Tony Cliff's funeral
Representatives of the Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party attended the cremation of Tony Cliff on Wednesday April 19. This was proceeded by a march through the streets of North London, consisting of well over a thousand of his comrades and friends.
Naturally enough, Socialist Workers Party members overwhelming predominated on the procession and at the memorial service that followed it. However, perhaps as a reflection of the new mood of unity abroad amongst revolutionaries in the capital, there was a good turnout from other left trends - including the International Socialist Group, the Independent Labour Network, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Workers Power and, of course, the CPGB.
SWP comrades spoke of how death came to Tony Cliff quickly. Despite some niggling illnesses and ailments, he did not share Lenin's tragic fate of a long, tortuous decline into physical and mental decrepitude. He was lucky enough to have died as he had lived, an actively engaged and committed revolutionary, up to his neck in the struggle right to the end.
Despite our many differences with the man, it was this that comrades from other political traditions were there to remember, I think. There are few enough comrades who weathered the political and social storms of the 20th century and died as revolutionaries. Too many fell - politically, morally, and physically. In that sense, Cliff did indeed constitute "one of those invaluable links in the human chain which joins in some way the tradition of Lenin's Comintern with the ideological and political struggles of the 1950s and 1960s" (Weekly Worker April 20).
There seemed to be a half-grasped realisation amongst many of the SWPers that I spoke to that with the death of Cliff an important period in the collective life of the SWP has passed. This does not simply relate to the man's role as theoretical leader and motivator of the group, although I am sure he must leave a large hole. The death of Cliff coincides with the first serious engagement of the organisation in the field of elections, its break from auto-Labourism with the development of the Blairite project, and its work with the left in the LSA. However it develops subsequently, the SWP will not be the same beast after May 4.
One last point. None of the comrades I spoke to noted any Socialist Party members present at either the march or the cremation. In this week's issue of The Socialist (April 21), there is no mention of the death of Cliff. This is strange, as the paper actually carries a (highly selective) report of the London Socialist Alliances' successful rally of April 13. An important feature of this meeting was the collective expression of respect it showed the departed comrade. Leading SWPer John Rees - with the agreement of the LSA - spoke of the man's life and struggle and the rally ended with the singing of 'The Ballad of Joe Hill' in tribute. It was not just a minor detail of the evening, in other words, which could be easily missed.
Having said that, we hope the Socialist Party's silence actually is an oversight rather than an expression of distasteful sectarian bile. We look forward to its estimation of the contribution of Tony Cliff in the not too distant future.Ian Mahoney