Wm. Paul

Atomic Energy and Social Progress

Written: March 1946
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Printer: Farleigh Press, Ltd.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

When the news was flashed from America that an atomic bomb had been produced—with an explosive energy many thousand times greater than T.N.T.—a wave of curiosity and apprehension swept over the country.

Before using the atomic bomb the Allies urged Japan to surrender. This offer was brusquely rejected. Thereupon an atomic bomb was dropped on the important Japanese arsenal of Hiroshima; and another one on the strategic port of Nagasaki. The military result was as devastating as the rapid and sensational defeat of the Japanese main forces, in Manchuria, by the Red Army. These combined operations quickly forced Japan to surrender. Thus ended the major military struggle of the fascist powers who had plunged the world into war; who had murdered and maimed millions of peaceful people; and who had deliberately and savagely organised economic anarchy and ruin throughout Europe and the East.

All intelligent people know that the atomic bomb helped to shorten the war and thus saved millions of lives. They also know that it was the sheer historical compulsion of the fascist war that made atomic energy—humanity’s greatest constructive force—first appear on the social stage as a destructive agent. The allies knew that the Nazis were using the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin for research work on atomic bombs; and were producing essential ingredients in Norway for this purpose. It was this knowledge that urged forward the allied scientists to co-operate in the most comprehensive form of international planning ever known, in orders to speed up victory and end the bloody agony of chaos and war. Nazism, however, had expelled, imprisoned or murdered the greatest German scientists. As Professor Sir Robert Watson-Watt said: “The Nazi system seemed to contain a principle of auto-sabotage more destructive to science than anything that had been foreseen.”


While the bells were still ringing out the glad tidings of returning peace and hope, the reactionaries of the world, led by the Vatican with its hundredfold contacts with fascism, were hurling their curses at those who had solved the problem of atomic energy and had used it to defeat a cruel and cunning enemy. Every scientific and technical advance made by mankind is opposed by revulsive bigots. Centuries ago brutalised and superstitious feudalism was defended by the emissaries of the Inquisition who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in Rome, persecuted Galileo, and directed their Terror against the rebirth of science and culture and the leaders of a new social order.

Twelve years ago it was Hitler, Goering and Goebbels who—representing decadent monopoly capitalism at its most bestial level—uprooted the culture of Germany; burned the libraries, imprisoned, exiled and murdered the most progressive scholars and scientists; prostituted and debased science; and debauched the population with the “science” of race and blood and world conquest.

Today, in this country, it is the flabby and reactionary pacifist, Dr. Joad, who denounces the scientists and who asserts that atomic energy is “the greatest single disaster in the history of mankind.” He demands: “Will nobody stop these damned scientists, put them in a bag and tie them up? Or into a lethal chamber.” (Sunday Dispatch, 12th August, 1945.)

These critics of atomic energy, with their mystical and reactionary philosophy, contend that man lacks the moral capacity to control the growing scientific forces at his command. They do not understand that humanity’s moral and ethical standards grow out of society and can only go forward in the measure that man progressively interferes with and controls the forces of nature. Each advance in human progress and moral strength has been determined by the social use man has made in developing the technical facilities, and in exploiting and transforming the natural forms of energy, at his disposal at each great period in history.

It is at the stages in history where ruling classes fail to extend the technical and natural resources that social crises develop and the prevailing moral and cultural values collapse. At such moments of social disintegration the forces of reaction can always find tame philosophers to denounce new methods of technical and scientific advance. At one period it is the brilliant Plato; at a later moment there are hundreds of Joads to bark at the invention of the internal combustion engine, and yelp at the discovery of atomic energy.


Other critics of atomic energy denounce the scientists as criminal “nosey parkers,” whom they condemn for “tampering” and “interfering” with nature and her secrets. Do these ignorant pessimists know anything at all about the record of man? Do they know anything about the science of history or the history of science? Do they not understand that man is Man only because he has directed his efforts into working upon nature and keeps changing her to satisfy his advancing needs? It is this unique feature that distinguishes man from the animals. The animal must adapt itself to nature or perish, and can therefore never rise above nature. It lives parasitically upon nature. Man transforms nature and in the process transforms himself. He becomes a creator.

How does he do this?

Man, unlike any other animal, can make and use tools. For thousands of generations he struggled to learn how to use his free hands to make and wield stone hammers and flint implements. This long and arduous apprenticeship of toil and strife, directed against nature, has left its stamp upon his physical and mental make-up. The function of the tool, which is a simple machine, was to enable man to concentrate and direct his energy upon a given point in order to change nature. By thus changing nature, and by using her products for his own needs, he gradually modified his environment and changed himself.


The only energy available to primitive man, in his first onslaught upon nature, is the strength and weight of his own body. His muscular dexterity and the manipulation of the hand with its sense of touch and power to grip and direct the tool, under the guidance of the eye, enabled him to advance. Marx and Engels drew attention to this almost a century ago. Dr. Munro, in 1893, in an address to the British Association, showed the influence of the hands and muscular skill in giving man his mental supremacy. In his famous lecture on the “Evolution of Mind,” delivered at the Royal Institution on 19th January, 1934, Professor G. Elliott Smith declared: “It is an obvious truism that man’s mental superiority is largely the outcome of the perfection of the co-operation of hand and eye in the attainment of manipulative skill and dexterity.” This is what Professor T. H. Pear wittily described as the “intellectual respectability of muscular skill.” (Skill in Work and Play.) Elliot Smith further contends that: “One result of the continual handling of objects is the attainment of a fuller understanding of their properties and of the natural laws involved in their movements. The close correlation of the information gained by vision and touch played a leading part in the cultivation of an appreciation of form, which represents, the germ of the æsthetic sense.” (Evolution of Man, p. 154.). “It is largely due to the hand’s two functions, prehension and touch,” says Professor, C. Wolff, “that man has obtained the capacity of cognition and thought.” (The Human Hand, p. 7.)

