Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Editorial: No joke? (1983)

Editorial from the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

From her apparently invulnerable Fortress Westminster, Margaret Thatcher does not need to pay heed to most of the criticisms levelled at her, least of all to the jibe that she is incapable of consciously making a joke. This is not to say that she never says anything amusing; reporters with especially acute hearing often record some comment which, although innocent of any such intention, has the kind of sexual or lavatorial interpretation which can provoke a few guffaws.

A humourless, out of touch Thatcher fits in neatly with her opponents’ view of her as a fanatic who will heartlessly destroy entire industries, towns and families to suit her political dogma. The prime minister herself does not go out of her way to discourage this notion; the medicine she is administering, she says, may be harsh and unpalatable but it is the only known cure and when we have taken it we shall be much healthier and more prosperous. There is, in the famous phrase, no alternative, no cause for doubt — and no reason to make jokes either.

There have been other prime ministers, in similar circumstances, cast in the same humourless mould. History records no risible comments by Clement Attlee, whose stock in trade was a dry, waspish dismissal of opponents and who was as unbending as Thatcher in the conviction that the assaults his government were making on workers’ living standards were the only possible way of running the country.

And of course Attlee was right. His government came into power just as the second world war was coming to its dreadful close amid the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Capitalism worldwide was extensively damaged, in many areas devastated. In the wreckage the pre-war competitive menace of Germany and Japan had, for a while, been laid low and there was now a new rival for British capitalism in its former ally Russia. American capitalism dominated the western world both economically and militarily. If British industry was to arrest the decline it had suffered since the turn of the century (an enduring, if fantastic, ambition for a long succession of British politicians) there had to be a massive effort of industry and sacrifice from the working class. Who better to organise this, and to discipline it. than a Labour government with its close ties with the trade unions and its established reputation as the most deceptive leader in the endless pilgrimage to the Promised Land? The promises came in a flood from Labour ministers. One more effort, the workers were told — a few more years of austerity and restraint — and all would be well. No wonder Attlee cracked no jokes for it was not a laughing matter.

The significance of the fact that, some thirty years on, Thatcher faces a similar situation seems to have escaped the working class, who obediently voted her back into power. Just like the post-war Labour government, her ministers tell us that we are in a massively threatening crisis. If we behave irresponsibly, by demanding pay rises above what the government say we should have, or by failing to work hard enough, or by reacting against the deeper poverty we face through being unemployed, then there will follow a collapse of civilised society. But if we do as the government advise — if we are exceedingly generous towards the exploiting capitalist class — then everything will eventually come right. There should be no surprise that Thatcher does not easily make jokes, because this too is no laughing matter.

It is time for the workers also to take this seriously. Ever since they won the right to vote, they have consistently given power to the class which exists in privilege by virtue of its exploitation of the working class. The most frightful obscenities have been committed to preserve this privilege — the horrors of two world wars, the persistent death toll of tens of millions every year in famine, the unrelenting grind of poverty and repression which workers everywhere endure in order to survive. Yet whenever those workers have the chance to act to end this — as they had in Britain in June — they clearly opt for it to carry on.

They come to this self-damaging decision through the process of a debate which never approaches any fundamental analysis of modern society and of the causes of its ailments. Instead, workers argue over the supposed merits of the programmes offered by the Labour, Conservative and Alliance parties although such differences as there are in these programmes are superficial and unimportant. Whichever the workers choose makes no difference to society worth taking into account. Because they all agree that capitalism shall continue — and because the working class agree on this as well — the society of class privilege, war, exploitation, famine and disease remains. The choice between Labour, Tory and Alliance is an unreal one; the debate over their programmes is a phoney.

There is in fact an alternative. People who, every day of their lives, do the vital and complex work involved in running modern society are capable of better than this. The bankruptcy of capitalism and the impotence of its apologists significantly to improve it are all too apparent. In their everyday lives workers could not function if they did not act on an assessment and acceptance of available evidence and their experience. It should be a simple matter for them to apply this same reasoning to the wider field of society at large and its organisation.

That must lead them in only one direction — to a decision that, as capitalism is characteristically unable to do other than degrade, repress and murder its people, it must be abolished through a world wide democratic revolution which will replace it with a fundamentally different social order. Socialism will be based on the communal ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. It will be a society without classes, without privilege, without social conflict. Its wealth will not be bought and sold but will be available for free access, with every human being standing equally in their right to take as much as they need. It w'ill be a democratic society, without leaders who take on themselves the decision making at whatever the cost to the majority.

