Jim Higgins

More Years for the Locust

Chapter 1

If I were to tell you what I believe to be my family history it would take a very long time ... It would be a story that I, the individual ... believe to be true although, in my role as a sceptical anthropologist, I feel that very little of it can possibly be true. It is a fabrication which has the form and the function that justifies my personal masquerade, the way I present myself to the world.
Edmund Leach, Lecture, Kings College Cambridge, 1989

I’m not able to tell myself lies.
Tony Cliff, Socialist Worker Review, July 1987

History is a record of that combination of the significant and the insignificant and we are all in some way connected to its processes and must live with its consequences. For most revolutionaries of the last 80 odd years the annus mirabilis was 1917. On November 7 of that year, in Petrograd and Moscow, the Russian workers and peasants took power under the leadership of the Bolshevik party. The day before, in London, AJ Balfour, Britain’s anti-Semitic foreign secretary, with the typical generosity of someone giving away that which belonged to somebody else, declared Arab Palestine to be a Jewish National Home. In Palestine itself, a few months before either of these seminal events, on May 20 in fact, Tony Cliff (né Ygael Gluckstein) was born into a middle class Jewish family. Depending on whether you are a keen member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) or not, this gives 1917 a two thirds, or a one third approval rating.

Life in Palestine under the British Mandate was repressive for all sections of the population but bore particularly harshly on the Arab majority. The Arabs, a largely agrarian community, had little or no tradition of working class organisation, whereas the Jewish population, overwhelmingly Zionist in their sympathies, carried with them a trade union consciousness and virtually every kind of socialism. Social Revolutionaries of the right or left persuasion, Mensheviks and Menshevik Internationalists, Stalinists and various shades of social democracy were all represented in greater or lesser numbers in the 1920s and 1930s.

Zionism had fewer gradations, with the mainstream being of a social democratic persuasion. Reflecting its origins in 19th century European rationalism, it expressed a non-religious commitment to the national home. Indeed, in the 1920s, the Mapam Youth section caused some scandal in Jerusalem by marching to the Wailing Wall demonstratively eating ham sandwiches. The problem in logic involved in the Zionist notion of a “chosen people”, without a divine being to do the choosing, does not seem to have caused much difficulty. In the same way the idea of socialist equality for all, professed by those who demanded their homeland in a place that was already home to a lot of Arabs, was encompassed with ease, but then logical contradiction has never been a bar to social democratic thought.

Revisionist Zionism, the brain child of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, was both anti-socialist and accepted all the myths and legends of Jewish folk history. The attitude was much like that of the dictator in Genet’s play, The Balcony, when he speaks of “This truly national nation”. Genet’s phrase encompasses all the low grade mysticism and the accompanying nonsense of petty bourgeois nationalism. Whereas orthodox Zionism sought to build on the Balfour Declaration and negotiate more and bigger settlements, the revisionists wanted it all, on both banks of the Jordan and they wanted it now. The limits of the new homeland were only circumscribed by the boundary of an over-active imagination steeped in dubious history. Thus the slogan, “From the river to the sea”, set the bounds from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, neatly including Syria and the Lebanon. On the wider shores of the cloud-cuckoo homeland was the suggestion that the borders be set by reference to Abraham. Whatever he could see from the highest point should be Eretz Israel. As this turned out to range from Saudi Arabia in the south to Turkey in the north, one can only assume Abraham was incredibly long sighted and that there was perfect visibility in Biblical times.

The revisionists, of course, were not just mystical buffoons; among them were right wing activists of a particularly virulent stripe. The Stern Gang sported black shirts, took their salute and their inspiration from, and had their cadres trained in Mussolini’s Italy. Yitzhak Shamir, the last Likud prime minister before Netenyahu, was a leading figure in this band of cutthroats. Another leading revisionist was Menachem Begin, who played a prominent role in the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the armed wing of revisionism. It was the Irgun, with the Stern Gang, under Begin’s leadership, that was responsible for the Deir Yassin massacre and it was the Israeli government under Begin’s premiership that was responsible for the massacres of Sabra and Chatila. These were true believers, tough and always ready for extreme measures in pursuit of that “truly national nation”.