We can readily see what a far-reaching influence, man’s earliest form of energy—his own muscular strength and activity—had upon his development. Man the worker became Man the thinker!

Owing to the precarious condition of their existence, primitive people were compelled to live and work together in simple communal units—the clan. It is this working together, the labour process, that stamps man as a social animal. Their first efforts to understand grid communicate with each other were through the medium of gesture. Professor Tilney, of Columbia University, declares that the speech centres in the human brain are a development of the hand gesture centres. But as the labour process needed the almost continual use of the hands and eyes, human speech slowly developed. With the growth and extension of a vocabulary, man’s mental capacity widened and deepened.


Early man sought to improve and intensify his own bodily energy by splitting and sub-dividing the labour process. The first savage who found a way to improve a tool to win more from nature with the same expenditure of energy was the first scientist. There is nothing mysterious or magical about science. Science, says Crowther, is the method by which man acquires mastery over his environment. That mastery is directly related to man’s increasing control over various forms of energy and in the advancing perfection of his tools and machines. The great technical inventions of primitive times—the lever, the pulley, the wheel, and inclined plane—were mechanical aids whereby man sought, through strains and stresses, to multiply his muscular energy and direct it more efficiently for a definite economic purpose. We have here, too, the early beginnings of the science of mechanics. Man learns and advances by doing.

After thousands of generations prehistoric man began groping to find other forms of energy to add to and supplement his own strength. His first triumph in this direction was the domestication of animals. He harnessed the energy of the animals and exploited them, in various ways, for his own needs. This had far-reaching results in the social life of the early community. It meant, in many places, that the hunter became a shepherd with a more regular supply of food and clothing at his command. It brought mail into contact with nature at a new level. It created new problems and experiences for him and these broadened his vision and added to his growing knowledge of the world. It changed his method of work and his mode of living. It transformed his social, religious and moral relationships.


But the greatest industrial revolution of the early world was the discovery of fire. Prehistoric man, on many occasions, must have seen fires started by lightning and the sun. These were, to him, accidental and fearful happenings. Fire, as a form of natural energy, only began to play its great role in history when man had the power to produce it at will. “The generation of fire by friction,” says Engels, “gave man, for the first time, control over one of the forces of nature, and thereby separated himself for ever from the animal kingdom.” (Anti-Dühring, p. 129.)

The first reaction to this great new form of energy, in the primitive community, would be one of curiosity and apprehension. Neolithic popes and bishops would curse the brave inventors for their unholy ardour in creating an element unknown in their mythology and therefore a danger to man. (Even today the superstitious illiterates of Rome define hell in the terms of fire.) The woaded Joads would denounce the discovery of fire as the greatest single disaster in the history of mankind—not excluding the domestication of animals. The prehistoric Tory medicine men would urge the group to keep the great discovery as a secret monopoly and use, it as a war weapon against the Russco tribes.

The discovery of the new form of energy had many dangerous and destructive tendencies. It was a power extremely difficult to control and organise, and created a whole series of new and urgent problems. But this is one of the dynamic factors in the history of human advancement. Man is always challenged by the results of his own activity. The inner law of progress is one continuous sequence of changes that create new struggles, and new struggles that demand new changes. The many problems arising out of the discovery of fire could only be solved at a higher level of technical and social development.

Fire enabled man to add new and better foods—cooked foods—to his larder. It not only kept him warm but its flames kept off wild animals. He was now able to smelt ores and make metal tools and weapons. He passed from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. He had better and stronger tools, and these forced forward the rise of new techniques and a greater sub-division of labour. He had the power to tear new treasures from nature in the shape of use-values which passed, as wealth, from hand to hand, and from tribe to tribe. Barter and trade was developing, and the old barriers between tribes were disappearing. The new crafts were able to produce strong ploughs that led to an agrarian revolution in sowing and tilling the soil.

With fire and iron and agriculture, combined with growing technical skill, man was able to batter his way forward from barbarism upwards to civilization. He built towns and cities. His cultural and moral life was deepened and modified. Fire, as a source of creative energy, had transformed early society. Man was now able to throw aside many of the old tribal taboos which had held him in the grip of fear and superstition; he was now able to face his new problems from a new level of social knowledge. The old simple communal basis of tribal life, was replaced by the more complex political form rooted in private property and the struggle of conflicting classes.


The outstanding feature of the ancient empires—Egypt, Greece and Rome—was the remarkable vigour of their early productive period. But those empires, based on private property and conflicting classes, carried with them a fatal weakness which finally led to their collapse—the social canker of slavery.

In the early days of Greece and Rome the property-owning traders and the merchants played an important and socially necessary function by organising and developing the productive process on land, in the crafts, and by trade. In Greece particularly, the brilliant group of early scientists were men busily engaged in the practical and technical problems of their time. With the passage of time, and with the expansion of slavery, these creative and energetic leaders gradually ceased to be managers, organizers, and scientific specialists. Slavery had made it undignified and unfashionable for a property owner to be actively engaged in the vulgar and technical task of augmenting the forces of production, or of struggling with the economic problems of the day. The ruling class had become an idle clique of pampered, and, quarrelling parasites concerned only with maintaining their political domination over the slaves and poorer workers. Slavery barred the way to technical advance. The time came, in Athens, when the scholastic Plato could write a brilliant and poignant elegy on the dying Socrates—but lacked the statesmanship to carry out a practical policy of action to save dying Greece, whose vigour was ebbing and rotting due to the parasitical and social diseases of slavery and imperialism. The time came, in Rome, when the same paralysis had so enfeebled this once invincible power that the barbarian invaders captured and sacked the imperial city. At this moment of crisis the emperor Honorious was found playing with his peacocks in a pleasure garden!

