E. Belfort Bax, Law of the Maximum, Justice, 20th September 1917, p.8. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Dear Comrade, – I venture to think our friend Drummer J. Watson gives his case against the maximum away when he admits that prices will not come down after the war to those of pre-war times, also that prices had been going up for years before the war. If so, it is very evident that the economic forces of supply and demand on which he with the zeal of an old Manchester-school economist so devoutly relies have failed of themselves to keep things economic in order; also that the doctrine that “wages will always be regulated by the cost of living,” however good as a broad and general statement, cannot be exactly taken au pied de lettre, seeing that on his own showing the trade unions have been all this time “trying” to keep up the standard of living to that of previous times, but I think it must be admitted have not quite succeeded. Nationalise the merchant service, says he! To which I reply, realise the whole economic programme of Socialism and communise the means of production, distribution, and exchange at once! This would be still better. In fact, I doubt me much if the communisation of shipping alone would have the important results he seems to expect from it, and this for more reasons than one.
But the point is, is it likely to happen? Is any Parliament in the near future likely to vote the supplies requisite for buying up the whole merchant service of England on the top of the financial exhaustion of this greatest of wars? Meanwhile, to quote Hamlet, “while the grass grows – the proverb is something musty.” On the other hand, the war has forced on the nation and its rulers the acceptance of the principle of the maximum, however inadequately and however ineffective in its application. Without waiting for the complete transformation of the capitalist State into the Socialist Commonwealth, we have, therefore, in the adoption of a compulsory maximum price coupled with a compulsory minimum wage an interim measure which must go a long way toward strangling capitalism economically, and thus “underpinning” its foundations assuming always such a measure to be applied with reasonable honesty.
As to the letter of Mr. Morton in your issue of August 30, I can only refer the writer to my first article on the “law of maximum,” published some two or three months ago in Justice, for my answer to his contentions. I note that he repeats the old Manchester school-fallacy (as I deem it) re the mysterious omnipotence of “economic laws,” and also denies, in the face of recent facts, that prices are “largely factitious.” As regards the latter point, it may interest your readers to know that the late Friedrich Engels, certainly no mean economist, once made the remark to me that modern retail trade was so largely based on sheer cheating and swindling that it was well-nigh impossible to bring its operations under any determinate economic law or formula whatever. The economic happenings of the last few years in this department have assuredly confirmed the above statement and more than justified my assertion that prices (certainly retail prices) are “largely factitious.” – yours fraternally
E. Belfort Bax
[The date of comrade Bax’s first article was January 18 – ED. J.]
Last updated on 9.12.2004