Jim is a Justmeans staff writer for Energy, Climate Change, and Transportation. "From my years as a debater prior to undergraduate work in Massachusetts, I have written about science and technology, carrying this focus into graduate school, where I examined the history of Birmingham and the early twentieth century South from working class and progressive perspectives. In addition to work as ...
TVA's Dogs of War Rip Apart Sustainable Business
A dialectic is ever at work in any complicated phenomenon. In the previous installment concerning the inception and early formulation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, one manifestation of such a 'dialectic' appeared as follows. The Tennessee Valley Authority(TVA) served as a mechanism for developing a capitalist country's lagging region, the backwardness of which threatened the entire polity: moreover, this developmental process pitted many of the socioeconomic antagonists against each other in ways that fostered creative responses to the political conflicts inherent in Depression; however, the result, paradoxically, was a glut of electricity.
The TVA narrative prior to this one, of course, contained a lot more than this in it. But all of the pieces there in one way or another fit within the rubric just stated. The upshot, which the battle between TVA and the utilities epitomized was the simple question, 'What in the heck are we going to do with all of this extra electricity?'--a 100% oversupply, more or less.
Keeping in mind that some things indeed unfold merely according to random chance--or, perhaps more apt a way to state the matter would be to say that clever folks see the forces in play and move them in one direction or another--the likes of this humble correspondent have to see the chain-reaction of lucky breaks in favor of big-business in this story as plausibly more than mere good fortune.
*The coming of World War Two would necessarily increase power-demand, as a war effort kicked into high gear.
*The happenstantial need to invent an entire electrical-intensive technological infrastructure, in order to create nuclear weapons, adds another layer of fortuitous accident .
*The ready presence of a vast army of unemployed folks who would sacrifice a lung, or their chance for normal children, if insodoing they can find steady work at more than minimum wages caps the whole process with such serendipity that one has to believe that either fate or very subtle design, or perhaps a mix of the two, underlies the entire eventuality.
"What luck! The TVA meets all of our needs" could in reality explain everything. A couple of points are worthy of note, however. The ideal placement of the personnel who guaranteed that this synthesis would end up looking like the 'complex' about which Eisenhower warned, retrospectively in fact, simply cannot be ascribed to chance alone. That level of naivete is inappropriate outside of the nursery.
The second point is to be on the lookout for prior evidence of a deeper intention or plan than appears on the surface. This openness to discovery is one of the most delightful attributes of writing about history. Yesterday, for example, I came across this tidbit, in a clearinghouse for undergraduate history resources.
|"The story of the Tennessee Valley Authority starts with Muscle Shoals... . The federal government acquired the land in 1916, with the intent of constructing a dam that would generate electricity needed to produce explosives for the World War I effort, but the war ended without a dam being built."|
One observation about stumbling on this is that other interpreters had not paid it much attention. It does appear in TVA's official history. No one is covering it up; on the other hand, no one suggests a pattern, in relation to a region, its industry, and its connection to military production.
This oversight therefore permits this humble correspondent to proffer something in the nature of a summative thesis. Perhaps a primary force in the shaping of the TVA was an overall strategic orientation of the rulers of capital toward the 'conquered' regions of the South, an adaptive alignment that both discerned and foresaw the region in terms of the promulgation of an imperial war machine that would rule the planet, in which both the cannon fodder and the artillery itself, so to speak, would emanate from the clement hills and fields of Dixie.
In any event, that's surely how things worked out. While it could all be luck, I don't really believe that's what underpins this sort of process nine times out of ten, as much as I am wont on occasion to complain when the dice don't go my way. It's a plan; its continued working, furthermore, is not in the best interest of sustainable business, renewable energy, or human survival. However, quite a story looms before us, before we consider such matters again.
Though beginnings are essential--after all, they inaugurate what is to come, one must also see the transitions, seeking to see how shifts and transitions occur. That TVA's entire process changed profoundly during the 1940's is obvious: community became an afterthought; industrial development skyrocketed; militaristic and secretive processes predominated.
The role that WWII played so palpably accounts for almost anything that integrated with its all-consuming maw, that the temptation exists just to say, 'well that's why it all happened the way it did.' And only an idiot would claim, 'Oh the mass murder of a hundred million cousins or so had nothing to do with the constructions of engines of mass destruction' that grew out of the TVA's war history and beyond.
That would surpass foolhardiness. On the other hand, when readers have dissected Jimbo's annals of the TVA, of which this is the second installment of four, they should come away with a richly complex skein of threads that inform the weave of this particular historical fabric.
From the Manhattan Project to McCarthy and the consolidation of the military-industrial complex, many often overlooked events, personalities, and forces played important roles. Moreover, the whole is much more interesting when the observer doesn't concentrate exclusively on the central factors that so clearly make critical contributions.
In my prior story, here is what I promised in today's telling. "So saying, here is a synopsis of what will appear next. Vannevar Bush and Albert Einstein create Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Appalachia makes Hiroshima possible. 'Socialism' makes utility executives very angry. Commies seem to proliferate in Knoxville. The FBI and HUAC root them out. Democracy is...what? Undermined is accurate, but it's a 'fine kettle of fish,' as an old friend likes to describe a smelly situation. Meanwhile, the H-bomb breadbasket, powered courtesy of TVA keeps on" provisioning the 'arsenals of democracy' with the finest quality lethal baked goods.
The inevitable implosions in Europe and Asia that end the decade of the 1930's find almost half of the outpouring of electricity from TVA dams wasting away. Real social progress has transpired, but many a property holder or other citizen who anticipates living without having to labor for wages has an ugly attitude toward the 'pinkos' in Knoxville who upset the bailiwick of the suffering propertied classes. And a lot of 'radicals' are drawing decent paychecks, working for a democratic vision of what the TVA can become.
Meanwhile, some interesting properties of the Uranium atom have excited tremendous enthusiasm, and fear, in certain circles well traveled by scientists. These men and women mainly ply their way through life with their brains attuned to whatever research question lies immediately in front of their faces. But a few have real connections, at the highest levels. We'll meet some of both sets of technocrats in upcoming paragraphs.
WAR, EXPANSION, COLD WAR, REACTION
The typical capitalist conundrum is glut and lack of ready buyers. War creates such a surge in demand for all manner of things, however, that glut nearly always turns to shortage. Even the one hundred per cent oversupply of electricity at the TVA's beck and call was stretched thin as the exigencies of the Manhattan Project came to the nation's future H-bomb breadbasket.
The following eight sections merely sketch out the important intersection between the evolution of the TVA and the human tinkering with fundamental forces for purposes of mass murder. Deeper and richer iterations can only improve the human prospect. On the other hand, a beginning is a good place to start.