It needs only a conscious political act by the world working class for socialism to become a reality. This is what socialists work for and our object — the capture of political power by the working class to establish a socialist society — must be taken seriously by anyone who is interested in the welfare of the human race.

Political Notes: It’s an honour (1983)

The Political Notes Column from the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s an honour

There has never been any reason to believe that Harold Wilson had designs to abolish himself so there must be some other explanation for the fact that, although when he was prime minister he announced that no more hereditary peers would be created, now that he is out of parliament he is reported to have accepted — to have wanted — such an honour for himself.

Of course this may be yet another — if especially obscure — example of Labour Party gradualism, of the theory that capitalism will eventually find itself ended through a succession of near-imperceptible steps. It is something over fifty years since the Labour Party announced that one such step would be the abolition of the House of Lords and Wilson's stated preference for the creation of life, as opposed to hereditary, lords was greeted as a gradualist move in the process of abolition sometime.

This enthusiasm — Labour supporters starved of real progress, have had to learn to exist on such contemptible crumbs — must have been dented when the police began to take a deep interest in several of the eminences so recently ennobled by Wilson.

Capitalism can do very nicely — as it does in places like America, France and Russia — without the tradition of dressing people up in funny clothes, pinning bits of ribbon and metal on them and giving them funny titles. Which is not to say that the system does not have some picturesque rewards for those who have given it special service.

Harold Wilson was one of these. He came to power through a skilfully worded pledge that working class problems could easily be conjured away through something called the technological revolution; that the micro chip would alter the basic nature of capitalism. Predictably, he and his government were soon bogged down in crisis. Their fine promises were forgotten as they grappled to deplete workers’ living standards. When they lost power they were thoroughly exposed and discredited and since then no more is heard of the harvest to be reaped from the white hot technological revolution. By any standards, a notable achievement by Wilson. He fully deserves his honour; capitalism has looked on him and found him to be good.

Head count

The debate over the restoration of the death penalty was loaded with moral considerations and much talk about the ethics of the judicial taking of life and the right of society to respond to a murder by itself murdering the killer. Almost everyone who took part agreed that this was a very important issue because with human lives at stake a careful and informed discussion was necessary. When it was over and the votes had been counted everyone could go home congratulating themselves for playing their part in such a highly charged occasion with full regard to their grave responsibility.

But what sort of problem were they talking about? If the death penally is restored so that it applies as it did before the Homicide Act of 1957 — before the introduction of degrees of murder — there will be about one execution a week in Britain. If a Bill goes through in this form, something like 60 people will die who would otherwise survive to serve a life sentence.

Now there is no denying that the death penalty is a disfiguring barbarity. There is no denying that the vast majority of murders can be said to be some sort of response to the inhumanities which capitalism imposes on its people, and which it expects them to survive with patience and conformity. But in comparison to the tens of millions who die each year through the simple fact that capitalism can’t meet the needs of the human race, the numbers who might be despatched by the hangman in Britain are insignificant. If MPs. and others who were convinced that they were arguing about moral issues, about the sanctity of human life, were sincere why are they so consistently able to ignore this massively greater death toll?

The answer is simple. The apologists for capitalism can discuss an issue like the death penalty, with its strictly limited scope, without ever needing to consider the wider and deeper responsibility of this social system for the problem. The whole thing can be talked out in terms of ethics, religion, insignificant reforms; when it is over capitalism is left undisturbed.

This is a much more comfortable way of approaching an issue, than one which might call into question the basics of society, their effect on people and the fact that this social system must degrade the people who keep it in existence. As so often happens, the debate on the death penalty was really about granting capitalism yet another reprieve.

Up school

Margaret Thatcher has not made her name as a political tactician of historic subtlety so perhaps she was unaware that, by sacking Francis Pym, she was depriving some of her opponents of one of their most cherished illusions. Pym's departure from the government meant that, with the exception of the increasingly ridiculous Lord Hailsham, there is now not one Old Etonian in the Cabinet — to say the least, an unusual situation for a Tory government and one to cause consternation in London's clubland.

