Tony Cliff et al.


The Palestine Question

(An Exchange)



In the years 1938/39 the young Ygael Gluckstein (better known today as Tony Cliff) was involved in a discussion of the tactics that revolutionaries in Palestine should adopt on the questions of Jewish immigration and the Palestinian national movement.

The discussion was opened in August 1938 by an article by Ben Herman in New International, the theoretical magazine of the American Socialist Workers Party, then the leading organisation in Trotsky’s Fourth International. Writing under the pseudonym L. Rock, Cliff contributed two articles in October and November 1938 on behalf of the Palestinian Trotskyist group, of which he was a leading member.

Cliff’s position was criticised by the South African Trotskyists of the Workers Party of South Africa in their publication, The Spark, in November 1938, reprinted in NI in February 1939. They compared the position of the Jewish settlers in Palestine at that time with the position of white workers in South Africa. As a result they opposed Jewish immigration into Palestine. Cliff rejected this position in his reply, published in NI in June 1939. A further reply by The Spark to all three articles by Cliff appeared in in NI October 1939.

In the run-up to the establishment of the state of Israel after World War II Cliff’s group did oppose Zionist immigration. Some Trotskyists today argue that Cliff was correct from the mid-1940s but was incorrect in the 1930s. In his autobiography, however, Cliff does not accept this position, although he doesn’t explicitly deal with the criticisms. It would appear that he felt that the latter-day critics were looking back to the 1930s when Jews were trying to escape Nazi persecution by fleeing to wherever they could with the benefit of hindsight, whereas his group was trying to forge unity between Jewish and Arab workers on the basis of an internationalist policy.

During World Wr II the issue seems to have been swamped by other issues. By the time the question was taken up again the world and this issue had been transformed by the Holocaust and the way it was instrumentalised by the Zionist movement to justify their demand for a Jewish state in Palestine.

Here we present all six articles in the discussion in teh order in which they were written. We suggest that people read the articles and judge for themselves.



We would like to thank activists of the Socialist Workers League of Palestine for providing us with the articles by Ben Herman and The Spark.


Last updated on 19.2.2005