Editorial from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
The central question — "Why must society live under the threat of nuclear annihilation?” — can be answered only by reference to the way society is presently organised. We live in a society which is dominated by the principle of competition and divided into capitalist class and working class. Just as there is struggle between workers and capitalists there is also struggle between capitalists of one country and capitalists of another. We therefore find antagonistic nation states all competing with each other to secure and expand their national economic interests and political ambitions. To do so. one state must gain at the other's expense. This leads to conflict and, when diplomatic methods have failed, to war. Humanity needs to scrap the artificial division of the world's people into social classes, national states, political units and economic blocs — to scrap the social system which is the cause of war in the modern world.
The enemy is not the latest weapon but the system which makes such weapons necessary. A look at technology shows why the social context is so important. Technology is neither good nor bad in itself, but it is there to be used. It is the values and priorities of society which determine how technology is applied and for what reasons. We live in a society in which the requirements of capitalist economics are paramount, while the effects of those requirements, and human needs, are of secondary concern. It is therefore no surprise that technology has been transformed from something to be welcomed into something to be feared.
Under capitalism technology has not been used to secure a peaceful planet but to increase the dangers and consequences of war. Technology has not been used to create a safe energy supply but to develop one which could kill whole populations.
Politicians who run, or seek to run, the present social system argue that we need weapons which kill people in order to protect people; that it is in our interests that governments continue with a nuclear energy programme because it is economical, while accidents such as Chernobyl clearly demonstrate the danger which such programmes represent. They say it is only natural that the world should be divided into competing national states and economic blocs; despite the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of the system where wars coincide with endless peace talks, economic booms follow economic slumps, they still make political promises which are destroyed by economic realities.
Is this a form of madness? By the standards of capitalism such contradictions are quite logical; indeed quite necessary. To allow world capitalism to continue is to gamble with our future, with the very conditions of life itself.
We need to abolish the state of affairs in which the community as a whole exercises little democratic control over society apart from voting for politicians to run the madhouse for another four or five years. Instead, we need to organise politically to place the means of life — including energy production which is a basic requirement for any society to function — under the democratic control of the whole community and not just governments or groups of experts.
We need to abolish the out-moded and old-fashioned division of the world into nation states. Instead we need to cooperate on a world basis to meet our material needs and energy requirements. Only in a socialist society will the community be able to make decisions about energy production which are based on what is safe and in the human interest (including our shared environment) instead of decisions based on, and limited by, economic considerations. Only in a socialist society, when human beings can relate to each other as fellows and not as units of labour to be exploited or national enemies to be destroyed, will the nuclear threat really be removed. It is quite clear that in any future confrontation we will all be affected regardless of where we live. As Chernobyl has shown, a nuclear energy disaster can spread across whole continents. A nuclear war will be far worse — perhaps the ultimate disaster.
This does not need to happen. Socialism needs mass understanding and support — and then the world will be changed. To begin with workers might like to consider the proposition — "This is our planet. We want it back”.