With the collapse of leadership and with the obstruction of all efforts to expand the economic process; with the failure to encourage scientific and technical advance, the social and moral collapse was complete. The civilizations of Greece and Rome drifted helplessly and hopelessly into the Dark Ages.


From the welter and chaos of the Dark Ages there slowly emerged a new form of organised agricultural life. This was the feudal system which was an agricultural economy based on the military domination and exploitation of the serfs by the lords, the king, and the Catholic Church, which was the greatest property holder in Europe. The object of the many military exploits of the barons and the king was to extend their landed domains and add to the number of their serfs. In this environment art and science found little scope for development and expansion.

In the small towns the free craftsmen and traders carried on the productive process which served, mainly, the agricultural needs of the local manors, and the growing luxurious demands of the ruling lords. It was in the remarkable technical skill of the craftsmen that art and the practical sciences germinated and later blossomed in the rich flowering of the Renaissance. The traders were rapidly strengthening and extending the forces of production and distribution. As their economic power grew and developed, they demanded important political and economic concessions from the lords and monarchy. They insisted on controlling their municipal political affairs and breaking down the monopolistic restrictions imposed against freedom of trading. Many local and national concessions were sometimes secured by cash payments, but in most cases the demands led to open conflicts and to the great class struggles of the Middle Ages which foretold the emerging of a revolutionary force and the rise of a new social system—capitalism. While this conflict was in progress a new form of energy made its appearance in Europe—gunpowder. The full explosive energy of gunpowder could not be used until technical science had produced a strong gun metal.


Gunpowder transformed the science of war and helped to change the balance of class forces within feudalism. Feudal weapons and armour, castles and moats, lost their strategic value. Like all reactionary classes the feudal lords were slow to realise the importance of the new explosive energy. With the intensification of the class war, however, they believed that gunpowder, guns and artillery could be used to sustain the economic and political privileges of decaying feudalism against the growing revolutionary demands of the burghers, traders, and independent farmers. History shows, however, that new forms of energy and higher farms of technical advance can never be developed, to their utmost economic and scientific capacity, by decaying social classes. The technical and scientific problems created by the new explosive energy called into activity the skill and genius of chemists, mathematicians and technicians. Brilliant scientists like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Newton, and hundreds of others, studied the new theories and provided practical solutions. Not even the bloody threat of the reactionary Catholic Inquisition in Europe—always eager to support the old against the new—could hold back the great sweep forward of creative science and expanding technical knowledge.

The making of cannons and artillery provided an important basis for a very rapid expansion of the metal and iron trades. This, with other contributing elements, led to an equally rapid growth in the economic power of the burghers and middle class. Emerging capitalism, strong and resolute in England, demanded from the monarchy the rights and liberties necessary for the expanding needs of the new social system. Relying upon the mystical feudal legend of the divine right of kings, Charles the First plunged the country into civil war. His lordly cavaliers were armed with dainty and elegant fire-arms from Italy. Cromwell and his revolutionary Roundheads were equipped with plain, well made, strong English weapons. The new model army was one of the best disciplined and best armed forces in Europe. There was also splendid discipline among the gunsmiths and artificers who supplied Cromwell’s troops. In March and April, 1652, at the height of the struggle, Cromwell received 335 cannons; and in December a further 1,500 guns, weighing 2,230 tons, with 117,000 balls and 5,000 hand bombs. These were the methods by which England advanced towards democracy and transferred political power from one class to another. Cromwell and his Roundheads threw the king’s head at the feet of their class enemies as a token of their determination to enforce their social demands and their freedom. “Revolutionary dictatorship,” says Professor E. H. Carr, “was the instrument used to bring bourgeois democracy to birth.” The same struggle, in its main outlines, was continued in the French Revolution, 1789, and at a higher social level, in the Russian Revolution, 1917. Today the peasants, workers and middle class, in the Balkans, weapons in hand, are fighting and defeating their feudal-fascist rulers in the struggle for democracy. In denouncing this struggle, Mr. Ernest Bevin—who imagines that democracy is some contrivance that emerges mechanically from a ballot box—can only repeat the outworn Churchillian shibboleths of a discredited and reactionary imperialism. Bevin is treading the same path as Ramsay MacDonald.


Having swept aside the restrictive barriers of feudalism, having swung over many of the nobility to its side, capitalism set forth to develop industry and commerce on a new basis of expansion. Great difficulties stood in the way. One of the main drawbacks in speeding up the iron and metal trades was the absence of an adequate heating agent. The smelting of ores was first done by burning wood. This consumed such quantities of timber that many laws were passed limiting the supply of wood for smelting ores. It was this urgent crisis that forced forward, in England, the most remarkable form of energy then known to man—coal. The usual reactionary pessimists denounced the burning of coal as a crime against God and Man. Hundreds of petitions were lodged in Parliament, and strong protests were made to the king.

