Equality of sacrifice

It is surprising how ready a person is to do a disagreeable thing if he is quite assured that he will never by any possible chance be called upon to do it. There are very great numbers of men well over military age almost dying of disappointment because they happen to be too old to fight the “Hated Hurts” and the “Brutal Bulgars.” Many women, too, are deploring that the fact of their sex debars them from donning khaki and sallying forth against the despoilers of Belgium and the ravishers of France. It is so easy to offer to make sacrifices when you know no one will possibly accept them ! Mr. Asquith and the German Chancellor are both quite determined to fight to the last man and the last shilling in support of what each is pleased to call his Country’s liberties. Presumably in such a case they themselves would be the last men in their respective countries, and the two last shillings theirs. It would certainly be an inspiring sight to any neutral nation then existing to see Mr. Asquith and Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg engaged in mortal combat, with a purse of two shillings as the spoil of the victor.

So all the way round. The employers and their agents—politicians, pressmen, parsons—talk glibly about the “equality of sacrifice.” “everyone doing his bit,” “national service,” and the like. It is, however, rather hard to find what most of these people have sacrificed. What, for instance, have the big armament firms, or the big shipping companies, sacrificed ? Not their profits, at any rate. What they mean by their cant phrases is sacrifice for the other fellow, for the “lower orders,” for the employee in their pay and the common soldier in the field.

A very illuminating article recently appeared in “The Weekly Dispatch” (March 19, 1916) showing the enormous profits that have been, and are being made owing to the war. It has for title “Great War Profits—and who are making them. Enormously Increased Earnings after paying All Extra Charges.” It is written by W. T. Faulkner. The article starts : “In this country millions have been made by companies who hold the lives of the civilian population in the hollow of their hands,” which rather contradicts the assertion so repeatedly made that we are fighting for our liberties. What liberties are possessed by a man whose life is held in the hollow of some other man’s hand ?

Speaking about the shipping industry the writer says: “With their German competitors swept from the seven seas, with an enormous proportion of the mercantile marine being used for naval and military purposes, shipowners whose vessels had not been commandeered soon saw that a shortage of shipping would mean enor­mously increased freights which have been going steadily up and show no signs’of going down ”

One firm (Houlder Brothers) was able last year, after twelve months of war, to pay a 25 per cent. dividend, in spite of the fact that the directors publicly stated in 1908 that they would never pay more than 12½ per cent. until their reserve stood at £250,000. It stands to-day at £118,000. Another shipping line (Lamport and Holt) made a profit of £332,000 in the year, of which £200,000 was put to reserve. Profits running into millions have been made by firms which have escaped the commandeering of their fleets by the Government. The Cunard Line made a profit in 1914-15 of £1,286,000 as against £1,070,000 average profit in the three years before the war ; the Mercantile Steamship Co. has increased its dividend this year from 20 to 35 per cent., and allocated £228,000 to a special fund ; the Cairn Line has doubled its profits ; the Moor Line has increased its dividend from 17½ to 25 per cent.

A table is given showing the profits made by certain armament, coal, and iron firms. For example, to mention one or two :

Profits for 1914-5 3 yrs. Pre-war average
£ £
Armstrong, Whitwort 801,00 649.000
John Brown 511,000 310,000
Cammell Laird 237,000 146,000
Hawthorn, Leslie 149,000 73,000
King’s Norton Metal 131,000 40,000
Vickers 1,019,000 808,000
D. Davis & Son 221,000 175,000
Powell Duffryn 422,000 293,000

The paragraph following this table is very significant and well worthy of attention. It reads :

“In the face of such figures it is impossible to support the plea of the traders who are steadily screwing money out of the people that the rise of prices, whether of labour or material, is caused by the increased cost of raw material.”

Another company, The Shell Transport Co., made a profit of £2,000,000 in 1914-J5, and paid a dividend of 35 per cent. Huge war profits have been made by tea, rubber, and jute companies, some tea companies paying as much dividend as 20, 40, 45, and even 50 per cent. Spillers and Bakers, the South Wales millers, increased their profits from an average of £141,000 to £367,000 in 1914-15.

Some of the firms have invested part of their profits in War Loan at 5 per cent., evidently considering they are thereby making some sort of sacrifice—a sacrifice at 5 per cent, increased value on the money invested ! They hurl reproaches at the working man reluctant to enlist, proudly pointing out how patriotic they are and how well they have done their duty to their country by putting their excess profits in their country’s War Loan stock. Possibly if the reluctant working man was assured that what he is asked to lend to the State—his life—would be returned to him at the end of the war with an addition of 5 per cent. to its value, his reluctance might subside. But so far is this from being the case in a great many instances, that not even the means of existence are given to him when he returns broken from the war, which was none of his seeking and from which he would anyhow gain nothing. The following from the “Daily Chronicle” April 5th, 1915, although it, has already been quoted in these columns, will bear repetition as showing how much “war profit” the ordinary man obtains :


“It was stated at a Battersea inquest yesterday on William Merritt, 22, of Comyn-rd., Clapham Junction, that the man joined the R.F.A. at the outbreak of the war, and after having been twice wounded, was granted a pension of 45. 8d. a week. His mother earned 75. 6d. a week, and the two lived on I2s. 2d. per week. On Friday Merritt was suffocated during an epileptic fit. The family were too poor to pay for his burial.”

This also, in the “Times” of January 31st, 1916, from a letter by Sir Frederick Miliier, may make a second appearance in these columns, as illuminating the same point :

“Of 60 men recently discharged as no longer fit for service from a London hospital, 22 were marked by the medical board as C. F. T.—chronic pulmonary tuberculosis. All these men have stated that they were absolutely sound when they enlisted, and had never had any lung trouble in their lives. Yet as the War Office refuses to recognise that consumption can be caused by service, even if it be proved that the men were sound when they enlisted and that they contracted the disease in service, all these wretched men will be deprived of any pension, and the workhouse mast be their eventual home.”

“Equality of sacrifice” is a fine phrase for rogues to use and fools to swallow.

The shareholders in the firm of the Mercantile Steamship Co. take a dividend of 35 per cent. without ever having done a day’s work towards earning it ; the man who has been incapacitated through fighting for these and other share­holders gets a pension of 8d. a day and has to be buried as a pauper. Even this 8d. per day, however, is not the worst. Hundreds of widows of men who have died whilst serving in the Army, and at least 15,000 disabled soldiers, have been refused any State pensions.

We, for our part, know what the face value of these cant phrases really is. They are, of course, valuable to the employers and their henchmen, who use them both in war-time and peace-time in their endeavours to hide the gulf that lies between the two classes in society—the capitalist class and the working class. The “Identity of Capital and Labour,” the “Unity of the Whole Nation,” “Equality of Sacrifice,” how pleasingly they come from the mouths of those whose chief concern in life is to enslave still further the already heavily shackled wage-slave. We have had enough of this talk of sacrificing ourselves for the good of someone else. Sacrifice for the exploiter is a slave-virtue, fit only for slaves. What we want is equality of opportunity to live as free men and free women, the opportunity to express ourselves as individuals and as a world-wide community, free in thought, in word, and in deed : not, as now, dependent on the will of others for our very existence and only allowed to exist if we work for and pander to the comfort and luxury of those others.

To the devil with their “Equality of Sacrifice.” We are working for, and struggling towards, a world of free men and women.


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