It has always been a favourite left-wing pastime to tot up the numbers of Tory ministers who spent their schooldays at Eton and Harrow and to produce the result as proof that a Conservative government is in the hands of a small, privileged, self-perpetuating clique. At times, there seemed to be something to be said for this theory. Harold Macmillan, for example, seemed to go out of his way to give some top jobs, not just to Old Etonians but to those who were related to him. The lesson we were invited by the left wing to draw from this was that a government full of such high born people could not possibly understand, and deal with, the problems of the “ordinary” people and that we should therefore vote for a party with a less exclusive background.

Unhappily for this theory, we had the experience of Labour governments, many of whose ministers had not only not been to public school but had sometimes had very little formal schooling at all. Some of them were fond of reminding us of this, by applying an eccentric pronunciation which removed aitches from where they should be and stuck them back on where they should not be.

Jimmy Thomas was one such eminence; another was Ernie Bevin. Their place in political history is assured; they were zealous workers for the interests of the British capitalist class at no matter what cost to the class of their origin, the class which can't send its children to Eton or Roedean and which suffers the effects of the social system which Thomas and Bevin helped to administer.

Thomas, after a spell drunkenly contemplating the deepening misery of British workers in the slump of the late twenties, saved his miserable skin by joining the National government with the Tories and the Liberals. His aristocratic friends were much amused by his comical terminology. Bevin, among his many other achievements, saw British workers committed to the slaughter of the Korean war and the start of the British nuclear weapon programme.

The familial and social beginnings of the people who run capitalism is of absolutely no account. It is working class acquiescence in the system which is important. Without that the leaders would be impotent and redundant and we would have a society free of conflict and privilege.

Blogger's Note:
On the subject of capital punishment, this issue of the Socialist Standard also had a longer article on the subject: British rope trick

Two political myths (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

A general election is a time of heightened political interest but also one in which people's basic political assumptions come to the fore. From following the election campaign, reading the election literature and from talking to people, it is clear that two assumptions dominate current political thinking, not just among the parties but among the public generally.

The first is that the people who inhabit the British Isles form a community with a basic common interest and that the election was about choosing the men and women to administer its affairs. That, in other words, governments represent the interests of all the people and that this is their role.

The second assumption is that the government is responsible for what happens in the country. That, for instance, if unemployment grows, if factories close, or if there is bad housing, then this is the fault of the government. It is believed that something could be done about such things if the government so chose, or if it pursued a different policy. This of course is the stuff of conventional politics. In the election the Labour Party suggested that mass unemployment was the fault of Mrs Thatcher, that she had deliberately created it because she is a heartless woman, but that if the Labour Party was in office things would be different as they would use the powers of government to get the economy expanding again. When Labour was in power, on the other hand, the Tories blamed unemployment which has been continually rising for over 20 years irrespective of the party in office on the bungling policies pursued by the government. And so on and so on.

It is questionable to what extent ordinary people really are taken in by these sham battles between professional politicians but it is certainly true that it is a widely held view that the government is to a large extent responsible for the way in which the economy operates.

Socialists share neither of these assumptions. We deny that governments do, or can, govern in the interests of the whole people. And we deny that governments can control the economy at all, let alone make it work in the interests of everyone. The people of Britain do not form a community with a common interest. We live in a class-divided society in which there is no common interest, but only conflicting class interests. Present-day society is divided into two main, but quite unequal, classes; those who own and control the means of wealth production (the farms, the mines, the factories, the ships, the warehouses, the offices) and the rest of us who depend for our living on working for a wage or salary. Those who own and control the means of production are only a tiny minority of the population. well under 5 per cent. Apart from about 5 per cent of self-employed — small shopkeepers, professional people and the like — the rest, over 90 per cent, are wage and salary earners.

Some people would not deny that society is divided into owners and non-owners, employers and wage and salary earners, but they would reject the view that there is a necessary conflict of interest between these two classes. For them, Capital and Labour have a common interest in cooperating to produce the wealth society needs to survive. But it can easily be shown that, to use their terms. Capital and Labour do not and cannot have a common interest.

What is Capital? Basically, a sum of money invested in production with a view to profit. The economic textbooks tell us that profit is the return or “remuneration” on capital. We could quarrel with this terminology but will let this pass as there is a basic agreement that what Capital seeks out of production is Profit. What Labour seeks, on the other hand, is a wage or a salary which is the price of the mental and physical energies that have been sold to the employer.

Since what is produced is divided into Profits and Wages and Salaries, there is clearly a built-in cause of conflict here: the share of Profits can only be increased at the expense of Wages and Salaries, and vice versa. Capital and Labour are in fact in continual conflict over the division of the wealth that has been produced. This is everyday experience and explains why there are trade unions and strikes.

