A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Socialism and Nuclear Power

Socialists can bring many important insights to the questions and concerns raised by nuclear technology. However, two aspects of the socialist perspective on the nuclear power issue are primary. One is the socialist understanding that in a profit-motivated capitalist economy, nuclear power, like all other technology, will inevitably be developed and applied in an unsafe and environmentally destructive manner. The other is the realization that only in a socialist society democratically controlled by workers will it be possible to rationally assess how—or if—nuclear power can be safely harnessed.

Certainly, no solution to the current nuclear danger can be found by taking the problem out of the social context in which it exists. The primary problem with any technology under capitalism—even nuclear technology, which admittedly poses special problems—is not that it is inherently safe or unsafe, but rather that it is controlled by a ruling-class minority which manipulates technology to serve its narrow economic interests.

Accordingly, amidst the growing concern over the nuclear dangers posed both by commercial power plants and by the obscene proliferation of nuclear weapons, the task of Marxists is to consistently emphasize the need to free all technology from the fetters of capitalist productive relations.

On the one hand, Marxists clearly favor technological progress and the general expansion of society's productive forces. Accordingly, Socialists do not see the answer to the problems posed by nuclear technology in a technological retrogression of capitalist society. For one thing, it is utopian to suggest that society can or will return to a lower level of material development. Moreover, workers' interests directionally lie in furthering, rather than circumscribing, economic progress. Socialists thus seek to transform society into one based on new social relationships that will allow the worker-majority to become the master of technology, rather than vice versa.

On the other hand, this Marxist tenet does not mean that Socialists blindly support nuclear technology. All technological innovation is not progress, and a socialist society may well decide that the hazards of nuclear technology render it no more useful than red dye #2.

Nor should Socialists foster the illusion that the hazards of nuclear power will miraculously disappear with the advent of socialism. Socialist revolution will clearly sound the death knell of the profit-motive and the militarism which have generated the nuclear threat. But socialism is no panacea. Socialists cannot alter the half-life of plutonium nor render living organisms immune to radiation.

At the same time, Socialists do not preclude the possibility that nuclear power may be safely harnessed in the future. What can be said is that the future of nuclear power in a socialist society will be a matter of rationally applying scientific know-how rather than a question hinging on the rate of profit.

Clearly, the socialist perspective has thus far failed to impress itself on the antinuclear movement. This movement continues to be dominated by antitechnology currents, apolitical opponents of nuclear technology, and capitalist politicians and other liberal reformers.

Responsibility for this situation lies, in part, with groups on the left which have failed to bring to the antinuclear movement the Marxist clarity it needs. Typifying this failure are the U.S. Communist Party (CP) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Complicating the CP's views on nuclear power is the fact that its masters in Moscow, like their ruling-class counterparts in Washington, are committed to both nuclear weapons and atomic power plants. The CP has yet to find a satisfactory way of reconciling its opportunistic desire to capitalize on the antinuclear movement and its inability to oppose the reckless nuclear proliferation being directed from the Kremlin.

Taking a page out of the CP's book of opportunism, the SWP is taking up the call to shut the nukes down now, all the while seeing little need to establish the capitalist cause of the nuclear danger or to advance a socialist solution. As if black lung were the socialist answer to radiation poisoning, the SWP says the answer to the nuclear hazard is to mine more coal. The SWP asserts, of course, that mining of more coal must be done safely, but a safe mine is as much a pipe dream under capitalism as the accident-proof reactors that supposedly existed on Three Mile Island.

That a nuclear danger exists now is clear. But Socialists cannot expediently set aside the realization that the solution to this danger is to free nuclear technology from the limitations and distortions imposed by capitalism. To capitalism falls the task of justifying its technological horrors on the basis of picking the lesser evil. To socialism falls the task of turning technology from the horror it currently is to the benefactor of an emancipated working class.



Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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