Debate and the future of CUiSL

The BBC’s news coverage is practically indistinguishable from that of the capitalist press, and even its topical comedy output is full of jibes about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed “unelectability” , so it is gratifying when a programme that questions, however modestly, the capitalist status quo occasionally slips through. A recent example was a 30 minute programme on Tuesday, 14 December when the self-styled “Global Philosopher” Professor Michael Sandel asked Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?

Professor Sandel is no Marxist, but he does share with us the approach Question Everything. It is not Professor Sandel’s method to provide answers: rather, he poses questions to a worldwide, selected audience, albeit a predominately middle class one, and examines their responses. This programme was essentially an exploration of whether we should be aiming for a society in which there is equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Capitalism cannot, of course, provide either, but to facilitate debate, the Professor hypothesised a society in which everyone started equally and then asked whether his audience whether they would prefer a meritocracy or a lottocracy, the former, being a society in which a minority ‘won’ through ability and effort and the latter being one where chance determined success.

The Professor’s hypotheses, stated and unstated, were flawed. We cannot have a society in which everyone starts with the same chance of success unless inherited wealth is banished. This obvious point was left unstated, probably because it is incompatible with all class-based societies, including capitalism. Another unstated assumption was that society must inevitably be based on competition between individuals. Again, while this is an implicit assumption under capitalism, it is not the way in which we will organise society under socialism. As Marx said in his Critique of the Gotha Program , in the transitionary period it will be from each according to their ability to each according to their work and, under full communism, to each according to their need.

If we overlook the failure to state awkward assumptions, the discussion in this programme was the type of probing debate that the Communist University of South London was supporting last year. CUiSL took a breather in 2016 but is considering if and how it might be re-activated in 2017. One possibility is a return to student presentations followed by debate; but another possibility is to conduct some collective research into a specific issue. One that has been suggested is the economics of the housing crisis and how to address it. If you have views on these or other possibilities, please email them to cuisl@communist-party.org.uk .

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Seven reasons to join the Communist Party!

A reflection by Nigel Green

Our three Communist candidates each got only around 50 and 80 votes at last week’s local elections in Croydon. This was, of course, nowhere near enough to win, but our campaigning on a left, socialist platform nevertheless helped radicalise an otherwise lacklustre election.

Our efforts to raise the level of debate in the campaign was not unhelpful to Labour, the eventual winners, and we contributed to the outcome in which Croydon voters shunned the Tories, UKIP and the neo-fascist BNP.

Despite the difficulties we face under our first-past-the-post electoral system in which mass media, from which we are largely excluded, brings in the votes, not local campaigning, there are still seven good reasons for working people and trade unionists to join the Communists in Croydon, right here, right now:

1. Economics/Political economy – Communists characterise the present system as ‘State Monopoly Capitalism’, where the economy is dominated by a relatively small number of privately–owned, profit driven conglomerates. A key function of the capitalist state is to defend the interests of these giant monopolies and the neo-liberal market system that enables them to thrive.
2. Workplace issues and priorities – Communists in our programme ‘Britain’s Road to Socialism’, argue that trade unions must be at the heart of the opposition to austerity and workplace attacks. We campaign within unions for their leaderships to adopt a militant but very realistic campaign on pay, pensions and jobs.

3. Organising to win – Communists always advocate and adopt a collaborative approach to campaigning and seek to involve other organisations where we can – trade unions and grass roots organisations. We campaign to win but we are not sectarian in the way we go about this!

4. Political campaigning and the Labour Party – Communists say that Labour governments under rank and file union pressure have enacted some important reforms, but have never challenged the capitalist system. This is where Communists come in – we are fighting to end the capitalist system and establish a socialist and ultimately, in the more distant future, a fully communist society. We agitate on this all the time!

5. Internationalism and anti-racism – Communists stand in solidarity with workers in many countries. We are part of the international communist movement and there are very few countries where we do not have good contacts with our sister parties. We oppose fascists of every kind, wherever they reside, and we campaign for pay parity and full rights for migrant workers.

6. We campaign to exit the European Union in a socialist direction – we seek its dissolution because it is the main instrument for imposing big business, neo-liberal policies on member states. That is why, along with other socialists and the RMT union, we called for a vote for ‘No2 EU’ in the Euro elections the other week. On the other hand, we totally oppose Ukip for the racism lurking beneath its surface and its right wing agenda hostile to the interests of ordinary working people.