Putting the Radioactive Cards on the Table, and Gathering the Stakeholders Together
Albert Einstein went to his grave carrying the mortification of mass murder in his heart. The scientifically literate had known since at least 1920, with Rutherford's speculations about the existence and freewheeling motive energy of neutrons, that weaponry of unparalleled destructive power was plausible.
Three Hungarians--Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, and Edward Teller, aware through following such matters, long before the internet made such monitoring automatic, that German and continental scientists who might end up working for the Nazis were pursuing a richer understanding of the Uranium atom, had decided that the U.S. would need to conduct similar investigations, on the chance that these researches might yield hugely powerful killing engines. They drafted a letter.
However, although these were ambitious and well-connected scientists, none of them trusted his personal influence enough--especially in light of so-far recalcitrant military authorities--to communicate the letter's call in the political arena. For this, they turned to Einstein, who agreed to append his signature so as to increase the likelihood of a real audience with FDR. "I really only acted as a mailbox," averred the fellow whom we all think about when we think about genius.
A key point, in the thinking of this humble correspondent--recognizing the import of political economy in the way that I do, is in the choice of message bearer, a Wall Street titan. "Within days, however, the plan became much more far-reaching when Szilard discussed the matter with economist Alexander Sachs. Sachs, who was an unofficial adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, urged that Einstein should write directly to the President. If Einstein wrote such a letter, Sachs promised to deliver it to the President personally."
Research conducted "over the last four months," according to the missive, "made probable the (possibility) to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of Uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new...elements would be generated." The text continued that this was "almost certain (to) be achieve(able) in the immediate future."
The note refers to the potential for "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." It recommends a person, operating "in an unofficial capacity," to coordinate research and development in this matter.
A week after the financier and the physicist delivered the letter to Roosevelt, the President created the "Uranium Committee," consisting of Sachs, Dr. Lyman Briggs of the Bureau of Standards, Colonel Keith Adamson of the Army, and Lieutenant Commander Gilbert Hoover of the Navy. None of these men were scientists, nor were they even vaguely conversant with the technical aspects of this matter.
These were experts in, respectively, money, the establishment of industrial parameters, logistics, and production. That this was so makes perfect sense of course, but that they constituted the entire committee also proves the political and economic nature of the task ahead of them; science and knowledge established the boundaries of freedom, but political economy determined the necessities of creating anything tangible.
Two days after its formation, the committee met for the first time, seventy one years ago, tomorrow. Here, for the first time, Szilard, Wigner, Teller, and their colleague, Richard Roberts brought atomic physics wizardry into serious contact with the fiscal and industrial common sense institutionalization of the Government's military establishment.
An interesting aspect of the background of this was the initial reaction of lower-level Navy bureacrats to Fermi's and Szilard's overtures the previous Summer. More or less, the militia ridiculed Fermi's ideas as little more than 'science fiction death rays.' Fermi ended up in a dispute with the Navy about his contract and refused to attend the Uranium Committee's(UC) first session.
Many sources portray this early phase of matters as a conflict between hidebound military professionals and visionary scientists. To an extent, such a view is totally reasonable. However, to see the resolution of the infighting as resulting from the scientists' overwhelmingly more profound knowledge seems superficial at best.
Instead, an annalist must delve the many interconnections here among the social constructs of science and knowledge and the economic foundations of politics and production, and so on and so forth. I am doing this as a basic draft outline right here in front of readers' eyes.
What amazes this humble correspondent is that, so far as I can discern in examining my own library and the internet in a fairly attentive way, very few sources have covered this arguably vital sort of storytelling assignment. One might just as well try to tell the tale of battleships without mentioning the steel production process, the nature of shipyards, and the importance of military budgets.
I have not reread every word, but I simply cannot discover this sort of assessment in Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Gregg Herken's gossipy Brotherhood of the Bomb, or most of the other volumes in my modestly extensive library. Furthermore, when I google "manhattan project" + "political economy" + "industrial production", I don't even get 500 hits, none of which on the first few pages proffers the sort of dissection that is going on here.
The only book in my physical possession that at least hints at the importance of such thinking is Cynthia Kelly's collection of documents in The Manhattan Project. And none of the bits from the earliest phases of the process tease out even the minimal details that I note here.
Two volumes that show up via database searches do direct a reader's thinking in this critically important direction. The Political Economy of Science, Technology, and Innovation, by Ben Martin and Paul Nightingale, offers a long-term view of how political economic factors have intersected generally with the development of technology and the knowledge on which it depends. They do not explore nuclear weapons in detail, but their perspectives follow along the lines that I have normally provided in these essays.
The Manhattan Project: Big Science and the Atom Bomb, by Jeff Hughes, does a similar sort of assessment as I am making here, including examining the way in which World War One produced a first phase of science, government, industry, and finance all bundled together in a recognizably modern fashion. For purposes of the foreground of the atomic weapons process as such, Chapter Four, "From Fission to Mission: the Origins of the Manhattan Project," would be essential reading.
The point of all of this perambulating, in any case, has been in the nature of seeking a certain thread that I have reason to believe will help people comprehend both how nuclear weapons came into existence and why they then developed along certain lines. The synthesis of forces was easier to see, early on, overseas. "The favorable results of Britain's MAUD committee in investigating the feasibility of atomic bombs was instrumental in eventually
spurring the US to action."
Further impetus, even more pointed, for work here in the United States also originated in England, where Otto Frisch and Rudolph Peierls declared, shortly after the UC came into being that, "As a weapon, the super bomb would be practically irresistible."
This tantalizing prospect of an ultimate death machine obviously was one driving force for such men as Leo Szilard and his cohorts, who knew first hand what the Nazis were engendering in Europe. The German fascination with Uranium meant Americans had better take an interest too.
The earliest conception of the program, though, utilized financiers and businessmen. This cannot be happenstance, unless we simply decide to ignore it. In the days following its first meeting the UC fairly quickly pulled together a report that recommended, on November 1, "adequate support for a thorough investigation."
While I am maintaining here that this proximate cause of TVA's transition, and of the construction of a nuclear weapons combine in Dixie, emanated from identifiable political economic sources, and developed according to a definite political economic dialectic, at the same time, this is not a matter of mechanistic clockwork. FDR shelved the report; his aide, 'Pa' Watson, said "The President wants to keep it on file."
In its telling of this period, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists calls the early elements of the atomic weapons program "Bumbling Toward the Bomb." The utility of such a view, however, is limited.
The organizational, financial, and industrial stakeholders had assembled under the policy directives of the United States Executive Branch. The coalition of scientists provided a spur, no doubt of that. But only industry and money could create the necessity to manifest what the scientific understanding of nature made available, albeit at a terrible cost.
