Science must serve the people

Written by: Antonio G. on 15 June 2020

 

Recent, reactionary comments from a successful scientist in my field have emphasised the continued relevance of Marx's contention that

the weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.

Scientists owe much more to humanity than just the pursuit of disinterested enquiry. Our duties derive from the human community that necessarily precedes our discipline; distinct from the social continuum of human labour that reproduces our world, what forms of experimental investigation could possibly be conceived, let alone practically realised?

Questions like these should inspire those who claim the love of truth as their motivation to better understand the relationship between our scientific work and the historical circumstances that provide its material foundation. The ground-breaking contribution of the Soviet physicist Boris Hessen, who uncovered The Socio-Economic Roots of Newton's Principia and thereby founded an entirely new academic discipline, would be a good place to begin, as would this recent online discussion regarding COVID-19 and the law of value.

Here, though, the emphasis must be on beginning, as much more will be needed to fulfil our duty. Indeed, if scientists are to be anything more than “learned salesmen of the capitalist class,” we must develop an acute awareness of how our discoveries are deployed everywhere to maintain the hegemony of the present state of things through the sparkling edifice of technological advancement. As an Italian comrade observed in post-war Europe, when advanced scientific methods of production were being rapidly incorporated into the then burgeoning factory system, “the process of industrialisation, as it achieves more and more advanced levels of technological progress, coincides with a continual growth of the capitalist's authority,” so that “technological progress itself thus appears as a mode of existence of capital, as its development.” This is explosive propaganda for the bosses, and must be addressed as a matter of strategic priority. Thankfully, as all class-conscious workers understand, the power that our labour renders to capital is also, in the right conditions, a power that we can wield against it.

Knowledge is linked to struggle

How, then, are we to develop scientific methods of work that simultaneously exist within and against capital, that fulfil our duty to humanity? 

One of the great materialists of last century suggested where the correct answers to such difficult questions could be derived: “from social practice, and from it alone.” This means struggle. Scientists must struggle to discover the many ways that our discipline is political, we must develop theories about the role of our work— not just in opposition to the gifts that our labour surrenders to capitalist hegemony but also in anticipation of the disproportionate burden we must bear in the struggle to build socialism (1)— and we must experiment, urgently, with different forms of explicitly political organisation. The goal of our organisation will also be its substance: to initiate a struggle to bring our creative labour into the service of the proletariat; the only class whose triumph is a necessary condition for human survival.

How antithetical, then, to our crucial role in the fight for the survival of the species are the recent reactionary comments of a certain established professor, who uncritically imposes the vulgar, racist instincts of the most petty casual employer onto the scientific method under the guise of “meritocracy.” A successful revolutionary once explained that “in class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.” Thus, in response to our senior colleague, our first question must be: which class do your comments serve? Reiteration of the service that racism, sexism and every other form of discrimination have rendered to the tormentors of humanity since the very first fence was hammered into the mud around a field of freshly sown seeds is, here, unnecessary.

There is no royal road to science,” and, for the very same reason, neither is there to our emancipation from capital. Only through acknowledging the laboratory as a terrain for class struggle, only by recognising the role that our scientific labour plays in the reproduction of a definite series of social relationships founded on exploitation, can we begin to repay our debt to humanity. As a comrade with a keen interest in science once observed, “The grand industries and their science are not the prize for whomever wins the class struggle. They are rather the very terrain of that struggle. And, as long as the terrain is occupied by the enemy, you have to shoot, without tears for the roses.” (2)

 

(1) That same, great materialist identified ‘scientific experiment’ as one of the three forms of social practice that could be productive of correct ideas.

(2) In the original Italian, the author uses the phrase regarding roses (senza lacrime per le rose) in reference to a well-known radical poem, whose English translation can be found here.  

 

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