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Emanuel Garrett

U.S. Loses Monopoly on A-Bomb;
Arms Race in Super-Weapons Looms

(3 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 40, 3 October 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

On Friday, September 23, the White House announced what is perhaps the most momentous news story of the postwar years:

“We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR.”

In other words, Russia has produced the atom bomb.

Exactly how U.S. Intelligence got its information has not been revealed but there seems no reason to doubt its accuracy. The Russians have, in fact, replied that they have known how to do it since 1947.

Whether this is so or not hardly matters. The United States could not forever maintain its monopoly on atom bombs. It is not the kind of secret that can be kept inviolate. Sooner or later, scientists in other lands were certain to duplicate the feat.

It is reported that the Russians are at the stage where the U.S. was in 1945. Presumably they do not have a stockpile of bombs nor the manufacturing equipment for such, nor are they familiar with production (and destruction) improvements achieved by the U.S. since Hiroshima. The difference is a small and temporary one. When Russia is ready for it, its economy will be geared for such production of atom bombs as its military strategy dictates. And its scientists will obviously continue their explorations.

It is much too early to estimate the changes that will ensue in the strategy of the countries as a result of the new development. Changes will certainly come in time. But there is nothing to indicate that the war is now more imminent – or more distant. That depends upon factors, variable and complex, in which the atom bomb is merely a single item.

No Balm in Oak Ridge

Propagandistically, however, it is certain to make considerable differences at once. The United States loses its ace in the hole. This must, for example, make a great impression on the European people who cannot rest easy (if they ever did!) on the supposition that their seat in the U.S. orbit wins them Oak Ridge security.

Many reasons must have entered into White House calculations when it decided to release the news instead of waiting for the Russians to make the announcement. Some of these reasons are not yet readily apparent, but others seem obvious enough. And one of them evidently was to steal the show propagandistically by beating the Russians to their own story. This may not have been the main reason, but it undoubtedly figured.

Other reasons there were, and some of them can be divined without too great effort. The arms bill has gone through the Senate. But there ere still differences to patch up between House and Senate. Furthermore there is much else that the administration wishes to put over in mustering support behind its foreign policy. Where the Russian bomb doesn’t produce simple hysteria (and there has been some evidence of that in the press), it has provided the administration with a potent argument to use in whipping into line support for its various international projects – North Atlantic alliance and so forth.

More than anything else the announcement points to the fundamentals of our time. Our world is two worlds – one capitalist, the other Stalinist. The capitalist world is ridden by dilemma and contradiction. Nowhere can it relax, least of all its “protector” – the powerful, rich, undamaged, secure United States. Economic, political and social problems multiply – in Asia, in Europe, on the American continents. Up to Friday, September 23, the U.S. could at least pose as the bearer of some security in that it was sole possessor of an instrument so terrible in its destruction that none would dare risk its displeasure too much.

And the Stalinist world? It is the carrier of an enslavement and tyranny without parallel in history.

Each world waits for the collapse of the other. The capitalist world waits for the victims of Stalinist despotism to shake the Russian empire. The Stalinist world waits for economic crisis to sap the power of U.S. imperialism. Meanwhile they maneuver in cold war, manipulate or try to manipulate the nations within their orbit, and prepare for eventual decision.

There Is a Defense

What now happens to the “comfort” of the atom bomb? Insofar as any such comfort ever existed, it did so only in the addled minds of frightened people who can see no alternative to Stalinist despotism outside of the hopelessly issue-rent system of capitalism.

There is talk, as there has been for some time – only more so now – of UN control, of international policing, of outlawing the bomb. All this is nothing but talk – and the talkers know it. There is a defense against the bomb – but it is not the speeches of little or big statesmen.

What real protection have we? Here It h that we must go back to fundamentals. In an Immediate sense, only such measures will avail us as can secure the self-confidence and energy of Europe’s people against both of the imperialist titans and their atom bombs – such measures as an Independent and Democratic Western Union.

Beyond that, and in the most practical, real and urgent sense, the security of us all – here and in other lands – rests on the development of a socialist movement which can organize the anti-war will of the people. These are the only practical solutions that come to mind as the shadow of atomic terror lengthens. There are no others.

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