Science, technology, medicine and the socialist movement by The Radical Science Journal Collective

Download 271.13 Kb.
Size271.13 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7

The Radical Science Movement
The mentality which saw the abuse of science going deeply into whole fields of research makes natural the title chosen for the organisation set up by a broad coalition of scientists in 1969: The British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Its original members included social democrats, marxists and liberals. The first large-scale public event mounted by BSSRS brings us to another theme in our argument. The conference on The Social Impact of Modern Biology in 1970 was top-heavy with Nobel Prizewinners (Fuller). Some, like Maurice Wilkins, the President of BSSRS, were/are active socialists in science, but others were more conventional in their attitudes. A number of the participants in that conference found it elitist, hierarchical and authoritarian and began to set up new activities which were more collective and low-key. The results of this tendency included conferences on Workers' Self-Management in Science (1972), Community Science (1973), Is There a Socialist Science? (1975), Science Under Capitalism (1979) and Women in Science (1979, 1980). It also led the establishment of the Radical Science Journal Collective in 1971, with a view toward bringing the theory and practice of the widespread revolts of 1968 into the critique of science.
It is worth trying to capture some of the tensions between the approach which mounted the Social Impact conference and those just mentioned. Attracting a number of eminent scientists, hiring a large hall, BBC recording of the entire proceedings, paperback rights sold in advance, speakers on a rostrum, press releases — these conjure up a well-established approach to getting across a point of view. But in this same period the ways things were done were being critically examined. It was the period in which 'the end of ideology' was exposed as a form of neo-conservatism and in which knowledge and its institutionalisations were no longer seen as above the battle. A contemporary slogan was 'the long march through the institutions', transforming them democratically through teach-ins, self-organisation, anti-universities, arts labs.
The question of who defines legitimacy and on what grounds was one which led easily to criticism of the role of experts and eminence in legitimating power. It also led to a critique of the role of appeals to objectivity and scientificity in attempts to controversial political and social views. This deeply scientistic tendency was (and remains) rife in the social sciences, especially economics, but also in psychology and sociobiology. The tension between two tendencies which were developing in the nascent radical science movement can be captured by the difference between the people who organised the Social Impact conference and another group which staged a happening at the Durham meeting of the British Association in 1970 where they lampooned the way the BA does things.
The group which set up the RSJ Collective was only one anti-establishment and anti-careerist tendency in science at that time, although one based largely on academia. People whose views were more environmentalist, non-marxist and in some cases 'counter-cultural' began Undercurrents ('the magazine of radical science and people's technology'). Later, people who wanted to concentrate on working directly on factory and office floor issues focused on health and safety and began hazards groups and the Hazards Bulletin. Members of the RSJ group tended to come from history, philosophy and social studies of science, with some working scientists; their politics were non-aligned libertarian marxist or unorthodox CP or Trotskyist. The Undercurrents people tended to be radicals, many suspicious of explicit politics or of what they regarded as 'heavy' theory. Some of the most active people in the Hazards tendency were Trotskyists. All three groupings, however, contrasted their approach with that of the first generation of New Leftists in their emphasis on the politics of process and their criticisms of formal structures and careerism. In this they were in sharp contrast with the marxist scientists of the 1930s and with orthodox CP policy, which argued that one should rise to power at the top of one's profession or union and use that power for progressive purposes. There was an intermediate, first generation of new leftists who were less conventional in their ambitions but who, on the whole, assiduously pursued straight careers, and who found the Old Left writings on science more congenial than did others. This group found it hard to continue to work in BSSRS, while the liberals and most professors left as soon as the predominance of activists became apparent. Some who left, e.g., Sir Michael Swarm and John Ziman, set up a right wing liberal rival, The Council for Science and Society.
