E. Belfort Bax

The Rayner Question

(18 May 1907)

The Rayner Question, Justice, 18th May 1907, p.10. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADE, – Sympathising as I do, to a large extent, with both comrades Higgins and Preeve in many points of their respective letters. I do not propose to enter into a general criticism of either. There is, however, one remark in comrade Preeve’s letter which I feel impelled to animadvert upon. He thinks to settle Higgins once for all for condemning the injustice of letting Rayner off while hanging other less heinous offenders with the observation “but surely two, or even one hundred and two, blacks do not make a white.” Now if comrade Preeve will only reflect and not rest content with repeating a conventional “tag,” as silly as it is threadbare, be will see that, from the requisite conditions, two blacks inevitably do make a white, and that upon the assumption that they do, the whole basis of our moral and juridical judgment in practical matters rests.

I cannot go into the whole question in this letter, and this is the more unnecessary since I have done so elsewhere; but as regards the point at issue between Higgins and Preeve the case stands as follows: Preeve enunciates the proposition, “Capital punishment is a bad thing,” in which I entirely agree with him and so, for that matter, probably Higgins does also. But we have to deal with facts as they exist as well as with abstract propositions. And, as things are, capital punishment unfortunately obtains in the present day. This being so, Higgins contends, as I understand him, that the carrying out of the capital sentence on Rayner would have presented a relative “white” in the light of the treatment the law accords to other murderers, as against the blackness of the inequity indicated by his preferential treatment. For the rest, the whole case, of course, as Higgins suggests, shows the trail of that loathsome reptile, the Nonconformist Conscience, which apparently justifies cold-blooded murder in defence of its own theories of sexual morality – Yours fraternally,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 15.7.2004