This article was originally published at 4th Media.
While the United States is busy plotting the downfall of various anti-hegemonic regimes in the global south, it has also been pursuing another strategy to stave off crisis and possible loss of global supremacy: fusion technology, the ‘holy grail’ of energy.
Unlike fission, in which heavy atoms are split into lighter ones, fusion combines light-weight atoms. Fusion reactions, which cause our sun to give off light and energy, could use hydrogen, one of the most common elements on Earth, for fuel. Additionally, fusion energy would not produce the radioactive waste associated with current nuclear energy technology.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California, one of many such ongoing projects, is a military research lab aiming to produce a controlled fusion reaction using a series of high-power laser beams. If successful, the multi-billion dollar ‘ignition’ project may create a completely new source of boundless clean energy.
The prospect of unlimited clean energy via fusion technology highlights the main contradictions of the capitalist-imperialist system. While the development of fusion technology could provide clean abundant energy to all, instead US-led imperialism will likely use it to its own advantage: gaining new monopolistic power vis a vis emergent capitalist blocs (i.e., Russia, China, Brazil, etc) and other actors in the world-economy while reducing the relative strength of economies reliant on oil exports.
Along with working on fusion technology, the National Ignition Facility is part of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which devises ways to create reliable next-generation nuclear weapons without the need to test-fire them. Through the Stockpile Stewardship Program, the NIF is already directly engaged in boosting US-led imperialism’s monopoly on weapons of mass destruction, an essential component for the maintenance of its hegemonic rule.
The prospect of fusion energy also raises another contradiction. While US-led imperialism is pursuing fusion technology for reactionary ends, such an accomplishment would be another noose around its neck. On one hand, the tools and technologies capitalism unleashes into the world are meant to delay crises and smooth over contradictions, though they actually heighten their underlying causes over the long run. On the other hand, these are the very tools and technologies which can be seized and used for radically different ends. The same technologies in the hands of the revolutionary people can be used in ways which dramatically improve the lives of the world’s masses while establishing the conditions for a new mode of production based on just and sustainable distribution of resources.
Thus by ushering into the world such advanced technologies, capitalism and US-led imperialism also helps open the door for its own demise.
The future is unwritten, but various alternatives are set before us. Technology will continue to be developed, but the question remains how it will be used.
Rosa Luxemburg described our ongoing choice under capitalist-imperialism as between socialism or barbarianism. Various contemporary writers and revolutionaries posit it as one between global socialism or global apartheid; more liberty and equality or more hierarchy and oppression.
The question humanity must struggle around and resolve is which of these two polar trends emergent technologies such as fusion energy will ultimately serve.
Nikolai Brown is a writer, student, and activist living in Denver, Colorado, as well as the editor of Anti-Imperialism.com.