Friday, January 03, 2020

Social Evolution, Socialism and Science

Your brain is the greatest weapon you possess; your ability to communicate is your tool of liberation; thinking, speaking and organising democratically and intelligently you are a force that cannot be defeated. Reason — the capacity to exercise our unique human capacity to organise our thoughts — to remember — to envisage and plan — to think and speak conceptually — to share thought through words — to use words to differentiate the self from the outer world and experience from fantasy —these hugely potent, definingly human, boundlessly creative forces which comprise reason will only wither and die if they are constrained. Words, written and spoken, are the tools we use in our task of trying to spread socialist understanding and we are therefore particularly concerned to clearly define the words we use. Language, like everything else in the world, is constantly changing, as new social experiences demand new words or as old words assume new meanings. Dictionaries only give the meaning of words at the date they are drawn up and even then merely describe how words are used rather than prescribe how they should be used.

This is why when there is an argument over a definition of a word this cannot be settled by a simple reference to a dictionary. To assume that it could is to assume that the definition of words has been settled once and for ail and that arguments over the definition of words are illegitimate. We don’t accept this, not only because we know that words change their meaning but also because we reserve the right to define certain words in ways which we consider more useful, from the point of view of understanding and changing the world, than the currently used definitions This is why we do not accept current dictionary definitions of such words as class, socialism and revolution. As dictionaries merely describe how these words are used they merely reflect what is in our opinion confused and confusing current popular usages.

When socialists speak of democracy we mean something very different from the concept the mainstream media provides. Instead of giving you permission to vote for some careerist to serve and define your political interests (improbably) for five years we insist that any meaning democracy must entail the involvement of the community at every level in political/economic decision making. When confronted by this definition of democracy our rulers and their media are incredulous and produce a torrent of reasons why this is impractical at best and political madness at worst. Most of the objections are ideological and do not deserve any serious consideration but there is one that has to be discussed: Does our technological culture depend almost entirely on the expertise of a minority of specialists whose knowledge cannot be easily understood by the ‘layman’ and is, therefore, inaccessible to democratic debate and decision? Are these ‘technocrats’ the only ones with the talent and ability to make decisions concerning, for instance, scientific research and technological application?

Greta Thunberg and others in the environment movement urge people to listen to the science and heed  what the scientific community says about the current climate crisis and what their projections expect to happen in the future.

Can socialism be considered scientific? Marx and Engels are said to be “ scientific socialistsThey were in the main scientific, analytical, in their approach to social problems.  We in the Socialist Party make the claim to be "scientific socialists". There are many definitions of "scientific" given in dictionaries but for our purpose we can settle on: "testing soundness of conclusions".  A scientific socialist to many was a party member who knew the Periodic Table. We are, however, not scientists in the sense of people in white coats working in labs, finding our answers in test tubes. In academia a theory is said to be ‘scientific’ if its has been peer-reviewed and approved by practising scientists.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.

Inside socialism it is the application of the scientific method to the question of working class emancipation as well as to the world in general. Socialists apply a scientific method, routinely applied in the natural sciences and we hold that socialist knowledge bears direct comparison with scientific knowledge. Socialists in the Marxist tradition used to call themselves ‘scientific socialists’. Marx argued that his scientific method penetrated the surface of capitalist social relations to reveal their inner workings. His labour theory of value shows the exploitative nature of capitalism, whereas political economy takes capitalism at face value as the free and equal exchange of commodities in the market.

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. It’s the only way that the knowledge of how to improve methods of technology, 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 God and his intervention. Those who criticise our rejection of religious beliefs do not perhaps grasp the “scientific” nature of the case for socialism, that it is rooted in the real world of hard facts and reliable evidence, and so must people be if the world is to see any real progress.
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 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.

Scientific socialism comprehends the socialist task to be the transformation of society. The analysis of capitalist society and of the social development leading up to it was provided by Marx in his book Capital. Marx’s analytic method was to proceed by simplifying concrete and complex manifestations into an abstraction, which becomes less and less complex until we get at the simplest conception. Then, by systematically adding complicating factors, we start on our return journey towards empirical reality. In short, Marx was a believer in abstraction, systematic analysis, and successive approximations to a reality too complex to grasp directly.