Everything that follows concerns how this all played into a fundamental transformation of the TVA, of the South, and of the world. And political-economic relations and dynamics thereafter reigned supreme, after some inaugural stumbles yielded a more thoroughly grounded program, in which core institutions of the rule of capital played more and more central and consolidated roles.
Paying the Piper to Begin the 'Breadbasket:' the Manhattan Project as the Template for the Future
One can learn a lot by examining carefully the contents of certain committees, and their various relations with each other. The UC, under the leadership of Lyman Briggs, the industrial engineer and beat-counter, very grudgingly approved Teller's request, put in for the absent Fermi, of $6,000 to investigate properties of U-235 fissioning. Even this paltry sum was not immediately forthcoming; perhaps the rock-ribbed military conservatives were suspicious of the limping Jew and his friends with accents.
In any event, early in 1940, news from Germany, encouragement from Britain, and results from the Hungarians as a result of the meager credit line advanced in November '39, dovetailed with a second letter from Einstein.
|"Since the outbreak of the war, interest in uranium has intensified in Germany. I have now learned that research there is carried out in great secrecy and that it has been extended to another of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes, the Institute of Physics. The latter has been taken over by the government and a group of physicists, under the leadership of C. F. von Weizsäcker, who is now working there on uranium in collaboration with the Institute of Chemistry."|
This combination caused the President to dust off the report that he had 'filed,' after which he pretty rapidly appointed a higher powered committee, Its members included the President of the Carnegie Institution, Vannevar Bush, who directed the new group, the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). Joining him were the President of Bell Labs and the National Academy of Sciences, the President of Harvard, the President of MIT, and a certified American theoretical physicist from Cal-Tech.
As NDRC took over UC's reins, Briggs put in a request for $140,000 for more extensive modeling of possible reactor designs. At its first meeting, according to Bush, whose National Science Foundation model that joined government and military and business together was already percolating, according to his memoirs, the committee "agreed that the military system as it existed, would never fully produce the new instrumentalities which we would certainly need to win a war". -
Bush undercut the old guard at the War Department, not yet propagandized into the Department of Defense, and eliminated them from candidacy from the committee. He also lobbied assiduously for "direct access to funds."
Having gathered the means to play executive secretary to the birth of the military industrial complex, Vannevar Bush proceeded to push for even a more streamlined process. Though he had risen from his professorship at MIT, he wanted to leave Harvard's Conant and his alma Mater's Compton behind, both strait-laced sons of the 'best families' who likely didn't cotton to Jews or Hungarians missing a foot.
He convinced FDR to establish an independent, which is to say, no one except Vannevar Bush and enough helpers to get his agenda in motion, committee that came into being as of June 1941. The Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), while concerned with all manner of technological interfaces with war-fighting--from the most direct to the completely subtle--played the key interference and advocacy role for the State's early support for atomic weapons.
Under these conditions, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reemphasized the potential import of the committee's work. Soon thereafter, Roosevelt affirmed dispositively that the search for a fission explosive device should command the highest priority of the United States.
The incredible technical complexity of the overall process, in which multiple intersecting streams of non-existent technologies--even, in the case of Plutonium, non-existent forms of matter--necessitated new forms of administration, cooperation, and coordination. So much money, so much material, so much physical and intellectual and technological and logistical work, and for reasons as practical as victory, the key players wanted progress at any price.
In August, 1941, the Manhattan Engineer District (MED) was the result. Within a month, Colonel Leslie Groves was in charge of the entire process, with Dr. Bush and Mr. Sachs pulling strings and manipulating outcomes in the policy and fiscal spheres.
Corporate involvement speeded up at this juncture--the managerial wizardry and general business savvy of General Leslie Groves led him to pursue candidates such as DuPont, whose board and owners still held grudges about being called war profiteers three decades before. And he bullied them or lured them into taking part.
Within months, a veritable who's who of the Fortune 500, including Standard Oil, General Electric, Westinghouse, Ford, among others, had agreed to take on pieces of a program that was intentionally being parceled out to the far reaches of the continental United States. The politics of pork had ever been a specialty of the USA.
All of the efforts inherent in creating nuclear weapons begin with using some physical trick to concentrate the lighter Uranium isotope, which splits merrily even with 'slow' neutrons in the nucleonic neighborhood and generously offers up plenty of other neutrons, both slow and fast after this fission into smaller elements. This was to be DuPont's bailiwick, that and the collection of the recently confirmed and just-named 'element 94,' Plutonium. The dangerous and noxious and, as often as not, non-existent chemistry and machinery necessary to operationalize these multiple initial processes of isotope separation employed inordinate amounts of electrical current.
David Lilienthal had been waiting in the wings, his relationship with Vannevar Bush opportunistic on the part of both men. Not only was Lilienthal ambitious, but he was also passionately committed to stopping Hitler. Not only did he want to sell some of the excess power that threatened to swamp TVA, but he also had high hopes of something really 'cutting edge' coming out of the Authority's association with this new industry.
That the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the crusty and aggressive reactionary, Dennis McKellar, was from Tennessee certainly helped give flight to Lilienthal's multifarious agendas. When Roosevelt selected a few prime politicians for a 'need-to-know' briefing about what was about to become MED, the blatant pol said at the end of FDR's presentation, "Mr. President, I agree that the future of our civilization may depend on the success of this project. Where in Tennessee are we going to build it?"
A basic documentary source sums up what happened. "Some 60,000 acres of ridges and valleys that made up the area surrounding Oak Ridge was chosen as a major site for the Manhattan Project because of the close proximity to the new TVA dam at Norris, Tennessee. This afforded electrical power, availability of labor, and a relatively sparse population. The communities of Scarboro, New Hope, Robertsville, Elza, and Wheat, Tennessee, were chosen and given notice that all 3,000 residents were to vacate their properties immediately to support the war effort. Residents were given a matter of weeks to remove their possessions and relocate. To most, this meant leaving behind land that had been in their families' possession for generations."
The casual, essential brutality of the whole process staggers the brain. "The first mission at Oak Ridge was to design reactors that could produce plutonium. The reactor design was then supplied to the Hanford Reservation, where full-scale production was undertaken. The second mission was to produce the U-235 isotope of uranium at sufficient purity and in sufficient quantity to make a bomb. Prior to this, separation of U-235 on an industrial scale had never been attempted."
In the space of a few months, this portion of the planet went from being a mule-powered agricultural region, part subsistence and part market, to being one of the most advanced industrial regions on earth; it went from producing food and mud to producing mud and the basis for a mass collective suicide freely available from nature, and politically necessary for the war, and therefore turned into a huge sinkhole for loose capital, as it was in the beginning and ever shall be.
