The Environment

Nuclear Energy—A Worker’s Point of View

By Joe Johnson

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” —Karl Marx

Most of Marxism is relatively simple class struggle—which side are you on? However, there are some areas that are difficult and cannot be made simple. I find the finer points of philosophical materialism difficult to understand for myself and difficult, too, in a creative, modern situation. Yet it is just this that is necessary in order to come up with a correct position—correct for action—on nuclear energy.

Lenin quoted Marx as saying, “The old materialism was non-historical and non-dialectical…and therefore merely ‘interpreted’ the world whereas it was a question of ‘changing’ it, i.e., it did not understand the importance of revolutionary practical activity.” —Thesis on Feuerbach, By Karl Marx

This gives us the answer to the question of should we seek the immediate shutdown of all nuclear power plants across the globe? Yes we should! For our job is not to merely interpret the world (reality) but to change it. There is no science that is above (in an idealistic, absolute truth) historical materialism. The most abstract mathematical equations of the half-life of some materials in a meltdown situation is not a abstract truth above that of historical materialism. Enfolded in all present-day science is the capitalist approach.

We do not dismiss science as we do not dismiss any of the “cultural” advances from fire to atomic energy; but we do not take any of these cultural advances as not existing in an ever-changing situation. We do not take them as static, never-changing truths; we do not take them as not being enfolded within capitalism.

I remember when I was a youngster, selling newspapers on the downtown streets of Chicago when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan—the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945, followed by the detonation of “Fat Man” over Nagasaki on August 9.

I sold four different daily newspapers and they all had the same headlines despite them being both Republican and Democratic papers. And all had long articles day after day on “The Bomb” and atomic energy. I had the time and I read every word in all the papers and over the last half-century have followed closely the “development” of the bomb and of atomic energy.

The U.S. capitalist class embraced both the bomb and atomic energy

They gloried in how great and powerful the bomb was. And all the scientists I read in the papers, and all the philosophers I read in the papers, all the cultural leaders agreed! There were banner headlines glorifying the incineration of 90,000-166,000 civilians in their homes in Hiroshima and 60,000-80,000 in Nagasaki. The total destruction of a large circle at “ground zero” was lovingly detailed. Great excitement met the improvement in total destruction of the H-bomb over the A-bomb and hope was put forward for even bigger, more powerful atomic bombs.

Then for years they tested the bombs, blowing up small, abandoned western cities, seeing how close men could come to ground zero, destroying islands, etc.

The total push was on by all the cultural media—professors, scientists, religious leaders—all restating how powerful the bomb was and how powerful the U.S. was and how great capitalism was that gave us this great, wonderful bomb. War was ended because no one could stand against the U.S. and we could do what we wished.

But at the very same time “they” put forward the new, wonderful world of atomic energy—a super-capitalist utopia of atomic trains, cars, and airplanes—for once an unlimited power source. All this was put forward by top scientists of the time. It was accepted science.

Now there was a more critical, detailed and accurate presentation in the better scientific journals. These journals had an understanding of some of the difficulties—the need for shielding that made atomic airplanes not practical. But they, too, accepted for the most part the super capitalist utopian approach.

And there was a small, small voice on the far, far left that a few could hear, but basically, it was dismissed.

It is a serious error in understanding to think the working class and its leadership should slavishly follow scientific opinion. We must understand our own limitations in any area of scientific thought—this is a must. But to think that any area of science including the Queen—mathematics—is above being enfolded within capitalism is false.

What do we do? Should we shut down the atomic power plants? Should we stop producing atomic bombs?

Yes! Shut them down, shut them down, shut them down worldwide and shut them down NOW!

Just as the atomic bomb has to be taken completely out of the hands of the capitalist class, so atomic energy needs to be taken out of their hands!