E. Belfort Bax

The “Maximum”

(3 December 1910)

The “Maximum”, Justice, 3rd December 1910, p.10. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


You recently published a letter from comrade Maclean in which he took exception to your pointing out in a “note” the undoubted truth that a law of maximum price on the necessaries of life (at least) would have the effect of stemming the present general rise in prices.

The suggestion contained in the “note” is attacked by Maclean as “Utopian.” Now, it so happens that this “Utopian” measure saved the working-classes of France (especially of Paris) from starvation during the greater part of the years 1793 and 1794. Probatum est. There are nothing like facts, however disagreeable they may be to economical pedantry. The horror even instructed persons have of the bare mention of a price-maximum is most extraordinary. Mr. Maclean himself believes in a legal minimum wage, and yet “jibs” at its logical complement – a maximum price. It only shows how the superstitions of the petit bourgeois trader cling to otherwise enlightened persons.

Mr. Maclean professes to base his objections to the maximum on a somewhat crude view (if I may say so without offence) of the Marxian theory of value. But, as Marx himself shows in his third volume, the fundamental principle of labour-value cannot always be directly applied to the phenomena of social-economic life in the neat and pat manner Mr. Maclean seems to think. Besides, the present rise in the prices, in so far as it is traceable (as in the main it is) to the increased output of gold, is due to the opening-up of new sources of gold-supply rather than to any labour-saving machinery or organisation in the production of gold. Anyway, it is quite clear, as your “note” pointed out, that wages have not risen in anything like the proportion, if at all, to the rise in prices. Hence it is equally plain that the difference is pocketed by the capitalist, and chiefly. I submit, by the middleman, the trader, in his diverse guises. Now, can it be denied that a law of maximum, drastic enough to be really deterrent on the middleman, would effectually, for the time being at least, stop this rise in prices? If not, why not? Whether such a law would he practicable at the present time is, of course, another matter. Nobody pretends that a law of maximum would solve the social problem. But as an interim measure to cope with the immediate problem of the dearness of necessaries, I maintain it is the only solution touching the heart of this question of the hour.


Yours fraternally,
E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 9.10.2005