John Maclean Justice 1911

The Rise in Prices

Source: John Maclean, “The Rise in Prices,” Justice, 29th April 1911, p.10;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Dear Comrade,

Usually we account for the dropping of objects by the law of gravitation without taking into immediate consideration the law of friction; and if we account for a rise in objects we use the former law and leave out the latter, because only first principles here are necessary. Had we to explain the difference in time taken by a ball and a feather falling the same distance to reach the ground, then certainly after gravitation we would be forced to introduce friction. However, it would be confusion to introduce friction into an explanation of the flow of water up pipes, of the syphon and of the pump.

Similarly, we deal with problems in all sciences. And to me the brilliancy of Marx has consisted as much in his scientific method (always, so far as I have read or heard, silently passed over) as in anything he has discovered. Now, in “Value, Price and Profit” where he tackles a specific problem within prescribed limits, he himself uses his fundamental principle of value without the adjustments comrade Bax recently wished to impose on me. And I fancy that Bax and Quelch, in their marvellously compact little “Cathechism,” have adopted the same plan.

Now, suppose we consider prices a few years ago, and show how they have been arrived at by making, at least fifty adjustments of the labour-time theory of value; and suppose to-day we can find a tendency for prices generally to rise; and suppose we can trace this to a cheapened and increased output of gold; and suppose this group of phenomena can be adequately explained by first principles alone — is it wise or otherwise to leave out subsidiary or accessory considerations? Personally, I think it wise, after years of trying to develop human brains. Without desire to caricature, I might suggest that otherwise we ought to explain the mechanism of a bicycle, or, shall I say the universe, in an endeavour to let others exactly understand a puncture. However, I am prepared to hear comrade Bax’s mode of procedure elaborated

I am unable to detail all the factors at work tending to cheapen the production of gold, but recent mechanical improvements super-imposed on the cyanide process undoubtedly are essentially responsible. To what extent wage reduction is responsible, comrades on the Rand best can tell. Fortunately, the “Daily Mail” Year Book contains some facts wished. In 1904 a ton of ore yielded 38s. 8d. worth of gold; in 1908, 31s 4d. worth — a drop of about 20 per cent.

This proves that poorer ores have been tackled, and is evidenced by a remark made by the chairman of one of the large companies last year, and by the rise in output during the same period from 65.9 million to 92.7 million. Whether the new methods operating on the old ones have increased the output per ton or not I cannot tell, and from a general point of view it does not matter, especially when we know that the cost per ton has dropped in the four years from 29s. to 17s. 10d. per ton, and the profits have risen from 9s. 8d. to 13s. 6d. per ton.

When Bax accused me of taking, up the attitudes of the petty bourgeoisie, I naturally inferred that against that class in particular he intended the “maximum” to apply. I trust Bax will accept this as my apology for misunderstanding him when I confined myself I essentially to the retailer. He now includes the producer. But if, as an article in the “Daily Mail” Year Book points out, the producers and purveyors of raw materials of manufacture have been getting the greatest advantage of the high prices then, I imagine that the “maximum” would have to be applied before it could be really operative. For, as all know, Britain depends on all countries for its raw material. Looked at from this point, I think less of the “maximum” than ever before. Many are striving to pull the co-operative movement closer together through the international alliance so that raw material and finished products may exchange free from capitalist interference. How soon, and how far, this can be accomplished depends on the intelligent appreciation of the workers position and the will to use the co-operative movement to improve it. Odon Por, in a series of articles in the “Coming Nation” incidentally showed how the Socialist agricultural co-operatives by their timely intervention prevented the rise in prices in Messina that otherwise would have happened after the frightful earthquake. If Bax urges immediate practicality in defence of the “maximum,” I fancy he will admit that it will take a shorter time to get results through an international co-operation than through an international maximum.

Furthermore, I cannot see how the “maximum” — even admitting its desirability and applicability — could be made operative before municipalisation, etc. Multitudes, who to-day vote the capitalist ticket, are prepared on the grounds of expediency to support extensions of local and national enterprise. Did such an acute crisis arise, as might justify an agitation for the negative “maximum,” I am convinced that better results would accrue from a fight for the application of our positive fundamental proposals supported by co-operative and trade union effort along the lines best suited for them. Bax should remember we have facts innumerable to support the positive, but only theory, (and that not acceptable to many of us) to support the negative. Remember how J.M. Robertson took the contradictory arguments in favour of the eight hours movement, and used these to kill it. Even on that comparatively simple issue Social-Democrats seem to have had no consistent line of argument. I fear greater chaos would result if we attempted defence of the “maximum.”


John Maclean, “Democracy and the Coming Coronation,” Justice, 13th May 1911, p.5, (1,109 words).