The Socialist Register published an account of the early days of BSSRS (Roses, 1972; Science for People 22 and 23). Gary Werskey’s critique of that version (not mentioned in the Roses’ 1979 article) attempts to consider the problems confronting the different generations (Werskey, RSJ 2/3) and Hilary and Steven Rose have responded critically to his accounts (Roses in Science Bulletin). The contradictions involved in trying to work collectively within hierarchical structures have caused severe problems in a number of settings, and they led to at least one major row within BSSRS (BSSRS Natl. Comm.). We believe that the resignations of Hilary and Steven Rose from BSSRS, and their subsequent publications and comments made both here and abroad about the radical science movement and individuals in it, are importantly connected with these issues in the politics of process. However, neither we nor the Roses have so far found a way, of discussing them which promises to be constructive and which avoids what strikes many people as malicious and petty personalisation of significant issues. We do want to express regret, however, that almost none of the activities and publications which we will list below were mentioned in Hilary and Steven Rose's 1979 Socialist Register article, which purported to cover developments since their 1972 article on the radical science movement. We believe that their separation of questions about the nature of scientific knowledge from ongoing publications and campaigns in the movement is not in the best interests of a movement which has any hope of changing the world.
In recent years the radical science movement has become a network of people in local and topic groups, concerned with particular issues and campaigns. Some of the published fruits of this have been periodicals. Science for People has included both eclectic and special issues, including ones on Women in Science, Health and the NHS, Agricapital, Nuclear Power, Science under Capitalism. The Radical Science Journal has published editions focusing primarily on scientific workplaces, the labour process, medicine, the Third World. Hazards Bulletin and Radical Statistics continue to appear in their domains, while a new periodical on Food and Politics has recently been founded. Many of the periodicals and pamphlets are directly geared to active campaigns. There have also been significant spin-offs. A pamphlet on The New Technology of Repression in Ireland led to a Penguin on The Technology of Political Control, both now in their second editions (Ackroyd et al..). Work in Undercurrents helped to produce a book on Radical Technology (Undercurrents eds.). The Radical Statistics Group contributed to a volume on Demystifying Social Statistics (Irvine et al..). The Agricapital Group produced a pamphlet — Our Daily Bread: Who Makes the Dough? — which earned a writ. The Hazards groups have produced a series on Noise, Oil Sprays, and a book Asbestos: Killer Dust. The Politics of Health Group's publications include pamphlets on Food and Profit: It Makes You Sick and Cuts in the NHS — What are We Fighting For?, while one of its most active members, Lesley Doyal, has brought out a book on The Political Economy of Health. Other publications have appeared or are pending from groups concerned with Race and IQ and Sociobiology, while other groups are active in Lead in Petrol, genetic engineering, office work, the politics of nuclear power (Nuclear Power: The Rigged Debate), micro­processors, and scientific unemployment. In the same way that other tendencies have tried to build stronger links with their respective reference groups, the RSJ collective has tried to work to bring issues concerning science into a wider left culture. Our activities in this direction include monthly seminars and major commitments of time and resources to the setting up of the Publications Distribution Co-operative and the Radical Publications Group, as well as recent involvement in CSE Books and Head and Hand: A Socialist Review of Books. Members of the collective have also edited a collection of essays on Science, Technology and the Labour Process: Marxist Studies (Levidow and Young).
In a wider sense, socialist critiques of aspects of science are becoming more common. There have been several significant pamphlets challenging the onward and upward image of the 'Mighty Micro'. Social Audit and War on Want have produced important booklets, respectively, on the marketing of food and drugs in the Third World (Medawar) and powdered milk in the Third World (Chetley). The ownership and control of seed on a world scale has also been exposed in a recent study (Mooney). The Centre for Alternative Industrial and Technological Systems has one foot in studies based at the North East London Polytechnic and the other in the campaign of the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee Corporate Plan — challenging management's right to control the origination of new technologies and products (CAITS). There are arrangements by which radical science publications exchange information and meet to consider common issues and campaigns, including the annual meeting of groups from France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Britain (Levidow in RSJ 10 and 11). In the area of feminist struggles, there is a Women's Therapy Centre in London (with a waiting list of over two years) and Well-Woman Clinics in several areas. We sketch these activities to help remind readers of the wide range of struggles and publications over the last decade around science, technology and medicine.
