50 Years Ago: The Capital Levy Exposed
In previous issues we have dealt with the Labour Party’s scheme for a levy on capital to pay off part of the war debt. It was explained why the levy is merely a matter for the consideration of the capitalist class, who have to decide, on purely financial grounds, whether the levy is advisable in principle and secondly whether it would be wise to institute it so long after the war and in a period of depression.
It was . . . from a vote-catching point of view, probably a mistake for the Labour Party to make it their main plank. But for that they would have received the valuable support of the section of the Conservative Party which centres round the Observer . . . but the Conservative Observer was strongly against the levy on account of the undoubted disturbance it would cause (serious if only temporary) in the British financial world.
The leaders of the Labour Party were, of course, not blind to the political situation . . . Mr. Snowden had only a week or so earlier tried to find a way out by proclaiming that while the levy was good, the time was not so opportune, and that the proper moment was just after the war. And then, on Saturday November 26th, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald went considerably farther, and in fact admitted explicitly what we have always said; that the levy was a device to stabilise the capitalist system . . . These are MacDonald’s words in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester :-
Referring to the Capital Levy, Mr. MacDonald said he found it a most popular topic. It was not a special Labour proposal. Some people imagined they wanted to use it as a malign or magical leverage for the complete change of society. If he were a capitalist and opposed to Socialism, he would support the capital levy.(Observer 25 November 1923)
During the same week he spoke at Northampton and at Bristol and showed again how little the levy had to do with the workers.
The capital levy proposal did not come from the Labour Party in the first instance. It came from business men, economists, university professors, and others and the Labour Party had not taken it up until they had enquired into it. When the Labour Party had educated the people it (the capital levy) would become popular and would be applied by other parties.(The New Age 29 November)