Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Capitalism and science

By J. Sykes

Enter a descriptive sentence about the photo here.

Without a doubt, modern science has achieved a great deal. It has given us automation with the potential to free us from toil, medical innovations that extend life expectancy, and an understanding of the laws of physics and nature. It allows us to light and heat our homes with the push of a button, and to communicate instantly across the world. It gives us the ability to produce enough to fulfill the wants and needs of everyone. Science is a cornerstone of modern society in terms of what we produce and what we consume.

And yet, despite all of that, we live in a world where automation doesn’t free us, but instead threatens our livelihood with unemployment. These great medical innovations are inaccessible to millions. And the most basic wants and needs of the masses of the people go tragically unfulfilled. Our world is instead characterized by poverty, waste, war and environmental crisis. Why does science seem incapable of solving these issues?

The reason is simple. We live in a class society, where the exploiting classes, especially the monopoly capitalists, enrich themselves at the expense of working and oppressed people here and all over the world. In the United States and much of the rest of the world, modern science is bound to the interests of this monopoly capitalist class.

The dominant ideas in society are a reflection of the interests of the dominant class, and science is no exception. As the British Marxist philosopher Maurice Cornforth writes in his essay, “Dialectical Materialism and Science”, “Modern science is the creation of the bourgeoisie. It is one of the most typical products of bourgeois society. And it carries the mark of its bourgeois origin in its methods and in its ideas.” In other words, science is a part of the ideological superstructure, which arises from and reinforces the mode of production, the economic base of society.

No doubt, the ideologues of the bourgeoisie will object: “Not so! Science is perfectly objective and untouched by class interest!” Well, let’s see.

Ultimately, the ruling class takes a pragmatist approach to science. It isn’t interested in science merely for the sake of expanding knowledge, understanding and human progress. On the contrary, its approach to science is guided by one thing and one thing only: obtaining the highest rate of profit. Capitalism takes the pragmatist notion of “truth’s cash value” to its extreme. Capitalist innovation relies entirely on the anarchy of production to determine what technology is developed and what is left behind. Financial interests and lobbying groups, such as those of the coal and oil industries, play a tremendous role in holding back technology that would present a challenge to their bottom line, such as the development of green technology, for example.

We can also see how the monopoly capitalist class has a history of manipulating scientific research for the sake of oppression. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould writes in his book, The Mismeasure of Man, “The history of scientific views on race, for example, serves as a mirror of social movements.” Gould argues that science is “socially embedded” and that “culture influences what we see and how we see it.” This is why, according to Gould, racist biological determinism was for some time the norm in evolutionary science. Science thus became a weapon in the arsenal of white chauvinism and national oppression, promoting racist theories like phrenology and eugenics.

Geneticist Richard Lewontin writes in Biology as Ideology, “Modern biology is characterized by a number of ideological prejudices that shape the form of its explanations and the way its researches are carried out.” Biological determinism has long been used to justify national oppression against African Americans, Chicanos, and others, in order to justify the super-exploitation of the oppressed nations.

We also see biological determinism being used to attack women and LGBTQ people. For example, the ideology of transgender oppression is grounded in a metaphysical view of biological sex which it pits against a dialectical understanding of gender. What does this mean? As Engels puts it in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, “To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. …For him, a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis, one to the other.” Biological determinism in regard to gender is metaphysical in this way, seeing sex and gender as inextricably linked, determined entirely by biological chromosomes, fixed, absolute, and immutable. This biological determinism is then used as a cudgel against trans people – as an ideological justification for their oppression hiding behind a claim to scientific truth, all in the service of maintaining the capitalist gendered division of labor.

In workplaces like Amazon and UPS, technology and science are used to track and discipline workers who don’t make productivity quotas. Artificial Intelligence is being used to replace workers in a number of fields. This is the kind of science and technology that the bourgeoisie is interested in developing and promoting.

In other fields science is likewise bound by the ideology of the ruling class. For example, genetically modified and hybrid seed production is driven primarily by the profit motive of agribusiness, rather than in the improvement of food in both quality and quantity. Take the agribusiness giant Monsanto, notorious for producing Agent Orange and for its seed patents. Monsanto instituted seed savings bans in order to ensure that farmers would have to buy seeds from them each season. Farmers defying Monsanto’s ban, even unwittingly, have found themselves fined for patent infringement.