Hilary and Steven Rose were among the most active founders of BSSRS and organisers of its first conference, and Hilary Rose was the Society's first chairperson. We see their work as drawing on Bernal's position and developing into a critique of the abuse and incorporation of science, and of pseudoscience. They have done significant work on Science and Society, Chemical and Biological Warfare, Race and IQ. Their two-volume collection of papers on The Political Economy of Science and The Radicalisation of Science has been influential. We have included some chapters from it on our reading lists (RSJ 6/7), while we have treated others with qualified praise (Young on Lysenkoism), criticism (Barrett), and severe criticism (Levidow in RSJ 6/7). The Roses have countered forcibly and repeatedly, often with caricaturing polemic and innuendo. We wish we could find a way of engaging in debate but infer that their version of marxism seeks a single, correct line.
The same impulse which insists that a position disagreeing with theirs cannot be marxist has, in our view, led them to claim that a defence of IQ or sociobiology must be pseudoscience. It may very well be bad science, as recent critiques of Cyril Burt and Arthur Jensen and E. O. Wilson have argued. However, we maintain that the answers to reactionary research are not only scientific ones — that is, refutations combining data, technique and scientific criticism of the terms of reference taken by the research. This kind of refutation appeals to the authority of a 'scientificity' which entraps us in treating human differences as quantitative differences, as measurable quantities of unitary qualities, such as 'intelligence' or 'dominance'. Thus a scientific refutation can preclude more subversive responses, such as challenging ordinal ranking and the possessive individualism (of 'ability' or 'power') underlying it, both in classrooms and in collective work. We would also want to make directly political arguments against constituting research projects and framing nature in the terms employed by researchers in IQ and sociobiology. In particular, we have in mind the all-pervasive nature/nurture dichotomy, which naturalises historically specific social relations by attributing them to genes and which treats the individual as a manipulated object of ‘environmental factors', in a manner suitable for social engineering.
In this article we have made no attempt to give an exposition of the Roses' views, but we have striven to cast our disagreements with Hilary and Steven Rose in a wider context — one which we hope will be of real political interest to readers — and to avoid particular rebuttals which would be of only parochial interest. One matter of wider interest is the relationship between knowledge and social relations. In their attack on our approach, and in particular on 'Science is Social Relations' by Bob Young, they are almost silent about the major theme of that article. Although its critique was in the service of the development and articulation of forms of struggle among scientists, technicians, and medical workers, Young's article is treated as if its arguments were exclusively about epistemology. It is about that as well, but not primarily so. A second general issue: their argument about what is marxism (and what is not) is built of the very scientism that we have long been at pains to oppose. It is not that we are critical of their points of entry into the movement and its controversies, but we do deplore their attempt to foreclose other possible ways in.
Again and again they try to draw us on to a terrain of debate about dichotomies which we think it necessary to transcend, and on which we think it diversionary to engage either comrades or enemies. One example is the question of 'relativism'. We have argued that science, technology and medicine can be constituted by historical (class) forces — in their philosophy of nature, in their choice of research areas, their concepts and methods, and even in more particular and intimate ways — without thereby ceasing to be true. The Roses try to discuss our approach in terms of the dichotomy of objectivity/ relativism. Their determination to represent the issue in these terms is so great that they resort to invention. They say of 'Science is Social Relations' that 'Despite its claims, this position is the antithesis of Marxism and in developing it, Young draws heavily on the writings of Feyerabend and a particular reading of Sohn-Rethel' (Socialist Register, 1979, p. 326).
It is true that Young and other marxists working in science have found suggestive Sohn-Rethel's views on the relations between the commodity exchange abstraction and scientific laws. However, the Roses go on to lend some credence to Sohn-Rethel's views in a way which makes Young's appear absurd: 'But as a materialist he [Sohn-Rethel] eschews the claim that social determinants of a phenomenon dissolve the phenomenon itself, and nothing less than this constitutes the enterprise that Young sets himself.' (p. 327) This is a ridiculous, mendacious representation of Young’s views, as it has never occurred to him that social determination is a solvent. On the contrary, the bourgeois dichotomy of ‘social determination/material reality (or truth)’ is one which he has set out to transcend.
