our membership grew very slowly indeed: from 33 in 1950 to 60 in 1960. Now, by 1964 our membership was 200, a modest but good success. The experience of the Socialist Review Group in the YS produced a qualitative advance. Even more important, the new recruits played a leading role in what was a mass movement. They learned how to intervene in a mass movement.

When Labour came to office in 1964 and Wilson supported the US intervention in Vietnam, the YS withered. We did not make a fetish of owning a Labour Party membership card, and now we did not make a fetish of tearing it up. We had originally entered the Labour Party because the tiny size of the Socialist Review Group did not allow us to pursue many independent initiatives outside the Labour Party. Now, having grown, there was no need to remain.

In December 1962 the Socialist Review Group became the International Socialism Group.




1*. By the way, the most effective leader of the apprentices’ strike was Alex Ferguson, today manager of Manchester United Football Club. He not only brought the apprentices at work out on strike, but completely stopped work in the entire factory, Remington Rand, which encouraged the strike in other places. However, Alex Ferguson was not one of the people who came to the meeting I addressed.



1. K. Marx, Thesis on Feuerbach, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol.5 (Moscow), p.5.

2. British Industry Week, 3 October 1967.

3. A very good history of our group up to 1979 was written by Ian Birchall and called The Smallest Mass Party in the World. The title is a quote of mine from the 1970s referring to the group. It was made up of three articles, two written in 1975 and published in International Socialism 1:76 and 1:77 the same year. The third, which took the story up to 1979, was written in 1981. In the introduction to the pamphlet Birchall commented, ‘Readers may ... notice certain discrepancies of style and perspective between the first two articles and the third.’ He was right. The first two had a long gestation period, reflecting on the events years after they happened, while the third did not have this advantage, and hence suffered, I believe, from impressionism.

4. I. Birchall, ibid., p.5.

5. Ibid., p.6.

6. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.5 (Moscow), pp.22-23.

7. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto.

8. International Socialism, Autumn 1960.

9. T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia (London 1988), p.276.

10. I. Deutscher, Heretics and Renegades (London 1955), pp.204-205.

11. I. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast (London 1963), p.419.

12. I. Deutscher, Russia After Stalin (London 1953), p.173.

13. I. Deutscher, Stalin (Oxford 1949), p.294.

14. Ibid., pp.360-361.

15. Universities and Left Review, vol.1, no.1, p.10.

16. I. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed (Oxford 1959), p.462.

17. I. Deutscher, Heretics and Renegades, op. cit., p.20.

18. Reprinted in T. Cliff, Neither Washington Nor Moscow, op. cit., pp.166-191.


Last updated on 19.12.2004