Once again, Man was challenged by the results of his own activity. The effort to utilize the great energy stored in coal created a series of new technical and scientific problems. The reason why each new form of energy produces a technical crisis is because the old tools, processes, and techniques are useless for the higher technical and scientific levels demanded by the new force. One difficulty, for example, in extracting coal from the bowels of the earth was the absence of powerful pumps to keep the mines and shafts clear of water. Owing to the inrush of water many mines were dangerous to work in and the shafts often collapsed. The solution of this difficulty was one of the basic technical and scientific problems of the period. Many brilliant men in Europe grappled with it and tried to solve it.

In England, where the urgency was greatest, the first steps were made towards solving the enigma. David Ramsey, in 1630, obtained a patent “to raise water from low pits by fire . . . by a new way never yet in use.” About 1660 a steam pump was erected at Vauxhall by the Marquis of Worcester. These attempts were not very successful. Following Torricelli’s discovery of the vacuum, Savery, a military engineer, erected an engine in 1695. A further step forward was made by the Cornish tin-miner, Newcomen, in 1712. This engine was not very economical. Its wasteful nature was at once noticed when a young craftsman and scientist at the Glasgow University, named James Watt, was asked to repair a Newcomen model. In 1769, Watt patented his steam engine. By 1784 he had so improved upon it that steam power was established as the main factor in the leading British mines and industries. Watt had succeeded in unleashing the stored-up energy in coal. Living in a period of social expansion, James Watt did not seek to conceal or restrict the use of his great invention. Coal and the steam engine ushered in the industrial revolution and transformed many technical natural processes. It was no longer necessary for Man and the productive process to rely on such natural forms of energy as the wind, water, or animals. By transmuting the energy of coal into heat and mechanical motion, Man had created new changes in nature-and by his activity great and rapid changes were also taking place in Man and society.


Following the industrial revolution, capitalism spread rapidly. In quick succession there followed the great series of mechanical inventions and the rise of the factory system, with its big, sprawling, hideous towns. This process was speeded up by what Marx has described, in Capital, as the expropriation of the agricultural population from the land. No less than five million acres of land were enclosed by the rapid passing of four thousand Enclosure Acts. This meant that the landlords got the land and the factory owners got workers—a dual process which formed the basis of the great compromise between capitalists and landlords, but which, brought ruin and misery to the landless masses.

The industrial areas grew and expanded at an amazing rate. One example will show what was happening elsewhere. The population of Manchester, in 1773, was 13,786; in 1801 it had reached 102,000. Workers for the factories were also recruited from thousands of skilled craftsmen who had been ruined by the impact of the new machines; every new form of energy displaces old technical methods and renders them obsolete. Women and children were also driven into the factories. In the mines women were harnessed and chained, like animals, to haul coal tubs under the most agonising conditions. Little children were also exploited in the coal mines. The liberation of the energy of coal into heat had enslaved millions of wage workers. It was upon this basis that British capitalism was able to boast that private enterprise had created the greatest expansion of trade and wealth known to history. Britain was the workshop of the world, and her goods were being sold all over the world at the beginning of the 19th century. Manchester, which was then the industrial metropolis of the world, had her economists who claimed that capitalism was the natural and therefore the most stable economic system ever devised; its economic foundations, it was alleged, were sound and indestructible. And it was in Manchester at this date, 1804, that John Dalton, the famous chemist, was declaring that the unit of matter, the atom, was indivisible.


With the end of the war against France, and the defeat of Napoleon, capitalism received a shock which upset the optimism of many of its apologists. It plunged into its first industrial crisis. For the first time, on a great scale, history revealed one of the underlying and destructive contradictions of capitalism—markets glutted with wealth while workers were starving in the midst of shut-down factories and mills, and silent machines. It was revealed that the aim of capitalist production was not the creation of wealth for social needs—but that the object of production was to produce for a market with a view to profit. The crisis of 1815 was followed by another one in 1825. Crises followed each other, during the 19th century, every other ten years. Each crisis became more violent and catastrophic than its predecessor. Each crisis weeded out weak capitalist units and strengthened the stronger units which were concentrating and centralising their grip, in monopoly fashion, over the means of production. Competitive capitalism was changing into its opposite—monopoly capitalism.

The basis of capitalist profit is the surplus value which the workers create over and above the value of their wages. In order to realise this profit, capitalism prevents the productive and technical process from developing in a logical and scientific way. The law of producing only to seize profit, which is the very essence of capitalism, shows a pattern of uneven and irregular development in which the economic system staggers from one catastrophe to another. The law of profit reveals itself when capital is withdrawn from a “weak” or unprofitable industry and is invested in a “strong” or profitable industry. The outcome of this is that the weak industry becomes weaker and the strong industry becomes stronger—thus creating an unbalanced economy. It is the lust for profit that creates the unplanned, unbalanced, and uneven line of capitalist development and explains why the system is always swaying towards a crisis.

While each crisis retards the productive forces and throws millions of workers out of the factories, capitalism must, in obedience to the law of profits, keep continually speeding up and intensifying the labour process (which alone creates surplus value by introducing new and faster machinery. That is why British capitalism did everything possible to maintain its world monopoly of trade in the first half of the 19th century. With the rapid development of improved means of transportation by rail and sea, by utilizing every new technical process in the production of steel and iron and machinery, the character of British exports, while continually expanding, was gradually changing. Textile exports, which are quickly consumed and need not cause international complications, gradually cease to be as important as iron, steel, rails, and machinery and many other products of the heavy industry. In many cases those iron and steel exports were being used, by Germany and America, for the creation of their heavy industry. As both of these countries had large coal and mineral reserves, they were destined to meet and challenge Britain in the world markets. The latter part of the 19th century saw the development of competitive world capitalism reach its peak. Being the oldest and strongest capitalist power, Britain was still able to add to her strength by embarking on a policy of imperialist expansion. The changing technical character of British industry, with iron and steel becoming more powerful and influential than textiles, saw an equally significant change in political leadership. Manchester, with its competitive liberal-pacifist Cobden and Bright outlook, was replaced by Birmingham with its aggressive monopolistic Tory imperialism led by the Chamberlains at the opening of the 20th century.