The beginnings of the Clinton Engineering Works and what was to become Oak Ridge National Laboratories was a functioning facility by early in 1943. While the components of this entire operation spread across the land, in some senses the heart of the whole program lay in the Tennessee Vallety. The disappearance of an electricity glut, as the Y-12 and K-25 complexes used as much as one seventh of the entire electrical generation of the United States was a happy by-product of creating the first weapon completely capable of annihilating humankind. The model was of a mutually interdependent relationship between TVA and nuclear weapons. An official history stated it like this. "At first glance, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) seem to have little in common. But they share a common geography (East Tennessee) and a common political heritage (both are products of the Franklin Roosevelt administration). Most importantly, TVA and the Laboratory have provided the scientific infrastructure responsible for the region's international reputation in two related fields: water and energy."
The institutional accounting was equally straightforward as to what made this farmland thirty miles from Knoxville so appealing. "When the nuclear project entered the valley under a cloak of secrecy in the fall of 1942, perhaps no other region of the nation had fewer scientists or less sophisticated laboratory equipment. In fact, government investigators seeking a location for top-secret, war-related research found East Tennessee's isolation one of its prime attractions (another was cheap and abundant TVA electricity). The Laboratory's presence drew top scientists to the region and provided well-paying jobs for machinists, plumbers, and other craftspeople."
The rest, as they say, is history. This match made in heaven and h*** succeeded in creating weapons that scientists for the most part found horrifying, the notion of 'testing' them on civilians positively maddening to the likes of Einstein and Szilard.
Stephanie Groueff, in the documentary collection The Manhattan Project, tells the tale of the scientists' being stripped of any but instrumental power in the process, with the earlier dismissed militarists and the always ubiquitous money-bags the recipients of operational authority, with the political set pulling the policy strings in that complicated dance with business that yields the powers-that-be.
The bomb, of course, acted as a prelude to imperial hegemony, and directly fostered the arms race. Since Little Boy and Fat Man dropped on Japan as an intentional 'object lesson' to the Soviet Union, one can only conclude that the H-bomb competition was the anticipated result, even if, in 1945, fusion weapons were merely another unproven nuclear theory, this one ironically, tragically, propounded by the Japanese prior to the attack on Hawaii.
While the political and economic aspects of this story should be clear, part of being human is honoring an ethical dimension to life. Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley spoke sagely about what he saw unfolding in the world around him in 1948.
"We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon of the Mount... The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living..."
Understanding How to Dismantle Citizen and Community Inputs
In areas as diverse as flood control and local planning, the hopeful period of the thirties came to naught at the end of the great slaughter, as the elegant monstrosity of H-bombs came to define the highest expression of U.S. and Southern industrial and scientific might. Despite reactionary sentiments in bureaucratic and legislative venues, however, significant citizen commitment to participation and agency continued to exist.
In the pressure cooker environment that the blending of a wartime top-secret effort with increasingly virulent anti-communism produced, however, the 'expert'-driven model of decision-making, which had always been a substantial force within the TVA, became the only option. Thus, this period set the stage for a collapse of community support, a growing cynicism about the agency's commitments and values, and ultimately a rejection of the organization itself at many levels of Appalachian society.
Jane Jacobs, whose vibrant approach to urban studies engages community building grassroots strategies and an openness to social democratic forms without any doctrinaire rejection of entrepreneurial efforts, has likened TVA's evolution during this period and in the decades that followed as tantamount to an interventionist approach to 'development.' These 'third-world' sorts of efforts inevitably alienate local communities and further bifurcate already polarized areas.
|"Such colonial-type economies, by definition, are not economically well rounded, cannot produce amply and diversely for their own people and producers as well as for others the way rich and more advanced economies do. They lack much range of opportunity, have no practical foundation for economic self-development, and are disastrously at the mercy of distant and often capricious markets for the few things they do produce."|
In an adjunct to TVA's institutional experience, the Clinton Engineering works, now known as the Knoxville suburb of Oak Ridge and still home to one of the world's premier H-bomb production facilities and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories that are the remainder of the Manhattan Project, suffered devastating layoffs after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The employment declined by more than half between August, 1945 and the beginning of 1947.
Arguably, such swings in employment characterize the sorts of colonial relationships to which Jane Jacobs referred. On the other hand, a greater complexity is at work here, inasmuch as the coming of the Cold War and the thermonuclear arms race provided to the entire area around Oak Ridge some of the largest ongoing influxes of Federal cash of any community in the country.
That the vast majority of these dollars ended up capitalizing industry, paying electric bills, and padding corporate bottom lines does not erase the fact that, collectively tens of thousands of workers drew higher-than-average wages as a result of the presence of the plant, which in turn depended on TVA's power supply. If one doesn't accept this reality, one can never begin to conduct a dialog about community capacitation in regard to communities like Oak Ridge.
Folks will shoot, or at least shout down, someone who goes on and on, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, about the evils of H-bombs, the toxins of atomic production, and so on. Precisely this buy-in to the 'culture of death,' a buy-in that Paul Loeb documents with masterful nuance, and a brilliant awareness of various dialectics, in his take on immersive journalism, Nuclear Culture.
His narrative, about Hanford, Washington, invites a similarly balanced, incisive, and insightful investigation into Oak Ridge, which for a variety of historical reasons presents even greater complexity than the situation in Washington. Such literary and mythic labor would both ground an understanding of the complex interaction between job and disempowerment, on the one hand, and weapons work and possibilities for social justice, on the other hand.
HUAC, Anti-Communism, the Atomic Energy Commission, and Calls for 'House-Cleaning'
The furious fires of the local and national monied sets, whom TVA's rise had so embittered, never truly burned out. Rather than a thorough dousing in the waters of TVA's lakes, such projects, and the focus on a war to establish the U.S.'s imperial potency, had merely banked the heated anger that, as the outcome of the war became more and more obvious, reignited and threatened conflagrations anew along the Tennessee and its tributaries.
One aspect of the work of HUAC was a real attack on 'Reds.' Union leaders in industrially powerful positions went to prison for contempt. Yet another aspect of the reactionary vitriol of such 'witch-hunts' is to provide an outlet for completely unrelated social tensions. The TVA drew such deflecting energies like a magnet sucks up iron filings.
Truman's Federal Employees Loyalty Program reviewed federal employees and fired them if any doubt was evident about an amorphously defined 'loyalty.' The House Committee on Unamerican Activities (HUAC), as well as Joseph McCarthy's efforts, increased the pressure, not only on actual 'Reds,' but also on anyone who had ever held a progressive position or given voice to a belief in equality and democracy.
Leaving aside the absurd criminality of a democracy making free speech and assembly illegal, unless the talks and gatherings pass muster with fascists and reactionaries and privileged thugs, another noisome element in such matters is the way that personal vendettas form the basis for false accusation. L.B. Bolt was 'a piece of work,' as the saying goes, and a lawyer to boot.