None of this is to say that mainstream Zionism was the soft face of Jewish nationalism. Cliff used to tell the story of a Mapam meeting, addressed by Ben Gurion, that he attended at the age of 16. At the end of Ben Gurion’s speech, Cliff gave it as his opinion that, “What Ben Gurion said is contrary to dialectical materialism”. This, almost certainly an accurate description of Ben Gurion’s speech, gave sufficient offense that a couple of heavies escorted the adolescent Cliff from the hall and proceeded to break one of his fingers. [1]

Rather later, when Chanie Rosenburg, who subsequently was to marry Cliff, arrived from South Africa – full of starry eyed enthusiasm for the “socialism” of the kibbutz – the first job she and her fellow immigrants were given was to load a truck with rocks and then drive to a nearby Arab village to throw them at the inhabitants. Nowadays, of course, settlers carry Uzis rather than rocks, but the principle is much the same – to keep the natives in their place.

This was the place where Cliff came to political maturity. The miserable lives of the Arab masses turned him to socialism. Reading the Communist Manifesto, together with an abridged edition of Capital, convinced him he was a Marxist. Cliff as a child Like most leftists of that time, his Marxism found expression in the Stalinist mode. There is nothing surprising, or reprehensible, in that. Nowadays anyone coming to Marxist politics is most likely to find them dressed in some style of Trotskyist apparel. In the mid 1930s there were only a few hundred Trotskyists in the whole world and the forces that were visible, formidable and ranged against fascism were all organised in the Communist International. That the Nazis came to power as a direct result of the disastrous policies of the CI is a fact that was not immediately apparent at the time, and the feeble voice of the Trotskyists was difficult to hear in out of the way places like mandatory Palestine.

Inevitably, around 1935, the critical works of Trotsky began to filter through to Palestine, not least the writings on Germany which, to this day, Cliff believes to be LDT’s finest work. At about this time he met a German Trotskyist, who said that when Hitler took power, in 1933, there were about 100 Trotskyists in Germany. From Joe Stalin’s big battalions to the undermanned awkward squad of Trotskyism, was a considerable reduction not only in hope, but also in the possibility of action. But as Martin Luther said, “Here stand I. I can do no other”. So Cliff took on board Trotsky’s admonition for “the primitive accumulation of cadres”. It was one lesson learned from Trotsky he has never abandoned. Over the years, Cliff’s enthusiasm for the thought of Leon Trotsky has waxed and waned quite a bit and his ideas on organisation have gone from the wider shores of libertarianism to the bathyscopic depths of centralism; but they have an unfinished feel to them, an air of impermanence, for above all else they must serve to enhance the primitive accumulation of cadres. Cliff is a peasant For the onlooker, this ability to simulate a well lubricated weathervane might seem, on occasion, unprincipled. At other times, it might remind you of the truth of Marx’s phrase, “There is nothing more disgusting than the petty bourgeois in the process of primitive accumulation”. The peasant may dream of being Emperor, but for now he will make do with his neighbours’ few measly acres. As one of Cliff’s collaborators said, “Cliff is a peasant, a very talented peasant, but a peasant.”

At an early stage in his career, Cliff also learned another practical lesson in making recruits: keep at them – you never know when they might weaken. The first recorded success of this cunning ploy was with Jabra Nicola, the Arab editor of the Palestine CP’s legal paper. Nicola worked nights and so Cliff “discussed with him for hours every day and for weeks on end”. After two months, Jabra Nicola succumbed to the power of Cliff’s dialectic and, one assumes, lack of sleep. This, what might be called The Darkness at Noon school of conversion, was also effective in recruiting Chanie Rosenburg after her arrival from South Africa. He appeared at Chanie’s kibbutz and immediately launched into a 48 hour non-stop lecture. One enquired of Chanie if, over the two days, he repeated himself and she was unable to answer, because his Hebrew was delivered in an accent and at such speed that she could not understand a word of his discourse. Perhaps the power of the dialectic is less significant than deprivation of sleep.

