Book Review: “Science and You” by J.B.S. Haldane

“SCIENCE AND YOU,” by Prof. J. B. S. Haldane. Fore Publications, Ltd., 35, Gt. James Street, W.C.l. 64 pp. 2d.

This book, by a well-known scientist, whose speciality is biology, is one which all workers can usefully read.

The book, very well written, in simple English, presents some of the latest scientific discoveries in an easily assimilable form, but what makes the book specially interesting is the uncompromising way in which the bearing of scientific facts on social conditions is brought out.

Concluding an article on bees, for example, he writes: “And although the worker is worn out after five or six weeks’ work in summer, it has had a varied life, including many different kinds of work, and a good deal of leisure.” Wage and salary workers who toil monotonously at the same task, year after year, with no prospect of changing the nature of their work, will readily appreciate the comparison.

Another article on population decrease shows that he clearly recognises that a system of “family allowances” is likely to cause a fall in the general wage level, for he says : “And if some system of family allowances is recommended” (i.e., by the Government) “it will be for the Labour movement to see that it is not used to depress the wage of childless workers and to break the unity of the workers.” Readers of the Socialist Standard will be aware that we have always maintained that any system of family allowances is likely to depress the general wage level. Haldane quotes the director of a French family allowance fund to the effect that ; “From the social point of view, the allowances have prevented the subversive trade: unions from using for their revolutionary purpose workers who are fathers of families. The great majority of these have remained outside the class struggle.” In other words, their economic conditions have been more bearable, whereas the conditions of those not receiving family allowances have been less bearable.

The reason for the interest of governments in the size of the population is explained thus: —

“Until recently, reactionary writers deplored the increase of population and thought that it caused unemployment; though it obviously could not account for unemployment in Canada or Australia. As lately as 1936, Professor Macbride said that the unemployed should be punished by sterilisation for producing unwanted children.
“Now their tone has suddenly changed. It is realised that soldiers may be needed for new wars, and that increasing population offers a good excuse for wars of conquest. In fact, as the experience of Abyssinia has shown, conquests do not afford an outlet for ‘surplus’ population. But they do supply labour power at starvation rates for predatory capitalists.”

Haldane makes a number of references to Russia, but one gathers that he has no first-hand experience of conditions in that country. He states that: “In the Soviet Union, where women enjoy a greater equality with men than anywhere else, the birth rate is not falling.” Apparently he has not seen the reports published a few years ago, to the effect that abortion in Russia, previously legal, is now illegal, and a punishable offence. The reason here is that Russia, like other modern powers, needs soldiers to protect her frontiers. We would recommend Haldane to read the books, by Yvon and Gide.

There is a chapter showing how scientific research is impeded under present conditions, and other chapters on sanitation and vitamins, making the whole book a good twopennyworth.

R. M.

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