In Colombia, for example, farmers who couldn’t afford to buy Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” seeds often ended up with their crops devastated by Monsanto’s aerial pesticides, or had their crops destroyed for containing patented seeds, even if those seeds were simply carried over by birds. Meanwhile, monoculture takes root at the expense of biodiversity, and the environmental crisis driven by capitalism escalates. This is just one example of how the brunt of capitalist environmental devastation falls upon those oppressed by imperialism. This is also true within the U.S., where environmental destruction disproportionately impacts working class and oppressed nationality communities.

The capitalists always and everywhere put profit over people and the planet. Coal and oil fueled the engines of the industrial revolution, and as such the technologies developed in the course of the industrial revolution were developed in line with and dependent upon the consumption of fossil fuels. This led not only to tremendous pollution, but also to the development of a fossil fuel industry with vast wealth and power. The U.S. imperialist financial oligarchy is deeply invested in fossil fuels and fossil fuel-dependent technology, to the point that they will go to any lengths to protect their oil interests, including military intervention at the cost of millions of lives. They oppose the development of clean energy technology and even promote climate change denial, taking a head-in-the-sand approach to the trajectory towards an uninhabitable planet.

While capitalism in its early phase promoted scientific progress and pushed technology forward in unprecedented ways, that is no longer the case as the fundamental class relations of society have come to hold back scientific progress. Marx explains this in broad terms. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy he wrote, “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.” The progressive advance of the productive forces is the main factor in driving science forward. Now, the only way to free the productive forces of society from the fetters of the relations of production is social revolution.

Socialists aren’t luddites. On the contrary, socialism champions scientific advance. Socialism fundamentally changes the way science is used by society. In this sense, socialism is science unleashed. Socialism utilizes the science most despised by the capitalist class, Marxism-Leninism, which analyzes the laws of motion at work in society in order to reshape society to serve the needs of working and oppressed people. This partisan science of the working class is put to work to remove the fetters placed upon the productive forces by capitalist class relations. Just as capitalist class interest has come to hold science back, so too can working class interest propel science forward.

Socialism replaces the anarchy of production and the drive for the highest rate of profit with socialist planning. Cyclical crises of overproduction are eliminated. Scientific education is prioritized. In this way, science is no longer a tool to increase profit, oppress people – and to line the pockets of the ruling class at the expense of everyone else. Instead, the working class in power can put science to work to make a world free of exploitation, toil, want, waste and war.

This is the world the socialist countries are in the process of creating. Look at socialist China, where extreme poverty has been eliminated, and where developing green energy and reorienting development towards environmental sustainability has become a top priority. Even the New York Times has to admit “There is no doubt about it: China is doing more than any other country when it comes to renewable energy and electric vehicles.” In this article from the NYT morning newsletter from August 14, 2023, German Lopez asks, “How?” The answer, he says, is “China has poured a lot of money into the research, development and use of clean energy, using its extensive manufacturing base to build solar panels and wind turbines and bring down prices worldwide. It has provided subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles, as the U.S. now does. And it has pursued, and surpassed, aggressive goals: China vowed to double its capacity of wind and solar power by 2030. It is on track to meet that goal five years ahead of schedule.”

What the New York Times doesn’t acknowledge is that this great achievement is a result of China’s socialist system. It can do this because the working class is in power. Unlike the United States and the other capitalist countries, the Chinese economy isn’t compelled by a drive for maximum profit at the expense of the people and the planet. We need to follow their example, but the only way to do that is through the socialist transformation of society. If we want science to play a truly liberating and progressive role, we have to free it from the shackles of capitalist ideology. And the only way to do that is to get rid of this parasitic, wasteful and destructive class of monopoly capitalists once and for all.

J. Sykes is the author of “The Revolutionary Science of Marxism-Leninism”. The book can be purchased by visiting

#UnitedStates #MarxismLeninism #MLTheory