Monopoly is the inevitable outcome of competitive capitalism. It is the method by means of which the large controllers of industry and finance-capital seek to escape from the competitive ravages and crises of their own system. But as the law of profit still operates, monopoly only carries the competitive conflict to new levels where fiercer struggles and greater crises develop on an international basis. As monopolistic finance capital grows in strength it influences, and in many cases dictates, the policy of the government and compels it to embark on imperialistic adventures to lay hold of rich mineral zones and spheres of influence. Just as competitive capitalism creates the law of uneven industrial development within the nations, so monopolistic capitalism intensifies the law of uneven development among the nations. Thus monopoly capitalism carries the competitive struggle to the point where great financial groups and combines use national governments and States as their weapons in the battle for world domination. Where monopoly capital completely dominates and controls the government, and where it destroys all democratic and progressive movements, fascism and war becomes inexorable. This was the basic cause of the Second World War.

Monopoly is the stage in capitalism where all the contradictions of the profit-making system burst forth in their most violent and negative form. This is seen when the various national combines demand international expansion while, at the same time, enforcing a reactionary policy of economic nationalism upon their own governments to exclude all potential competitors. But for our purpose it is necessary to emphasise the most significant and reactionary function of monopoly capital—its method of enforcing high profits by restricting production and by creating artificial scarcity. When this point is reached the productive process is deliberately obstructed and sabotaged. Important centres of economic activity are transformed into depressed areas with millions of workers unemployed; mines, iron and steel works, mills, factories, shipyards and essential industries are shut down and their, owners paid a profit for keeping them closed. The remaining industries are “rationalised,” by intensifying the labour-progress, while allowing the plant and technical facilities to become obsolescent. This is the proof that monopoly is the period when capitalism passes into the downward slope of decadence. The only trades that expand and develop are those engaged in distribution and luxuries—thus revealing the parasitical trends in society.

The science of history shows that when a ruling class ceases to develop and expand the productive and technical potentialities of society, that ruling class is doomed, and must make way for the new revolutionary class which is ready and able to carry the productive and technical process to a higher social level. The evidence regarding the destructive and obstructive character of monopoly capitalism is overwhelming. Each crisis is an orgy of devastation. A statesman of the quality of Roosevelt could see no other way of solving the American crisis of 1931-33 than by spending millions of dollars, during 1933, destroying valuable wealth and by uprooting important food and clothing crops. This was done in the name of progress! Small wonder a dazed American professor of agricultural science lamented: “Ten million acres of cotton and some thousands of tobacco have been ploughed under. The latest move is the killing of some five million pigs , weighing under 100 lbs., and the slaughter of some 200,000 prospective mother sows. If this will bring national prosperity, I have wasted my life.” (The Frustration of Science, p. 3.)

Monopoly capitalism and imperialism are tearing their own planless economic system to pieces. Peace has become as destructive as war. One of the leading economic international experts of the League of Nations, Professor Woytinsky, in one of his surveys, showed that the capital damage of the 1914-18 war was approximately 21,000 millions; and the industrial crisis of 1929-33, by stifling production, meant a social loss of about 20,000 millions.


Under monopoly capitalism the ruling class is unable to use, to its fullest economic capacity, all the new forms of energy that the scientist and technologist can wring from nature. The great stores of oil, available in various parts of the world, have not been sources of economic and social advance but have become, since 1912, dangerous spheres of influence for scheming capitalist cartels seeking monopoly profits. The 1914-18 war was, in part, an imperialist struggle between competing syndicates to dominate rail routes leading to the rich oil reserves of the Near East. Thus, new forms of energy, instead of making for a rich and sound economy, become, under declining capitalism, dangerous forms of social disintegration.

The crisis in coal production is a serious lesson regarding the technical decline of British industry. The crushing defeat of the Tory party at the General Election was also a fierce condemnation of the mine-owners, for their criminal neglect of the country’s most precious source of energy. Despite many warnings, since 1919, the country only realised the actual situation when confronted with the threat of Hitler. The tragedy of the miners, victimised and frustrated by the obsolescent condition of their industry, revealed the parasitical and obstructive role played by the British mine-owners. The ruling class, since 1918, have shown no initiative in seeking to find alternative forms of energy, to relieve the growing scarcity of coal; they have become so debauched by their profit-making system and spoils of empire that they are showing the same form of social paralysis that let ancient Greece and Rome drift to collapse. Fortunately, new and powerful social forces are sweeping them aside and are striving to rescue the energy of coal as the most urgent and fundamental need of Britain at the present moment.

Modern science and technology, given the opportunity, could provide more energy from water power than can be supplied by the present sources of coal and oil. It is believed, at a modest estimate, that the natural water power resources of the world are about 600,000,000 horse power. Only a fraction of this is being utilised and it is in the planned economy of the U.S.S.R. where the greatest development has taken place. Lenin, who clearly understood the role of energy in human development, realised the immense power that can be generated by modern hydraulic turbines, which can exploit any head of water from 10 feet to 5,000 feet. These enable high voltage electrical power to be transmitted long distances for industrial, agricultural and domestic purposes. All this can be done and save the painful and laborious toil of mining, and overcome many transport problems. “Communism,” declared Lenin, “is the Soviet power plus electricity.”