But there is another factor which, for us. makes this conflict irreconcilable. As wealth can only be produced by work, by humans applying their menial and physical energies to nature-given materials, any non-work income such as profits can only come out of the product of somebody’s labour. Profits in fact arise out of the unpaid labour of the wage and salary earning class. Under capitalism, in other words, the wage and salary earning majority are exploited economically; they are employed solely in order to extract profits from their labour.

It is clear that under these circumstances the interests of the profit-taking class and the majority wage-earning class are completely antagonistic. The one class lives by exploiting the other. This is why to talk of there being a community with a common interest is just nonsense. There is no such community and no such common interest, and there never will be until the means of production have ceased to be monopolised by a section only of society.

This is the basic conflict of interest in society: the interest of the owning minority to preserve the existing set-up from which they benefit versus the interest of the wage and salary earning majority to take over and run the means of wealth-production for the common good. This is why in the end the real issue in the class struggle is: Capitalism or Socialism? Minority ownership or common ownership?

But if there is no common interest in present-day society for the government to represent, in whose interests do they operate? The answer is again supplied by everyday experience. The government, no matter what political party it is formed by, represents the interests of the capitalist employing class. Present-day society is capitalist. A majority of people accept and even want this, even though it involves their economic exploitation. The role of government under capitalism is, first of all, to preserve and to protect society’s basis — the monopoly by a minority over the means of production. In Britain this is done perfectly legally by upholding and enforcing existing private property rights.

The other role of the government in present-day society is to manage the common affairs, not of the imaginary community of the whole population, but of the capitalist class as a whole, of the tiny minority who own and control the means of production.

This has been borne out by the experience of governments of all political colours, Labour as well as Conservative. That the Thatcher Conservative government governs in the interest of the capitalist minority needs no demonstration. It openly defends the profit system. It openly attacks the wage and salary earning class and their rather feeble defensive organisations that are the trade unions. Its declared aim is to reduce the consumption of wage and salary earners as a way of trying to restore profitability.

This is quite normal. It has nothing to do with Thatcher, Tebbit and the others being heartless. It is the government fulfilling its role under capitalism. Labour governments have acted in exactly the same way. For the benefit of those with short memories, we would restate that the Wilson Labour governments between 1964 and 1970 and 1974 and 1976, and the Callaghan Labour government between 1976 and 1979 also attacked wage and salary earners through wage freezes, smashing strikes, and by cutting back on the so-called social services. Their declared aim, too, was to increase profits by reducing consumption.

So much. then, for the first myth that governments represent the interests of the whole population and act in the common interest. They don’t, and they can't. As long as capitalism lasts they will act in the interests of those who benefit from the profit-making system which is capitalism; in other words, those who live off profits arising from their ownership and control of the means of wealth production.

In any event — and this brings us to the second current political myth — governments do not control the economy. They are not responsible for the way it operates and can’t do anything about it even if they wanted to, or rather even though they do want to. What governments control is not the economy, but political power, the machinery of government. They control the forces of repression which are the army and police. This of course gives them considerable power in certain fields, but it doesn't give them the power to control the economy. The capitalist economy is something that functions in accordance with its own economic laws, which governments are powerless to change and which they must in the end accept and even apply.

The first feature of the economy is that it is a system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit. Making profits is the be-all and end-all of production. The basic rule is “no profit, no production" and this is a rule that governments must respect. Governments, all governments, must allow and encourage profits to be made and must refrain from actions that undermine or threaten them, at the risk of provoking stagnation in the economic sector concerned. This is a considerable restriction on what they can do to improve the lot of the majority class of wage and salary earners.

The second feature of the capitalist economy is that it is a world economy. There is no such thing as the “British economy”, the “German economy”, the “American economy", despite what the papers say. What exists is a single, integrated economy which operates throughout the world, including (in the form of State capitalism) in countries like Russia and China. This means that even if a government were to control all industry within its frontiers (as is nearly the case in some of the state capitalist countries) it would still not control the functioning of the economy, and so would still have to conform to the dictates of the world market. In fact one definition of capitalism might be “the world market economy”. For the world economy is a market economy in the classic sense of the term: unplanned, anarchical, competitive.

