Pamphlet Review from the February 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard
I have read this pamphlet with ordinary care, but I have not the least idea what Mr. Neft is driving at. The 48 pages would be heavy at 6d., even if they contained something of value, but they are in fact full of contradictions, unsupported assertions, pious hopes, and ill-chosen quotations.
The actual proposal before the workers is the Labour Party’s scheme for halving the National Debt and reducing taxation. Mr. Neft’s main argument is this. High taxation is good for the workers; therefore, vote for the Labour Party and low taxation!
He proves quite neatly on page 43 that all taxes are paid by the capitalist class. This is, however, only a tribute to his own powers of persuasion, for when he wrote page 20 he was of quite another mind. He there says that during the war capitalist governments borrowed money for war expenditure instead of raising it by taxation, because “Only the few can lend, but ALL can be taxed,” and thus the Government “made the Many pay interest to the Few” (capitals by Mr. Neft).
He has made several startling discoveries. One is that the capitalist class live by owning all the means of wealth production, land factories, railways, etc., and “In addition, they claim £7,000,000,000 from the rest of the community ” (page 28).
He knows that there is a robber class and a robbed class, but he has found a third class, the “middle class.” These unfortunate people, who it seems neither work nor live on the labour of others, must live on their own backs by robbing themselves.
I cannot tell whether Mr. Neft wants us to think that he is a socialist or whether he wants us to be most impressed by the prominently displayed support for the levy from W. L. Hitchins, chairman of Cammell, Laird & Co.
It is certainly interesting to learn that the levy is going to benefit everybody, and that
“As every penny taken from them as levy will be returned to them in payment of their war loans the rich will actually lose nothing ” (page 21).
With this “nothing” taken from the rich, Mr. Neft is going to pay for “an increased and improved social service, and never mind the cost” (page 44).
He calls capitalism a “social disease,” but wants the capitalists to be compensated. Still, I am not worrying, because the compensation is to come out of whatever balance is left after the “nothing” mentioned above has been used to pay for those increased social services.
It appears not to have occurred to Mr. Neft that if capitalism is a social disease it would be advisable to abolish it. He has a simple and original remedy. The capitalist class pay all the taxes; therefore, the workers should aim at becoming burdens on the taxes and thus win back some of the surplus value stolen from them in production. Mr. Neft omitted to draw specific attention to the permanent paupers who have won through to this desirable state of things. Everyone knows what a fine, prosperous, independent, intelligent and morally admirable crowd they are. A moment’s thought will show that if the capitalists could get what Mr. Neft wants them to have, it would be the finest thing that ever happened—for them.
He tells us on page 40 that “The levy can reduce taxation. . . . It can, therefore, reduce the price of commodities. “That is evident,” but that as wages will fall correspondingly, the workers will not gain anything.
Then on page 44 we learn that remission of taxes is useless, because “You can take a penny off the worker’s beer, but as soon as the tea-thief smells that penny he puts the price of his commodity up and gets the penny that the beer-thief has relinquished.”
Thus we have (1) the beer-thief voluntarily, and out of kindness of heart, reducing the price of beer by the amount of the remitted tax; (2) wages falling; (3) wages not falling; (4) the tea-thief being less kindly than the beer-thief, and putting up the price of tea; (5) the tea-thief robbing the worker of the surplus which has already been taken by the wage reduction which has both taken place and not taken place, etc.
There are two things Mr. Neft might have said but didn’t. One is that as on his own showing the capitalist class will still own the means of production after the levy, it does not matter a twopenny damn or a sixpenny pamphlet whether the capitalists have a levy or not.
The second is that the capitalist system is the evil and should be abolished.
There is also a question he might have answered. During the war when the Labour leaders were trying to prevent the workers from taking advantage of the labour shortage to get wage increases it was an article of faith with them (although fallacious) that the capitalist could always pass such burdens on to the consumer. What is to prevent them from doing this with the capital levy? If they can do so and also get it back “in payment of their war loans” as Mr. Neft promises, it looks as if they will be “ quids in.”