Science and the British Association

The limitations of a society which has outlived its usefulness is shown in every aspect of art, literature, religion and science. Man must live, and whether he be a scientist, factory worker, writer or artist, under Capitalism his labour power becomes a commodity. The factory worker produces things, not because he likes producing those things, but because he is paid for it.

To survive in Capitalism, the capitalist must be ever increasing the efficiency of his industry and for this purpose he demands specialised scientists and psychologists to tell him exactly how hard he can drive his workers. What these scientists produce is a commodity and their livelihood depends upon the demand for such knowledge by the capitalist class. Gone is the individual adventurer in the field of science; all are absorbed in the capitalist system, driven to produce what can be sold in order that they may continue to do so.

It is not surprising therefore, that the recent meeting of the British Association, reported in the Manchester Guardian (10.8.51). contains much that displays the myopic vision of science gone mad. Dr. Meiklejohn, lecturer in Industrial Health, sounded this warning: “The clamant demand is for more coal, and to this end there is more mechanisation. But pause to examine the situation. Are we quite certain that, in some mines, more coal cutters and conveyor belts are not diminishing output by the deleterious effect upon the miner.”

Notice the placing of his words. The danger is diminishing output. The reason is. “the deleterious effect upon the miner.” Thus the profit and interests of the capitalist class are put first and the health of the worker only incidental.

Dr. C. G. Gooding, the Scottish Coal Board’s principal medical officer, when dealing with the effects of lighting upon miners’ health, said that the amount of lighting concomitant with safety was so small until twenty-live years ago that the miner was unable to use the most efficient part of his vision. This caused miner’s nystagmus with its deleterious effect on vision and its neurotic symptoms. But this disease was physical, he claimed, and was not caused, as some psychologists had claimed, from a desire to escape the dangers of the pit. When he went on to say that there was not much evidence that the improved lighting had increased output, we were rather surprised that it had been introduced. But when he added that the most important possibility was that the increased comfort would work “revolutionary change in the psychological climate of the industry by converting mines into underground factories,” we began to see what he was getting at.

The effect of dust inhalation on miners was discussed by Dr. C. M. Fletcher. He mentioned the prevalence of pneumoconiosis among the South Wales miners and said that the low tubercular death rate seemed to derive from the fact that the presence of pneumoconiosis disguised the usual symptoms and caused death to be ascribed to chronic bronchitis. He said that with the new regulations, miners were queuing to get back to work although still suffering from this disease and he wondered whether this was medically justified or merely expedient in view of our need for more coal. We know, however, that every day expediency takes over another portion of humanity.

Finally, Dr. Meiklejohn came to the point once more and said that it was a question whether the increased mechanisation which sprang from the increased need for coal would not eventually diminish output by the deleterious effect on the miners.

Giving weight to the point. Sir Andrew Bryan, a member of the N.C.B., said, “We are losing more manpower through pneumoconiosis than from any other cause.”

The cold way these capitalist whip-crackers and profit-watchers can deal with human lives as they deal with machines reflects the perversion that is the outcome of the last burst of a society past its usefulness.

One imagines the fanfare of trumpets greeting the arrival of the so-called psychology into the arena of capitalist apology. He went on to point out that the high incidence of pneumoconiosis in South Wales was related to the highest accident rate in any of the country’s coalfields. Analysis, he claimed, suggested a definite relation between the two. He did not commit himself to saying whether the physiological effects of the disease make men less alert or whether the fear of contracting it gave rise to a subconscious desire to be injured in order to get out of a unacceptable situation.

The final futility was left to Mr. C. A. Oakley who suggested that some people have accidents perhaps unconsciously to cover up some personal difficulty or to attract attention or even deliberately as a form of self punishment. One might give the same reasons for so-called scientists who make such futile statements as “some” people; it would be equally meaningless.

We in the Socialist Party of Great Britain have long known that in capitalist society profit comes before health and that health is regarded as a means of increasing profit. We recall the days when children of five years and onwards were working fourteen and fifteen hours per day in factories, and the employers who ridiculed the idea that they were overworked. They said that these hours agreed with the children wonderfully. Factory children, they urged, were healthier, more moral than others and more intelligent. Looks, they pleaded, were deceptive. “When long hours have to be worked,” said the manager of Mr. Gott’s mills, “the children are less tired than the adults.” For the children’s sake they deprecated shorter hours and it would be exceedingly prejudicial to their morals to let them out earlier. “ Nothing,” said one of these philanthropists who worked his children from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., “ is more favourable to morals than habits of early subordination, industry and regularity.” (Evidence of Mr. G. A. Lee, cotton millowner—“The Town Labourer,” p. 163.)

We know the capitalist who tries to hide his thirst for profit behind morals, religion and philanthropy. And to-day, the capitalists whose mental outlook is more refined and subtle hide their profit motive behind a huge body of pseudo-scientists, industrial doctors and fact-finding bodies.

The capitalist system defiles everything it touches; all who support or accept it allow their brains to be twisted and perverted by the contradictions it brings. Only those who see the solution to its problems outside of capitalist society can see all within it in true perspective, in its relation to history.

To find the cause of social evils is in the interest of all.

It is in the interests of doctors who see that the conditions which produce such diseases as tuberculosis are inherent in the system itself, that tuberculosis is an occupational disease of the working class; it is in the interests of criminologists who see that crime is caused by the very nature of capitalist society; in the interests of psychologists who see that the environment of the class is governed by the economic system, that men feel insecure because they are insecure; in the interests of economists who cannot solve the periodic unemployment, the ever-present poverty and wars within the capitalist system; in the interests of atom scientists who are transformed from agents of the emancipation of man from nature into manufacturers of the death of millions; in the interests even of the capitalist class who cannot escape the indiscriminating power of the atom and hydrogen bomb; in the interests of the whole of the working class to study the scientific case of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in order that they may see the solution to the major problems of the world, and that they may achieve that solution.


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