Being anarchical the world capitalist economy moves in fits and starts, periods of growth being followed by periods of stagnation, which prepare the ground for the next period of growth, which inevitably ends in another period of stagnation, and so on. This cycle of booms and slumps repeats itself over and over again and there is nothing governments can do about it.

But at whatever stage of its cycle, the world economy is a competitive system in which States and enterprises are competing against each other to sell their goods profitably. Since they have to accept the prices fixed by the world market, the only way the competing capitalist States and enterprises can increase their profits is by reducing their costs of production. This can be done in a number of ways but the only effective one in the end is to introduce new, more up-to-date and efficient machinery and techniques of production.

This is yet another reason why governments must give priority to profits by keeping costs down, rather than to improving wages and social benefits, which increases costs. All governments. Labour as well as Conservative, do this, employing the same familiar language of “competitiveness", “productivity”, "technological revolution”, “sacrifice today for a better tomorrow", and so on. This means that no government can for long pursue a policy of increasing real wages or social benefits. In periods of stagnation and slump, when competitive pressures are greatest, governments are even obliged to follow' the market’s downward pressure on wages and other costs and cut back their spending on social benefits. This is not a matter of choice. It is something governments are obliged to do, whether they want to or not, whether they are apparently pro-wage-earner (like Labour) or openly anti-wage-earner (like the Tories).

In other words, far from governments controlling capitalism, it is the other way round: governments have to frame their policies to fit in with the logic of capitalism. It is the capitalist economy which determines the policies governments must pursue.

Socialists are prepared to accept the full implications of this position: that if governments don’t control the economy then they can’t be blamed for rising unemployment, closing factories, falling wages and the like. Harold Wilson was right to declare that he had been "driven off course”. Thatcher and Tebbit are right when they blame the current high level of unemployment on the world recession — though it is not quite so clear that they realise the full implications of their position here. For in blaming unemployment on the world recession they are in effect blaming it on capitalism!

We also draw the further conclusion that, as it is the working of the capitalist economy that is responsible for the level of unemployment, no change of government or government policy is going to make any appreciable difference. Unemployment will begin to come down, if ever it does, only when world capitalism begins to move out of the stagnation phase of its cycle. As there is nothing governments can do to hasten this, their only possible course is to quite literally sit back and wait for the recovery of the world capitalist economy to materialise. The current Conservative government seems to have understood this and so makes no attempt to reduce unemployment.

That this is all any government can do is perhaps hard to swallow by those who want to do something about unemployment but it is the stark truth. Tory governments have no qualms about accepting it because they openly accept the logic of capitalism and willingly apply it. But this creates problems for parties like Labour which do contain some sincere but confused elements. But sincerity does not come into it. Any government of capitalism — and all governments are governments of capitalism — has to run the system in the only way possible: as a profit-making system in the interest of those who live off profits, against the interest of the wage and salary earning majority.

No government, however sincere or resolute or determined, can make capitalism work in the interest of the majority. Capitalism just cannot be reformed to work in such a way. The conclusion we draw from this is that capitalism should be abolished and be replaced by a new and different system, one based on common ownership and production for use on a world scale. For some reason the Labour Party refuses to believe the evidence of numerous Labour and similar governments throughout the world and thinks up all sorts of excuses for their failure — betrayal, not determined enough, not left-wing enough — rather than face the fact that they failed because they just couldn’t succeed.
Adam Buick

Tea and Sympathy (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
We publish below a newsletter recently circulated among employees of British Aerospace. Warton. A good time was had by all but one.
Visit to HMS Exeter

A party of 10 people from British Aerospace. Warton, travelled to Portsmouth in the early hours of Thursday 16 December 1982 in order to attend a "Day at Sea” organised by the Captain and Officers of HMS Exeter. From the welcome we received on arrival at HMS Nelson at 9.00 am on Thursday morning to the time when we sadly said "Goodbye" to our Hosts at 9.00 pm on the same day, we can say, in all sincerity, that we could have never experienced better hospitality and genuine friendship. After a very short journey to the Naval Base by Navy transport we went on board HMS Exeter and we were officially welcomed by the Officers of the Ship. Coffee was served and we were made very comfortable.