Paul Feyerabend's conceptual anarchism is another matter, since it is an avowedly relativistic philosophy of science. The claim that 'Young draws heavily on the writings of Feyerabend' is very surprising, since Young has never made any reference to Feyerabend's ideas, has never mentioned his name or works in publications, and in fact has never studied them. This is not a slip of the pen. In their zeal to tar Young and RSJ with the brush of relativism, Hilary and Steven Rose have made this claim in several recent published attacks. Yet it refers to an intellectual debt which is a complete fabrication. The only sense we can make of it is an overwhelming belief on their part that any attack on the scientific community’s self-conception of objectivity must lead to relativism, and since Feyerabend is a well-known relativist, Young must have drawn heavily on his writings. This is not, we submit, a very impressive example of objectivity and respect for evidence. [14]
A third instance of their pitching the debate on alien terrain is the way they treat our long-standing concern with the analysis of 'social relations'. Conventionally, science is treated as one thing and social relations as another, the relationship being interactive rather than dialectical: science and society, science in its social context, sociology of science, 'internalism' and ‘externalism' in the history of science. We have set out to see how far we can productively go in treating science as social relations, as practice in a totality of practices, to see how far the dialectical interpenetration can be shown to extend. The argument, as Hilary and Steven Rose understand it, hangs on different approaches to the politics of science and ideology. We are certain that the area of political and intellectual struggle is much broader.
In pressing the point that science — like any practical phenomenon — is social relations, RSJ has tended to do this by challenging the commonly-held distinction between science and ideology. It is in part due to this challenge that the issue is given its misguidedly epistemological status in the radical science movement, but our focus has always been wider than 'ideas'. We have tried to take the concept of social relations, and make it a common conceptual context for relating issues central to Old Left, New Left. and libertarian marxists. The expression 'social relations' conjures up a number of conceptions. One is that of ideology. Ideologies construe (or refract) events in terms of value systems based ultimately in class practices. The ordering of social interests in which conservative ideologies participate is that of the status quo, the capitalist mode of production: competitive individualism, hierarchy, authoritarianism, and more specifically, the commodity-form, fetishism, reification. Another facet of ‘social relations' is class politics, in the traditional sense, where the point of production is given primary status as the site of class struggle. Another is 'social relations' as advocated by libertarian groups in the 1960s and early seventies, meaning collective work, criticising of macho leadership, and emphasising process and prefigurative forms of socialist organisation — the issues currently being discussed in the wake of Beyond the Fragments (Wainright et al.). A further key connection is the concept of 'social relations of production' — part of the contradictory unity of forces and relations of production, which alters historically but retains the contradictories intrinsic to the mode of production (see Clarke).
These four inter-related conceptions of social relations are all parts of the approach which we have tried to bring to bear on science and politics. The Old Left response to our exploratory discussions has been, on the whole, a knee-jerk dismissal. Yet the resolution of these issues is crucial. How are we to relate traditional forms of class struggle with libertarian initiatives and insights, and with struggles to transform the relations of production opening up the forces of production to historical transformation with politics in command? In another context some of us have considered this as 'The Problem of Articulation in Left Strategies', where these questions are related to the problem of revolutionary strategy (London). Whatever the answers, one thing is sure — mocking dismissal the issue of social relations forecloses questions which must be addressed across political generations and tendencies.
Labour Process Perspective
We have realised that the concept of social relations was insufficiently precise and too vulnerable to caricature and wilful misconstruction in terms which reduced it to a position within the bourgeois dichotomy of subjectivity/objectivity. We have since moved into a theoretical context which is more familiar to marxists, closer to agitation, and less susceptible to uncomradely ridicule. By treating science as a labour process we are confident that socialists can talk more systematically about the structuring of social relations, in and out of scientific practice. We are also confident that this approach — which extends considerably beyond the radical science section of the socialist movement — can help agitation in more powerful ways.
From the earlier identification of science with progress, the critique has moved on substantially in the political generation of the New Left. Nevertheless, some of the current approaches still carry limitations essentially the same as those of the Old Left. The 'science as ideology' tendency approaches big science, corporate R & D and military industrial innovation as — in fact — capitalist development dressed up by 'scientific' ideologues in 'neutral', abstract or 'progressive' terminology. The major political task is seen as showing the reality of capitalist domination in the apparently neutral science (IQ, technology transfer, computer systems, combinatorial mathematics). The use/abuse dichotomy is the rock bottom form of this perspective, shading towards the more sophisticated pole of 'purge the ideology, and select the elements of an anti-capitalist knowledge'. The implicit (ahistorical) assumption is that capitalism is making 'ideological penetrations' or 'incorporating' a science which could otherwise have provided positive and liberating knowledge.