7. The environment – The current capitalist-made devastation of the earth’s climate and ecology is the most important issue ever faced by humankind. Communists put defence of the environment at the heart of everything we do.

Seven reasons to join the Communist Party! The eighth is that, by joining, you will make us a bigger party and thus more effective in pursuing these aims. Read our fighting socialist daily newspaper, the Morning Star, join our local Marxist education programme (details at http://communistuniversity.wordpress.com), but, most importantly, e-mail office@communist-party.org.uk and say you want to join the Communist Party. Now is not the time to hold back!

Nigel Green

The economics of science

by Peter Horah

This article offers the reader a wide perspective to challenge and provoke discussion on the influences and drivers of science in the 21st Century and how we have become dependent on a capitalist model to develop technology and improve the lives of people.

Scientific discoveries made since the beginning of the 20th century have been astonishing but we must be cautious at the idea that individuals or a scientific community generously devoting their time and personal resources for the pursuit of knowledge for the general wellbeing of mankind. There invariably been a “sponsor” and in such relationships, an expectation of reward from the customer for access to large amounts of money.

We also have to discard the romantic vision of individual polymaths beavering away in a hidden laboratory. Most scientific activity takes place within walled institutions using expensive machinery and these institutions will select the most able to contribute and participate in a “project”: the modern language for experiments and research.

For most “ordinary” working men and women, the activities of the scientific industry (no longer a community) is judged on the latest available and affordable gadgets (washing machine1, TV, car, smartphone) or medical choices in combatting human-created diseases (obesity, diabetes, recreational drug use).

Science has become an integral part of consumerism.

What is science for?

Asking such a question to the 21st Century, western, face-book addicted teenager; you are likely to be rewarded with the answer: “whatever!”

This is not to suggest that we should conclude that the answer is inadequate or even rude as it succinctly summarises both polarities in the discussion.

On the one hand, it demonstrates “success” in that we have a new generation of young people having access to information at enormous speeds and gives opportunities for learning and communicating in new languages. The ICT smart-phone generation have more chances now than at any time in the past to be who they want to be – providing you have the parents who can afford to maintain their virtual lifestyles.

However, it also demonstrates failure as it stratifies society and exposes the IT divide between the ones who can afford access to the technology and the others who either cannot afford or are not able to understand it.

The rise of “popular science” on TV and in the media hasn’t curbed the enthusiasm of romantics who might have a vision of a better world and maintain an optimistic hope that things will be fixed as “science” either finds “a solution to all the pollution” or creates a “military laser in space so the ozone heels in a week”8

We have come to rely on capitalist science to solve problems and put right the mistakes that we may have made in our private lives from liver transplants from alcohol abuse to prosthetic limbs from causalities in war and peace.

So, is the purpose of Science about the free pursuit of knowledge of natural things that make the world work so that we can live full and happy lives? Or could it simply be the activities of a powerful and clever elite who push the boundaries to develop products and resources that can then be sold?

Let’s briefly consider how science is shaped by three main drivers in economics: multinationals, governments and the media.

 

Science and the multinationals

Any discussion on science and economics has to consider the role of multinationals in raising capital and to invest in science for a profit.

As science has become more complex and less reliant on individuals to fund individual research; it has become the domain of large multinational organisations to use science for the development of products.

Science can be seen to be participating within the scope of the user, exchange and value triangle explaining that “science” has become a commodity and exchangeable4.

This relationship has affected learning organisations like universities as Corporations have influenced and taken over research departments. This has ultimately resulted in influencing teaching and the choices of courses by limiting the scope of what can be learnt and narrowing the focus of what is researched5.

This matters particularly when we consider the ownership of knowledge. Patents and controls on intellectual capital can create perverse situations where antiretroviral drugs or agriculture seeds are supplied by monopolies. Such organisations, we can be reassured; will have grand statements on corporate social responsibility but some of questionable outcomes from the overall global, capitalist strategy.

There is, of course, a dilemma here since if you have a life threatening illness like HIV; you are not going to care who owns the patents that will help you to live longer providing the drugs are available and affordable.

 

Science and governments

Governments have been eager to exploit science and scientists for their own ends: whether in developing new forms of energy or hideous weapons of mass destruction.