There were approximately 64 guests on board representing several aspects of the community. There were representatives from Thornton Chocolates; from Swan Hunter, where the Exeter was built; representatives from various organisations of the City of Exeter and several others. We sailed from Portsmouth Harbour at 10.30 am and we observed this from the Flight Deck. We were thrilled to see several Royal Navy Ships who also played a very important part in the recent Falklands war. Officers of HMS Exeter were accompanying each group of guests and explaining various items of interest. We were taken to the Bridge where Captain HM Balfour, MVO, and Officers were busy manoeuvring the Ship out of Harbour but not too busy to give us a very warm welcome and their thanks for our support towards them. We were shown every corner of the Ship; from Engine Room to Radar Room, from Officers Cabins to Kitchens. The whole Ship is kept in immaculate condition and the atmosphere on board is very happy, friendly and relaxed.

We sailed towards the Isle of Wight and at 11.45 am we were given a demonstration of the flying capabilities of HMS Exeter LYNX Helicopter; all the visitors enjoyed this demonstration and found it very exciting. At 12.00 noon we were shown an "Open-fire” exercise during which the newly installed guns were fired. These guns were 20 and 30mm cannons. This demonstration was also very exciting and made us all aware that Exeter was ready for any emergency. Between each demonstration drinks were served to the guests in the Officer’s Mess; no effort was spared to make our visit memorable.

At 12.30 a very' appetising lunch was served in the Officer’s Mess and after lunch, British Aerospace presented Captain HM Balfour with a cheque for £180.00, two Tornado framed pictures signed by our Chief Test Pilots and two Video Cassettes featuring the 8 episodes of the Falklands war as shown on Television in the past months. An official Wren photographer from Navy News took pictures of the presentation. Captain Balfour was very grateful for the gifts and asked us to thank everyone at British Aerospace for their part in the "Adoption of HMS Exeter".

After lunch a low flying demonstration by two Hunter aircraft was to take place but, as soon as this demonstration started, one of the Hunter’s came in very low over the Exeter Flight Deck, could not regain control and crashed into the sea killing the pilot. This tragedy caused great concern to everyone present but the Officers worked very hard once again in order to put the whole tragic incident in its true perspective. After tea and sandwiches we returned by “high speed dash" to Portsmouth at 9.00 pm when we took leave of the Captain and Crew. We spent a memorable day and we shall be forever grateful to HMS Exeter.
P. Charlesworth 
p.p. HMS Exeter Fund Committee

Johnny Mushroomseed (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

In American folk history there is a character called “Johnny Appleseed" who is reputed to have crossed the North American continent planting appleseeds and thus, in the space of a few years, bringing apple trees to America. A cartoon in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists borrowed the idea of Johnny Appleseed to portray American nuclear policy since the Atoms for Peace programme launched in 1953. The new character was Johnny Mushroomseed who disseminated civil nuclear reactors throughout the world and in doing so created the possibility of future nuclear weapon states. This is because any nuclear reactor — Magnox, AGR, PWR or Candu — produces plutonium even though its principal function is power generation. Plutonium, or rather the plutonium isotope 239, is bomb-making material and as little as 4kgs are required to manufacture a nuclear bomb; therefore, the expanded production of plutonium resulting from civil nuclear reactors poses a serious proliferation threat. The central problem of nuclear non-proliferation has been how to have one — nuclear power — without the other — nuclear bombs. America has never been able to reconcile the interest of its nuclear industry with those of non-proliferation; in other words, profits come before the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation.

The Atoms for Peace programme was a contrast to the first eight years of American nuclear history, when the MacMahon Act prohibited the disclosure of nuclear secrets and the transfer of nuclear materials. The fledgling American nuclear industry feared that it was in danger of being excluded from a highly lucrative market by the more advanced British state controlled nuclear industry, and it was this which contributed to the change in policy. However, there was no assessment of the political implications of selling nuclear reactors since the risks of proliferation from a civil nuclear fuel cycle were not considered relevant. The uranium route to the bomb was reckoned to be too technologically sophisticated for most states, and since plutonium produced by a civil reactor was thought to be of no military use on account of the existence of the heavier plutonium isotopes, plutonium 240 in particular (weapons grade plutonium constitutes ideally 93 per cent Pu-239) the sale of nuclear reactors did not constitute a proliferation risk.

