The Nautilus and the Sputnik

The Use and Misuse of Science
On 9th August two items of news reached the Press, the voyage of an American atom-powered submarine under the North Pole and the hint by the British Minister Of Supply that the Government is considering, the construction and launching of a British Sputnik. Here surely are two evidences of the marvels of scientific knowledge and human courage and ingenuity that no one need hesitate to glory in!! And so it might be if the human race had learned how to conduct its social relationship in a manner conducive to its own wellbeing and happiness. But that is precisely what it has not yet done.

The submarine “Nautilus” with 116 men aboard, had journeyed under the North Pole and the Arctic icecap from Alaska to Iceland, proving the practicability of cutting the voyage from London to Tokio from 11,200 to 6,300 miles; truly, as described in a message from the British Admiralty, “a remarkable and historic achievement.” The submarine is reported to have cost nearly £13 million, and allowing for all the other costs involved, this might be considered a trifle if it did in fact bring the kind of benefits to mankind that are claimed for the feat. But what in fact will it achieve? Its captain, Commander Anderson, said:—

“We were anxious to show the possibility of utilising this route some day as a fast commerce route.”—(Daily Telegraph, 9th April, 1958.)

What else has it achieved? A correspondent of the Daily Telegraph tells us:—

“A new ocean, the frozen wastes of the Arctic, has been opened up to navigation and hence to naval use. This is the meaning of the unprecedented trans-Polar under-sea voyage from Hawaii to Iceland, of the nuclear-powered submarine Nautilus.”

Then the correspondent, Mr. Hanson Baldwin, develops this theme—far removed from Commander Andersen’s words about commerce. Quoting an American naval expert he shows how a submarine firing guided missiles could range across the Arctic, with the Russian towns of Murmansk, Leningrad and Moscow well within range. “The whole vast Arctic coastline of Russia is potentially open to assault.”

From the Depths Below to the Moon Above
So much for the penetration of the icy waters. Now for the projected British Sputnik in space. The Manchester Guardian, in the seemingly thoughtful and sober way of which it is proud, discusses the project and doubts its advisability. But the Guardian’s argument is atrocious when viewed from the real interests of the human race.

It concedes that there are “virtues in carrying the Union Jack outside file earth’s atmosphere,” the virtues consisting chiefly of “a certain amount of prestige,” like that gained by the Russian and American governments already. But the Guardian’s editor considers the cost would be too great, unless at the same time some military advantage can also be gained in the shape of using the launching of a Sputnik to acquire experience with guided missiles.

Not that the editor underestimates the value of “prestige,” but he thinks that “the kind of prestige which Britain needs is that which makes it easier to sell locomotives in South America, motor cars in the United States, and electrical machinery in the Far East.”

“A Sputnik may help in this direction,” he writes, “though not as much as a successful Zeta or victory at Le Mans.”

Here we see the real motive behind it all, the one that poisons and distorts every official and commercial activity of the world in which we live. The scientists may talk of pure research to discover Nature’s secrets, and the Cabinet Ministers of benefits of peaceful commerce, but all the time their actions line up with the inescapable character of capitalist enterprise, the trade competition that gives rise to rivalry and war, with Nationalism and Patriotism serving as the justification for every hostile act including the bestialities of war itself.

How can the vicious circle be broken? There is only one way. It is stupid self-deception for the Manchester Guardian and Labour Parties of the world to dream of taming the cut-throat struggle through United Nations pacts and interventions. Continuing on those lines means continuing the history of the past 100 years into a war-torn future, with consequences beyond imagination. If capitalism continues, with the giant capitalist Powers, U.SA and Russia fighting it out, and with their respective capitalist allies and satellites all necessarily involved, the conquest of the Arctic seas and the conquest of space will prove as empty as and even more disastrous than did the opening of the Suez Canal nearly a century ago, about which just the same soothing claims of beneficial progress were made. (We can see in our day what the Suez Canal really did for the world.)

The only way out, and one the Manchester Guardian never even considers, is to end the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and the consequent ceaseless armed conflict for control of sources of nature-given materials, and competition for markets in which to dispose profitably of the products of the workers’ labours, and to launch out on the really great and fruitful adventure of organising world resources on the simple basis of production solely to meet the needs of mankind.

But that is Socialism and so far its daring simplicity frightens all except the small minority who hold to the principles of the S.P.G.B. and its companion parties.


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