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Ernest Lund

Atomic Power

What Is the Future of Man?

(20 August 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 34, 20 August1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It staggers the imagination.

Having said this, the power of language proves hopelessly wanting for a full statement of the effect of atomic power upon Man and hisworld.

The bomb that burst upon Hiroshima has simultaneously burst upon the powers of understandings and comprehension of the human brain.

What does it mean?

What is the future of man?

Do we stand upon the threshold of death and destruction for the whole of mankind?

Or do we stand upon the threshold of a new age of unparalleled peace and plenty, the brotherhood of man?

Who dare venture an answer?

Who dare say more than pose the alternatives that have unmistakably risen before us.

Marx and the Future

But of all past thought upon social, economic and political problems, it is only the understanding given us by Scientific Socialism that survives as a bed-rock foundation from which to analyse what has happened and to trace out the paths along which society will move.

The very question mark which the invention of atomic energy control places over virtually every aspect of Man’s future is a brilliant and dramatic verification of the principles upon which Karl Marx constructed his theories of Scientific Socialism.

Marx was answered with everything from “scientific” argument to scoffing and derision on the part of the learned minds of capitalism when he first pointed out that the changes in the mode of production determined the changes in society as a whole. The shelves of our libraries contain entire books by various and sundry professors who sought to refute this theory. But today, as we stand on the threshold of the atomic age, every last newspaper hack asks what the introduction of atomic power will do to society, to our economic system, to our political structures, to religion, to morals, to laws, to world organization, to class conflict, to conditions of labor, to virtually every other aspect of human activity. That which Marx perceived nearly a hundred years ago is today so obvious as to force its acceptance everywhere.

It was not the chance idea of a great mind that unlocked the secret of the atom. The secret was being systematically unlocked in a dozen countries by hundreds of scientists, becoming in its last stages a mad race to be the first to succeed. Here too we see verified the contention by Marx that inventions are not, in the historical sense, accidents. They are the result of a certain level of technological knowledge achieved by society.

Profits and Scarcity

But do the writings of Marx supply us with a basis to answer the question of the future of Man in the atomic age?

Just as the unlocking of atomic energy was only possible on the basis of our previous scientific knowledge, so were the theories of Marx only possible when science and technology had introduced the machine age and transformed our civilization in accordance with it. The steam engine, electricity, and the internal combustion motor combined to produce the machine age. In their wake came electronics and electro-machinery. Each of these discoveries made a world of plenty for all a greater possibility. But capitalism can exist only on the basis of a system of scarcity. Each new invention was a new threat to the life of capitalism. Marx based his prediction of a socialist future upon the argument that the age of science would make the existence of capitalism impossible.

The control of atomic energy is not just another new invention. It is that, but far more. Its potential influence is so colossal as to make all previous scientific discoveries seem as but preludes to its appearance. If capitalism could not absorb the shock of labor-saving, mass production based upon the consumption of coal, water power and oil without permanent depression and recurring war, what will the coming of atomic energy do to it?

Who even dares suggest that this awesome, new power be turned over to “free enterprise” to develop? (We omit, of course, such feeble-minded simpletons as Ira Mosher of the National Manufacturers Association who has already, in his blissful ignorance, made this proposal.) If capitalism promises us some 20 million unemployed after the war on the basis of present labor-saving technology, how can any sane and sober person conceive of capitalism coping with the atomic age?

For a Socialist Society

Atomic power in the hands of a Workers’ Government dedicated to a program of planned production for the use of the people rather than for the profits of the owners of industry would truly usher in an age of peace, plenty, and contentment that would make all previous human history appear as a dark, barbarous age. This age of plenty for all was already possible on the basis of productive powers of the last several decades.

Today, however, it is no longer a matter of it being possible. Today it is unpostponable. Mankind dare not wait. Capitalism is already laying the basis for the next war. When it comes, it may all be over in three or four days, not only the war but the civilization we have known.

What is the future of man?

That is for man to decide.

It must not be decided by those in power, the bankers, the industrialists, the politicians, all those who have taken mankind through its worst period of economic decline to end only in the recent six years long bloodbath.

It must be decided by the great mass of the working people. They must organize and speak out with one voice: We demand life under socialism before death under capitalism overtakes us all!

Men and women of labor! Act! Act now! Join the ranks in the fight for Socialism. Only here is there a bedrock upon which to stand as all the values of a passing epoch crumble. The fight for socialism has become the fight for the very existence of mankind.

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