As the editorial in the July 6 Militant noted, the fact that one-third of the world's population lacks access to modern energy is a direct consequence of imperialist exploitation and domination. It will only be resolved by workers and farmers organizing a fight to take political power out of the hands of the exploiting classes. That struggle can be successful only if the workers movement forges an alliance with our fellow producers on the land, the farmers. To do so it must champion the demand to expand electrification throughout the world as part of bridging the political and cultural gap between the urban and rural toilers. This means championing the efforts of nations oppressed by imperialism to develop their economic infrastructure and raise the living conditions and cultural level in face of systematic efforts by imperialism to perpetuate its domination and plunder of the semicolonial world.
It's not enough to say that such problems will be resolved after a victorious socialist revolution—they are burning questions that must be taken up today by the workers movement.
In addressing the needs of the vast majority of humanity, the point is not which kinds of technology represent a "positive good" as opposed to a necessary evil, as Anestos poses it. All technology has its hazards. Again, this is a social question, not a "scientific" issue that somehow stands above classes and outside the class struggle. How safe or dangerous technology is, and how fast advances can be made to overcome seemingly unsolvable safety problems, depends on which class controls it.
Since the mid-1970s, the Socialist Workers Party has opposed the production and use of nuclear power in the United States. Class-conscious workers don't trust big business, the capitalist government, and the bourgeois political parties to place human needs above profits in addressing the questions of health and safety posed by running nuclear power plants. That was the main point addressed in the 2001 Militanteditorial that Anestos quoted.
Marxists don't pretend to have the solution to the problem of the disposal of nuclear waste. But we don't believe that safely harnessing the atom for productive purposes is impossible. Our starting point is not the half-life of uranium or other technical issues. We start from the demonstrated capacity of human beings to transform nature, raise the productivity of social labor, and advance the progress of civilization and culture.
It's worth noting that in the two decades after the splitting of the atom, Socialist Workers Party leaders wrote—in America's Road to Socialism by James P. Cannon, Too Many Babies? The Myth of the Population Explosion by Joseph Hansen, and Understanding History by George Novack—about the possibilities that could be opened for human progress by applying atomic energy if working people took their destiny into their own hands.
To those who want to make the issue one of the dangers of nuclear power, we must ask: what is their alternative to bring the majority of humanity out of darkness?
In contrast with middle-class reformers, we start not with the framework of the United States but with a world view of how to advance the interests of productive humanity. Two billion people—overwhelmingly in the semicolonial world—have no access of any kind to electricity or modern sources of fuel for cooking and heating. And the use of coal or oil—not to mention solar and wind power—is not the solution to meeting the long-term energy needs of humanity. Pollution from oil and coal-fired power takes a heavy toll on public health and the environment, especially in the semicolonial world where "scrubbers" and other costly "clean coal" technologies are more difficult to obtain.
While nuclear power accounts for 80 percent of electricity produced in France and 20 percent in the United States, the figure is merely 2 percent in South Asia, less than 1 percent in Latin America, and virtually zero in Africa and the Middle East. The labor movement should oppose attempts by Washington and its imperialist allies to maintain this virtual monopoly on nuclear energy, including their efforts to block Third World governments that already have nuclear plants from producing enriched uranium as nuclear fuel for electrical power generation.
It's from this class and international standpoint that working people should defend the efforts of the power-poor semicolonial nations to obtain and develop the energy sources they need—including nuclear power—to lay the basis for closing the gap between city and countryside. Making this a central part of what the working-class vanguard fights for is necessary to be able to lead a successful struggle by workers and farmers for political power. A struggle that will change the course of history.