50 Years Ago: Scientists and society

To the socialist, the production of the means of living is a social process in which the professional scientist is but a unit. Whether he be engaged in the study of the stupendous by means of a telescope or of the infinitesimal by means of a microscope, he has to be fed, clothed and housed by the labour of others. Others have to delve and blast, to fuse, grind and polish, in order to provide the materials for his instruments. They have to assemble and adjust these instruments to his exact requirements. Others must collect rags and hew timber to provide paper that others, again, may print and bind in order that the accumulated knowledge of the ages may be stored in a form convenient for his reference.

At every turn he is dependent from first to last upon the active cooperation of millions of his fellow beings, not to speak of those with whom he comes in direct contact and with whom he must compare notes and check his findings.

Seeing, therefore, that the scientist is thus dependent upon society, his status in turn is determined by the particular form of the society which produces him. His means of living are the property of the capitalist class. They subsidise his university and endow his professorial chair; maintain his technical institute, found laboratories and colleges.

Is it any wonder, then, that they exact their pound of flesh; or, to be more precise, that, having provided him with the kingdoms of earth, they demand the surrender of his intellectual independence.

From an unsigned article, The Commercialization of Science, Socialist Standard, October 1928.