The kind of activism that goes with such perspectives is 'radical professionalism'. Radicals use professional expertise — and the material facilities available to them for intellectual work — to catch out science when it errs, to criticise aspects of science by way of 'demystification'. They claim that nature isn't like (some) scientists say it is — for example, IQ isn't really genetic, women and blacks aren't inferior, there really are no safe levels of toxic pollutants, microtechnology really won't increase employment. The argument assumes that if these ideological and politically vicious interventions in science could be rooted out, then the capitalist ruling class could no longer (ab-)use science to control the rest us. A purified, ideology-free science might then reveal the 'real truth' about nature, and even perhaps guide us in building socialism by, for example, defining a 'socialist environment' for socialist life (as marxist and radical scientists of the 1930s and 1940s began to do with studies of ‘social medicine', diet and housing). The politics of 'serving the working class' reinforces the radical intellectuals' position as a particular class fraction of workers whose practices become privileged by the logic of impartial knowledge.
Over the past four years or so, we have been developing a theoretical approach to activism aimed at overcoming the limitations of radical professionalism — limitations intrinsic to its use/abuse logic and its reliance on 'objectivity'. What is most significant about this alternative is that it looks first and fundamentally not at ideas, truth, and knowledge as such but as practices — not at ideology and science but at production in general and 'mental' labour in particular.
What we call 'the labour process perspective' recently came into British marxist circles from sources in France and especially Italy, where it originated in the critique of capitalist science and technology, mounted in Quaderni Rossi (1961-64) (Panzieri). It was met by a vehement counter-attack by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), just as our critique meets critical disdain from within the British Left today. The stakes were high, as Quaderni Rossi analysed the technicism underlying the PCI's role in subordinating working class interests to the 'planned development of the productive forces'— in effect, 'capitalist socialism'. Their critique provided the theoretical basis for the perspective developed subsequently by Potere Operaio on the 'refusal of work', in opposition to factory discipline and the 'social factory' (Bologna, Tronti). Its trajectory led, in turn, to the ‘area of workers' autonomy', now being criminalised by the Italian state, particularly as part of the PCI's Eurocommunist strategy (democracy for the bourgeoisie, austerity for the proletariat) (Autonomia; Working Class). So not only has the treatment of production as a capitalist labour process come to prove decisive for choosing revolutionary versus counter-revolutionary practices, but also this divide originated over two decades ago in a 'theoretical' debate over the non-neutrality of science and technology.
The RSJ Collective didn't know any of this history when they came across writings about the labour process during their self-education in social and economic history. Nor did the London Labour Process/Left Strategy Group when they found their critique developing from social history, science and technology to a general approach to the spheres of production and reproduction, especially as it bears on the problem of articulation in Left strategies. It is reassuring, however, to learn that later developments in a perspective which we found so congenial, especially for our attempts to re-think the role of science and technology in the capitalist mode of production, turns out to have had its origins in an attempt to bring to bear a critique of science and technology upon a critique of Left orthodoxy.
We came into contact with this approach through the 1976 Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE) at Coventry. Some members of the RSJ collective worked with socialist historians to prepare a session on the history of labour-process struggles. We were disappointed by the empiricism, narrative style and opposition to theory on the part of some of the historians, but the group nevertheless continued after the conference to discuss the literature of the marxist labour process analysis. Another RSJ collective member, working in industry, took inspiration from the presentation by the Brighton Labour Process Group at that conference (Brighton; Hales, Living Thinkwork). With academic colleagues he began to connect the ideas to his industrial setting. There were other connections, too. Having come to 'the labour process' through scientific work, the academic history of ideas, and the BSSRS of the early seventies, we felt optimistic that the concepts of labour and practice (praxis) would be invaluable in bringing the criticism of science into the mainstream of Left theory and practice. As Jacoby stresses, 'Labour is neither nature nor history, but their matrix' (Jacoby, 1971, p. 45). By treating science as a labour process, we felt that we could begin to clarify, in a way not previously available to us as British socialists, how much scientific production had in common with other forms of productive activity, under capitalism. We could stress the similarities rather than the differences — differences which allowed the area of scientific work to sink an absurdly long way down the socialist agenda at a time when ‘scientificity' was becoming the theoreticist fetish — without losing the connection with the political theory of process, central to 'Science is Social Relations'.