Modern science has also directed attention to the amazing amount of energy generated by the sun; the amount falling on the earth’s surface has been estimated at one million horsepower per square mile. Monopoly capitalism has made little use of this, but in the U.S.S.R. (according to Soviet War News,10th March, 1945) the Soviet Academy of Science has created a special commission to study the technical application of solar energy. Already there are “solar” kitchens, refrigerators, baths and laundries in the U.S.S.R. And now the scientists of the Soviet Union are carefully investigating cosmic rays which are the most penetrating radiations known to modern science. “Russia,” said Molotov, “would have atomic energy and other forms of energy, too.”

The vigorous example of a socialist planned economy in helping and encouraging science to develop the most modern and powerful forms of energy, as an aid to human advancement, stands in vivid contrast to the attitude of capitalism towards science and the scientist. Capitalism, being based on the production and exchange of commodities, seeks to buy its science and scientists in the cheapest market. It hopes to exploit the scientist and his research work in the interests of profit. The scientists know this and have denounced it. Professor M. L. E. Oliphant, F.R.S., spoke strongly on this point when addressing a recent British Association conference on Scientific Research and Planning. He said: “In Britain there are too many sleeping partners, whose main activity is concerned with attempting to ensure next year’s profit by cutting down expenditure on long-term research development.”


Britain has produced some of the most brilliant research workers in the whole range of science. Many of them were ignored during their life-time and left to vegetate on a few shillings per week. At the height of his career in 1832, Michael Faraday, the greatest physicist and experimental investigator of the 19th century, and the creator of a complete descriptive theory of electricity, was receiving less than 2 per week. In 1832 British capitalism was the workshop of the world and the wealth of London was growing with leaps and bounds. Many rich Whig lords, steeped to the lips in gambling debts, found it difficult to jog along on 20,000 per year. Meanwhile, Faraday found it almost impossible to get funds to keep the Royal Institution of Science alive. He told the manager of the Institution that “we were living on the parings of our own skin.” One hundred years later, 1934, Professor Bernal showed that Britain only spent one-tenth of 1 per cent of the national income on scientific research. During the same period the U.S.S.R. was spending 36 million per year in planning and organising science in the interests of her people.

Monopoly capital not only starves science. It degrades and destroys much of the rich treasure, so useful for humanity, that the scientist and technician creates. Many scientists and technicians, doing research work on behalf of the leading combines, often discover new and important processes of a highly progressive character. If these processes mean the scrapping of existing obsolete plants which, under restrictive monopoly conditions, can still show a good profit, then the magnificent work of the scientists and technicians may be pigeon-holed or even sabotaged. Finance-capital always robs science of its rich harvest and seeks to hold it as its secret and private monopoly. Professor Bernal warns us that “patents more often than not fail to provide a reward to the original inventor and hold up rather than facilitate the development of invention.” (The Social Function of Science, p. 145.) And Doctor Levinstein, in his History of British Patent Laws, estimates that some 95 per cent of patents are obstructive. The sabotage of science helps to explain the bitter complaint of Professor Oliphant regarding “the long line of geniuses that Britain has produced and the comparatively poor practical use that has been made of their results.”

It is in America, despite the advance of strong democratic forces, where finance-capital and monopoly are so powerful that the sabotage of science and technology, in the interests of profit, reaches its most reactionary and anti-social level. There the patent law protects the suppression of new scientific and technical processes when these threaten “the fundamental rules of property.” In a Government Report it is admitted that “the Bell Telephone System suppressed 3,400 unused patents” which enterprising competitors might have used against them. This illustration could be multiplied a thousand times, showing how monopoly capital stifles technical advance on the altar of dividends. The Vice-President and director of research of the General Motors Corporation confessed in 1927 that “Bankers regard research as most dangerous, and a thing that makes banking hazardous, due to the rapid changes it brings about in industry.” We can understand the panic and fear that a new super-power like atomic energy would have upon American monopoly capital with its billions of dollars sunk in industrial plants threatened with obsolescence—they would seek to smother the new form of energy as a national and secret monopoly.


Fortunately, for human progress, science has its hold explorers and adventurers who carry on their splendid work and even triumph over all the frustrating difficulties caused by both lack of funds and adequate equipment. The epic of Marx, poor and ill, seeking to lay bare the dynamics of social development; of Lenin, hounded from garret to cellar, from country to country, searching out successfully and shoving the; path from the competitive anarchy of restrictive and decadent capitalism to the planned order of social abundance; or of the Curies in their desperate struggle to reveal the wonders of radium. These, and a thousand similar stories that could be told, reveal the unconquerable gallantry of great minds seeking only to serve advancing humanity.

It required great courage for a Rutherford to challenge, and sweep aside, many of the accepted and seemingly established conceptions regarding the unchangeable and indestructible nature of the atom. It was in the nature of a revolution, in science, to show and prove that the atom could both be smashed and transformed. In this great scientific adventure Rutherford gathered around him the leading physicists of the world. While Rutherford’s was the directing genius, the others made valuable contributions towards solving the problem of atomic energy. It was, indeed, an international scientific community that placed atomic energy at the disposal of humanity. Never, for one moment, did these international scientists imagine that their great co-operative contribution was to become the private and secret monopoly of one government.