Kidron, who arrived in Palestine from South Africa in 1946, held out against a non-stop rant for a fortnight before surrendering. In the early 1950s, Stan Newens, later a Labour MP and now a Labour MEP, describes being seated in Cliff’s tiny front room and subjected to a high speed monologue as Cliff paced up and down gesturing wildly, at considerable risk to Stan’s feet and features. Cyril Smith relates how, at about this time, he was introduced to Cliff by Anil Munesinghe. He too received the short, approximately four breathless hours, discourse on state capitalism. At the end of all this, dazed and somewhat overawed, Cyril nevertheless opined, “I still think Trotsky was right in The Revolution Betrayed”. To which Cliff replied, “Never mind that, why don’t you join the group?” This particular type of argument effectively says, “You should join my group for all of these powerful political reasons. If, however, you do not accept them, join anyway.” Cyril was unimpressed and did not speak to him ever again.

At the beginning of my membership of Socialist Review I was unaware that Cliff would go to quite extraordinary lengths in pursuit of a recruit, no matter how unlikely the venue or the prospect. On one occasion I was unwise enough to allow myself to be talked into accompanying him to Leeds, to attend a peace conference organised by Harry McShane. Economy being the watchword, which means neither of us had any money, we borrowed Mike Kidron’s car to make the trip. This machine, a fine example of the early half-timbered Morris Minor, had a few drawbacks: defective brakes, worn tyres and a tendency to steer to the right. Otherwise it was a pleasure to drive, so long as you kept it off wet roads, when its little steering foibles became lethal vices. Cliff, John Phillips, my wife Marion and myself set off for Leeds. The day was sunny and the road bone dry, conditions in which the Morris’s modest performance, antique appearance and eccentric steering showed to best advantage.

The conference, attended by about 12 people, did not have much to commend it, although Harry McShane’s opening statement in which he said: “This conference may not be as significant as Kienthal and Zimmerwald ...” was absolutely truthful. Lawrence Otter, also in attendance claimed to represent three anarchist organisations and five Internationals, but this aroused so little interest that nobody asked him to specify which ones.

Suffice it to say, at the end of the conference our membership figures were unchanged and we faced a 180 mile journey on dark and would you believe it, rainswept roads. The car threw off its mild demeanour and behaved abominably, drifting into bends with the rear end trying to catch up with the front. Poor visibility was made worse by the fact that the headlight beam just managed to get past the glass, where it limply subsided to lie dead on the tarmac. Despite being semi-paralysed with fear and suffering the extremes of eye strain, I managed to steer all the way to the outskirts of Bedford before disaster struck. A small hump-back bridge leading to a vicious left hand bend, and the additional misfortune of an oncoming car with real headlights, proved a disastrous combination. With wheels locked and its driver completely dazzled, the Morris skated with some grace, like Torvil on a bad day, to meet the other vehicle. With a characteristically sickening clang, the two cars met and embraced, while various bits fell off their respective front ends. Happily, nobody was hurt but the lady in the other car would insist on reminding me that I could have killed her, until my wife explained that while killing her had not been my intention, it could become the next urgent task.