Many unacquainted with the Socialist Party are startled by the party’s description of their “scientific socialism”. But we explain that it is the “method” that was “scientific”, not the membership. We aren’t simply saying that the case for socialism was a logical one. It is more than that. Any idea can be expressed in logical terms. What was “scientific” was not so much the argument itself but the means by which the argument was first thought out, the habitual mode of thinking of the individual. And the scientific method which socialists follow is both open-minded and sceptical, willing to embrace or drop an idea depending on the evidence, willing to change the theory if the evidence demands it. Carl Sagan described it well:
“Science is generated by and devoted to free enquiry: the idea that any hypothesis, no matter how strange, deserves to be considered on its merits. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge.”

Marx’s co-ordination of historical facts and explanation of historical movement brought the whole theory of socialism from the misty dreams of the vague desires of the earlier Utopians to the clearly defined empire of science. 

The Socialist Party does not put forward our goal as a Utopia, as a mere vision of what would ideally satisfy people’s needs and make us all happy, but as a practical objective. Nevertheless, let us also be a little “Utopian” at times. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
'We who once were fools and dreamers, then shall be the brave and wise.' said William Morris. He also explained that:

'At the risk of being considered dreamers therefore it is important for us to try to raise our ideals of the pleasure of life; because one of the dangers which the social revolution runs is that the generation which sees the fall of Capitalism, educated as it will have been to bear the thousand miseries of our present system, will have far too low a standard of refinement and real pleasure. It is natural that men who are now beaten down, by the fear of losing even their present pitiful livelihood, should able to see nothing further ahead than relief from that terror and the grinding toil under which they are oppressed.'

It was Eugene Debs who said that:
 'The men and women who have had visions, who have  dreamed dreams, have led in the world’s progress toward higher and better things. These prophets and seers — for such they have been — have always been regarded in their day as dreamers  and enthusiasts, visionary and harmless, and but little attention  has been paid to their visions and dreams until in a latter day and generation they were triumphantly realized.'

It is as Helen Keller stated 'I may be a dreamer, but dreamers are necessary to make facts!'

The socialist society is now a necessity.  Ideas and culture cannot be produced to order; they must achieve their own growth in the minds and hearts of men and women. Nurtured and allowed to grow, they will express the experiences and aspirations of the people. Socialism is not inevitable. What has been termed its ‘inevitability’ consists in this, that only through socialism can human progress continue. But there is not and cannot be any absolute deterministic inevitability in human affairs, since mankind makes its own history and chooses what to do. What is determined is not its choice, but the conditions under which it is made, and the consequences when it is made. The meaning of scientific socialism is not that it tells us that socialism will come regardless, but that it explains to us where we stand, what course lies open to us, what is the road to life.

Our case depends upon conscious action and agreement on the part of the majority of the workers of the world, we look forward to a time when agreement will be reached in the world community, just as it is supposed to exist now in the scientific community. Furthermore, socialism, once achieved, can be looked upon as a world-wide social experiment to establish whether or not the social relations of the new society will work. In the very unlikelihood, they do not, well, there will always be the ready-made system of capitalism to fall back upon and nothing will have been lost. If the Socialist Party’s analysis was incorrect, its predictions would also be. However, we have a surprisingly good hit rate over the past 100 years. We may call ourselves “scientific socialists” as they study the work of Karl Marx and use his economic theory as a basis of socialism but we don’t take his work as gospel and his words in all matters as infallible.

We must make it clear that our forecast of the future is not made with the object of laying down what it should be. But we recognise that it is not enough just to agree to abolish capitalism without having some idea of the system that is to replace it. There would, in fact, be no point to our criticisms of the present if we were not able to show how they can be followed up by suitable action. There is nothing speculative, for example, about the universal desire to live in a world without war, so why suppose that mankind will become reconciled to its ever-increasing horrors rather than abolish it? The case for socialism is that humanity can solve its own social problems by taking planned action. If you agree that the idea is sound then your only concern is to get others to accept it, so that the future may be what you and we collectively want it to be.

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