Like other labour processes, scientific practices are constituted by (1) raw materials. (2) means of production, (3) purposive activity, all organised in the creation of some use value (Capital I, chs, 7, 15). The raw materials can be chemicals or information or blood; the means can be ultra­centrifuges or computers or kidney machines; the purposive activity can be analysing sequences of amino acids or calculating airframe stresses or directing the bodily circulation through external filtration; and the use values can be establishing the structure of insulin or producing a minimum-cost airframe or keeping someone alive. These use values are embodied, respectively, in a molecular model and a scientific paper, a ‘computer-aided' design, and a flow of purified blood. In cases such as these, the labour process approach accepts that values are internal to the practice and intrinsic to its organisation and products. The approach opens up possible insights into points of struggle within workers' work situations by showing how values are embodied in the material organisation of day-to-day practice.
It will be apparent that we are taking the concept of 'labour process' well beyond its conventional limited application to industrial production of physical use-values which are also, directly, commodities. The incentive to develop the labour process approach to politics in science is that it facilitates the conversion (both analytical and practical) between living and dead labour, variable and fixed capital, social relations and their sclerosed form as technologies. It is worth recalling that Marx emphasised this when he said in the Grundrisse that it is the aspect of human labour which should be stressed, rather than a purely technical materiality, in each element of the labour process. Thus we have the more emphatic terminology: materials (or objects) of labour, means (or instruments) of labour, and living labour (Grundrisse, p. 691). In any labour process — be its product goods, services or facts — living labour applies instruments of labour to objects of labour, in order to produce a use value of one kind or another. That product, now embodying dead labour, can be analysed back into the elements of the labour process which produced it.
From a labour process approach arise two additional conceptions: the constitution of that product by social relations, and the origination of new technologies which are geared to particular labour processes. In other words, social relations are not simply a context within which an otherwise ‘material/technical' (a-social) process of production occurs; rather social determinants constitute the use-values being produced and the way they are produced. Furthermore, the social 'impact' of new technologies does not merely follow their application but is also built into them at the design stage. Thus we can seek opportunities for intervention in the labour process of science and technology itself, in the process of origination of new endeavours rather than at the point of application alone.
A reasonably attentive follower of the debate over science and ideology would see these three conceptions — labour process, constitution, origination — as an attempt to recast old positions in a new mode. This is first and foremost an agitational mode, less about knowledge or 'truth’ than about power and intervention. It is not marxism in general but the marxist conception of the labour process, producing use values; not the theory of fetishism as such but the coming-to-be of fixed capital, where capital's priorities become embedded in a project which thenceforward becomes increasingly refractory to willed, organised efforts to alter it; not a counter-hegemonic world-view but specific counter-hegemonic struggles where facts and artefacts are conceived and moulded. We think this is the most intellectually rigorous of all the available ways of interpreting science within history and has the broadest agitational potential. In attempting it we are not setting out to dismiss the use-abuse model. Tactically, the use-abuse response leads to what we agree are many of the right targets, analyses and campaigns. But strategically, the specific analyses and the limited problematic of use-abuse must be re-contextualised if the mutual isolation of science and the Left is to be broken through, towards enabling socialists to combat and subvert capital's restructuring around science.
A virtue of labour process analyses is that they plainly demand a detailed concrete examination of the relations of production in capitalist society. The centrality that sciences occupy in the forces of production of monopoly capitalism needs to be accounted for more completely than can be done through the conventional vocabulary: wage-labour, commodity form, surplus-value. Why are forms of mental labour so central in current capitalism? This characteristic question of the labour process approach provides the obvious connection for radical analysts of science. When pursued seriously, the question leads, we are beginning to think, to the conclusion that conceptual production as a dominant mode implies new relations of production within the general forms of capitalism. Such conclusions generate opposition in those marxist circles which see progress as taking place through the application of marxism but not in its development, or through the party but not the class struggle on the historical stage.
