John Maclean Internet Archive
Transcribed by the John Maclean Internet Archive

The Rise in Prices

by John Maclean

First Published: Forward, 7 January 1911
Transcription\HTML Markup: Scottish Republican Socialist Movement Archive in 2002 and David Walters in 2003
Copyleft: John Maclean Internet Archive (, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Nothing is of greater importance than to find facts and arguments that support the socialist case in books issued under capitalist auspices. And very fresh yearbook provides these requisites in ample abundance.

Here is the Daily News yearbook, for instance, giving us as substantial proof of the accuracy of marxian economics as the most ardent could wish for. On page 80 appears a brief article on “Gold", supplying us with facts anent the world’s output of that “root of all evil". In 1890 the total production amounted to £29.2 million, and by 1909 this had risen to £92.1 million; that is to say, an increase of fully 200 per cent.

This tremendous increase has been essentially due to the development of the Rand and the cheapened cost of production — or, in marxian phraseology, the reduction in the time socially necessary for production.

In this article we are told that in 1904 the average revenue in gold derived from every ton of ore amounted to 30s 8d, the cost per ton for extracting, handling, etc., amounted to 21s, and the profit 9s 8d per ton; whilst in 1908 (the date of the latest statistic) the revenue was 31s 4d; the cost 17s 10d, and the profit 13s 6d.

What lessons do these facts teach us? First of all we see that in four years the cost of production has dropped about 40 per cent; second, this has led to an increased output of about 40 per cent (from £65.9 million to £92.1 million); third, it has been found possible to work poorer ores — in fact, ores 20 per cent poorer; fourth, so great has been the reduction in cost that even taking in the poorer ores, the profits have gone up fully 36 per cent. Theoretically an increased supply has followed a reduced cost of production, and not an increased demand, as followers of Marshall might try to explain, from a psychological point of view; and next, in contradiction to the law of diminishing returns, the opening up of poorer mines has not been due to increasing demand at a higher price, but the reduction of the time socially necessary at a lower “price” for gold — to use the loose term of business men….

Those unacquainted with economics will necessarily find it difficult to understand how “cheap” gold gives rise to high prices generally. But if they reflect they will see how it logically follows that the less valuable gold is, relatively the more valuable all other articles become when expressed in gold; in other words, their prices riseÉ. Whether the theory can be grasped or not, there we have it all the same — a general rise in prices essentially due to the facilitated output of gold. I say “essentially due” advisedly, because I am aware that corners, rings, and trusts all strive to raise prices above the level that would obtain were competition, with the great “law of supply and demand", prevalent.

As the output of gold yearly tends to grow larger, experts tell us that there is no end in view to the rise in prices. Now this is going to be serious, very serious, for the working class. Fabians and revisionists generally in this country have skilfully attempted to prove the falsity of marxism by a spurious use of Marx’s prediction of the tendency of capitalism to make the lot of the workers worse and worse. They have triumphantly pointed to the reduction in prices shown by reference to Sauerback’s index numbers from the early seventies, the time, by the way, when prices were highest since the end of the Napoleonic wars; by reference to the rapid extension of co-operation; and by reference to the marvellous expansion of municipal enterprise.

Superficially, it really did look as if the position of the people was rapidly improving, and that collective effort was expanding so rapidly that all we had to do was to go gently, and quite unconsciously to the mass of mankind, we would evolve into socialism without waging that hated “class war", etc., etc.

Unfortunately for such superficial scientists, the twentieth century is rapidly bringing these illusions to a sad end. Prices, since the century has begun, have risen at least 10 per cent, whilst the wages of the organised workers have risen only 1 per cent, and those of the unorganised have remained stationary. This proves that the workers are getting rapidly poorer, and that the trade unions, as constituted today, are sadly out-of- date, so far as holding their own against the solid forces of the masters.

The really tragic thing is that the revisionists in the trade unions are those who seem contented with things as they are, and that the revolutionary socialists are those really responsible for the move towards fusion of the scattered forces of the day. Trade unions will now have to learn that there is a class war, and that their lack of knowledge of this “compass” fact has led them off the track of that sound class organisation requisite at this juncture in the evolution of capitalism to even hold their own with the plunderers.

