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Labor Action, 24 December 1945


Atomic Energy:

For Barbarism or Socialism?

A Series by the Editors of Labor Action


From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 52, 24 December 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Part V

“Modern bourgeois [capitalist – Ed.] society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848.


Socialism was a necessity long before the creation of the atomic bomb and the promise of a vast improvement in technology that is inherent in atomic energy. In the Atomic Age, socialism is incalculably more necessary because the only alternative under capitalism is death or barbarism for the entire population of our planet.

While capitalism has provided the trained workers and the technology, i.e., the machines, plants and techniques which are necessary for a socialist reorganization of society, it long ago ceased to provide for the simple wants and needs of the plain people.

We want peace, instead of bloodshed and destruction. We want security and jobs, instead of insecurity and joblessness. We want decent homes for our families and good and plentiful schools for our children. We want comfort and prosperity, instead of slums, child labor, low wages, unemployment and starvation. We want democracy and freedom instead of totalitarianism, bureaucracy and racial and religious conflict.

But in our modern civilization, with its huge industries, intricate machines and abundant natural resources, capitalism is unable to provide us with these elementary wants. It is unable to avoid periodic world wars. It is unable to give independence and freedom to the colonial areas of the world, but dooms them to serfdom and poverty.

Under this system of capitalism, or “free enterprise,” a handful of monopolists control the wealth and power of the country. They own industry, banking, mining, transportation. They own our jobs. They own the Congress and the President because they finance the big business parties which put these men into office. They send our young men to war to protect their vested interests. They have the power of life and death over all of us.

The Insanity of Capitalism

The insanity of this system of monopoly capitalism is that it creates inequality, poverty and unemployment and all the crises of society because it produces too much! Not, to be sure, in relation to human needs, but in relation to the market. While the monopoly capitalists are united against the workers and their political and economic organizations, they are in competition against each other and against their capitalist counterparts abroad. They all try to outproduce and outsell each other on the market because the mainspring of capitalist production is profit, not human needs.

Consequently, a clothing manufacturer, instead of taking a poll of the number of people who need clothes, produces as much as he thinks he can sell at a profit. So does his rival. The market becomes glutted, because there are more clothes produced than the consumers can buy – not, of course, more than they need.

In addition, the producer takes his profit on his clothes out of the hides of his employees; the workers are not able to buy back what they have produced in the clothing factories. This is one of the important aspects of the capitalist crises of over-production. The clothing manufacturers also compete with each other. Their motives are not the needs of the harassed housewife or the struggling worker but: how much profit can we make?

What happened in 1929 is the direct result of this capitalist method of production. The “free enterprise” system broke down. The “enterprisers” sat back and rested on their accumulated profits since they were unable to make any more and the majority of the population was left “free” to starve or sell apples to each other.

Under Roosevelt’s New Deal, the government stepped in to bail out the capitalists who could not get industry going. Industrialists were paid by the government for not producing. People were hungry while big and little farmers were paid to plow under wheat and corn, and to destroy steers, hogs, sheep, etc. People needed clothing while manufacturers were paid, to destroy cotton and wool. Yet in January 1939, there were still 12 million unemployed workers in the United States.

International Capitalism and War

In our present-day United States capitalism, monopoly in finance, industry and agriculture controls economic life. The bigger, stronger and richer enterprises have swallowed up the weaker and smaller. The monopolists decide on production, profits, prices and wages, just as they dominate the economy of the country and decide the fate of tens of millions. While this monopolization of economy reduces competition at home, it intensifies competition on an international scale where giant trusts and combines engage in fierce struggle on the world market. Since all of the world is divided up into national states with national barriers or colonial countries subject to their imperialist masters, the inevitable result of this great competitive struggle among the nations is war. It was this competition among nations which led to both world wars with a couple dozen minor wars between them. This fact alone indicts capitalism as the great obstacle to human progress.

After the second world war began, capitalism performed a “miracle.” Unemployment came to an end. Everybody was put to work. Every factory was going full blast. The government spent twenty billion dollars in four years to enlarge old plants and build new ones. But all of this was done for homes for the people to live in, decent clothes to wear, schools for our children or medical facilities. It was done to produce bullets, bombs, tanks, planes, battleships, artillery, and finally the atomic bomb.

And what are the results of this war we were told was fought for freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech and freedom of religion; for the Atlantic Charter with its declaration of self-government for every country; for the “One World” envisaged by Wendell Willkie, and for the “Century of the Common Man” promised by Henry Wallace?

