Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Commercialisation of Science (1928)

Editorial from the October 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Annual Conference of the British Association has come and gone. The topic of most importance appears to have been the alleged parlous plight of British industry.

Britain used to be “the workshop of the world." Now it is not. Its industrial capitalists no longer receive what they consider to be their fair share of the plunder of the world’s toilers. For some years past the capitalists of other countries have shown a callous disregard for the sensitive Britishers' feelings and betrayed their utter lack of a sense of decency by developing their productive capacity on modern lines, to the detriment of the erstwhile champion thieves of Europe.

Hence our masters are concerned to discover ways and means of intensifying the exploitation of the British workers, and the scientists are the boys they entrust with the job. Professor Sir William Bragg set the keynote by dwelling upon what he described as the intermediary position of the technical expert between capital and labour. The expert, he maintained, could see both sides, and thus help to produce harmony instead of conflict. In gastronomic phraseology, he might be said to play the part of the pancreatic juices operating upon the tender loin of the labour lamb (not so tender perhaps as formerly) within the ravenous maw of the lion capital. The chemist and the physicist improve the processes by which living labour is incorporated in the material framework of capitalist industry. The psychologist studies and seeks to economise the movements of the labourer. All are concerned with the elimination of waste, the reduction of the effort needed to achieve a given result, and thus to increase the return on a given amount of capital invested in wages.

Of course, the industrialists and their henchmen, the scientists, have little choice. Efficiency has enabled the U.S.A. and Germany to become the formidable rivals for world commerce that they are, and Britain has no alternative but to follow suit. We are merely concerned to show the absurdity of the supposition that rationalisation can solve the class conflict..

Industrially, of course, it makes the workers easier prey, but by so doing it intensifies the very evils from which they suffer and seek to escape. Unemployment, on the one hand, and over-work on the other, increase with every scientific advance, while the struggle against these 'effects takes place on a national scale and assumes by degrees (though unconsciously at first) a political form.

Our readers only need to follow events in other countries to see the similarity of causes producing similar effects. They may ask, however, Has science said its last word?

We answer that, so far as offering any solution to the social problem is concerned, technology and the so-called exact sciences certainly have. They are valuable to those in a position to make use of them (at present the capitalist class) mainly in relation to production, but production is no longer a problem, taking society as a whole. The question is what to do with the enormous surplus produced.

The individual capitalist group or nation attempts to answer this question by producing more cheaply than its competitors, and thus getting rid of its share of the surplus by selling at a profit; but as all groups must endeavour to follow suit or expire, the surplus grows and the problem is intensified. War offers temporary relief only, and stalking behind war comes what?—the social revolution! Hence Peace Pacts which do not guarantee peace. Disarmament agreements which do not disarm.

In this social anarchy the professional scientist is a mere hireling tool, an intellectual prostitute. His attempt to pronounce on the social conflict is an arrogant impertinence, insulting the intelligence of the worker, who refuses to put out his thinking as he does his washing.

The Socialist alone points the way of escape for mankind from their disastrous servitude to the diminishing groups of capitalist parasites, because he deals with the basic facts of social existence.

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 delicate 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 co-operation 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.

He is the product of his age. It is no accident that radium was not discovered by a cannibal islander, who would not have known what to do with it.

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 professional chair; maintain his technical institutes, 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. Professional science plays "Faust” to the capitalist "Mephistopheles.” Its function is the rape of labour.

There is, however, a germ of truth in the hackneyed adage that money cannot buy everything. It did not buy the brain of the great scientist, Karl Marx. With the aid of his friend, Friedrich Engels, he penned the economic masterpiece "Capital" which shatters the pretences and confounds the conceit of the servile, lickspittle bullies of the "intellectual (?) middle class" and provided food for the workers’ brains and nerved them for their last fight.

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