50 Years Ago: Sputnik Lunacy – Let’s Live on the Earth First!
The sound made by the Sputniks is, in fact, not of man triumphant over nature but of one nation gaining prestige against another. Nobody knows whether Sputniks are weapons or not, but that isn’t the point anyway. The big bangs, the bomb tests and the other push-button horror displays are the nations making muscles, like boys preparing for a fight that each hopes to scare the other out of; and now the Russians have made the biggest muscle of all, the visible proof of incredible technical development.
The implications go farther than to America and Britain. The “uncommitted” nations – i.e., those which have not declared or had to give allegiance to the western powers or to Russia – have to take notice. The Sputniks, flashing in the Russian shop-window, have made the American one suddenly dull by comparison. The conception of Russia as a backward, semi-barbaric nation has been pushed aside for one – equally mistaken of a great atomic-age civilization. Inevitably the competition has intensified: America now must have satellites at all costs. Did any space-fiction writer envisage a race to the moon?
There is, indeed, kudos to Russia all along the line, most of all because the Anniversary celebrations served to underline the fact that there were only forty years between the fall of the Czars and the launching of the Sputniks. To keep things in perspective, it should be realized that the development of Russia has been only that of a huge nation in the upsurge of capitalist growth. Within the limits of an earlier time, the growth of Britain in the nineteenth century was equally remarkable; or Germany between 1870 and 1914, from a collection of three-halfpenny states to a great power.
(From front page article by R. Coster, Socialist Standard, December 1957)