1920s >> 1923 >> no-221-january-1923

Science and the Working Class

Although many of the bourgeois scientists, like Professor Ray Lankester, complain that the capitalists do not spend more money on the promotion of science, the fact is that they spend sufficient to meet their requirements.

What are their requirements? Profits.

The capitalists live by exploiting the working-class, and only in so far as any scientific discovery will lead to the obtaining by them of a greater share of the world’s wealth, will they encourage the promotion of scientific knowledge.

There is, however, nothing new in this characteristic of the capitalists; their whole history is associated with this fact. In their struggle for supremacy over the feudal barons, the early capitalists discovered one of the obstacles to their advance was that pillar of feudal society, the Roman Catholic Church, of which Engels says :—

  “It united the whole of feudalised Western Europe, in spite of all internal wars, into one grand political system, opposed as much to the schismatic Greeks as to the Mohammedan countries. It surrounded feudal institutions with the halo of divine consecration. It had organized its own hierarchy on the feudal model, and, lastly, it was itself by far the most powerful feudal lord, holding, as it did, fully one-third of the soil of the Catholic world.”—(Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. Page 24. Kerr edition.)

Therefore, to undermine the “divine rights” of the feudal rulers, was one of the immediate tasks set before the capitalists; a task that was largely accomplished by the aid of science.

Coincident with the struggle of the capitalists to gain a greater share of political power proceeded the revival of scientific learning, and while science had hitherto been the humble servant of the church, confined within the limits set by the faith, and, says Engels, “for that reason had been no science at all,” it now revolted against the church, and sided with the bourgeoisie in their revolutionary mission.

For the development of industrial production, the capitalists needed a science which ascertained the properties of natural objects and the modes of action of the forces of nature. Thus were they constrained to allow the scientists freedom to study the forces of nature. Natural science and the newly discovered natural laws served as tools in the hands of the bourgeoisie against the nobility, clergy-rights, and feudal lords. Social institutions were proved to be man’s own handy-work, and not the result of divine intervention. So with science unhampered by the restrictions of feudalism, rapid advances were made in scientific knowledge.

At the same time such events as the discovery of the new sea route to India, the “fairyland full of immeasurable treasure,” and the discovery of America “with its inexhaustible supply of gold and silver,” also stimulated the growth of science, inasmuch as these discoveries opened up the possibilities of a world market, and satisfied the demands of wealth production on a large scale, as against the handicraft mode of production which prevailed hitherto.

From then down to the present time science has been harnessed to the car of industry, and it can be truthfully said that, nowadays, with its aid, wealth can now be produced almost as plentifully as water. But to the student of working-class politics, there is another side to the story. The socialist is not at all concerned as to whether the capitalists spend little or no money at all on scientific experiments, he knows that they will see to this themselves; what does concern him is that every fresh application of science to industry is a means of increasing the exploitation of the working-class. As the capitalist class own and control the means of wealth production, they also own the wealth when it is produced; only a minor fraction of this wealth goes back to the wealth producers; this fraction they must have to enable them to repeat the performance of producing wealth. Both classes will strive to obtain as great a share of the wealth as possible, but the capitalist being masters of the situation will be in the most favourable position; consequently, any new device to lower the cost of production will be eagerly sought after them. The most up-to-date machinery, or the latest discovery of science, as long as it can be utilised in the productive process, generally serves to increase their share of the wealth produced.

As an instance of the application of scientific methods as an aid to production, I have before me a report of a lecture delivered at the meeting of the British Association held at Hull. Speaking on the subject of Psychology and Industry, Dr. Charles Myers said :—

“That the function of the psychologist was to try to discover how unnecessary movements causing needless fatigue could be done away with.”

He then went on to give an instance of an application of this psychological test.

“He told us how in a well-known chocolate factory this had been overcome, and certain improvements had been suggested and adopted; and by the elimination of many unnecessary movements endlessly repeated, the workers had been able to increase their output ; and not only felt less fatigued, but also more contented at the end of the day/’— Daily News, September 8th, 1922.

Mr. Rowntree, of York, also testified to this in greater detail, and spoke of the excellence of the results obtained. So we learn that, leaving aside the point about the workers being more contented at the end of the day, by the application of the test the output of wealth was greater. As to whether the workers were contented at the end of the week, in the event of their discharge, our psychologist does not enlighten us. So just as the mathematical and other sciences have assisted in the exploitation of the working class, so mental science or, to give it its Sunday name, Psychology, is made to serve a similar purpose. Nevertheless, what has been said does not mean that the workers should not devote their I spare time to the study of scientific subjects, on the contrary they should use every means at their disposal to make themselves acquainted with science. As already pointed out, science in the hands of the master-class served them well in their struggle for their emancipation, as it has served them well since.

The workers must also utilise science to gain a knowledge of the means by which they can achieve their freedom from capitalist domination.

The study of the science of society, Sociology, which covers the entire range of human development, including the social sub-sciences such as history, economics, ethics, politics and psychology, will provide the key to the overthrow of the system under which the workers are robbed. The workers of the world must awaken to a recognition of the necessity of education, that is education that will give them an understanding of the laws of social evolution. They should learn all about the nature of the process by which they are robbed and kept in subjection. With this knowledge they will take the necessary action to establish Socialism; then as owners of the world’s forces of production, they will welcome every fresh advance of science as an aid to the happiness of society. Fellow-workers make a study of and organise for the establishment of Socialism.

Robert Reynolds.