The collection guide to his papers at the University of Tennessee points out that, "After Bolt was dismissed from TVA because of the Veteran's Preference Act, he began his private practice. One of his pasttimes was gathering information on communism within TVA, and Bolt became one of the primary 'red hunters' directed at the Authority."
Obsessed and righteous, "Bolt (garnered) files on communism and suspected communist activities. The collection of newspaper clippings largely consists of articles about communism, top-ranking TVA officials, and government figures. Another interesting portion of the collection is Bolt's public figure files. He collected clippings and information on figures he suspected as being communist sympathizers."
Henry Hart is an entirely different matter. An admitted Commie, he 'sang like a parakeet' about all and sundry., while he wrote his dissertation and prepared for a lengthy career as a history professor. "In 1947 his testimony became pivotal in the Senate Public Works Committee's investigation into the Communist affiliations of David E. Lilienthal, Chairman of TVA and recent appointee as Director of the U.S. Atomic Commission, and in the confirmation hearings of Gordon R. Clapp, general manager of TVA and interim appointee as Chairman of TVA."
As is nearly always the case with such inquisitions, the vast majority of insinuations or allegations are nonsensically trivial. However, Hart made one stab at being a great 'squealer.' "Numerous clippings refer to an alleged 'Henry Hart letter' written to a Secretary of the Communist Party, confirming Communist activity in TVA and Communist sympathy among TVA officials."
Among the 'high officials' accused of the insidious evil of communism was TVA's budget officer for most of the forties, Paul Agar. His preceding Lilienthal to the AEC caused the conspiracy freaks to see 'red.' "I had resigned from TVA to take my position with the Atomic Energy Commission...without any prior knowledge of Mr. Lilienthal ... . When I agreed to take this position I had no idea of what was going to come with respect to the confirmation of Mr. Lilienthal as Chairman of the Commission or Mr. Clapp as Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority or what was going to happen to me."
This humble correspondent can almost hear the bemused befuddlement of this auditor. "But in the course of a bitter debate and controversy that ensued, I was described on the floor of the Senate along with Mr. Clapp and Mr. Lilienthal and Jim Rainey, another member of the Atomic Energy Commission, as notorious Communists by Mr. McKellar," the Senator from Tennessee so fond of licking the taste of pork from his fingers.
His interviewer at the Truman Library asked, reasonably enough, "Did he offer anything in support of that allegation?"
"None whatever, and Mr. Rainey's father, who was a very prominent Democrat politically in the State of Illinois, wrote to Mr. McKellar protesting this statement. Mr. McKellar wrote back saying that he was glad to hear that his son wasn't a Communist. That was all there was to that particular episode."
And this seems humorous. Lest we forget, however, people died as a result of this hideous nonsense; folks lost their livelihoods for years, or even longer. Many spent substantial time in prison. The hapless Rosenbergs fried at the hands of the United States Government and its compliant citizenry.
An attorney for a client similarly accused by the State of California mentioned an anecdote about Gordon Clapp's having 'lost' a job that he wasn't even seeking on the basis of hearsay, presumed guilt, and over zealous superiors in the Army. He was able to state the vicious stupidity of such actions in pleasing, lawyerly terms.
"This is the foul mess resulting from our toleration of political police in a cold-war hysteria. The evidence and witnesses in th(is) Communist conspiracy case come from this same cesspool and smell of it."
David Lilienthal was also an attorney. He also had a fine sense of the dramatic moment. In what must have seemed like days of interminable cross-examination in the form of insinuation and insult at the hands of the nasty Senator McKellar, he probably came close to losing his cool on many occasions.
But he only once confronted his accuser fiercely. The exchange is one of the most famous of the McCarthy era. It became a Washington Post editorial the following day, "This I Do Carry in My Head, Senator." Lilienthal ranted in a quiet but piercing voice for several minutes, leaving the entire session in hushed silence when he finished with the following lines, referring to our adherence to strict rules of justice and evidence and process.
|"(W)e insist on the strictest rules of credibility of witnesses and on the avoidance of hearsay, and that gossip shall be excluded, in the courts of justice. And that, too, is an essential of our democracy. Whether by administrative agencies acting arbitrarily against business organizations, or whether by investigating activities of legislative branches, whenever those principles fail, those principles of the protection of an individual and his good name against besmirchment by gossip, hearsay, and the statements of witnesses who are not subject to cross examinationthen, too, we have failed in carrying forward our ideals in respect to democracy. That I deeply believe."|
For this service of mildly upbraiding a hidebound Senator, Lilienthal is lionized in the liberal canon. So that recollection can be thorough, readers should also note that he enlightened us, that "(t)raditionally, democracy has been an affirmative doctrine rather than merely a negative one." His slights against socialism in the course of the hearing notwithstanding, and his fawning adoration of big business left out of the bargain, this humble correspondent can agree unconditionally with this brief in favor of 'strong democracy.'
A Time Magazine op-ed issued shortly after Lilienthal's performance. The editors there, may the Good Lord keep us free from any further depredations of Henry Luce(ferean) editorializing--ah, yes, we've got Rupert--were rather less tame in their savagery than was dear David, in comparison veritably sheepish in his condemnation of pinkish things.
In just the fashion that William Appleman Williams noted in his slim masterpiece on America's "great evasion," Luce's ideological boost for the super rich in the guise of patriotism conflated any hint of belief in social justice, any slender reed of critique of America's gangsterism on the world stage, with a sloppy wet kiss for Joe Stalin. In this at best foolishly Manichean view, "(S)ympath(y) to Soviet Russia" made all who felt that way "fellow travelers, confused liberals, 'totalitarian liberals'" who have never "understood the incompatibility of their views with democracy."
Au contraire! I am much clearer about Democracy than the dearly departed Mr. Luce, though I would not pretend to attain his standards as a propagandist. I like to stick closer to the facts and make my biases and preferences clear, rather than hiding them behind a flag or a cross or a hundred dollar bill.
And I was ever sympathetic to the Soviets. After all, they never invaded the United States. Their industrialists never financed and succored a butcher who slaughtered twenty million of their friends and family. I never could get my head around Uncle Joe, but I still feel a lot of sympathy for Communist Russia. And I'm a super fan of democracy; I believe in free speech enough to practice it and to encourage everyone else to do the same.
The 'Knoxville Fifteen' as the Death-Knell of a Progressive TVA
Plenty of personal tragedy shows up in situations such as the United States endured during the McCarthy convulsions. People turn on each other. People pummel others. William Remington, for the 'crime' of lying about being a TVA 'Red,' was murdered in prison.
One of the great privileges of doing this work, and here at 3:41 in the morning, folks can believe that this is work, is the chance to have amazing and unexpected encounters with people who are willing to bear witness. I certainly had never heard tell of the 'Knoxville Fifteen,' but because of this article, I now have this wealth of detail about a key period in a key place that helps me to comprehend my life in relation to the past.
