SIR,—I write for information upon three points which perhaps you will think it worth while to deal with, or which you may not be averse to having discussed, through your columns. I believe my difficulties are shared by many others who, like myself, are trying to feel their way to a safe—because sound— position. I will, with your permission, set out the points as briefly as may be.


On this matter I have read with interest the article published over the name of J. Fitzgerald, but confess I cannot yet follow the argument as to the workers being unaffected by taxation.

I can see that competitive conditions cause wages to revolve around the cost of subsistence of the labourer, but I must concede that, in the main, the present standard of comfort of the labourer is above the bare subsistence level. That is to say that, in perhaps the majority of cases, there is a margin—small enough, it may be, but still a margin—between what the labourer receives in wages and the amount necessary to defray his bare cost of living; between what he does live on and what he could live on.

Granting this, I do not clearly see why an increase in the cost of living resulting from taxation should not affect the labourer to his detriment. Suppose a necessity of life—say bread—to cost sixpence per loaf, and suppose a tax equal to one penny per loaf is put upon grain. The labourer must have bread and he must now pay sevenpence where formerly sixpence served. Would not that increase mean a reduction in his reserve or margin ; a hardening of his conditions of life? And does not that mean that he is affected by taxation ?

The same argument would apply in the case of an increase in the cost of a luxury—say tobacco or tea. The labourer would have to content himself with less of either, or both. Anyhow he would suffer.

Of course, a small increase in taxation would not necessarily imply a rise in price. But in the case of increases that do, is it not fair to conclude that the workers’ position would be so much the worse ? Certainly it seems to me that, although the tendency may be for wages to rise in the proportion of the increase in price, the tendency would not be apparent immediately—would not perhaps manifest itself at all—and in the interval between the rise and the time when the wages would balance the extra expenditure, the worker would be worse off. Would that be the case or not ? If so, are the workers affected by taxes or not ? And if not why not ?


This is my second difficulty. I have heard it contended that the ignorance and apathy of the workers of this country are due to the effect of adverse economic conditions which militate against any desire for study they may have started out with, and which too often crush out the aptitude for learning completely. Ignorance and apathy, it is said, are but the reflex of material conditions. The remedy is the alteration of those conditions.

On the other hand, it is urged that no material improvement is possible in the present position of the worker unless the worker himself awakes to an understanding of his position and the reasons for it, and has taken over the means of production, &c., in his own interests. Hence the Socialist propagandist.

Here is the rub. The intelligence of the worker can only expand as a result of the alteration of his present conditions. Yet the alteration of the conditions is dependent upon the expansion of the working-class intelligence. The latter must precede the former, yet the former must precede the latter !

It occurs to me, of course, that the present form of production and distribution must, by the laws of its development, change. But will that alteration tend to produce enlightenment and dispel apathy in the worker? At present the effect seems to be the other way about. If, however, this is not so, if the intellectual development of the worker keeps even pace with his economic development, what is the use exactly of the Socialist propagandist ?


My last difficulty has to do with municipalism. I cannot see that the municipalisation of any public service can be other than a gain to the people.

It has been stated that the small capitalist class favour such enterprises because they (the enterprises) conserve their (the small capitalists’) interests. I do not follow that. Municipal stock may provide the small capitalists with safe investments, but only, it seems to me, while the loan remains unpaid. When the cost of the enterprise has been defrayed, that concern becomes public property—the property of the whole people. The capitalist has lost his gilt-edged security.

Why cannot municipalism be regarded as a step—and a considerable step—towards the goal of the Co-operative Commonwealth? Why should it not indeed be regarded as an expression of the necessary and inevitable development of a sense of citizenship in the worker?

In conclusion, Sir, I ask that you will not think these questions are put idly, or with any other than a desire for information. The questions are knotty ones to me. I know they are knotty to many others also. To deal with them would, I feel convinced, be good propaganda work. To have a “Doubts and Difficulties” column would be good business, and most helpful to little thinkers stumbling in the dark. I submit the notion to your kind consideration, and am, Sir, yours, &c.,

[We shall be pleased to have the comments of our readers upon the points raised in our correspondent’s letter, and should any of our readers have any “Doubts or Difficulties” on any question bearing, however distantly, upon Socialism, we shall endeavour to remove them. If a suffcient number of questions are asked we shall be very pleased to devote the necessary space to their answer.—ED. COMMITTEE.]

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