It needed an even greater effort in organised and cooperative planning to transfer the theory of atomic energy into technical and practical reality. It has been estimated that over a million scientists, technologists, and workers—at many levels of skill—organised according to a definite plan, at a cost of 500 millions, were needed to unleash the energy of the atom in the production of the atomic bomb. It was the most complex and ambitious scientific and industrial project ever planned under capitalism, and it successfully achieved its object within a period of a little over two years. Even the Tory, Sir John Anderson, had to admit that under normal conditions it would have taken twenty years to do what had been done, by planning, in such a short period. But we must never forget that this triumphant miracle, that vindicated the potential social and industrial productivity of organised social planning, was not carried out under conditions of normal capitalism. It was imposed upon Britain and America by the sheer pressure and urgency of the war, and the need to try and anticipate Hitler, who might have used some invulnerable secret weapon and method of military attack. The military pundits declare that atomic energy has transformed the science of war; it is destined to do something much more important—it will aid in transforming the whole basis of society. The disintegration of capitalism coincides with the disintegration of the atom.


No sooner was the war over than President Truman, fumbling and stuttering in the shadow of Roosevelt, voiced the interests of the great American combines by declaring that his government intended to retain, as a secret monopoly, the technical processes regarding the production of atomic energy and the atomic bomb. In this he was supported by the leading American reactionaries, who in one united chorus chanted the words of the New York Times, “that the United States will control a weapon more potent than victory itself.” In Britain, Mr. L. Amery, ex-Secretary of State for India, consoled himself for his terrific defeat at the General Election by saying that America in power politics can now dominate the world, and that Russia has been reduced to a vulnerable and secondary power. All the foes of democratic progress are emphatic in demanding that the American Government must keep the secret of atomic energy. The Truman policy of jealous secrecy and monopoly control is poisoning and disrupting the unity of the Allied Nations. Even the British Labour Government, and its Foreign Secretary, seem to have forgotten the great part British and European genius played in making atomic energy possible; it has also forgotten its international and allied responsibility by not standing up to President Truman on this important issue. It must be remembered that one of the conditions that made the discovery of atomic energy possible was that, up to 1940, all scientists in all countries openly discussed all their discoveries and processes. Science had an endless frontier of freedom and creative co-operation, and this made rapid interchange of problems possible. Today; in Britain, the freedom of scientists to discuss their problems with allied colleagues has been denounced by Mr. Churchill. We must never forget that one of the first freedoms that Hitler destroyed was the freedom of science—in an effort to sustain the economic power of the rich reactionary monopolies and combines that raised him to power. To stifle the full liberty of science is the first act of all dictators and is the path to Fascism.

Just as the discovery of fire, and the early use of coal created serious problems for humanity, so atomic energy has brought forward a harvest of difficulties. Man, as we have already seen, at the beginning of each period of social advance, is challenged by the results of his own activity. But the creative social forces that impel humanity forward carry with them the ability and courage to face and solve such difficulties. A period of advance that has seen the growing strength of a multi-national socialist planned economy over one-sixth of the world; that has crushed the heavily entrenched forces of reaction led by Hitler and Mussolini; that has brushed aside the reactionary Tory party that barred the way to social advance in Britain; that has created the United Nations Organisation representing fifty-one nations determined to plan world order and peace—such a creative and germinal period in history can solve the problems produced by atomic energy. We have seen that the economic nationalism of monopoly capitalism cannot use and economically develop the miraculous productive potentialities of atomic energy. We have seen that monopoly capitalism, unless during an epoch of destructive war, cannot even utilise the technical and productive forces at present available. Due to its urge for profits it must restrict and does restrict the productive process. Atomic energy, as the first condition of its full development demands such an expansive and productive output that it can only be utilized, economically, in a social economy planned for the creation of plenty and abundance for all. Monopoly capitalism, with its economic nationalism, is stifling the productive process within its national frontiers. Today the productive process is so complex and fruitful that it needs the whole world in order to develop to its greatest capacity. Up to 1939, monopoly capital in each of the leading capitalist countries compelled their various governments to create national barriers in the shape of tariffs, restrictions, quotas, import and export licences and permits—all of which impede the productive process within each country. This economic nationalism was carried to its utmost intensity by Hitler in his so-called policy of “national self-sufficiency” or “autarchy.” It must be noted that Hitler did not invent Nazism—it sprang from the policy of German monopoly capitalism and economic nationalism seeking, by violence; to force away out of the contradictions of the profit-making system through war to plunder and world domination; the first step in this policy was to stamp out the courageous and vigorous democratic opposition and debauch the remaining apathetic elements of the population. This helps us to understand some other contradictions created by monopoly capitalism. While proclaiming their ardent national patriotism the leaders of monopoly-capital are ready to have deals and pacts with leading monopolists in other countries. Most of these deals, price-control arrangements, etc., are aimed at other combines and syndicates. Thus in March, 1939, the Federation of British Industries met the Reichsgruppe Industrie, at Dusseldorf, to arrange to lend there 1,000 million. This was aimed at America. During this, period, Mr. Neville Chamberlain was giving Mr. Bevin some early lessons on how to stand up to and be tough with the Soviet Union—a policy that left Britain isolated at the moment she needed help.