Aaron Purcell's dandy little slice of life and documentary legerdemain, White Collar Radicals: TVA's Knoxville Fifteen, the New Deal, and the McCarthy Era, ought to sit on every bookshelf belonging to a citizen who cares about democracy. I've only had a chance to peruse it briefly, but I vouch for both its narrative sharpness and the impact and meaning of its central tale.
Since I have had the good fortune to discover a 'scoop' almost randomly, Purcell's account of how an online diary purchase led him on this multi-decade treasure hunt was just lovely. That this odyssey let him establish the honor and decency that many TVA employees stood for, while they also espoused labor unions and communism and equal rights for women and Blacks, was emotional. This is what I had intuited, and inferred, about the agency, but which many other people had naysayed or disputed.
He covers the historiography of the TVA, and how this neglected institution and our neglected understanding of it may in fact contain important guidance for folks worried about nuclear matters and energy matters and issues of sustainability today. The first section of the volume deals with the early idealism and radicalism that was so prevalent, and the way that the actors in this drama found their way into staff jobs at TVA headquarters and field offices. The second section deals first with how war transformed the context of that rebelliousness, and on occasion the content of the iconoclast's views, and then with the investigations, the smears, and the trials of William Remington.
The monograph began as a dissertation, about which one reviewing service spoke glowingly. "While reconstructing the lives and activities of the 'Knoxville Fifteen,' this dissertation argues three key points. First, a small group of 1930s TVA radicals commanded the government's attention because they were easy targets during the McCarthy Era. Despite the passage of time, the anticommunist sentiment of the 1950s made innocuous actions of the 1930s not only relevant, but worthy of punishment. Second, the culmination of 1950s government investigations into 1930s radicals symbolized the agency's break with its idealistic origins. During multiple anti-communist investigations of TVA, agency leaders successfully defended its past, while moving the agency forward as a government-owned electric power company. Finally, the CP activities of 1930s TVA employees were important not because of their radical nature, but because the government invested massive amounts of time, energy, and resources into investigating a small group of largely harmless intellectuals.
These are cousins who make up communities much like those that most of us today inhabit. They too wanted a better social environment; they too sought to heal rifts with the natural world; they suffered depredations at the hands of rulers who, for one reason or another--perhaps paltry, perhaps savagely sage--wanted to teach lessons about the consequences of resistance.
|"They came from all corners of the country--fifteen young, idealistic, educated men and women drawn to Knoxville, Tennessee, to work for (TVA). |
(T)hese young people became friends and lovers, connecting to one another at work and through other social and political networks. What the fifteen failed to realize was that these activities--union organizing and, for most, membership in the Communist Party--would plunge them into a maelstrom that would endanger, and for some, destroy their livelihoods, social standing, and careers. White Collar Radicals follows their lives from New Deal activism in the 1930s through the 1940s and 1950s government investigations into what were perceived as subversive deeds."
A key point that Purcell advances is that the very crucible of crisis that the hearings and hatchet-jobs represented gave people like David Lilienthal both to distance themselves from 'evil communists,' and to remove any hint--or taint--of community orientation and democratic idealism from the TVA itself. Of course, for Lilienthal, headed to the 'belly of the beast' at the Atomic Energy Commission, any hint of idealism except that associated with the consumption of goods was utterly verboten.
One reviewer made a brief comment about the book that gave me more than a little food for thought. She called the yarn "a fascinating account of the Knoxville left in the fifties. What is most striking is how different these fifteen idealists were and how isolated they were from each other for the most part."
Perhaps this could count as a key lesson of these brave and thoughtful folks, who so wanted a more decent life, morally as well as materially, that they risked doing what was true to their values. However, their lack of potent networks--the sort of cadre who can surround the jail cell, who can disrupt the pontificators, who can insure that sense of solidarity--must have contributed to the ability of their attackers to act with such arrogant impunity.
The creation of just such Peoples Information Networks is part of the purpose of these pages for precisely the reason that dangerous isolation must otherwise result. Manifesting that vision, I must say, is more difficult than having it.
Paducah, and the Savannah-River-Plant, and the Completion of the 'Breadbasket'
The concentration of capacity and toxicity in Oak Ridge perhaps was unsupportable. In any event, elements of the miracle in the mud there dispersed elsewhere in the region, in one case just outside of the TVA geographical boundaries at the Southern end, in the other case at the far Northern reaches of the watershed.
This dispersal of the H-bomb functions also served to reinforce the buy-in of different political jurisdictions, even as the new facilities invited additional upper-level corporate involvement. The expanded geography also extended the sweep of TVA's power grid, rather than concentrating it on 60,000 acres or so in Tennessee.
Thus, the Paducah, Kentucky gaseous diffusion plant(http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/paducah.htm) for enriching Uranium that came on line in 1952 guaranteed a steady massive base-load customer that TVA could use to justify all manner of coming expansion plans, such as its sojourns into coal and nuclear power plants. Similarly, the Savannah River Plant would send TVA power Eastward and lay the basis for further offshoots of both the nuclear pork barrel and the TVA grid structure.
As readers will see, both in TVA follow-ups yet to come, and in examinations of problems dealing with radiation, both the present-day SRS and the long-planned decommissioning at Paducah have become environmental nightmares. Moreover, as specifically the fourth and final TVA story will reveal, Paducah's record in regard to radiation safety was so weak that Federal legislation resulted to protect the thousands of victims from this facility alone.
Once more, paradox peeks out with a wicked, bloody grin. The promise of cheap power that saved lives and emanated from the natural cycles of water and season and mountain and stream became an escalating expense in an ongoing cascade of cancer and occupational illness, with hidden long-term clean up costs that we have yet to add to the ticker.
A Monolithic Formation of State Capitalism, Replete with Calls to Export It Far and Wide
Who among JustMeans readers knew that Harry Truman wanted to instigate a TVA-style development in Afghanistan? One monograph pointed this out in the following fashion. "The President explicitly linked development and American economic and strategic goals," the former the ready export of high priced capital and expertise, the latter the creation of a 'containment structure' that might impede Russia and China.
Thus, though Afghanistan had no 'demand' for 'development,' the logic of empire insisted that America treat such places as 'underdeveloped.' Whatever the process of growth, however, its choices were not those of the people on the ground. While all manner of projections of America's goals in this regard might show up--clinics that utilize pharmaceutical company medications, water treatment plants that employed U.S. engineering companies, and so forth, "When Truman thought of aid, he thought of dams, specifically of the...TVA."
This was a dynamic that showed up repeatedly through U.S. direct aid and via the financing of international agencies. "Truman's internationalization of the TVA repositioned the New Deal for a McCarthyite age. Dams were the cutting edge" of empire, in a sense.
