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The New International, November 1945


Willem De Voorter

Socialism or – Atomization!

From the Notebook of a Scientist


From New International, Vol. XI No. 8, November 1945, pp. 235–237.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.



Our treatment will be little more than an outline which may be elaborated by reference to books such as Pollard and Davidson’s Nuclear Physics and Stranathan’s The Particles of Modern Physics.

In the article on atomic energy, in the September issue of The New International, we made the same point that Henry D. Smyth admits to in the above quote (from the Official Report on the Development of Atomic Energy for Military Purposes by Henry D. Smyth, page 3) stating: there is no secret – except one; the secret that capitalism and its cohorts willingly appropriate billions for destructive purposes.

The Official Report quoted above proves abundantly that there was really nothing to hide, that there was never a secret, and that the average intelligent man can easily visual- ize all of the processes involved, and can foresee all of the further developments; provided, of course, he is capable of reading halfway intelligently.

The official report relates, how it was found at an early date, that if the abundant isotope U 238 of pure uranium is bombarded with neutrons, it is transformed into element No. 93. This is to be found in Stranathan’s book. It was further found that if U 235 is left mixed with U 238 and split by means of neutrons, the former will emit the neutrons necessary to form element No. 93 from U 238, provided technical means are arranged correctly. Element No. 93 is highly unstable, and transforms itself, by the emission of an electron, into element No. 4, of highly stable characteristics. However, it is fissionable in the same manner as U 235. Thus, as predicted in our first article, an abundance of raw material for atomic bombs can be and was manufactured.

One should not imagine, however, that no scientific progress was derived from the expenditure of two billion dollars of the public’s money. Our vocabulary has been enriched considerably: the new elements have been baptized. Element No. 93 shall be known, henceforth, as neutunium; while element No. 94 has added the name plutonium to our dictionaries. Thus we behold the benefits of democracy: a baptismal party for a few elements, more costly than the baptism of the most exalted princeling ever born; a burnt offering to the gods of Democracy of such munificence that even the Carthagenians could not have exceeded it. Yea, verily, it is to be doubted whether even a Hitler could have thought of a grander mode of self exaltation.

Achievements at Solar Temperatures

And the dawn of even greater achievements is upon us (with notes of warning to mankind, of course). It has dawned on the great bringers of gifts to humanity that it is possible to achieve far greater and far bigger things. They have realized that even as U 235 may be used to start a string of events, and create vast supplies of plutonium, so plutonium may, in its turn, be used in a very similar manner. With its help it is possible to create, instead of terrestial temperatures, solar ones. And at solar temperatures the wonders never cease. One atom of ordinary carbon and four of hydrogen may be combined to form carbon and helium, with a liberation of energy in the amount of 30 million electron volts. There are known, and there will be found, hundreds of reactions with ordinary, cheap materials, which can be “triggered off” with the greatest of ease, now that we possess the suitable trigger. For instance, lithium, bombarded with deuterons or neutrons, disintegrates into two alpha particles plus energy of 20 million electron volts. Truly, the millennium is at hand. We may say, in the word of the immortal who coined them: “You ain’t seen nuthing yet.”

So much for the glories of science, and its accomplishments in this matter. There is nowhere in sight, of course, a single indication of that atomic age we heard about, and which has apparently already died an inglorious death on the airways. There is only a promise of bigger and better destruction: plenty of that.

Colonial Revolts and – the Bomb

Several years ago, shortly after the beginning of the present war, the author made the remark: We are living in a period in which history is made by the minute. He is reminded of this fact while writing this article. During the period elapsing between its writing and its publication history is being made at an ever accelerating and frightening rate. When my last article was being written, one could still refer to Dutch colonial power as a vital force. Today the Dutch colonial policy is concerned mainly with saving the remains, and – with learning the meaning of the expression “saving face.” The Dutch have learned the truth of Multatuli’s Max Havelaar, which quotes an Indonesian song promising dire vengeance on everything Dutch. Today the British, with Japanese help, maintain “order” in Indo-China and Java (meaning of course that they burn, pillage and murder) for the sake of saving their own empire – and the white man’s face. The threat of the atomic bomb hangs over the Javanese “rebels” as much as over the rest of humanity, because is not the motto of the illustrious house of Orange, and of the Netherlands, a glorious: “Je maintiendrai”?

* * *

The threat of atomic bombs is reverberating over the entire world and arouses everywhere the greatest fears and resentments.

Mankind is confronted, today, with no question of greater importance. Mankind must make a choice such as never confronted it. There are but two alternatives: Control atomic energy or die. There is no other choice.

