Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Boss Politicians Wrangle over Atomic Energy Commission

What Are the Issues in the Dispute over Lilienthal?

(24 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 8, 24 February 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the drawn-out dispute over President Truman’s appointment of David Lilienthal to head the Atomic Energy Commission, the working people are really outside looking in. As far as our well-being is concerned, it doesn’t make too much difference whether Lilienthal or someone else favored by the Republicans chairmans the powerful AEC, with its control of the big projects at Oak Ridge and Hanford, of the supply of atom bombs, of all deposits of uranium and other fissionable matter, of government laboratories, of atomic research by universities and private concerns.

If Lilienthal is confirmed, he will try to run the commission to serve the overall interests of American imperialism and to slap down the greedy hands of certain capitalist groups eager to have AEC cater to them. If a capitalist politician of narrower outlook gets the job, these private interest groups will be happier. But actually, because atomic energy means so much for the survival of and for world dominance by the capitalist system of this country, the overall ruling class interests will have to prevail; thus there will have to be pretty tight government control no matter who heads AEC.

What concerns the working people is that neither the Lilienthal type of politician nor one approved by his opponents will prevent the use of atomic energy to annihilate whole cities and peoples; nor will either give up imperialist and profit considerations, to release this marvelous force so that the whole people may work less and enjoy more.

Still there is much of interest and enlightenment in the petty maneuvers of the capitalist politicians in choosing a chief for AEC. We get a good picture of those whom the working people unfortunately still vote into office to represent “their interests.”

Economic Interests

When President Truman announced his choice of Lilienthal, head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, for top post on the Atomic Energy Commission, there was almost universal approval in the capitalist press of all shades of political opinion. Then Senator McKellar of Tennessee, a Democrat from Mr. Truman’s own party, began gunning for Lilienthal to prevent his approval by Congress. What is biting Senator McKellar, old-fashioned politician, is that Mr. Lilienthal curbed the Senator’s pork-barrel designs on TVA. McKellar is the type of “intelligent” politician who sees “red” in anyone who opposes his ideas or interests. So he must, forsooth, prove that Lilienthal is a communist and will, as head of AEC, do no less than surrender the secret of the atom bomb to Stalin. Consuming days of the Senate committee’s time and producing in evidence letters that their alleged senders deny sending as well, as similar spurious material, the gentleman from Tennessee accused Lilienthal of nursing a communist fifth column in the TVA.

One must conclude from McKellar’s tirades that President Truman, who named Lilienthal; Secretary of War Patterson, who heartily approved him before the Senate committee; and the other top-shelf men in the government who support Lilienthal, are conspiring – quite openly, to be sure – to sell out to Stalin, through Lilienthal.

While McKellar was making a fool of himself, the Republicans were biding their time and making plans of their own. Under the leadership of Senators Bridges of New Hampshire and Wherry of Nebraska, the attack against the former head of TVA took on more force and more realistic tactics. Seeing how ludicrous was McKellar’s charge of communist beliefs and connections, the Republican opposition played up Lilienthal’s record as a New Dealer and as “a menace to private enterprise.” Remembering that they got a “mandate from the people” to “restore” private enterprise and take “government out of business,” the Republicans ai;e harping on Lilienthal’s record as a staunch supporter of government projects such as TVA.

Two sets of economic interests are behind the political fight against Lilienthal. There are those who see atomic energy as inevitable for industrial use, want to get their hands on it, and don’t want their knuckles rapped by Lilienthal, who is a pretty strict teacher. It is claimed that another group, power magnates, present suppliers of gas, electricity and coal, are not anxious for the industrial development of atomic power to compete with their own products. They don’t want Lilienthal because, believing as he does in abundant and cheap power, he will, as head of AEC, encourage wide use of atomic power in production.

There is still another group of opponents to Lilienthal – the opponents on general principle. Though they see eye to eye with the New York Times that “the work of the Atomic Energy Commission is also to be a government monopoly, and a very tight one,” these die-hards would still rather not have men in high offices who believe in TVAs. They want solid supporters of private enterprise.

Press Takes Sides

The hearings before the Senate committee continue. The committee is being pressured by telegrams and letters, one such missive coming from the president of the Timken Roller Bearing Company of Canton, Ohio, who sees Lilienthal in a decidedly red light. Senator Taft, leader of the Republican Policy Committee, is reported to be, opposed to Lilienthal though not openly. How the influential Vandenberg stands is not yet known. It is thought that he could swing the votes for Lilienthal if he so chooses. Secretary of State Marshall may issue a public statement supporting the. former TVA head, which would, of course, carry great weight.

The press has not remained unmoved by the political fireworks. The Daily Mirror, tabloid of cheap, reactionary propaganda, editorially proclaimed that whether or not Lilienthal is a communist, there is enough “to justify lack of confidence.” George E. Sokolsky, equally reactionary, but writing in the more “intellectual” New York Sun, goes further and pins the “Marxian dialectic” on Lilienthal, explaining that “Republicans and many Democrats feel that in a pinch, Lilienthal will not be found on the right side.”

The so-called liberal press has been almost pathetic in its inadequacy. PM has, of course, come out with its usual “don’t hurt Russia’s feelings” line. The New York Post, always leaning heavily on the “good” capitalist politicians and exaggerating their importance, declaims: “A defeat for Lilienthal would be a step toward the defeat of the policy of American cooperation in establishing security against atomic energy” – as if there can be any security as long as imperialist powers rule us. Jonathan Stout, writing in the social-democratic New Leader, solemnly poses the question “whether liberals should go to the defense of Lilienthal or let him fend for himself” – poor Lilienthal with such no-accounts as Truman and Patterson fending for him.

Considering that what is at stake is the very survival of peoples, including ourselves, the interplay of petty interests is revolting. To turn atomic power from a threat to human existence to a boon for mankind, we must have workers’ control of everything relating to the production of atomic power – under a workers’ government with a complete domestic program for nationalization of all industry under workers’ control, and with a foreign policy of solidarity of the people of the world to end all imperialist rule and all wars.

Because the interests of the masses can be served only by such radical measures, the workers really stand on the sidelines watching the political capers around Mr. Lilienthal. It would be well if they, the workers, were thinking: “A plague on both your houses. It is high time to declare our political independence and form a class party of our own.”

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 26 November 2020