There are 60 million military casualties, a figure equal to the combined populations of Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden! There are over $1,000,000,000,000 (yes, one trillion dollars) in war costs, that is, an expenditure of resources, machinery and human science used to maim, kill, torture and destroy – which equals a $5,000 home for almost every family on the entire globe, including the multi-million populations of the Orient which have not yet in their majority risen to the level of city slum-dwellers.

These bald figures do not take into account the cost of the war in terms of the destruction of formerly existing wealth and living standards which has taken place in Europe because these costs cannot be reckoned. You cannot chart the physical and spiritual waste of Europeans living in latter-day barbarism. They dwell in caves, dugouts or without shelter. They starve or they pillage. They are wracked by disease. They have exchanged the concentration camp for the slave labor camp. This is the end of World War II.

Toward a Complete Chaos

All this was done without the atomic bomb. That is why we say socialism was a necessity long before the development of atomic energy. Now that we are in the Atomic Age, as long as capitalism endures, the crises of capitalism will only be accentuated. There will be bigger and “better” weapons of destruction.

During the decline of capitalism, with every new discovery which improved the productive technique of capitalism and made possible a saving of human labor and a refinement of the product, the benefits have not been distributed to mankind. The more advanced become the tools of our society, the more wealth becomes polarized at one end, and poverty at the other. We see the phenomenon of poverty in the midst of plenty. It is a little more difficult for American workers to understand this than workers in other countries, because we live in the capitalist colossus of the world. But on a world scale capitalism has reduced the standard of living and decreased the freedom of mankind. It has produced privation and totalitarianism in most of the world. The industrial application of atomic energy can only accelerate this worldwide process of decline. It will continue to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. It will continue to divert more and more production into armaments production, to protect the monopoly of wealth by the few.

How can we trust this system of capitalism which has produced two world wars in a single generation and which has been unable to solve the simple problem of security for the masses of the people, to develop atomic industrial power for the benefit of mankind? It has been suggested that the formulae be turned over to the Du Ponts in this country for industrial application. – To the Du Ponts, monopolists who determined the corporation’s policy in the current General Motors’ strike, who have avowed they can’t afford to pay 300,000 workers a living wage!

But, then, say some, the United Nations Organization may lake over atomic power, since it is so destructive of even capitalist interests, and “outlaw” or “control” atomic energy. The UNO, however, is composed merely of the governmental representatives of the capitalist nations, plus the equally exploitive, although not capitalist, representatives of Russia. The UNO is not even a democratic organization of the nations represented. It is dominated by the Big Three – England, the United Stales and Russia – who are themselves locked in fierce struggle on who shall dominate the world. These victor powers are now engaged in the enslavement of the defeated and small powers. Witness the British in Indonesia and Indo-China. (It is not merely the Czechs who had their Lidice at the hands of German conquerors.) Witness the Russians in Iran and most of eastern Europe. Witness the United States in Germany in concert with her allies, or the way she blinks at the atrocities of her partners.

Capitalism produces more and more for destruction. It has not been able to use its vast technical and material resources for constructive purposes. It is truly the sorcerer in our quotation from Marx and Engels at the beginning of this section, unable to control the powers it has conjured up. If Marx and Engels saw this in 1848, it is all the more true in a period of the production of atomic energy. It is too much for capitalism to handle. Socialism only becomes doubly necessary as we observe how capitalism may destroy the whole of civilization in its efforts to control and utilize atomic energy.

The way in which the atomic project was developed gives us a clue as to how socialism can organize atomic and all other production for the benefit of humanity. The government furnished two billion dollars for its secret project. It corralled scientists froth all over the world. With this “internationalized” science, cooperative labor, unlimited resources, and without the object of profits as the central aim of the project, it produced the atomic bomb. This was done through government planning.

Even prior to the bomb development, the government stepped in to organize production for war. It told business what to produce and how much. It furnished the orders. It guaranteed the profits. It made the labor available. It afforded a priority system to make materials available. War production was government-planned.

The capitalist government did all of this planning for bloody and violent war, for the taking of human lives, for destruction.

If planning of production and full employment is possible in war, why is it not possible in peace?

It is, but only by socialist planning. We have seen how the capitalist government has already released its wartime plans and controls with the end of the war. We know it was unwilling to organize and plan production to assure full employment during the depression.

The scientists recommended a world society as an alternative to world destruction by atomic weapons. In proposing this, they recognized, although incompletely, the socialist solution to capitalist insecurity and barbarism.


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