At the same period the American monopolists were having rather alarming deals with the German monopolists over prices; profits, and the use of very important patents and scientific processes useful and necessary for any aggressive Power anxious to build up its war strength. These agreements helped Hitler to launch his war and the American monopolists were helping him to win. When, however, America entered the war it was revealed how anti-patriotic and reactionary were the leading American combines—despite all their bluff on the sacredness of economic nationalism. Henry Wallace, then Vice-President of the United States, denounced, “those groups which rule over economic Empires have usurped the sovereignty of the people in international relations.” This is a brilliant endorsement of Lenin’s declaration that “the division of the world among the international trusts has begun.” The United Nations Organisation has big tasks before it.

It is interesting to note that, prior to the war, no one in America, with the possible exception of U.S.A. Ambassador Dodd, in Berlin, protested against the handing over to Nazi and fascist combines some of the most jealously guarded secret processes, both scientific and technical, in the country. It is necessary to contrast this with the present policy of the American Government, and its Hitler-linked combines that slid such dirty business with I. G. Farben of Germany, and who are now shouting out against sharing present-day scientific and technical atomic-energy processes with Britain—and particularly with the Soviet Union, which did so much to smash Hitler, and end the war. In this chorus of hate against the U.S.S.R., the most strident and raucous voices are those of the most reactionary defenders of finance-capital who realise and fear that only a great planned economy can handle, adequately, the new form of super-energy in the interests of peace and abundance.


It is at this great moment in history when decadent and crisis-ridden capitalism is showing its inability to solve the immense problems confronting humanity, and when great progressive movements are rising all over the world—from the backward areas of the Balkans to the immense Continents of India and Asia, involving hundreds of millions who are determined to go forward; it is at this moment when the industrial workers are building their international trade union movement, and when Socialists and Communists are uniting their forces for the next great social advance; it is at this moment when the United Nations Organisation is seeking to plan the beginnings of world democracy, order and peace; it is at this moment when all progressive people realise that only an internationally planned economy can deal with great emerging problems; and it is at this moment when hundreds of millions in the so-called backward continents are advancing, and who are determined to throw off the fetters of an enslaving imperialism, and leave behind the ignorance, squalor and hunger enforced upon them by their rulers—their advance to take their place in a new world of creative labour and plenty is one of the most inspiring wonders of history—and it is at this moment that atomic energy appears with all its problems and with, all its manifold potentialities!

“This new energy,” said Sir Lawrence Bragg, the famous scientist, “would bring about a World State. It was the final stage in the process of joining humanity together.” Just as fire enabled Man to advance beyond the narrow confines of his barbaric clan to civilisation; just as coal and steam finally swept aside feudal localism and opened the way to the industrial nation with its millions of organised and disciplined workers—so atomic energy is destined, by the aid of the very millions trained by capitalism, to sweep aside the reactionary elements and local national restrictions, and make possible the extension of the world multi-national Socialist State planning a great international economy for social abundance and peace.

Great possibilities are urging forward progressive humanity. Already at the huge plants at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and at Hanford, Washington, controlled atomic energy in the form of heat is in continuous production in amazing quantities. There is nothing technically difficult in producing an atomic power plant to generate electric power. In a recent address to the American Philosophical Society and National Academy of Science, Professor Arthur H. Compton said: “If there were sufficient demand for a demonstration a reasonably efficient plant using super-heated steam for driving a turbine, could be in operation within a year.” He also said the fission energy available from a pound of uranium, when completely consumed, “is equivalent to burning more than a thousand tons of coal.”

The reactionary policy of President Truman, in treating the technical process of atomic energy as an American secret monopoly, cuts right across the speedy utilisation of the new energy as a source of industrial power. Science cannot advance in a world of secrecy. The free interchange of material and open discussion on achievements and difficulties, among scientists, are the basis of speedy progress. “New thoughts develop in their discussions, and more refined techniques are available. A team which thus supplies a combination of originality and special skills is the pattern towards which research is moving,” declared a brilliant scientist.


President Truman’s atomic imperialism has opened the eyes of scientists all over the world. He has compelled them to study things other than atoms. They now realise that they have also an important function to play in society if they wish to retain their freedom as scientists. In America thousands of scientists, many of them engaged in atomic energy, have emphatically protested against the prostitution of their specialised skill in the brothel of reaction. Democratic and progressive Americans will find ways and means to overcome the secretive and monopolistic hopes of their new isolationists, and will join and co-operate with common humanity, organised in the United Nations Organisation, in utilising atomic science at its highest level of achievement. In Britain the Association of Scientific Workers has grown from a handful of members to an energetic and progressive organisation 20,000 strong. In this way monopoly capitalism, by its reactionary policy, organises the powerful democratic forces that are uniting and are advancing to a higher social order based upon scientific planning. To strive and struggle to reach this great historic objective, a new social and moral conscience is being created through millions working together, co-operatively, for human ends that go beyond their individual selves. This was clearly stated by Professor Arthur H. Compton when he said that no cause had “met with the wider response the Russians have given to Communism as a political system, in which each person consciously works for the good of all.” Love thy neighbour as thyself, has become economically and socially practical and almost imperative. Atomic energy, despite the obstruction of humanity’s enemies, will play its great part in social progress.

Fire and coal and all the other forms of energy utilised by Man took their place in the historic period based on class-struggles, and where the necessary condition of social advance was that of human exploitation with all its human misery. Today atomic energy makes its appearance at the moment when mankind is planning the scientific control of production and distribution, and abundance for all, as the basis of a classless and peaceful society. This is demanded by the imperative need of the historic process; this social need is reinforced by the urge of scientific and technical development. Henceforth instead of being the plaything of powerful economic forces and social crises, men will make and direct the process of history. Here men will be able to develop their real social characteristics. In the brilliant phrase of Frederick Engels—“It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.”