1970s >> 1975 >> no-854-october-1975

Can Science Benefit Mankind?

When the modern capitalist class began its struggle against feudal rule, it was compelled to enlist the aid of empirical science and materialist philosophy. As feudal rule and the mediaeval church were historically connected, any struggle had to begin with the discrediting of existing religious ideas or religious practices.

The Reformation, sparked off by Luther in Germany in 1520, was the first major revolt against the Roman Catholic Church, then the centre of feudalism. The second was the advent of Calvinism in Holland and England (Cromwell). The French Revolution of 1789, and the German revolution of 1848, finally established the supremacy of the capitalist class over the political power and property of the church. From then on, religious institutions had to conform to the laws that were devised mainly for the commercial and industrial advancement of developing capitalism.

The church had previously “saved men’s souls” by suppressing their intellectual development, and any philosophy or science was only allowed strictly on the oppressive terms dictated by the church. For example, no anatomical research of corpses was allowed up to the 15th century; physicians had to take up metaphysics if they wanted to continue research. Astronomy was astrology; chemistry was alchemy; science, such as it was, was in the hands of the priests. The language of science was the dead Latin of the church which had the effect of holding back the publication of new discoveries. The church itself had adopted many of the myths of Greek mythology, and the old Buddhist and Norse legends. They also accepted the Mosaic law that the earth was 5,000 years old and was based on spontaneous universal creation by a God. The church made sure that men would not be in a position to explain their environment, and what they did not understand they would worship with superstition.

The capitalist class needed science more than religion; you cannot base modern wealth production on the myths of the book of Genesis or Buddhist legends. The process of wealth production and distribution needs a full scientific understanding of the working of the laws of nature and the harnessing of those laws to the needs of the capitalist social system. One of the drawbacks of teaching several generations to think scientifically is the impossibility of arbitrarily shutting off the process. Where do you draw the line? How can you restrict thinking and the spread of ideas? The simple answer is that you cannot. The capitalist class, as with the church before it, wants the spread of knowledge to be under the control of the ruling body, but unlike the church which required ignorance, capitalism requires scientific knowledge in order to survive. So they try to square the circle by channelling the enquiring mind along the lines of new myths, or old myths refurbished. One of the ancient myths of capitalist society is that the production of wealth and its distribution is due to the energy and activity of the capitalist class.

It is to the discredit of international scientific bodies that they do little to refute this fantastic claim on the most elementary scientific basis. The reason is not difficult to find — they have become respectable. Their institutions are concerned with perpetuating the commonplaces of accepted practices. The Royal Institution and its international counterparts are castrated organizations, always looking over their shoulders to see if they are in harmony with their masters’ desires. No criticism is made of the disorder and anarchy surrounding the social order. They think that “realism”, as they describe it, should always have priority. This “realism” is nothing other than a servile acquiescence to the social relations of capital, and is a prostitution of the scientific method. It must be apparent to any group of scientists, particularly those engaged in medical science, that facilities for research are limited by the deliberate withholding of grants by governments and others. It must be frustrating to know the solution to a medical problem and be effectively debarred from carrying it out. Yet very few voices are raised in protest. In short, science has become bourgeois and is dependent upon capitalism for its operation and expansion.

In an article entitled “Science and the Quest for Human Purpose” (Times, 21st June 1975) Sir George Porter, Director of the Royal Institution, discusses the future of man in relation to science. He states that most of our worries and anxieties stem from a “lack of purpose which was rare 100 years ago”. He is referring to the large number of scientific discoveries made during the last century when capitalism was progressing and expanding. The purpose of science then, as now, is to serve the financial interests of the ruling class. Sir George also regrets the absence of a new philosophy and purpose. We wonder where Sir George has been these last hundred years.

There is a new philosophy and purpose — it is called Scientific Socialism. Its scientific basis was laid by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels over 100 years ago. Broadly speaking its purpose, to quote a phrase of Sir George, is to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This cannot be done by bourgeois science, but only by the application of a progressive proletarian science. We can well understand Sir George’s rather uncertain thoughts on the future of man. Capitalism is certainly in need of some kind of “spiritual revival” in the sense that they long for the good old days. What with no comfort from the theologians, and an uncertain economic future, it will have to find some mystic source of support.

Sir George ventured the opinion that the future of man rests with science, and thinks that the proper study of man may be through physics, chemistry and biology. We do not agree. The study of man must be concerned with his social being, his social relations and social organization, and the development of his productive forces. Physics, chemistry and biology are ancillary to man’s social organization, as are all branches of learning. What men need is the science of society — an investigation into the phenomenon of wealth production and distribution, the arrangement of social classes and the reason why social changes occur. In other words, what man needs is information about society, and bourgeois science will not provide that kind of information. We know about physics, chemistry and biology, etc.; what is now required is a form of social organization, Socialism, where we can benefit from existing knowledge. The benefits of science today accrue to the ruling class not to society generally — that is why it has become respectable. Far from serving mankind, it serves one kind of man — the capitalist.

Most scientists, like other workers, are socially and politically ignorant about the state of society. Some are religious, spiritualists, reformers, etc., but they are trained thinkers and should recognize the existence of social science which is fundamental to a true understanding of the scientific method. Darwin was able to solve the problem of how there originated vegetable and animal species in the struggle for existence. Marx succeeded in solving the problem of how there arise different types of social organization in the struggle of men for their existence. The spirit of research was the same in both thinkers despite the different fields. The capitalist has enjoyed the fruits of Darwinism; let us move quickly to the application of the science of Marx. The introduction of scientific Socialism will mean the freedom of all science to develop and fulfill its true social function — as a practical tool for society’s benefit.

Jim D’Arcy