Editorial from the July 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists in the Marxist tradition used to call themselves ‘Scientific Socialists’. This was a way of avoiding associating the theory of socialism with one man, which the term ‘Marxist’ fails to do. But it meant more than this. It meant the application of the scientific method to the question of working class emancipation as well as to the world in general.
But what is the scientific method? It is a method of understanding the world based on first observing and recording experience and then analysing it and looking for correlations; then suggesting a cause and, finally, repeatedly testing this hypothesis against further observations until it can be said to a reliable guide to future experience.
Humans have always applied this to the production from nature of what they need. They have always been practical materialists here. It’s the only way that the knowledge of how to improve methods of production, which has gone on throughout history, could have increased. Science is the more systematic and more consistent application of this approach.
The application of the scientific method to the study of the world around us has led to the rejection of the idea of the intervention, or even the existence, of ‘super-natural’ beings such as gods or a single God. This brings science into conflict with religion. But not just religion. Religion, with its ancient texts and dogmatic insistence on such things as the resurrection of the dead or the reincarnation of souls, is an easy target. In the attempt to explain the world around us, it has been replaced by beliefs in the operation of equally mysterious but impersonal forces. Such pseudo-scientific, “paranormal” beliefs are now fairly widespread.
Believers in such forces don’t base their theories on sacred texts. They claim to accept and apply the scientific method and to offer an alternative scientific explanation of the same phenomena that science does. The problem is that, although they do observe and record experiences, analyse them for correlations and propose hypotheses for testing, they proclaim that their hypotheses have been proved despite their not having met the conditions for this. If these hypotheses could be verified then they would be incorporated into the general body of scientific knowledge: they would cease to be paranormal and become normal. In fact, there’s surely a Nobel Prize waiting for anyone who can prove that psychokinesis or ley lines or qi exist.
In the field of politics and economics, the idea of divine intervention has been replaced by that of secret human intervention –conspiracy theories, the conspirators varying from the Illuminati and the Elders of Zion to the Bilderberg group and international bankers. This is another case of drawing an unwarranted conclusion from observed facts. Under capitalism we really are dominated by the impersonal force that is the Market. Some people, sensing that they are dominated by something they can’t control, wrongly attribute this to the deliberate actions of some shadowy group.
This is not to say that under capitalism scientists are completely objective. Capitalism suborns everything to commercial interests, including science. Money can buy a scientist as a hired gun to promote a hypothesis favourable to the buyer or rubbish one that is not. Only the non-commercial society that socialism will be can free science and scientists from such perversions.