Legal formalities completed and the badly wounded Morris Minor taken off to a nearby garage, we slowly and despondently made our way to Bedford station to catch a train to London. Between us we had just enough money for the fare. Fortunately we did have lots of time because there was a 90 minute wait for the next train. Damp, tired and, despite the conference, not feeling very pacific, we went to the waiting room. In what I can only presume to be an attempt to cheer us all up, Cliff decided put on a bit of Jewish folk dancing. This, apparently, could only be performed on the waiting room table and so we helped him upon on this impromptu stage. Think of the Riverdance ensemble and then banish it completely from your mind; it was nothing like that. Think more of Anastas Mikoyan dancing the gopak at Joe Stalin’s cruel command. Next, imagine that Anastas was on Speed rather than Georgian brandy and wearing his truss upside down and you have got some idea of the steps. Then, add on some bloodcurdling, and possibly grossly obscene, Hebrew cries and no whispers and you have just a partial understanding of the full horror of the performance. By clapping loudly and laughing hysterically we managed to convince him that our happiness could not be increased by further folk dancing and eventually the train came to take us to London. On the journey Cliff unwisely broached the idea of a trip to Birmingham, where two members of the SPGB were reported to be disaffected from their party. My response indicated that the cheering effects of Jewish folk-dance are quite limited. For some weeks, until his car was repaired, Kidron had to go everywhere in taxis, he could not afford to go by bus, because the bus drivers would not wait for him to borrow the fare off somebody at his destination.

Cliff is aided in his self appointed task by a single minded attention to immediate goals and an ability to ignore the fact that yesterday’s goal was quite different and its supporting argument diametrically opposed to today’s. This ability to be totally dedicated to the argument of the day and oblivious to everything else does, though, have its negative side. On one occasion he visited my home to engage me in a discussion, so important that its subject completely eludes me. At the time I had two Chow dogs, one of them a puppy. Cliff launched into his dissertation while George, the puppy, lay doggo, in faithful hound mode, at his feet. At some point in the discussion I became aware that George was eating Cliff’s shoelaces. Before I could wrench the dog from the shoes, or Cliff from his discourse, the laces were completely consumed. Readers will be pleased to hear that George suffered no ill effects from this distressing incident, although Cliff was fairly pissed off.

Having heard how effective the recorded cases of Cliff’s attritional recruitment technique were, one is surprised to learn that when he left Palestine, in September 1946, there were only 30 members in the Palestine section of the Fourth International. The work, of course, was illegal under the British regime and, even were it practical politics, mass agitation would have been heavily circumscribed. More importantly, in Palestine as in the rest of the Middle East, the key to revolutionary politics was in the Arab masses: the attitude of the Arabs to Jewish workers was conditioned by the reactionary attitudes of their own ruling class, reinforced to a considerable degree by the Zionist campaigns for a boycott of Arab workers and Arab products. Even assuming it was possible to overcome these prejudices, to carry out work of this sort, the Jewish agitator had to learn another language and learn about a quite different way of life before any soft of dialogue could occur. It was dark lonely work, but somebody had to do it.

At one point, as if to prove they were not anarchists, the Palestine Trotskyists showed their preference for the propaganda of the word over the propaganda of the deed. The four or five members of the group went out one night, after dark, with their brushes and paint. In a number of prominent places, they painted something like the following stirring call to action: “GENERAL STRIKE TUESDAY ALL OUT”. Such was the industry of the comrades that few workers could have missed the message. Came Tuesday and the workers to a man ignored the call – and so did all the members of the Trotskyist group.

Another interesting sidelight is in the story that Cliff’s father, on his son joining the FI, wrote to Leon Trotsky, one Jewish father to another, as if commending young Ygael to the boss of his new firm. Cliff's father writes to Trotsky Similarly, when Cliff came to Britain in 1946, his father wrote to Salmon and Gluckstein, then a big retail company, suggesting some possible family connection that might be suitably favoured. Neither of these efforts seem to have borne any fruit, he was not offered a seat on the International Secretarial of the Fourth Internatlonal, or the board of Salmon and Gluckstein. It’s enough to give nepotlsm a bad name.

The first time that Cliff broke into print in English was in 1938, in the pages of New International. That year, in the October and November issues of the magazine he wrote about the Jewish-Arab Conflict, under the nom de plume L Rock. At first sight. this pseudonym might suggest the conceit of a Djugashvilli choosing Stalin, man of steel, for his party name. I am told, however, that a Gluckstein is some kind of semi-precious stone, so Rock (or Cliff come to that) is a reasonable sort of name to assume in order to fool any Palestine Policeman who happened to be browsing through the latest issue of New International.

