1920s >> 1923 >> no-231-november-1923

Editorial: Disaster fom profit and profit fom disaster

The risks of capital ! How often are the dividends of the idle justified on the plea that the investor is entitled to a “fair” return on the capital he has ”risked” ? When workers ask for an increase in the beggarly pittances they receive as wages then risks on the workers’ part are forgotten, and “what the industry can stand” becomes the watchword; the first charge on industry being an adequate return on the capital invested.

In the inquiry into the coal industry of a few years back employers spoke much of the risks of capital and but little of the risks of the wage worker. The fate of the bulk of the 42 miners entombed in the Redding Pit, Falkirk, on September 25th, is an illustration of the risks the workers run; they risk their lives, and they do so merely for bread and butter. Not only does the miner risk his life, but the miner’s family risks the loss of its mainstay.

Disaster after disaster have overtaken the mine workers, due in the main (as instance the Whitehaven disaster some years ago) to the cheese-paring economy of the mine owners in their desire to extract, the maximum of profit out of the coalmining industry. And yet, in spite of the ever-present dangers to limb and life, the miner only gets in return for his labour, in the best of cases, little more than sufficient to keep himself and his dependants from actual starvation.

In mine and factory, and on the seas, the workers risk their lives daily in order that capital may have a “fair” profit. Not in order that society may obtain the necessaries of life; because where profit is not forthcoming the wheels of industry cease to turn, though society may be groaning for the goods that do not come.

Disasters to humanity are often but sources of profit for the ghouls that control this misery-making function of wealth.

The earthquake in Japan that caused so much havoc a short time ago provides an instance of how precious property is in the eyes of its owners, and also how the economic advantages of a disaster become of more importance to capitalists than pity for misery suffered.

Only a little while ago we read harrowing tales of Japanese misery and a cry was raised to help those who suffered from the earthquake. Later information, however, reduces the protestations to a sham.

The Manchester Guardian Weekly of October 12th publishes an article from their correspondent in Kobe on the “Economic Effects of the Earthquake,” which opens up with the following paragraph :—

“The immediate economic consequence of the earthquake is that 1,500 Europeans have come into Kobe, where a somewhat smaller number have fed, lodged, and clothed them. And no sooner were they comforted, than they organised two ‘expeditions’ (neither of which has sailed at the time of writing, exactly one week after the earthquake) to proceed to Yokohama and protect not only what movable property may have escaped the fire and the enterprising looter (who soon had the military on his track), but titles to land and so forth” (italics ours).

How much more important in the eyes of these gentlemen was private property than the misery of the poor Japanese, whom they appear to have forgotten !

A further quotation from this correspondent should interest those who believe in the idealism of the profit-seeking capitalist.

“Of course, between profiteering and ruin the authorities are between the devil and the deep sea. If they have reconstruction they must let the profiteer get his percentage. It is a necessary part of the capitalist system. Big firms here have been advised that the earthquake here had no sooner happened than Japanese in England did their best to get a good grip on the metal market, but not very successfully. Everybody is on the watch for developments, and there is, in spite of the slump, quite a tense awaiting of the revival. The revival of Tokio means the rebuilding of Yokohama. It would be a disaster if, because of temporary embarassments, British holders of original perpetual leases or even those of ordinary leases were to be forced to sell their holdings, as this would be a blow to British trade. It would be inadvisable for the Government to subsidise them as one subsidy only leads to another. But it is worth while for British firms to lay out money to gain or maintain a footing in the trade that is to come.”

In the eyes of the capitalist, then, the most important fact arising out of the earthquake is not the misery it has brought to those involved in the earthquake, but the profit it promises to those who “risk” their capital.

What a monster is this capital, brother, that it grows fat out of human misery, and dulls in its owners the human feeling of pity ! Doth it not reek with the blood of our fellows, and is it not time that the monster was buried ? Then join with us in digging the grave and burying for ever the exploitation of the many by the few, and with it all the misery and suffering that capital has called into existence.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, November 1923)

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