The Atoms for Peace programme, however, let loose an avalanche of nuclear hardware and knowledge; for example, over 11.000 technical papers on plutonium were de-classified. This has, in effect, enabled such states as Brazil to produce their own nuclear weapons. In fact Brazil, according to a report in the International Herald Tribune 4 February 1983, has taken a significant step towards developing a nuclear weapons potential by producing its own plutonium in a US supplied research reactor. The plutonium was produced in the 5-megawatt Babcock and Wilcox reactor at Brazil’s leading atomic research centre on the outskirts of Sao Paolo. South Africa’s research reactor, SAFARI-1 — South African Fundamental Atomic Research reactor — was also provided by the US. and according to Dan Smith, “the aid South Africa has received under the Atoms for Peace programme has had a central role in the development of a military potential'' (South Africa’s Nuclear Capability, Dan Smith. World Campaign against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa, London, 1980, p!4). SAFARI-1 is a light water reactor which uses highly enriched uranium and was provided by the Allis Chalmers Corporation. For years the Americans rationalised their continued sale of nuclear reactors and provision of nuclear fuel on the grounds that this allowed the US to exert leverage over the recipient states and thereby prevent them from developing their own nuclear weapons.

This was to change. Although the French and German nuclear industries were based on American technologies, the light water reactor, Framatome and Kraftwerk Union began to challenge the Americans for a share of the world nuclear reactor market. Furthermore, the development of uranium enrichment plants in Western Europe by Urenco (West Germany, Britain and the Netherlands) and Eurodif (France, Spain, Belgium and Italy) threatened the American monopoly for the supply of enriched uranium. The ensuing competition undermined the already flimsy international safeguards system. In 1975 West Germany agreed to supply Brazil with a complete nuclear fuel cycle which would, theoretically, lay the basis for Brazilian nuclear self-sufficiency. Not to be outdone the American company Bechtel offered to build Brazil a uranium enrichment plant, even though official US policy sought to prevent Brazil from obtaining such a facility.

In contrast to the Atoms for Peace era of American nuclear policy, the US government was now more proliferation conscious. However, the attempts of the State Department to dissuade the West Germans from going ahead with the deal were regarded as little more than a thinly veiled attempt to protect US commercial interests rather than an expression of proliferation concern. But since the German nuclear industry has come to depend on the export market, American non-proliferation policies were unlikely to be well received. The nuclear market favours the buyer who is more likely, therefore, to prefer suppliers who are less insistent on full scope safeguards for the transferred nuclear plant and material. The recent French decision to supply enriched uranium to India might not have been reached if the French had insisted on stricter safeguards. Indeed French eagerness to conclude the nuclear fuel deal was not unrelated to the fact that:
The French were understood to be eager to resolve the Tarapur dispute quickly so that they can cultivate the government of Prime Minister Gandhi for lucrative arms contracts and deals for transfer of technology to compensate for tight Western markets. International Herald Tribune, 24 November 1982, p3.
The Americans were powerless to stop this deal going ahead.

The oil crisis of 1973 had a major impact on the energy policies of Western Europe, North America and Japan. The desire to avoid external dependence for energy supplies was instrumental in confirming the need for nuclear power largely because it appeared to offer the best road to energy independence. In terms of energy independence reactors based on plutonium were considered, even from the early days of nuclear power in the years after 1945, to be the best option; the fast breeder reactor produces more fuel than it consumes. In order to establish a fast reactor programme it is essential to reprocess the spent fuels from the earlier thermal reactors to provide the initial load of plutonium fuel. Even without commitment to the fast reactor reprocessing was, and remains, desirable because it makes more efficient use of the original uranium fuel, and when doubts exist about the future availability of uranium supplies the attractions of a fast reactor seem obvious. There is, however, a major proliferation risk associated with expanded use and production of plutonium since there is nothing to stop such material from being diverted from ostensibly civil stocks to military programmes. Accounting of plutonium is very imprecise and even a one per cent loss in the “statistical noise” would release enough plutonium to build several atomic bombs. For example, India has had a long standing commitment to reprocessing and fast reactor technology since it corresponds to a national policy of nuclear self-sufficiency. India commenced large scale reprocessing at the end of 1982. When we consider that India’s nuclear test (107m down a shaft at Pokharan in the Rajasthan desert on 18 May 1974) used about 15kgs of plutonium derived from the Canadian supplied CIRIUS reactor, the proliferation risk associated with large quantities of separable plutonium is only too apparent.

