From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
Where do Cruise missiles come on your personal list of production priorities? First, last, or not at all? Similarly, where do you place housing, food, clothing and entertainment? Do you know anybody who puts Cruise, Trident and Pershing II missiles first? Probably not. How is it then that over the northern hemisphere there are around 50 million people engaged in wielding weapons of destruction, servicing, administering to them, designing, manufacturing or testing new ones? Is it that the system of war production has got out of control? If so, what are you going to do about it?
Well, you could join in the Campaign for a Nuclear-Free Europe; you could go and cheer E. P. Thompson at the next CND rally. If you’re good at spitting fire you could stomp church and civic halls up and down the country, fulminating against NATO and the eastern bloc, who’ve turned Europe into the world’s most dramatic nuclear theatre.
Whatever you do, whether you live in Britain, America or Russia, you’ll have to face a stubborn problem arising from the social system that the world currently operates. You’ll have to find a way of transforming rockets into ploughshares.
Nukes are nasty
At a simple level the weaponry of Europe can be dismantled and sold as scrap. When TSR2 was cancelled in the 1960s one enterprising firm cobbled together a range of costume jewellery out of components from aircraft guidance systems. Since 1945 army surplus stores have been the usual way of recycling non-strategic junk from the forces back into the economy. Quite what could be done with the 7,500 nuclear warheads deployed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact in and around Europe — their rockets, launch platforms, bunkers and control hardware — it’s not easy to say. Perhaps, without the warheads, they could all be let off in one gigantic Guy Fawkes display; or used to launch thousands of weather and communication satellites. The warheads are completely useless for anything except destroying life and wealth.
The original US “Operation Plowshare’’, which planned to use nuclear bombs to blast a wider Panama Canal, was abandoned because of the radioactive filth it would have belched into the atmosphere and because it might have started violent volcanic activity along the Panamanian Isthmus.
Projects to develop interplanetary travel for the masses are non-starters; even capitalism’s best salesmen can’t find any suckers to go on a jerky joy-ride in a vehicle powered by nuclear squibs going bang at the tail.
The US “Operation Gas Buggy", in which a chain of buried nuclear devices were detonated to produce a vast underground cavern of gas for domestic consumption, did not produce enough gas to fuel the fleet of concrete lorries that were needed to cap the surface fractures out of which the subsequent radioactivity leaked.
Nukes are nasty and aside from their intended purpose, neither NATO nor the Eastern Bloc can find anything to do with them.
Poverty and plenty
So the slogan “rockets into ploughshares’’ is misleading. But would a society that makes only “ploughshares" in the first place be enough? For even if the nuclear factories were converted to produce agricultural machinery, most third world governments do not have the foreign exchange to buy such equipment. It needs only a little imagination to work out what happens when there is overproduction of such machinery for a non-existent — market the bottom falls out of world trade. A “surplus” of agricultural produce brings about a world food shortage in this way: as investment falls, production is cut back, land is unused until the surplus is gone; but with rising demand in the developed countries agricultural produce is sucked out of the underdeveloped countries and as neglected land cannot be made productive immediately millions starve as the price of grain soars.
Behind capitalism with its nuclear big bangs you can hear the crying of hungry people. Behind capitalism without the big bangs you will still hear the whimpers of starving people.
A much more useful slogan than “rockets into ploughshares" is “transform capitalism into socialism”. Nuclear disarmers and others should consider this as an immediate priority