‘Black Flag’: Ignorance & Lies

The July issue of Black Flag, published by “the Anarchist Black Cross”, consists an attack on the Socialist Party of Great Britain headed “SPGB – the Mumpsismus”.

The first part of the article jeers at us for “having stood with the same principles since 1905”, and claims that the Party was founded in error. The writer with this eye for error has his date wrong; but in the adjoining column an “anarcho-quiz” asks what is the oldest section of “the left” in Britain – and proudly tells us that the anarchist movement goes back to 1850s. Whether anarchist principles have remained the same or shifted about, and how much credit the answer implies, we are not told.

The alleged mistake in the Socialist Party’s origins is as follows:

    “Socialist prophet Fitzgerald got hold of the works of Marx. But the version he read in English was from the edited translation of Karl Kautsky. Kautsky had rigidly censored Marx and Engels, to conform with the anti-Socialist laws, and also to mould Marxist Social-Democracy, as it had arisen in Germany, into a legalistic form. It was on this censored version that Fitzgerald founded his faith . . . The SPGB took the ‘mumpsismus’ seriously.”

To dispose of this ignorant rubbish, the English translation of Vol. I of Capital appeared in 1887. It was by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, and was edited by Engels. Moore translated the Communist Manifesto for its English appearance in 1888, also edited by Engels. Other major works available in English before 1904 included Engel’s Origin of the Family and Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy and Critique of Political Economy – none of them edited by Kautsky. It can be added that several of the 142 founders of the Socialist Party (only one of whom was named Fitzgerald) had previously attended classes in Marxian economics given by Aveling.

The reader may wonder where Kautsky entered the picture at all. In 1895 Wilhelm Liebknecht published, not in England but in the German Vorwarts, a cut version of Engel’s introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France; and Engels wrote to Kautsky complaining of it. The first English edition was not till 1936, when Fitzgerald and many of his contemporaries were dead. Thus, the Black Flag writer’s statement is a complete fiction.

It would be possible to regard it as a painfully weak venture in the unfamiliar realm of political theory – some boy attempting a man’s errand; except that the second part of the article consists of allegations about the lives and motives of Socialist Party members in general. In that light, we have to assume that the writer knows that he has written is untrue. We may also assume that his readers will note the allegations are in lieu of, and show incapacity to give, any answer to the Socialist case.

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