This choice is the gravest problem ever posed, because it is so urgent, more urgent than we realize. The ruling class does not know how to control atomic energy. There is more pitiful confusion on this subject than on any other. Thus mankind is faced with the most fateful choice of all the ages and the most urgent one: Life or death. There is no third alternative.

There Is No Secret

The necessity of the choice is urgent, because there is no secret. Beyond a doubt, Franco, with the Spanish uranium ores at his disposition, is preparing to make huge quantities of plutonium, if actually the manufacture has not already been started. Russia has, without a doubt, all the ores necessary to start production on a huge scale, and undoubtedly has started such production. It was reported that a Japanese nuclear physicist, Arikatzu, laughed in the face of an American journalist, who interviewed him, and stated emphatically that Russia is provided plentifully with atomic bombs, infinitely more effective than the ones dropped on Japan, manufactured under the guidance of one of the world’s greatest nuclear physicists, Kapitza. Over one of the radio chains it was reported that Kapitza has the disposition over fissionable elements other than uranium: again a deep secret, of course, and probably related to the fact that thorium and protactinium may be split in a manner similar to the fission of U 235 and plutonium. The mineral wealth of Argentine is very little known, but from the actions of the governing clique in that hapless country one may guess that the military expenditures rest on the knowledge that they will be able to match anyone in frightfulness. Brazil, with large amounts of thorium available, becomes automatically a “great” power, as does Belgium, which as yet controls the Congo and its wealth of uranium ores.

There is no secret: any madman can start the manufacture, any time he wishes. He does not even need two billion dollars to do it: that happens to be necessary only when dollar-a-year men are the guiding spirits. Arguing for strict control of the vaunted “secrets” of atomic power, Vannemar Bush let the real cat out of the bag, when he stated that without absolute control of nucleur physics, its study and teaching, by an all powerful commission of nine prominent men (i.e., men with bank-books and connection with probably the nine most powerful and nefarious corporations in the country) there was a good chance that some lone student might create, somewhere in an attic, sufficient fissionable material to blow the United States off the map.

It cannot be repeated too often: There is no secret; the knowledge is available to any fascist madman, to any capitalist state, to any power-hungry group of conspirators. Hence the fact that mankind is confronted by the ultimate necessity to choose: Life or death.

There Is No Time

The question of the choice is urgent: because not only is there no secret; but the fact, too horrifying to consider, is that there is actually no time. There is no time for a survey, for an investigation, for ripe consideration. The time for the choice is now; today, rather than tomorrow. There is only the choice between two alternatives: Life or death.

Washington buzzes with investigations. Of course the attempt was made to slip atomic power into private, capitalist hands. The voices of a few thinking men were heard in protest, and the Kilgore Committee, at least, succeeded in dragging some of the awful truth into the full glare of day. At last a few conscious-stricken scientists have been heard, against the desires of the Army and Navy, and have sounded a warning. It has been stated that all we hope to have in the way of a secret is the know-how. Of course, we now have to surround this so-called exclusive know-how with the cloak of mystery. Because this establishes that we, the people, who paid for it, sweated for it and bled for it, not only got for our two billion dollars two new names for elements (which were already known), but in addition we got “know-how.” We possess the awesome secrets of how to make and assemble atomic bombs. This includes the ultimate secret of how to ship plutonium without taking an instantaneous one way trip into eternity. In addition, we get for our two billion dollars, a first class vaudeville performance: we see Congressmen who cannot understand what they hear and Senators who cannot understand what they read, making estimates as to the time it will take “other nations” (meaning, strictly confidential and under the oath of secrecy, of course, Russia) to complete the atomic bomb. And more: we see solemn and dignified men like Vannemar Bush and Langmuir testify, assuring the estimable men on Capitol Hill that these mysteries are so deep that it will take others years to penetrate the seven veils which guard the secret of the know-how. The estimates vary from two to seven years.

Bomb May Be Planted Anywhere

These holy secrets involve mostly the construction of a mechanism. A mass of plutonium over a given size is self-acting, and it is therefore necessary to have a bomb which is safe in transport and self-assembling. Separate masses of plutonium are kept apart, and mutually shielded by means of cadmium shields in transport of the complete bomb. Of course, in a bomb which is expected to make a decent performance in our civilized society, there must be many such masses. Now when the bomb is to be set off, a mechanism must rapidly bring the several masses of plutonium in close contact, remove the shields, and at the same time form a tightly closed shell around the plutonium, so that the full beauty of the ensuing spectacle may be the better enjoyed and described by Mr. Laurence of The Times and other atomic bomb fans. Mechanically inclined readers are urgently requested not to send designs of mechanisms which will accomplish these things. Such designs would have to be treated as “military secrets” and would fall under the provisions of the May-Johnson Act, or something just as stupid. Moreover, it is rumored that up to this writing only seven hundred twenty different designs have been filed and approved as “strictly, secretly confidential” or whatever the nomenclature is. Further designs must wait until a few more filing cabinets can be obtained and room found for them.