In this way, in a perverse dialectical manifestation of what the TVA was trying to accomplish in the 1930's in the Appalachians, the infrastructure for a solar-based TVA appeared far away from Tennessee, but without the local schmoozing that had so characterized the situation among the country folk at home. Meanwhile, that interface at home between a sustainable infrastructure and the administrative apparatus of TVA, came completely to pieces.
If we have complaints today--perhaps that electricity bills are high, perhaps that credits for solar energy are too niggardly, perhaps that the fossil fuel and nuclear megaliths have untrammeled influence in the halls of power--then one responsibility is to reveal the source of the facts that contribute to our unhappiness. Women's Actions for New Directions offers people tangible ammunition in their struggles to get more resources for useful programs like renewable energy.
Basically, in this view, the nuclear and other capital intensive, primarily militaristic sectors that so marvelously serve as a sink for otherwise 'toxic assets' preclude investments in appropriate technology, human inventiveness generally, or most explorations of doing 'business better.' I have referred to and assessed such 'opportunity costs' before.
While vast indeed are the pools of capital that are currently causing an indigestive moment of cancerous dimensions among the bourgeoisie 'smart-money' guys around the world, they are not bottomless. Moreover, whether technically some greater amounts than currently fund renewable energy and community-based investments might actually be available, precisely the power of plutocrats to determine such outcomes is part of the 'opportunity cost' accounting that flows from this perspective.
Relocating this 'power to determine outcomes' to the community level is the practical rationale for my constantly calling for the most fecund flowering of democracy imaginable. This story reveals a historical, and in many ways ongoing, impediment to such blossoming; basically, any proscription of communists or socialists, as in imprisoning them or firing them from public service jobs, is an attack on democracy.
The general venality of anti-communism in the 1940's and 1950's is, if not well-established, persuasively argued and amply evidenced. Above, readers have learned of the negative results that attended a 'Red' witch hunt at TVA.
Moreover, the evil impacts of anti-communism in Knoxville are neither accidental nor fully in the past. To illustrate both of these assertions, one need only think about the line of so-called 'liberal' Presidents and politicos, from John Kennedy through Barack Obama. That a pattern, some euphemize it as a 'paranoid strain,' of 'red-baiting' persists is irrefutable; it serves a clear--and, in terms of democracy, clearly nefarious--political purpose too--to undercut and disvalidate even the most pallid attempt at reform.
Thus, while Bill Clinton rips the guts from any social 'safety net,' his administration receives the moniker of 'friend-of-Lenin' for all manner of tepid administrative adjustments, just as Barack-the-Magnificent 'merits' the mantle of Marx, despite loading his administration with both Plutocratic advisers and capital-friendly policies, all of which promise monopoly, imperial, 'business-as-usual' agendas into a radioactively illuminated future.
Focusing a lens on community, just as this overarching false ideation plays a potent part in National discussion, bureaucratic practice at the grassroots level also disempowers and enervates local capacity. One of the primary developments at TVA was something like this process.
A thorough search might turn up literally thousands of examples of such community deflection. However, for the purposes of today's posting, Philip Selznick's 1949 volume TVA and the Grassroots, methodically reveals the way in which, after its early years, TVA methodically replaced enfranchising engagement with distancing and manipulative management techniques that more or less guaranteed that the company agenda, on any given occasion, won the day.
This text shows the savvy and consciousness of the TVA in its early work, seeking to garner support and buy-in among locals. Often, "local citizens or presumably some vocal portion of them appear to have been suspicious of TVA because the same agency which was responsible for the damage was giving advice on readjustment to it."
Following its initial success in openhanded outreach among many such localities, during the 1940's, the agency found itself needing to find a way to finesse the community input that it had at first fostered. TVA backed, in various forms, the creation of 'commissions' that would do its bidding in the 'public's' name. "The device of working through state and local commissions, which could take responsibility for planning, was a convenient answer to this problem," notes Selznick.
The comprehensive subversion of science fits perfectly within this essentially bureaucratic schema. Readers may recall that Edward Teller, with his missing foot and his dramatic flair for what M. King Hubbert called 'subverting the facts,' was a player in the inception of America's H-bomb complex in Dixie.
This humble correspondent has personally reported two hideous cases of scientific malfeasance on the part of DOE in relation to workers at Oak Ridge. Dr. Steve Wing speaks of the horrific experience of being "told to get back down to (his offices in) North Carolina until (he) get(s) better results," meaning analysis that did not find the increases in cancer and mortality among radiation workers that he was in fact discovering.
Such cases, and more like this are demonstrable, do not in and of themselves taint TVA. But TVA, as readers shall see in the remaining two portions of this story, accompanies its turn away from community with a move in the direction of being the 'go-to' utility for the development of nuclear facilities. The secrecy and dissimulation that accompany this atomic direction will show up in the scientific practices of TVA as well.
A legacy of radioactive and conventional poison also accompanies this synthesis of electrical capacity and nuclear weapons and power production complexes, the full toxicity of which is only beginning to become apparent. Followers of this story will also see these 'externalizations' of harm in relation to demolition of old facilities and TVA practices in relation to both nuclear and coal facilities.
Despite all the difficulties, history can, as Howard Zinn argues, 'be a weapon.' Whether citizens are willing to grapple with and utilize these instructional modules from the past is an entirely different issue.
In multiple ways, however, the wartime and Cold War experiences of TVA give all manner of feedback and advice for those who would beat a path toward 'business better.' Similarly, those who would insure a renewable energy sunshine glow, in the communities where we live, rather than the dull glimmer of essentially eternal radiation, can obtain tangible insights into how direct democracy and participatory forms can either become more powerful in a transparent process of local involvement, or recede from view under the auspices of more efficient management and ideological purity.
Capital's seemingly ineluctable propensity toward empire and a concomitant growth of a military-industrial-government "iron triangle" is a recurrent theme in these pages. That an outgrowth of a 'New Deal,' which showed such democratic process in its early years, soon devolved, in the crucible of world war and technocratic embrace of maximally destructive and expensive death machines, certainly fits this pattern.
The region where this is occurring, as readers have also encountered, is one of the most biologically diverse and magnificent on the planet. The ways of the world, the way that geography impacts history, may effectuate such congruency, what appears as a juxtaposition of cradles of life with technologies of doom. Falling water may regularly lure those in search of power to operate nearby the machinery of thanatos.