The Americans, beginning with the Ford Administration and carried on by its successor, concluded that moves toward undue reliance on reprocessing and the “plutonium economy” were events to be avoided; therefore. Carter’s nonproliferation initiative deferred American commitment to reprocessing, and the fast reactor project at Clinch River, Tennessee, was indefinitely postponed. This was done in the hope that such self-sacrifice would persuade others, primarily the Europeans and the Japanese, to do likewise. They were, however, unimpressed primarily because they had extensive plutonium projects which they regarded, especially the French, as vital to their energy security and hence political independence. Moreover, they suspected that concern with proliferation was yet another attempt by the US to regain its nuclear monopoly since the Americans were lagging behind the Europeans in reprocessing and fast reactor technology. In fact it was doubts about the reliability of the US as a supplier of nuclear materials that had provided the impetus for the development of indigenous nuclear facilities, such as reprocessing and uranium enrichment, in Europe and the developing world. In short, American opportunities to influence the behaviour of states through relationships of dependence were disappearing fast.

Profit first
Although non-proliferation was ostensibly a major issue for the Carter Administration, reflected in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, the interests of profitability came first; for example, the US continued to supply India with uranium fuel notwithstanding India’s refusal to sign the NPT and submit all her nuclear plants to international inspection. In Hazards of the International Energy Crisis (eds. I). Carlton & C. Schaerf, Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 1982, p 11) it is argued that “the export of reactors is now vital to the economic viability of national nuclear industries and has a higher priority than the overall main goal of preventing nuclear weapons proliferation”. Even a Commissioner with the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Victor Gilinsky, was able to remark that:
despite international safeguards, the NPT and various international co-operative arrangements, the history of the past 25 years suggests that in reality commercial considerations have tended to dominate security concerns, complicating and even undermining efforts at control. (“‘Plutonium, Proliferation and the Price of Reprocessing", Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978/9 No.2, Vol.57, p376.)
In an attempt to forestall the dissemination of “sensitive” nuclear technology the supplier states, including America, came together in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. The object was to restrain the spread of proliferation sensitive technology and impose stricter safeguards on all exports. Items on the list included isotopic separation plants, reactors, reactor control rods, fuel fabrication plants, heavy water manufacturing equipment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities. However, states in the developing world have no time for what they see as the technological colonialism of this nuclear cartel. In any case, as has been shown, commercial imperatives tend to outweigh any notional commitments to non-proliferation. Furthermore, those states on the nuclear weapons threshold can no longer be denied the expertise and hardware since they already possess them; moreover, such states as India and Argentina, both of whom are outside the NPT. can now export their own nuclear materials and know-how.

The International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation Programme, largely instigated by the US. was another attempt to find a technical solution to a political problem since its aim was to find a more proliferation resistant fuel cycle. The INFCEP failed to do this, nor did it generate any new radical ideas on how to deal with the proliferation problem. Needless to say the American nuclear industry was none too keen on the restrictive policies of the Carter Administration; therefore, it was not surprising that the nuclear industry eagerly anticipated the advent of Ronald Reagan.

According to the Reagan Administration nuclear proliferation was not really a problem. Mahlon Gates, Assistant Secretary for Energy, informed the Senate Appropriations Committee that he was "pleased to announce that the Department had embarked on a course of action intended to reverse the deterioration of our nuclear industry and restore us to a position of leadership in the international community”. Moreover, the earlier decision to deter reprocessing and the Clinch River reactor was revoked. But the principal threat to the non-proliferation regime comes from US military policy. Although there is a shortage of plutonium and tritium (necessary for thermonuclear bombs) the US military expansion requires an increase in the number of nuclear warheads. Previously fissile material from older warheads was re-cycled, but with an expansion of 15,000 warheads planned, existing plutonium stocks will be insufficient. This shortage is generating pressures to reprocess spent fuel from commercial pow'er stations, which will, as The Guardian notes (10 March 1982, Reagan atomic plan ‘breaks rules’), violate the principle laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency — and incorporated into the NPT — that civilian facilities should never become involved in military programmes. The most likely consequence of this development will be the further weakening of the already fragile non-proliferation regime. The technical relationship between civil and military technology is again proving to be the undoing of non-proliferation policies.

After almost forty years the nuclear arms race continues unabated. Civil nuclear technology figures prominently in the energy policies of many states in the developing world, and despite their assurances that such programmes are purely for peaceful purposes, bomb manufacture is within their grasp. It has been said that the nuclear genie is very definitely out of its bottle; therefore, the main aim of policy must be to put it back; however, the chances of achieving a successful non-proliferation policy, whether American or international, within the confines of capitalism are as great as finding the Lost Dutchman Mine.
John Walker