The articles themselves are interesting and informative in particular they show an opposition to the feudal, semi-bourgeois leadership of the Arab national movement, together with a thoroughgoing anti-Zionism and anti-imperialism. They are long on analysis and short on prescription, which is how it should be if you have some experience and knowledge of the subject but no way of doing anything about it. The prose style gives all the satisfaction of chewing chopped bristle but over the years, if only in this, Cliff has been consistent, never once sliding into easy readability.

Like all the other dedicated members of the Fourth International, Cliff believed implicitly in Trotsky’s prediction that under the tremendous pressures engendered by war, the workers would not only put an end to a terminally sick capitalism, but also the Stalinist bureaucracy. Small the FI might be, but its few adherents were convinced that they were riding the wave of history. The trick was to position the cadre in such a way that it would be able, at short notice, to adopt a leadership posture. This inevitably resulted in what later turned out to be some fairly bizarre predictions.

In Britain, for example, the Workers’ International League (WIL, forerunner of the RCP) put out a pamphlet in 1942 entitled Preparing for Power. This document, written by Ted Grant [2], contained many priceless little hostages to fortune, such as: “A split in the Labour Party is inevitable ... The left will be driven to break the coalition and form an open opposition in Parliament, and what is more, they will almost certainly get a majority.” Or, “Britain is entering a pre-revolutionary situation.” Or yet again: “A failure of the coming revolutionary wave would provoke outbursts of despair among the petty bourgeoisie and the backward strata of the working class. Basing itself on this mood, the bourgeoisie would within the shortest space of time create a fascist party.” Finally: “Our untrained and untested cadre will within a few years at most be hurled into the turmoil of the revolution.”

If this seems to be a little over-excited, rest assured that it is no more so than anyone else in the FI. The WIL’s conviction was that the radicalisation would be so fast and so deep that it would rapidly exceed the reformist bounds of the Labour Party and quickly move on to the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which in its turn, would be unable to contain this revolutionary fervour. The masses would then inevitably turn to the Fourth International to lead them to Soviet power. The future often makes fools of those who venture into the prediction business and, it has to be said, Ted Grant was no exception to this rule.

Later on, in the RCP, the argument as to positioning, was about whether you should enter the Labour Party to encourage and then lead the leftward hurtling masses or to stand independently displaying the revolutionary standard around which the workers would rally. Pablo and the leadership of the FI favoured the former course, supported by Gerry Healy [3], while Jock Haston [4] and Grant were for the open party tactic.

For Cliff, who was in general agreement with the imminent upheaval theory, it was clear that Palestine was an unlikely place for the first wave of the coming revolutionary storm. For any serious Marxist the place to be was in Europe, where the hammer blows of war had been most destructive, where the expected social pressures would be greatest and where there was a significant working class movement with a long standing socialist tradition. During the war it was difficult almost anywhere, but especially in Palestine, to obtain uncensored news of the workers’ movement abroad and almost impossible to hear anything of the revolutionary movement. A member of Cliff’s group, Dan Tait, did go to the UK just before the war and was instructed to send back reports in his letters home. For revolutionaries, usually without access to complicated ciphers and codes, this is normally effected by arranging one’s correspondence to have a decent space between the lines of chit chat and then, with a clean nib, writing in the spaces with lemon juice. When allowed to dry naturally this is invisible, until it is subjected to heat with a candle flame, when the secret message is revealed in pale brown characters. Dan was instructed that, on his arrival in Britain, he should get in a good supply of lemons and send back regular reports. That such reports were not forthcoming was not because Dan was dilatory or lacking in revolutionary spirit, it was solely due to the fact that from 1939 to 1945 lemons were unobtainable in Britain, a shortage completely beyond the comprehension of anyone living anywhere near Jaffa. Bananas too were absent from wartime fruit bowls but, as these were useless for secret writing, their loss was less keenly felt.