We return in the next section to the question of how to locate ourselves in that class struggle. What we stress here is that for radicals in and around science, as for socialists struggling elsewhere on the map of the capitalist world-division of labour, it is essential to clarify the concept of relations of production. What are socialists struggling against in capitalist societies? What is different, by definition, in socialist societies; what are we struggling for? If the practical centrality of scientific work and ideas heralds a real change in the historical form of capitalist production, then clearly it matters that this change should be pinned down. For example, though the slogan 'Safety or Profit' is a good one, and useful, it has limits grounded in the limits of surplus-value as a relation of production determining the immediate content of work. To the extent that other relations of production play a significant role in giving concrete shape to practices on the shop-floor (as well as office floor and kitchen floor) then this slogan will be inadequate — even misleading — and will fail to direct struggles to practical targets. In a world where the production of ideas (scientific ideas, but also advertising imagery and media vocabulary) plays such an obvious part in fixing the concrete conditions of struggle, activists must be prepared to follow the real shifts in the locus of power with shifts in their own analysis and practice.
Intrinsic to the labour process perspective on scientific practices is the insight that forces of production can never be in any sense neutral, and therefore open to 'abuse'. Conceptual and physical artefacts are produced in definite practical contexts and exist — as elements of social reality — only in definite practical contexts. They are never floating free, available for simply any alternative use. Ideas and things are tied to practices. Sometimes they can be 'stolen', used in another practice. But in general, a new use implies a new practice. The concern of labour process analyses of science is to show what are the contingent material and historical limits on 'freedom' in scientific production. This is, in part, a matter of analysing the apparatus of social practice: machinery and experimental apparatuses and physical access to them, physical commodities, human time-and-motion, the objective dynamics of a transnational money economy (rising organic composition, falling rate of profit), and so on. But the analysis of a labour process is more than this, as becomes inescapable when it is a practice of conceptual production — such as a science — which is addressed. The analysis of apparatus (which is the stronghold of economistic marxisms) must be complemented by the analysis of culture: languages, images, values, knowledges, purposes. It is only here that we connect with marxism's often implicit substratum of use-value, and it is only at this level that we can begin to feel that the analysis grasps class struggle, as distinct from simply capital, or machinery, or deductive logic and statistical inference. Use value is a matter of culture, not simply apparatus. The struggle for socialism is a struggle to transform the totality of use value, from use-value-for-capital to use value for human self-development.
Like any other species of use value, scientific ideas, technological artefacts, and medical procedures all exist only in specific social locations. To make explicit the politics necessarily built into science (as into all practices) requires careful analysis of objective and subjective articulations within the totality of the forces of production. The struggle to change these material connections, affecting the processes and products themselves, is quite inadequately conceptualised in terms of use/abuse, or even use/alternative use. It is a matter of reconstituting practices, not simply of re-using things. Our concept of socialism must speak to the re-appropriation of the forces of production through transformed practices.
Furthermore, not only do we refuse to accept capital's forces of production as class-neutral, but we can no longer even accept capitalist development as simply technical increases in the forces of production. In this period the development of fixed capital (automation, nuclear power, biotechnology) is increasingly geared towards fragmenting and degrading creative human powers, for the sake of extending methods of factory discipline ever further into the production and reproduction of daily life. It is no longer a question of how to liberate fixed capital from the capitalist social relations which contain and restrict them, but rather of how to liberate the working class' own forces of production from the destructive direction of fixed capital. Yet, at a time when the main rationale and 'benefit' of technological development is managerial tyranny over living labour, the trade union debate over the new technology is centred upon how the working class can 'share the benefit'.
The whole nature of both knowledge production and industrial production is shifting in ways which make the traditional 'radical science' concerns (social responsibility, use/abuse, truth) at best irrelevant, at worst misleading, for any kind of revolutionary intervention into struggles against capital's latest strategy. It is through the labour process perspective that we are attempting to make radical science adequate to the task of subverting and superseding the direction of capitalist development. The sometimes mocking reception afforded our critique within the left only serves to de-politicize the issues as to what capital is doing and why; indeed, it obscures how capital has constituted our very own 'professional’ skills as part of its forces of production which we need to contest.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5   6   7

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page