History,  Trots

How Tony Cliff refused to fight fascism

I want to call attention to this paragraph about the founder and patron saint of the Socialist Workers Party in Nick Cohen’s excellent Standpoint piece.

Leftists of the 1968 generation tried to recover something from the disgrace of Marxism-Leninism by arguing that if only Trotsky had succeeded Lenin then all would have been well. Trotsky, however, argued from exile that the war between Nazi Germany and Britain and France was an imperialist conflict. Marxists should not take sides, but wait for the revolutionary opportunities that would follow the exhaustion of the warring powers. Shindler illustrates the mood far beyond the Communist Party by digging up the writings of Tony Cliff, the cultish founder of the Socialist Workers Party, the most malign force in British left-wing politics. “Tony Cliff” was the suitably proletarian nom de guerre of Ygael Gluckstein, who was born in Palestine. In our day, the SWP accuses virtually everyone of being a fascist, most notably Israelis and their friends abroad. Yet when he confronted actual fascists in the form of Nazi armies, Gluckstein would not fight them. If Rommel had broken through the British lines at El Alamein, the Nazis would have killed every Jew in Palestine, including Gluckstein. Instead of defending them and himself, he issued appeals to Jewish students not to fight Hitler that were so insistent the British authorities interned him alongside members of the Stern gang in Acre prison. The Trotskyist thought he could secure a revolution and throw out the British imperialists by letting the Nazis win. Stern and his associates thought they could create a Jewish state by attacking the British and trying to negotiate with the Nazis. It is hard to say who was the greater fool.

So for all the SWP’s rhetorical noise about fighting fascism, when their revered Comrade Cliff faced the immediate threat of fascism in its most powerful and dangerous form, he not only refused to join the fight, he tried to convince others not to fight either.