Sunday, April 16, 2017

Another Wandering "Intellectual" (1952)

Book Review from the April 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Science, Liberty and Peace" by Aldous Huxley, publishers Chatto and Windus, price 3/6d. net.

The book is a short one (63 pages) and for a while we gallop merrily alongside the author, enthusiastically cheering him on as he sets forth with clearness and precision the evils of the present system of society. “The oppression of the many by the few . . . the unprecedentedly efficient instruments of coercion in the hands of the ruling minority which make nonsense of the old techniques of popular revolt . . . the poverty of the workers, not only propertyless but many deprived of skill, since the operation of semi-automatic machines does not require skill." Mr. Huxley does not believe in the theory sometimes put forward that because atomic missiles are so destructive “it will put an end to men's inveterate habit of making war." At present there is no defence against atomic attack “but that does not presage the end of warfare" as in time instruments of counter-attack will be invented. Regarding present day methods of warfare he points out that “no nation even makes a pretence of observing the traditional distinction between civilians and combatants . . . but all devote themselves methodically and scientifically to general massacre and wholesale destruction."

Mr. Huxley refers to “State Socialists" and their “nationalisation schemes to centralize economic as well as political power" and states: —“ In cases where State Socialism succeeds Capitalist democracy by non-violent constitutional means, the rules of the political game are likely to remain, in many respects identical with those prevailing under the elder regime.”

Regretfully, as we proceed, we find our disagreement with Mr. Huxley growing. He tells us “The chief consequence of progressive science is a chronic social and economic insecurity," a condition, we would point out, which is a direct outcome of the present system of society.

Mr. Huxley suggests that “through organisations scientists and technicians could do a great deal to direct the planning towards humane and reasonable ends," as “applied science has not been used for the benefit of humanity at large." He thinks that scientists should ask themselves “Are they working for the good of mankind if the results of their disinterested research increase the power of the oiling capitalist or governmental minority at the expense of personal liberty and local and professional self-government."

“They should refuse to collaborate if their work involves destruction or enslavement.” In passing we may point out there are a variety of reasons why scientists cannot exercise any appreciable influence on the general trend towards destruction; mostly they work in teams, many are working “blind" and cannot foresee the outcome of their labours. Aldous Huxley himself, quotes the case of Clark Maxwell's “study of light and magnetism," and says “he would have been horrified to know that his conclusions would be developed and used in the dissemination of maudlin drama, cigarette advertising, bad music and government sponsored or capitalist sponsored propaganda." Apart from this we must not lose sight of the fact that scientists and technicians are wage slaves (high grade it is true), and also, to quote Huxley, “not immune to deceitful propaganda, which ensures their compliance, particularly in times of national stress.”

To digress for a moment, it has been demonstrated that science can be effectively hamstrung by a powerful and unscrupulous government. The Lysenko controversy is a case in point. (“Soviet Genetics," by Julian Huxley).

Aldous Huxley then suggests the desirability of internationally organised science, an international Inspectorate and the adoption of a security measure advocated by Lord Strabolgi, namely “the pooling of all scientific discoveries considered by competent experts to be actually or potentially a danger to mankind."

We need only ponder the present world situation for a moment to realise the futility of this suggestion. Also, as he himself says; “Once suspicion is aroused" (between nations), “governments will send their scientists to carry on research in caves, forests or mountain fastnesses away from prying eyes." He continues, “International trade has always hitherto gone hand in hand with war, imperialism and the ruthless exploitation of industrially backward peoples by the highly industrialised powers. Hence the desirability of reducing international trade to a minimum until such time as nationalist passions lose their intensity and it becomes possible to establish some form of world government."

We would like to put on record our unshakable conviction that “national passions" will continue to be roused while the struggle is waged for markets, trade routes and spheres of influence in which to dispose of surplus goods at a profit.

The ever increasing use of machinery, labour-saving devices and speeding up of the workers send production skying to hit the ceiling of limited markets. To-day the Press bewails the return of Japan and Germany to compete in British markets. Mr. Huxley foresees more trouble and sorrow when industrially backward India and China develop and their goods, produced by workers with a very low standard of living come into competition with the goods produced by the “better paid" workers of the west.

We do not believe in Mr. Huxley's hypothetical “Boy Gangster" who lurks in every Foreign office, every war department and every private home and gets a kick out of pressing a button and starting a war if he thinks he stands a good chance of winning it

We diverge on many points, particularly on his suggestions for dealing with the evils he has enumerated. He mentions the idea of World Government then argues that power corrupts and suggests a limitation by “decentralisation and de-institutionalisation" into small self-governing and co-operative groups. We find it difficult to understand how this even if attainable would mitigate the evils of the system or alter its acquisitive nature, in fact, while the profit motive exists, it is likely to complicate and increase competition between groups as well as between nations. Furthermore, as capitalist society hobbles from crisis to crisis “national emergencies" would call for some form of central government. In democratic countries the government (whether central or decentralised) would be voted into power by a politically ignorant working class, suitably well soaked with propaganda and (on the whole) prepared to accept and abide by their decisions.

Mr. Huxley thinks that the workers could adopt Gandhi's idea of “ Satyagrapha,” an organised form of non-violent direct action, but he does not “guarantee success.”

This sort of action (or non-action) might force concessions on a limited scale, similar to a strike, but it would only be “a sop to Cerberus” and the worker's position remain substantially the same, i.e., a wage- slave.

Given the necessary knowledge an enlightened working class can vote for their own emancipation, which will automatically wipe out all “international tension” and war. The present system is beyond reform and Mr. Huxley's ideas only scratch the surface. He has diagnosed the disease but has not delved deeply enough for the cause (i.e. the private ownership of the means of life) so he is unable to prescribe the only possible cure, common ownership by and in the interests of the whole community.
F. M. Robins

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