By the end of the war, it was time for Cliff to move to a larger stage. The shortage of first hand reports from the UK may have engendered the illusion that one might be doing more than exchanging a handful of co-thinkers in Palestine for a not much bigger handful in Europe, but hope springs eternal in the revolutionary breast. At least the RCP had an almost overwhelmingly working class membership, although by 1946 it was beginning to decline. Cliff was manifestly a man of ability, with a good knowledge of marxism and economics, and the RCP leadership, where they were not over-embarrassed with such talents, invited him to attend the meetings of the Political Bureau.

The picture begins to emerge of the man and his background, years of semi-legal activity in a country ruled by foreign imperialism, with a tiny working class split on grounds of race and religion. Despite the difficulty, hope is maintained by adherence to the Samuel Smiles school of political thought that promises: “this Marxism can move mountains if only you try very very hard.” The working class are seen, correctly, as the centre of Marxist analysis but, from lack of acquaintance with the genuine article, the workers seem to acquire an undifferentiated character. In this “Marxist” science they appear as one dimensional factors in the revolutionary equation. All the professed passion for the workers cannot mask the fact that the other elements in the equation, for all practical purposes, loom larger: the revolutionary party and its organisational form and the vanguard of the vanguard, the leadership. In this scheme the politicised worker becomes a fetish, a powerful juju with infallible instincts, providing he/she agrees with the leader’s preoccupations.

Because the real life worker, in his nature as a human being is far more complex a creature than the theoretical abstraction, then an ideal, and idealised, worker is constructed whose thoughts, as part of a collective and as an individual, are elucidated from theory rather than observation. In this schema, the goal has been set, and can thus be largely ignored; all that is left is to build some imaginary yellow brick road, with the “Wizard” directing every step in the construction. Such an idealist way of looking at things is perhaps understandable, a human reaction to hope too long deferred; a consequence of working in Palestine for years to reach a membership of 30, a number that would be hard pressed to command a majority in the Jewish Bakers’ Union: then to come to Britain and spend the next 14 years building a group of less than a 100. This despite a willingness to make concessions in the interest of “primitive socialist accumulation”.

Much of this, of course, does not require a background in the Middle East. All of the first generation of Trotskyist leaders (and most of those of the second generation) spent all their formative years and most of the rest, in small and ineffective organisations, watching history pass them by despite their dedication to its materialist interpretation. By sheer will-power they managed to impose their personalities on the group, aided by the fact that there were not too many people to impose it upon. It is, for example, not an accident that Gerry Healy’s groups were thuggish, that Ted Grant’s were intensely boring and that Cliff’s were characterised by wild swings of emphasis, unsanctioned by supporting argument or democratic vote. All of these leaders still have their partisans, but then so do some of Jim Jones’ or Koreish’s followers – at least that is the ones who missed the bus to Jamestown or Waco.

It is in this light that the liberal regime of the International Socialists, up to 1968, should be viewed. First, the chance of large scale recruitment was non-existent and the tempo of events was mostly set by the glacier like dynamism of the Labour Party. Whatever Cliff conceived to be the important questions were certain of getting a run in the group press and the inclusion of contrary material was, at the lowest level, a useful recruitment device for the wary and less committed. For Cliff, the group is like something he owns and, in the final analysis, can dispose of as he wishes even on a whim; for he has a whim of iron. It is as if his investment of more time and more sacrifice gives him extra shares in the concern. If others feel they have an equal right to contribute in a way that he may think is mistaken, then he will defend his own revelation with all the ferocity of a lioness defending her cubs. By hook or by crook (in practice both) the transgressor will be cast into the outer darkness, cast out of the movement and no longer allowed to participate in the socialist emancipation of mankind.

If one were to attempt to place Cliff in the order of merit in the Trotskyist movement, leaving aside Trotsky who positively towers over all of his followers, he would surely get an honourable mention. If he is not in the Premiership, along with Shachtman and CLR James, he is certainly in the top quartile of the Endsleigh League, along with such luminaries as Ernest Mandel and James P Cannon, which is a great deal more than the Beezer Home Freezer League where Healy laboured so long and where his successors remain, looking for someone worthy of a bit of quality leadership.

