E. Belfort Bax

The “Maximum”

(31 December 1910)

The “Maximum”, Justice, 31st December 1910, p.10. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADE, – I cannot accept our friend Maclean’s implied assertion that questions of distribution, etc., are “non-essential” to the subjects discussed in his original letter, and hence that he was justified in eliminating them, and proceeding to apply directly to a concrete and practical question of the hour – viz., the sudden and general rise in prices, the touchstone of the Marxian theory of value in its pure and abstract form. This did, and does still, strike me as a somewhat “crude” procedure, although, in saying so, I in no way intended to cast reflection on friend Maclean’s political economic knowledge and capacity as such.

The figures adduced with reference to the South African mines as to the cheapening in the cost of extracting gold from the ore (I imagine by what is known as the “cyaniding process”) are interesting and important. I should, however, like to know whether by the present cheaper processes the same amount of gold is extracted from a ton of ore as by the previous costlier ones. I mean, whether the more recent methods of dealing with the ore are as thorough as the older ones, and obtain on the whole better results.

Maclean, in traversing my position as regards the “ Maximum” as at least an effective palliative measure for the time being, makes two entirely erroneous assumptions: Firstly, that I only meant the “Maximum” to apply to the retail trader, which would be an obvious absurdity; and, secondly, that I put forward the “Maximum” as a panacea and alternative to “municipalisation, nationalisation, and internationalisation” – a misconception which I expressly guarded myself against in my letter. As regards the first point, it is quite clear – so clear, one would have thought, as to be unmistakable to any candid reader – that any application of the of “Maximum” would have to be, first and foremost, to those “wholesalers and producers” who, as Maclean himself admits, “are more and more dictating retail prices.”

As to the second assumption, it is only necessary to point out that the fundamental changes referred to, which we all admit are the destined means for the transformation of the Capitalism of to-day into the Socialism of the future, are not realisable at the present moment, sale at best to an infinitesimal and altogether inadequate extent. The suggestion originally made in a front-page note in Justice, and defended by me against our friend Maclean’s criticism, of the “Maximum” in prices as an interim palliative measure against the present sudden rise in prices, in no way affects those basal changes referred to by my opponent. If the latter were realised to any considerable extent, even though not completely, the whole economic position would be altered, and the present question, like many others, become superseded and objectless. But meantime as Hamlet says, “While the grass grows the proverb is something musty!”


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 10.8.2004