Actually, of course, none of these estimable scientists, nor the President of these United States, nor the author of this article, have the slightest notion whether or not atomic bombs have already been planted in New York, Washington, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and a few other choice locations, ready to be set off at the touch of a button by some maniac in Mexico, Russia, Argentina or Kamchatka.

There Is No Defense

Army and Navy men give us the assurance that what we need is more ships, more men, and more and better airplanes (so as to intercept the bombs when they are sent in!). Their puerile minds of course cannot possibly see beyond their “professions.” According to a military mind, you do things the “approved way.” Since “we” now have buzz bombs and super rockets, it is a foregone conclusion that that is the way you plant atomic bombs. To show how far ahead we see, we decide that the bombs will be transported by rockets at super acoustic speeds, that is, at speeds greater than the velocity of sound. We welcome improvements, but this is the way it is going to be done. Because the military like to do things the accepted and approved way. Often, when trying to unravel the reasoning of these men, one is reminded of an episode from history, in which the commanders of two opposing professional armies are stated to have exchanged polite civilities over the question of which side should have the privilege of firing the first volley.

An army of four million men, says General Marshall, will enable us to keep the peace. More ships are needed, says Admiral Purnell. Asked an embarrassing question about atomic bombs, which might put army and navy hors de combat in a matter of seconds, this shining light, testifying before the illustrious thinkers that frequent the halls of Congress, answers: “Of course, that might possibly happen, but that remains to be seen.” We may assume that Purnell would gladly undertake to report after he has “seen.” Testifying likewise before the Solons of our commonwealth, Oppenheimer, who should know what he is talking about, states: “Yes, it is entirely possible that a single atomic bomb raid on this country would kill 40 million people.” However, he realizes that the bombs may be planted at leisure, during “peace time,” to be exploded one by one or simultaneously, and states that there is no way of preventing this being done, or of detecting the presence of the bombs, because the fissionable elements used in them exhibit almost no radio activity. It is, for instance, possible to find a gram of lost radium in a city the size of New York, if it is not encased in lead, but it would be impossible to so detect tons of plutonium.

The Bare Facts

These then are the facts: there is no secret, and there is no time, and there is no defense. Mankind faces the crossroads and must choose. There are but two choices: Life or death.

Often one has marvelled at the genius of Marx, of Lenin, and of Trotsky. But none of these men could foresee that mankind would face the necessity of choosing between life and death. These men would, if now alive, raise the slogan: Socialism or death. There is no time: mankind stands at the crossroads now. Mankind must make its choice now. And there are but two choices: Life or death, and life means Socialism.

This is the plain, unvarnished fact: We as socialists must understand this above all. No group can save mankind but those who understand and preach, day and night, that there is but one possible way of Life: Socialism. We must burn this fact into our consciousness and express it with our every utterance: mankind must choose: Life or death, and this means that mankind faces the ultimate choice: Socialism or death. Should mankind make the wrong choice, there will probably be surviving individual members of the human race to again start up the weary path through the countless ages of barbarism. Vincent Benet, in one of his stories, tells of a young man who, in the far future, dares the gods and crosses the awesome Hudson River to visit the City of the Dead. He finally decides to learn how to study the books, and becomes as godlike as those ancients, who could build roads and make metals, the remains of which were still to be found in the countryside.

If one wanted to be cynical, one would say: good riddance to man. But there would be surviving members of the race; those men would slowly sink back to barbarism. Man would have to start all over again. He would have to wait for who knows how many thousands of years for a new civilization to be born, which could again give man the plenty which our technological society is capable of providing today. They would have to wait, through the ages, for their Karl Marx to show the way out of morass. They will die and suffer in misery as man has died and suffered before through the ages, until they face once more the same dilemma that today confronts mankind: Socialism or death.

One wishes for the pen of a Shakespeare, the power of the golden tongue, and the means of broadcasting everywhere the warning: Mankind! there are only two alternatives: SOCIALISM OR DEATH.

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