As a person Cliff is pleasant enough, with a sense of humour that sits squarely in the self deprecatory Jewish school and is often very funny. He is personally generous and kind hearted and, if one has more than a passing interest in revolutionary socialism, can be an entertaining if obsessed companion. With those who are prepared to listen and to work at his appointed tasks, he becomes positively affectionate. Woe betide the chosen one if he or she falls short of the mark or develops contrary ideas. From flavour of the month he is transformed into last night’s dodgy vindaloo. One after another, young comrades are taken up and made much of, their every word treasured as a pearl of great price; then, in a few months, they are rejected for a newer, shinier model of revolutionary enthusiasm. Such partings have the appearance of the sad, bad end of a love affair, accompanied by all the bitterness of such occasions.

In this way quite a few promising comrades have been lost to the movement, a movement that has never been endowed with an over-abundance of cadres. This is criminally wasteful, especially as he who is the devil incarnate today worked well only yesterday and might provide some service tomorrow. To deny ourselves this possibility is disaccumulation of a particularly primitive kind that is not, and should not be, easily forgiven.

All of these faults are, of course, the indications of human failing, from which most of us suffer, for none of us can levitate above our own space and time. Fortunately, most people are afflicted less grievously but it is for this reason that we should be on our guard against the arrogance of certainty and blind faith in our own intuition. It is the reason why democracy is not an optional extra for revolutionaries; it is an essential principle that is the sole defence against capricious and egotistical leadership. A moment’s thought will surely tell us that no matter how infallible we would like our leading figures to be they have all so far proved pretty fallible in making the revolution. Democracy, in purely practical terms, is essential because genuine synthesis results from the exchange of ideas and few people can address their own brain like opposed lawyers addressing a jury and anyone who claims they can should almost certainly find themselves guilty of perjury. Revolutionaries should expect to make sacrifices for the movement, but the sacrifice that should never be made is that of conscience. In a revolutionary organisation, no guru’s certainty should carry more weight than your democratic conscience.

All too often the escape from our own fallibility is the party, an immaculate repository of all wisdom, a fault free beacon for mankind in a darkling world. It is a matter of some concern that a party, built by materialists and atheists based on their own ideas and aspirations, should then be endowed with supernatural powers. Like the idealised picture of the working class, the party becomes an icon for deflected reverence. That the party is more than the individuals who make it up is only to say it can be more effective for its purposes than a lot of disconnected people pursuing similar goals in isolation from one another. The party can never be more than the people who control it and, in the case of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), that is Cliff, armed with his well honed, razor sharp facility for opportunism and a prophetic nose. Even were these attributes as infallible as their owner believes them to be, and they are not, they are no substitute for the direction of an experienced and educated membership, with a leadership willing to learn as well as lead.



1. The story was told to me by Cliff circa 1960. I am informed by Granville Williams that at a meeting in Walsall in the early 1970s Cliff related that his finger was broken by British soldiers in Palestine when he was arrested. Perhaps they were different fingers. (I remember being told by Cliff that it happened to Cliff’s brother at a Zionist Trade Union meeting when he shouted out in response to a call for workers to unite “Yes, Jewish and Arab workers unite!” – Note by Ted Crawford)

2. Ted Grant is a leading figure in the history of British Trotskyism. He was the theoretician of the Workers’ International League, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Revolutionary Socialist League and Militant. After the split in Militant in he has led a small entrist group in the Labour Party.

3. Gerry Healy: recruited to Trotskyism by Jock Haston in the late 1930s, he was always noted for his predilection for factionalism and the vigorous, some would say unprincipled, way he was prepared to fight.

4. Jock Haston, an attractive human being and one of the most talented of British Trotskyists. Secretary of the RCP, later an NCLC lecturer, then Education Officer for the ETU and then the GMWU. Despite his right wing Labour posture in his later years, he was always a pleasant and sociable companion.


Last updated on 2.11.2003