The growth of multiple shops and the rise of prices are very soon going to bring the happy forward career of co-operation to an end. Once the few remaining private traders are frozen out the class war in distribution and production will commence; that is to say, a bitter competitive conflict between the trusts with the government and the law courts behind them, and the co-operative movement, will begin, with all its sad awakening of utopists and revisionists who imagined that here at least was a path along which we might travel to avoid the class war.

In Glasgow we are likewise beginning to learn that Arthur Kaye and his Citizens’ Union are just about as alert to the possibilities of municipal expansion as ever were the revisionists; and the consequence has been the rallying of the reactionary forces, the cessation of municipal expansion in new industries, the stopping of milk depots, and the attempt to throttle in an insidious manner real tramway progress by side-tracking the surplus profits for the benefit of the middle class. This, of course, is another manifestation of the class war.

These lessons should well suffice to rouse the workers to a consciousness of their true position in society, and the real practical work that lies before them, if they are to see salvation.

They must wage the class war; but the only way they can do this is by studying the principles of economics as formulated by Marx and by using these, not the fustian of capitalist-supporting economists, in waging that war. Now then, my revisionist friends.

(Forward, 28 January 1911)

The whole tendency of my previous article was to show that the improvement in the lot of the workers from the early seventies on till near the end of the century, upon which revisionists dwelt in order to undermine marxism, has now given place to a decline due to the unconscious operation of economic law, and the conscious activity of the masters. A spurious use of the now famous chapter in Marx’s Capital entitled, “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation” enabled them to point out that Marx declared that the workers would become poorer and poorer, and that, as a consequence, revolution would come, a forceful one, and sweep us on to socialism. Against this, they pointed to the reduction in prices, rise in wages, saving of profits through co-operation, and extension of local and national government enterprise as proof of the increasing wealth of the workers.

It was the purpose of Marx to show that the tendency of evolution was towards a centralisation of capital in the hands of the few, and the reduction to wage slavery of the many. We see this very tendency in operation at present in the East Coast herring industry. The many who owned or partly-owned their own sailer are now wage-earners on board “drifters” possessed by companies. He also pointed out that simultaneously the workers would organise and revolt. Such revolt has everywhere taken place, and has naturally lifted the workers’ economic position above the level it would reach if they remained unorganised. But within capitalism there are limits to improvement in wages, etc., and there may be reactionary tendencies as well. The reaction has set in again within this century.

It naturally follows that opposition to revisionism makes those of us who are not ashamed to publicly proclaim our indebtedness to Marx and our support of the principles discovered or developed by him lay special stress on this worsening of the lot of the workers.

That does not, however, commit us any more than Marx to the theory of the intensified impoverishment of the wage-earners. The transition to capitalism and the development of capitalism imply the expropriation of larger and larger masses and the extension of the degradation to the position of wage-earner. That is entirely different from the distortion of the position imposed upon marxists by revisionists. It now lies with the erring critics of Marx to explain away their position.

Every marxist, as should be well-known, is in favour of any proposal that will temporarily improve the position of the workers. In fact, no proposal is before us today but has been promulgated for thirty years by Social Democrats. …

To us the fight for real democratic reforms, political and economical. are the life and soul of the working-class movement, and help to bring to the surface the fundamental antagonism of the classes. Only by struggling do we improve our organisation, and do we elevate the ideals of the masses above the immediate concessions to the heights of socialism. But we know full well that any advantages we may gain on the one hand may be liable to be negatived on the other by such contingencies as price increases or a widespread and severe trade depression, such as we experienced in 1908, and, therefore, act rightly in calling the workers to lay stress on the immediate and more on the approaching time, rapidly approaching as all indications show, when the workers will be able to control production and distribution by socially owning the great agents of production. What the workers have to learn is that the revolutionary social democrats are in the end the only practical men, because the only real practical work for the people is the transformation of capitalism into socialism.