Governments should work on behalf of people and communities but it has had a lamentable history in delivering benefits to their citizens: particularly in developing and autocratic regimes.

There have been enthusiasts to harness “white heat”6 technology and in medical health, organisation and delivery has had greater success than specific research on diseases like cancer. There is still a heavy reliance on charities to raise funds for research and whilst survival rates have improved, it has been a slow process with many casualties on the journey.

We might forgive governments in times of austerity to focus on the most valuable and need: but you really have to question why they choose to spend huge resources on military hardware and supporting the arms industry. It is a perverse use of science and scientists.

 

Science and the media

Popular science is now clearly labelled in bookshops along with all the other compartmentalised, branded and targeted reading choices. The development of radio, television and the personal computer has allowed access to science to a mass audience and anyone can now search on the internet for scientific knowledge.

Science has also developed its own celebrities: Patrick Moore and the late Professor Jacob Bronowski brought science into people’s living room in the late 20th Century whilst Professor Brian Cox now charms a new generation of want-to-knows with a delightful Mancurian charm.

Science publications like New Scientist and Nature have also played a valuable role in scientific discourse and engaged with amateurs and academics.

All of which is great– and we need more of it! The challenge is that science programmes are in competition with hour upon hour of soap operas and celebrity shows. The market interferes with the opportunity of giving people quality choice and we are left with the options of a multitude of TV channels but with very few programmes worth watching!

The internet provides an alternative way to engage with science – and it is astonishing how much information is freely available. The NASA9 website, for example, is exemplary in the available material and it offers an exciting way to learn.

However, one of curious paradoxes of the internet has been the huge demand for pornography that has developed a multi-million pound industry9. Rather than enlightening people, it is atomising and stratifying3, in a way that Marx could never have imagined.

 

Conclusion

“If the theory doesn’t work, it must be wrong!”2 The study and practice of science demands a disciplined and investigative approach to test ideas and consider alternative reasons.

Within the context of human discourse on religion, Marx suggests that conflict or religious opposition will give-way to critical, scientific relationships where science will constitute a unity for man and discourse within this framework will be resolved by science7. But, one of the curiosities in recent years is the return of popular religion which is now being accepted in schools risking Marx’s vision.

Therefore, science needs to be maintained as way of understanding and learning. It is a skill worth having as it empowers the thinker to consider all perspectives and be cautious at human emotion and unproven ideas. We cannot, of course, jettison emotion and expect to behave like computers – but a new-age of enlightenment is needed to counter the mumbo-jumbo culture that dumbs-down politics to an X-factor style competition and advocates authority from religion.

The failure of the economics of science and scientists is that it has allowed itself to become servants of capitalism rather than the other way around. The demands for science to access resources (capital, skilled labour) risks a Faustian pact with private enterprise where compromises have to be made.

Science and scientists have enjoyed patronage from nation states as well as from private companies and this discourse is not suggesting that technology could have worked better in the past if it had been only a state centric approach to research and development. But, there is no place for ambitious maverick lefties in modern 21st Century universities that behave like multi-national corporations: seeking customers to pay for the privilege to learn from the knowing. Academics have to be business managers as well as free thinkers.

This paper has attempted to highlight both the opportunities and risks in the science and economics mix. The role of socialists in this debate is not determined. We can criticise the market and how it distorts or influences the profane – but we have to mindful that intellectual freedom is essential for science and scientists: even if we are uncomfortable where that thought can take people.

References:

1. Chang, Ha-Joon (2010 ) “23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism”, Penguin

2. Feynman, R ( 1995) “Six easy pieces”, The Fundamentals of Physics Explained, Penguin

3. Fromm, E (1987) “To have or to be?”, Picador

4. Harvey, D (2010) “A companion to Marx’s Capital”, Verso

5. Monbiot, G (2000) “The Captive State”, Pan

6. Pimlott, B (1992) “Harold Wilson”, Harper Collins

7. Tucker, R (1978) “The Marx-Engels Reader”, Norton

8. Robinson, T “Fifty” (1994) Love Over Rage [accessed Friday, 3rd February 2012]

9. Cochrane, K, The Guardian, (25th October 2010)

The men who believe porn is wrong | Culture | The Guardian

[accessed Friday, 3rd February 2012]

10. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, (2012) NASA – Home [accessed Friday, 3rd February 2012]