In any event, more and more 'standard' investigations of these matters are noting the alarming degradation of important ecosystems by martial socioeconomic outgrowths of our gaggle of cousins. Environmental Histories of the Cold War, for example,
|"explores the links between the Cold War and the global environment, ranging from the environmental impacts of nuclear weapons to the political repercussions of environmentalism. Environmental change accelerated sharply during the Cold War years, and so did environmentalism as both a popular movement and a scientific preoccupation. Most Cold War history entirely overlooks this rise of environmentalism and the crescendo of environmental change. These historical subjects were not only simultaneous but also linked together in ways both straightforward and surprising".|
'Both straightforward and surprising' instances of degradation and resistance parallel TVA's key part in the creation of such Cold-War machinations, which, paradoxically, continue in robust form after the 'enemy' in that conflict has ceded the field of battle. The cited volume also examines "(t)he role of experts as agents and advocates of using the environment as a weapon in the Cold War," which many of the 'stakeholders' and scholars whom readers met today also advocated.
Whether one takes the whole case of the TVA as a transformation of an environment into weaponry, or whether one notes the use of TVA as a model for the export of imperial methods, the result is one of 'expert agency' of 'weaponizing' ecosystems. Observers have already met one stalwart opponent of such approaches, in the person of Lou Zellar, and other such grassroots heroes are waiting in the wings for encounters with readers in forthcoming articles.
Paralleling this enlistment of science to decimate 'Mother Earth,' one also witnesses specific manifestations of political confusion that mushroom forth from the experience of TVA, basically a concrete manifestation of the inanity of anti-communism. Thus, anyone who looks can find dozens of wild, primarily anti-semitic and anti-communist conspiracy theories that take on TVA as an expression of Jewish bankers' schemes to conquer the globe.
The Google search, for example, tva + conspiracy + jew, yielded almost 600,000 citations, most of them at the front of the line as inflammatory and as mad as "The Overlords of Chaos." Other interlocutors of such views, however, like the venerable 'America-First-Red-Baiter' Dan Smoots, create a semblance of plausible narrative in their rants. The Invisible Government, in lumping together the Council on Foreign Relations, David Lilienthal as a Marxist agent of Jewish empire, and various other threads, creates a fabric that does not instantaneously unravel or implode on the basis of its own insanity.
Still further ideological accusation actually inhabits the 'fringes of scholarship,' as it were, particularly in regard to 'Austrian School' and libertarian economic theorists. "'Creeping socialism,' an expression used in modern times to describe America's so-called drift towards a socialistic society, was coined by author F.A. Hayek in his book The Road to Serfdom. Published in 1944, Hayek's book warned of the dangers of state control over the means of production, which he perceived to be occurring, especially in regards to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), during the New Deal and the Fair Deal administrations of presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, respectively."
In the hyperreality of ecological dystopia and the surreality of ongoing mad promulgation of absurdity as a plausible explanation for the political economic substance of the present, finding a combination of discourse and movement that is positive and plausible is difficult. As these articles have maintained, however, such a mix of discussion and action must start with an elevation of consciousness and proceed to an inclusion of community voices and expansion of community potency.
Matching the might of industrial 'complexes' with the majesty of people power may seem just about now like wishful thinking, but a huge chunk of freedom is the recognition of necessity. An editor at the journal Political Affairs makes this point in relation to the work of Friederich Engels, whom we recently encountered.
|"Freedom is knowing what the laws of nature are and how we can use them 'towards definite ends.' ... both for the natural [or external] realm (physics, chemistry, etc.,) and for the inner or mental realm. These two sets of laws can be separated conceptually (the physical and mental) but they are actually one set in reality. ...This means the more knowledge you have, ... the freer you are in dealing with them and at the same time the more necessity comes into play... .'(U)ncertainty, founded on ignorance, which seems to make an arbitrary choice among many different and conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely by this that it is not free, that is is controlled by the very object it should itself control. And since freedom increases with knowledge of the world it, like equality, and law and morality, is necessarily a product of historical development.'"|
In this vein, TVA has developed the 'freedom' to create weapons of mass destruction out of the dialectic between water and mountain. If we would construct a different manifestation of 'freedom' from the same dialectic, say the implementation of community wind and water and solar programs--and where apropos, industrial scale projects along the same line--then we must confront the necessity of comprehending the political and social 'laws' at work in the development of both TVA's 'freedom' and our own 'free' chance to choose a different path.
Finding the dialectical thread that connects to the dynamic of raveling grassroots potential in such a way as to unravel the machinery of death becomes the necessary task of the citizen today who wants sustainability, who longs for 'business better.' Anything else is so much playground banter, technobabble-chitchat with no more political content than an announcement that one can create an i-Phone app.
A major component of what these forty five essays, and counting, have propounded is that seeking social, not to mention corporate, responsibility absolutely requires community capacitation and participation. Thus, an actor is only 'free' to stand honestly for corporate social responsibility, for instance, inasmuch as he or she is also ready and able to insist on 'the majesty of people power' vis-a-vis the corporate behemoth that shows one of its contradictory faces in the countenance of the TVA.
However much such delicate problems call for our most dedicated input, paradoxically, one critical point of the dialogic dance of political contradiction is to recognize that the promoter of sustainable business can neither insist that the emphasis be entirely on business, nor rant that we must highlight only eliminating the hideous and insidious monstrosities of radioactive water boilers. 'Necessity' forces us to step back and take a narrower view.
One hundred forty five years ago, at the climax of the true American Revolution, with 5,000,000 newly freed slaves and a conquered land beckoning developmental schemes that came to pass in the guise of such efforts as the TVA, Nation magazine announced a seven point process, numbers two through six of which could stand for what people like JustMeans readers need to do now and for the foreseeable future.
We must seek,
|"(2) to maintain true democratic principles; (3) to work for the equality of 'the labouring classes at the South'(and elsewhere in the empire); (4) to enforce the doctrine that the whole country (and world) has the 'strongest interest' in the elevation of the Negro (and all other poor and working class people); (5) to fix attention on the importance of popular education; (6) to inform the country of conditions in the southern states (and imperial regions); (7) to criticize books and works of art (and media) soundly and impartially."|
This estimable Prospectus of the Nation, however, did not start well. This error in initiation, arguably, continues to dog the publication that continues to contribute to the human prospect to this day. it begins well enough, "(t)o discuss current affairs," but its qualification of this necessity, "especially in their legal, economic, and constitutional phases, with more moderation than the (corporate) press" profoundly lames the entire effort.
What we must do, in 'discussing current affairs,' what is necessary if sustainable business is to have even a faint ghost of a chance to prevail, is the facilitation of working class voices and perspectives and agendas in regard to those affairs. Such facilitation, in turn, absolutely requires that the communities that working people inhabit evince the capacity to understand and depict the world as fully and richly as objective approaches and empirical tools permit.
Such a seven point plan would certainly provide an interesting basis for discussion. As my friend from long ago and far away was wont to say, "If you're waiting on me, you're backing up."