on 9 December 2012
There is a strong case for saying that Tony Cliff was the most important Marxist of the second half of the twentieth century. This book outlines the theoretical developments through which Cliff's Marxism became differentiated from orthodox Trotskyism in the years after the Second World War.
Cliff is best known for fully developing the theory that Stalinist Russia and the other so-called "communist" states were actually forms of bureaucratic state capitalism. These Stalinist tyrannies had/have nothing in common with genuine socialism or communism, and nor were they even "degenerated" or "deformed" workers' states, as the orthodox Trotskyists claimed.
The book outlines this theory of state capitalism, but it also covers Cliff's theory of "deflected permanent revolution" as an explanation of events in the parts of the "Third World", and the theory of the "permanent arms economy" as an explanation of capitalism's long boom in the post-war years.
These theories formed the basis of the Socialist Review Group, which became the International Socialists and then the Socialist Workers' Party (Britain). Cliff's politics are embodied in the SWP and its sister organisations in other countries. So, of course, those on the Right or the Stalinist or sectarian "Left" who are hostile to the SWP will be equally hostile to this book.
Today the post-war boom is a distant memory. Capitalism has reverted to crisis and threatens us with the dangers of economic collapse, fascism and war, as it did in the 1930s. That is why Cliff's theories still have relevance today: they give us an understanding of the world and how to change it based on the real Marxist tradition.
on 21 February 2012
"Trotsky had predicted that after the war the Soviet Union would be wracked by political instability, that the West would be plunged into severe economic crisis and that national liberation in the Third World would only be brought to victory by the working class."
So Trotsky was wrong about socialism, wrong about capitalism, and wrong about colonialism.
Then along came Cliff, to save the day - by being wrong, in a different way, about capitalism, socialism and colonialism.
So Cliff (or rather, Mike Kidron) put forward the notion that a permanent arms economy would - presumably permanently - save capitalism. Very rrrrrrevolutionary.
Then Cliff put forward the dogma that Russia was state capitalist, a theory first proposed by the renegade from socialism Karl Kautsky, and always opposed by - Trotsky! Capitalist classes use the state to grow the economy, but when a working class used its state power to grow a socialist economy, Cliff denounced it as capitalist.
And finally Cliff called national liberation movements examples of `Deflected Permanent Revolution' - so, not examples of Trotsky's permanent revolution notion - very helpful.
So after events had completely demolished Trotsky's notions, Cliff `reinterpreted reality' by falsifying it, in order to claim some tenuous link with the discredited Trotsky.
The blurb says, `socialists who looked to the ideas of Trotsky were forced either to abandon socialism or to reinterpret the reality they faced'. But Cliff did both.