From the Vaults: Socialist Standard, April 1924

Readers of the comments sections of this blog might well have come across a frequent commentator by the pseudonym “spgb gray.” This contributor admits to being one of the main European contacts for the “World Socialist Movement.” He is also a fervent supporter of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), a tiny Marxist party based in Clapham that has been likened to a religious sect by Communist Party historians A. L. Morton and Eric Hobsbawm.

In the comments boxes, spgb gray is fond of reminding people that his political party dates back to 1904. He also gets very upset if anyone says that Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao or any other famous Communist leaders were Communist. Similarly, he gets upset if one would say that the British Communist Party was Communist. As far as his party is concerned, anyone who would make such a claim is a liar, and any leading academic who might refer to Lenin as a Communist would be inaccurate. This tiny party are the self-declared, final arbiters of who is, and who is not, a Communist.  spgb gray does seem to have a habit of attempting to hijack a number of threads on this site and writing about his own party. I thought it only fair that we have one thread about the SPGB so it does not need hijacking.

In January 1924, the Observer published an obituary of Lenin that referred to his inauguration of “the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” This had the SPGB fuming. They viewed this as “dangerous.” I copy below an extract from an article that the SPGB published discussing this Observer article:

The Passing of Lenin

Jack Fitzgerald

Socialist Standard, April 1924

…In the first sentence we have two assertions, One that Lenin established the   “Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” the other that this is a “Marxian principle.” Both statements are deliberately false.

Lenin never established any “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” whatever that may mean—but only the Dictatorship of the Communist Party which exists today. In the whole of Marx’s writing that he himself saw through the press the phrase Dictatorship of the Proletariat does not occur once!

In this article, not only did Fitzgerald, a founding member of the SPGB, deny that Marx had ever used the phrase, “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” but as can be seen, he also had no idea what the term meant.

One of Marx’s most famous works is his 1875 document, Critique of the Gotha Programme. It was here that Marx used one of his other famous phrases, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”  It is also in this very same document where Marx stated:

Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

It was not just in the Critique of the Gotha Programme that Marx or Engels discussed the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat: Eric Chester noted (Critique, Vol. 17, No.1, 1989, p.89n5), that by 1962, Hal Draper had discovered “eleven references to dictatorship of the proletariat in the writings of Marx and Engels.”

The SPGB drew up its Object and Declaration of Principles in 1904 and 106 years later they have still not changed them. If the party did not know about the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat in 1924, they would not have known about it in 1904. We can therefore conclude that the Object and Declaration of Principles of the party was based on a flawed understanding of Marxism and written by ignorant people.

Hat Tip

The credit for most of the information contained in this post goes to Abu Faris who kindly brought to my attention the source material.


spgb gray has commented to the post and stated, as if to prove my point:

you are wrong Ezra. The USSR was not socialist or communist. You can only maintain it was by deliberately distorting history for ideological reasons.