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Labor Action, 26 November 1945


Atomic Energy:

For Barbarism or Socialism?

A Series by the Editors of Labor Action


From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 48, 26 November 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“The impact of the bomb was so terrific that practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death by the tremendous heat and pressure engendered by the blast.” – From a Tokyo broadcast describing the result of the atomic bomb dropped by a Superfortress on Hiroshima.

The explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki of the missiles that were produced by the United States for the “democratic” camp and dropped on what we were told was an “ape-like, bestial and inhuman” people are still reverberating throughout the entire capitalist world and shaking the very foundations of the system that produced them. The development of the atomic bomb has posed in a new and dramatic fashion the question: Capitalist barbarism or socialism?

The use of the first atomic bomb – and we are told that this one was a “baby” (!) and the weakest that could be devised – has given humanity a preview of the Third World War. It will be a war in which no one will be immune, in which everyone might perish and which could be concluded in minutes. Read the tragi-comic attempt at consolation by Lord Cherwell of the British Parliament:

“There is no fear of the world blowing up, but civilisation as we know it may be destroyed.” – United Press dispatch.

And that of William L. Laurence, writer of the New York Times’ series on atomic power:

“Atomic energy is here to stay: the question is whether we are.”

Or if you think that these lay spokesmen are alarmists, listen to Albert Einstein, whose mathematical theories were turned to practical use in the control of atomic energy. Einstein writes in an essay in the November 1945, Atlantic Monthly, also with that air of absurd consolation :

“Atomic power is no more unnatural than when I sail my boat on Saranac Lake ... I do not believe civilization would be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb. Perhaps two-thirds of the people of the earth might be killed, but enough men capable of thinking and enough books would be left to start again apd civilization could be restored.”

The Chicago group of scientists who worked on the production of the bomb are not so complacent as Einstein. They say in a resolution of their body:

“The development and use of the atomic bomb has radically changed world politics, and has created a situation fraught with grave danger for our nation and for the world. Only a full realization of the new situation will enable the citizens of this country to solve intelligently the problems created by the unleashing of atomic power. If a wrong course is taken, it may mean the destruction of our cities, death for millions of our people, and the possible end of our nation.”

It is not melodrama to say that today humanity truly stands at a crossroads: one sign pointing to the destruction of mankind and civilization and the other to everlasting peace, freedom and security.

The bombs dropped in Japan struck a blow against capitalism and a blow for socialism. This may seem paradoxical, since they helped to establish the victory of one capitalist nation over another. But the very magnitude of the death-dealing weapons that capitalism spawned brought a revulsion against war and against the system which breeds war to millions of people. The very weapon which wrought such tremendous destruction is of and in itself an argument against the system which produced it and an argument for a new social system which will put an end to war for all time – socialism.

In order to examine how the release of atomic energy is an argument for the new society of socialism and an argument against the old society of capitalism, let us first of all summarize the facts about atomic energy.

The Development of the Bomb

The development of the atom bomb was not the result of a single scientific discovery. It represented the totality of knowledge of nuclear physics derived from decades of study, experimentation and the fusion of ideas of scientists from all over the world. The trail of atomic energy leads from the French Becquerrel’s discovery of uranium radioactivity, through the German Roentgen’s discovery of the relation between rays and chemical salts, through the Curies’ isolation of radium, to the English Chadwick’s theory of neutrons and the Jewish Einstein’s mathematical calculations which gave science a theory later proved experimentally in the fission of uranium.

In addition to using the theories of many scientists from many nations and many periods of history, the U.S. project picked the scientific brains of the world and employed them on this job. Thus the “American” atomic bomb was the product of the labor of Italian, Danish, English and American scientists, who had for many years engaged in “atom-smashing,” i.e., at efforts to control and use the enormous energy in the atom.

Obviously the United States can lay no special claim to the discovery of how to use atomic energy in its present explosive and disintegrative form. The government, for the purpose of creating the greatest destructive instrument known to man, spent $2,000,0000,000 on what Dr. Lewis Balamuth, writing in Ammunition, educational organ of the United Automobile Workers – CIO, calls “the greatest single planned scientific and engineering project in the history of the world.”

But if the United States can lay no special claim to the discovery of how to use atomic energy, neither can she claim any special knowledge on how to produce the bomb, since it was only her immediate financial and technological superiority, plus peculiar circumstances created by the war, i.e., time and the reservoir of scientific knowledge of her allies, which gave her a head start over her competitors. The other powers were already at work on the same project. Great Britain and Canada, for example, worked jointly with this country on the plan. Germany was very close to developing the bomb before her defeat. The decisive scientific fact in the production of the bomb, the fission of uranium, was discovered first in that country late in 1938. (It is one of the ironies of history that the Jewish scientist who made this discovery fled Hitler’s realm to Sweden and reported her findings to the Swedish scientist Niels Bohrs, who then communicated this information to the U.S. and Great Britain.)

“Private initiative” and “private enterprise” contributed little or nothing to the discovery and production of the atom bomb. The various projects which were created in the hope of making the bomb were government organized, planned and financed. This fact is important to remember in relation to our later discussions on the social, political and economic consequences of the epochal discovery.

What About the “Secret”?

While the politicians in Washington and the professional military men prattle nonsensically about “keeping the atomic bomb secret,” the scientists who worked on the bomb are all agreed that the secret atom bomb ceased to be a secret once it had been used in Japan. The universality of scientific knowledge makes secrecy impossible. The Oak Ridge group, for example, declares:

“We can claim no enduring monopoly in the possession of the atomic bomb. Other scientists can apply the fundamental principles, perhaps even more successfully than we have done.”

In testifying before the Kilgore sub-committee of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, Dr. J.R. Oppenheimer, referred to as the leading atomic scientist in the country, corroborated this opinion by saying:

“Discussion of the secret of the bomb is academic. It is only possible to keep our policy (foreign policy) secret ... There never will be a counter-measure against the atomic bomb, although there may be a way to intercept the bomb carriers.”

The Chicago group writes in Life, October 29, 1945:

“Let us realize the fact, however disagreeable, that in the near future – perhaps two to five years – several nations will be able to produce atomic bombs.”

Even the great productive strength of a country like the United States does not make her secure. The power of the bomb is so great – and recall that the present power may be magnified a thousand times – that it takes only a few, strategically planted, for a small country to wipe out a large country.

As a matter of fact, what it took the United States six years to produce, will take any other country much less. Whatever “kinks” the scientists of other countries have to overcome are relatively simple now, since it has been demonstrated that the experiments in nuclear fission can be translated from the laboratory to the factory.

The attainment of leadership in the development of the atomic bomb also means little or nothing. All nations have the secret. All nations are capable of producing the atom bomb. A nation does not have to produce atomic bombs in abundance to match, let us say, the great productive capacity of the United States. It needs only to produce enough atom bombs, even if the enemy has many more bombs and even if they are capable of superior destruction. And, atomic bomb destruction is on so vast a scale that it becomes a little ludicrous to match the degree of destructibility of various atom bombs.

(Part II)

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