Paul Lafargue's testimony on Karl Marx as scientist (for Les Schaffer)

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Wed Aug 20 13:47:48 MDT 2003


Well, Les, that's pretty shocking reading, and in view of that, Bush's
stated commitment to "freedom" sounds hollow indeed !!!

In some of his manuscripts written in preparation of his magnum opus, for
example, "The Results of the Immediate Process of Production", Marx
anticipates the gradual incorporation of science into capitalist business
activity, and history since then confirms he was correct in this. Now, if
science becomes a business, then scientific activity becomes guided by
economic motives, and consequently becomes affected by political imperatives
as well, the values of the ruling classes and so on. The evidence you
provide shows very clearly how the US government intervenes directly to
support the profits of particular private enterprises, even when doing this
conflicts with basic human, social or environmental requirements (human
health, environmental stewardship, safety... ).

Obviously you are aware of this already anyhow, I am not saying anything
new, but point is, IF that is the case, as it obviously is, WHY then do
sociologists and philosophers persist with ideas such as that scientific
activity is neutral, detached, purely objective and value-free ? As if
scientific activity occurred in a social vacuum, and is unaffected by who
funds it and benefits from it ? I suspect this interpretation is in good
part the product of a fragmented, technocratic divorce between the means and
ends of science, "we just do what we do, never mind the broader social
implications of what we do, or the use to which our work is put", which, of
course, suits private enterprise just fine.

The conclusion of this line of thinking is, that scientific activity is
always, in some sense, partisan. You can say that some forms of partisanship
are counterproductive to scientific activity, or prevent it from occurring,
yes, but it is partisan in some way anyhow. In that case, the only thing you
can do, is either ignore that, or consciously choose the nature of your own
partisan stance. If you ignore it, then you may be affected by partisan
interests without even being aware of it (the problem of ideology, false
consciousness). If you do consciously choose a partisan stance, then you
have to decide whose side you are on, make it explicit. I think the second
option is preferable, because then at least people can see for themselves
what the nature of your partisanship consists in, and if any doubt arises as
to a deleterious influence of partisanship on the objectivity of scientific
findings, this can be rationally evaluated. This means, that you say, that
scientific activity has overall goals, that you aspire to.

The issue to which Mandel refers, is that of partisanship versus
objectivity, but, he says, this is a false dichotomy, because we are all
partisan anyhow, even if we hypocritically claim we are not. Not taking a
position is also a position, which influences events, as Hegel already
noted. The true antithesis of objectivity is subjectivism, i.e. arbitrary
and biased treatment of scientific evidence, as evaluated by the epistemic
standards which a science sets for itself. But this has an implication,
because it means that for a science to flourish, a certain socio-political
environment is necessary. Whereas popular democracy does not guarantee this
environment, it makes it possible. Therefore I think you can say the decline
of effective popular democracy has a big impact on the possibilities for
scientific progress. Thus, I think that scientists should in the first
instance be in favour of effective democratic participation. Even so, in a
class-divided society, the dice are loaded; some people just have far more
resources with which to affect scientific development then others, you
cannot ignore the powerful effect of funding methods on scientific activity,
even within a democratic context. Personally, therefore, I think that a
democratic stance is not enough, you have to be a socialist and recognise
the effect of the conflicts between social classes on scientific
development.

I actually think there is also an epistomological benefit in this: namely,
if your social base consists of people who do not own a hell of lot of
property, and work for a living, then you are dealing with people who have
much less to hide, their lifestyle is more honest on the whole. The more
property people own, the more they have to hide as well, as a rule. At the
highest level, we have President Bush these days talking about "threats" and
"enemies" which he cannot even specify, and values which in reality he does
not really uphold or foster, there are hoaxes and frauds etc. We are dealing
here with character masks, with hidden motives, with interests which are
presented other than they are. A socialist, on the other hand, recognises
the realities of class society, and therefore can talk explicitly about what
is going on. And I think that benefits scientific activity, insofar as it is
vitally concerned with the truth, and with due regard for evidence and sound
reasoning.

regards

Jurriaan







More information about the Marxism mailing list