E. Belfort Bax

A Personal Explanation

(30 August 1902)

A Personal Explanation, Justice, 30th August 1902, p.6 (letter).
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrade,

I have no wish to disparage our friend Askew’s energy and industry in the matter of translation, but certainly the first instalment of his translation of my controversy with Kautsky does not strike me as particularly happy.

In the first place, readers of the Social-Democrat are plunged in medias res into the criticism of an article they know nothing about. Surely it would have been more conducive to an unbiased judgment on the controversy to have published a translation of the original article that inspired the criticism. But a translation of this first article way not even necessary. An English version of it exists in my Outspoken Essays, permission to republish which would have been readily granted under the circumstances had it been asked. I may mention that though I believe the Outspoken Essays is for the moment out of print, it should not be difficult to get hold of a copy by way of loan. As it is, I trust, in fairness this will yet be done in the article reprinted in the Social-Democrat, as I really cannot be responsible for translations of my writings by Askew without previously revising them.

To mention one grotesque blunder, on page 243 Kautsky alleged that no one of his persuasion had ever thought of talking about “the reflection of economic conditions in the social consciousness” Wiederspiegelung der economischen Bedingungen im sozialen Bewusstsein, I believe, was the phrase I used – adding “whatever this may mean.” Now, as a matter of fact, this, as it seems to me very lucid and intelligible metaphor was not mine at all, but belongs to Engels, who employs it with little variation no less than five times in his criticism of Dühring alone. The prose, however, appears in Askew’s version under the fearful and wonderful guise, “reflex thoughts in the social consciousness,” which in very deed is nonsense and would have thoroughly merited Kautsky’s animadversions. Again, on Page 246, Kautsky is made to say that superficially society may appear the product of ideas coming to contain “spirits favoured of God,” adding that this phrase made me “especially angry.” The foregoing, as it stands somewhat unintelligible statement might have received some elucidation had my original article preceded Kautsky’s criticism.

Kautsky, on one occasion in conversation, used the expression – referring to my contention that economic conditions would not account for every element in historical evolution – “How then do these (ideological) movements arise if not from economic conditions – they don’t fall down from Heaven?” To this I replied in the article in question that there was a third alternative which certain of our friends had omitted to take account of. Until I read Askew I was utterly unaware that Kautsky had ever used the expression “spirits favoured of God”, as unaware as I was of anger having possessed my soul on account of this or any other utterance of Kautsky.


Yours fraternally,
      E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 11.6.2004