Correspondence: ‘WB’ of Upton Park
E. MARSLAND writes : Marx says a rise in wages does not increase price of commodities. Commodities are sold at their true value. Well, then, the subsistence necessary for a labourer is equivalent to £1. He is engaged by the capitalist to work for 60 hours for £1, in which time he creates two commodities value £1 each. If the labourer forces his wages up 10s., he still creates value £1 in the 60 hours, but the capitalist loses 10s. profit. The commodities are still sold at their value, which is now £1.10s. If this be true then a rise in wages forces a rise in the price of commodities.
In orthodox politics the Tariff Reformer, tell us more work will be found for the people. Free Traders say they will find more work and cheaper necessaries. How do they really affect the worker ? What effect has Free Trade on the Tariff Reformer and Tariff Reform on the Free Trader? Also how do the two policies operate?
Again, how would a tax on imports affect the value of commodities and their price ?
The first point in our correspondent's letter is so splendidly and exhaustively treated in the second chaptered "Value, Price and Profit" that he cannot do better than study that chapter for his answer.
Regarding the second question, seeing that in countries that have Protection the problem of unemployment is as grave as it is admitted to be herein "Free Trade England," the statements of both Tariff Reformer and Free Trader are shown, to be quite valueless on. this point. It is true that Free Trade in corn was established in England chiefly for the purpose of cheapening food stuffs, and, as a consequence, of bringing about a lowering o£ wages based on the reduced cost of living to the worker. Obviously such a system does not benefit the worker, but only the capitalist, who reaps larger profits thereby.
Briefly stated, the Tariff Reformer is in general one interested in supplying the home market, who wishes to prevent the competition of the foreigner by tariff wails, while the Free Trader is one interested in using materials from abroad, and who naturally wants those materials as cheap as possible. The effects are thus easily seen. Free Trade admits the competition of the foreigner with the merchant supplying the home market, generally resulting in a fall of prices. Tariff Reform, if successfully applied according to the Tariff Reformers, would pat a barrier upon this competition and so assist in maintaining prices at their old level.
Concerning the next point, the value of an article is determined by the labour-time necessary to produce it under the general conditions prevailing at a given time. Consequently taxes cannot affect the value of commodities at all. Nor can it be said dogmatically that it will affect the price. In certain circumstances prices may rise when an import tax is levied, but actual results are bewildering in their variety. Thus in Jan. 1837 when the tax on foreign corn was 26s. fid. per quarter, the average price was 60s. In Dec. of the same year when the tax was 31s. 8d. per quarter, the price had fallen to 54s. 4d. per quarter. When the 1s. duty was taken off wheat about two years ago, the price rose. On the other hand, when the last reduction in the tax on tea took place the price of tea, generally, fell. These instances, which could be multiplied largely, show that taxation is about the smallest factor in determining the prices of articles ; and that the other conditions of competition and cost of production are the primary points in this matter.
W. B. (Upton Park) asks, what would be the action of a member of the S.P.G.B. elected to Parliament, and how would he maintain our principle of "no compromise" ?
By compromise we understand "political trading," the "one-and-one principle" for example (see first page). The Socialist member of Parliament (while in the minority, of course), would advance the interests of the working class by caustic and enlightening criticism of capitalism in all its manifestations—political, industrial, educational, etc., etc. He would take every opportunity that offered to use this higher and well-heard platform as a means of spreading Socialist understanding.
His presence, backed, as it must needs be, by a wide-awake electorate (suggestive of more to come and the threatened "end of all,") would in all probability evoke the initiation, by one or other of the capitalist parties, of measures that may conceivably contain some small advantage for the working-class. Now intellectual vitality requires the continual absorption, and digestion of new facts as they occur. So with Socialism and proletarian politics. The S.P.G.B. is always ready to consider new facts and phases when these present themselves, and therefore the question of whether Socialist representatives should support any such measures in Parliament, is one that we do not, in January 1910, pretend to answer. We can only say as to this, that as we progress and new situations arise, our membership, ever guided by the revolutionary principle of NO COMPROMISE, by our general understanding of Socialism and the requirements of the greatest interest of the working class, its emancipation, will DEMOCRATICALLY direct the action of its representatives. Each new situation, will have to be faced and Socialist action be decided upon the merits of the case. Meanwhile we may not claim rank with the Pope or Old Moore, and it should be understood that there is room for difference of opinion upon a matter that, at the present stage, is only of secondary importance. Our work to-day is to teach our fellow toilers their position and show them the indispensable steps they must take to win freedom.—(Ed. " S.S.")
F. S. F. (Staveley). —No. "When buying commodities on which duty has been paid," the working class does not contribute towards the upkeep of the Government. The worker's wages are determined by the average necessary cost of reproducing his labour-power—a sum, however, influenced by the state of trade and degree of resistance of the parties to the exchange. Thus if the price of the necessaries of life rises, the necessary cost of the worker's subsistence is increased, and other things being equal, a rise in wages must follow or the quality of labour-power be depreciated. This rise in wages has in Germany followed upon the increased cost of living, —a fact widely admitted by Free Trade organs.
The wages, as between districts, of Post Office employees in this country are carefully, and by guiding principle, fixed by the Postal authorities in accordance with this "law of wages." Such is also notoriously the practice of the railway companies.
The robbery of the workers by the capitalists (the recognition of which is the kernel of the Socialist position in economics and in politics) consists in the appropriation of that part of the labourer's product called surplus-value; the surplus, rent, interest and profit, that the employers obtain when the price of labour-power (wages) has been paid and the wear and tear of machinery made good. In this surplus value the master class, perforce, finds an ever expanding abundance from which to meet the growing cost of class government.
Much dust is kicked up in the squabble as to which particular exploiters shall pay the extra cost and so the workers are misled. The whole question for the exploited is to put an end to the system. The rest follows. —(Ed. "S.S.")
ELIZABETH VERNON (Gillingham). —Your understanding of the social problem is somewhat confused. That the workers, that is most of them, do not understand Socialism nor its worth, both " Fritz " and we are well aware. No ; "Fritz" was not dealing with "the collective poverty of the community" (an arial abstraction which does not appeal to us), but with the poverty of the proletariat; the which, through the wages system, finds its source in the class control of the means of production and distribution. We can but invite you to make a study of our literature.—(Ed. " S.S.")