On every street corner, in every meeting-room, in every spot where the workers gathered at the noon hour, you would hear such arguments; and you would find men listening to them—men who perhaps had never listened to such arguments before. They would nod, and their faces would become grim—yes, the people up on top must be a rotten lot! Here in America, supposed to be a land of liberty and all that—here they were just the same, they were crowding to the trough to drink the blood that was poured out in Europe. Of course, they covered their greed with a camouflage of sympathy for the Allies; but did anybody believe that old man Granitch loved the Russian government? Certainly nobody in Leesville did; they knew that he was “getting his”, and their hearts hardened with a grim resolve to “get theirs”.
At first they thought they were succeeding. Wages went up, almost for the asking; never did the unskilled man have so much money in his pocket, while the man who could pretend to any skill at all found himself in the plutocratic class. But quickly men discovered the worm in this luscious war-fruit; prices were going up almost as fast as wages—in some places even faster. The sums you had to pay to the landlord surpassed belief; a single working man would be asked two or three dollars a week for twelve hours’ use of a mattress and blanket, which in the old days he might have got for fifty cents. Food was scarce and of poor quality; before long you found yourself being asked to pay six cents for a hunk of pie or a cup of coffee—and then seven cents, and then ten. If you kicked, the proprietor would tell you a long tale about what he had to pay for rent and labour and supplies; and you could not deny that he was probably right. About the only thing that did not go up was a postage-stamp; and the Socialist would point to this and explain that the Post Office was run by Uncle Sam, instead of by Abel Granitch!
Every rise in price was a fresh stick of fuel for the Socialist machine, and gave new power to their propaganda of “Starve the War and Feed America!” The Socialist saw millions of tons of goods being loaded into steamships and sent to Europe to be destroyed in war; he saw the workers of Europe becoming enslaved by a bonded debt to a class of parasites in America, he saw America being drawn closer and closer to the abyss of the strife. The Socialist loved no part of this process. He clamoured for an embargo—not merely on munitions, but on food and everything, until the war-lords of Europe came to their senses. He urged the workers to strike, and thus force the politicians to declare the embargo.