Rebellion Is Justified!: Lenin and Science

Monday, May 15

Lenin and Science

Upholding scientific method is one of the characteristics that distinguishes communist, scientific socialist thinkers from those with idealist and utopianist conceptions. Let us take up the example of Lenin, for instance.

Lenin acknowledged the universally revolutionary role of scientific method. Particularly, Lenin acknowledged the crucial role that science, technology and the accumulation of capital played in terms of allowing for the oppressed nations to transcend feudalism and imperialist domination. Science is a key not only to achieving material abundance, but also serves to challenge ossified class and productive relationships. Soviet policy under Lenin aimed to raise the cultural and technical level of the proletariat to the level of the workers who were engaged in engineering and other technical work with the objective of eliminating the differences between mental and physical labor. In both theory and practice, Lenin was committed to scientific method.[1]

It is only certain false friends of the national liberation struggles that would, perhaps in the name of a false “anti-imperialism” or of “zero growth,” adopt an anti-science, anti-capital accumulation standpoint. But this is not the standpoint of Lenin. The question of the role of scientific method is a demarcation between scientific socialism as upheld by Lenin, and the various utopian socialist currents of thought. Some revolutionary-minded people see scientific endeavor and its technological product as an optional, secondary political matter for a new society as compared with the simple redistribution of existing wealth. However, Lenin understood the absolute value of developing the material base of production as the prerequisite for class liberation. While Lenin held that, for the nations oppressed by imperialism, the stage of bourgeois-directed capitalist development need not follow liberation from imperialist-dictated semi-feudalism, he did not hold that the period of capital accumulation analogous to capitalist development could be bypassed. That is, Lenin held that, due to the emergence of imperialism, the bourgeoisie in the oppressed nations could not fulfill what has been understood by Marxists to be their historical task, the development of material abundance, and that completing this task would fall to the proletariat and its allies. While Lenin held that a semi-feudal nation could chart a course of socialist development without going through a capitalist stage, never did he negate the necessity for building up mighty productive forces with scientific workers at their core.

Ted Kazcynski provides an extreme yet succinct demonstration of Luddite, utopian opposition to scientific method and technology. His “manifesto” proclaimed:

The system needs scientists, mathematicians and engineers. It can't function without them. So heavy pressure is put on children to excel in these fields. It isn't natural for an adolescent human being to spend the bulk of his time sitting at a desk absorbed in study. A normal adolescent wants to spend his time in active contact with the real world. Among primitive peoples the things that children are trained to do are in natural harmony with natural human impulses. Among the American Indians, for example, boys were trained in active outdoor pursuits -- just the sort of things that boys like.[2]

Here, Kazcynski makes clear that he sees science as a burden alien to the so-called “natural” man, exemplified by the indigenous Americans and their more “natural human impulses” of physical activity. Indeed, this line of thought hearkens to the national socialist cult of so-called “physical culture.”[3] Kazcynski precludes the idea of non-alienated universal labor, and instead projects a cult of a bestial “nature.” Science, however, has a potential to serve as an egalitarian force and to challenge customary authority by shattering axiomatic agreements about what is known. The shattering of customary agreements and underlying assumptions is the dialectical process by which new knowledge comes into being through scientific discovery. It is this discovery, this human self-development that Kazcynski eschews in favor of “natural human impulses,” of unconscious “active outdoor pursuits.” Scientific socialist thinkers see science as a uniquely human, even voluntarist endeavor to willfully transform humankind’s world, and, as a derivative effect of this, recognize that the exercise of scientific method serves to continuously challenge the existing social, axiomatic assumptions.

With regard to science in today’s political arena, if Lenin were to condemn anyone as furthering the cause of imperialism, it would be those Luddites and utopianists who wish to deprive the peoples of the oppressed nations access to the technology necessary to develop the productive forces. Lenin would condemn Earth First ecologists, who proclaim “a new biocentric paradigm based on the intrinsic value of all natural things: Deep Ecology. Earth First believes in wilderness for its own sake.”[4] Lenin would condemn Kazcynski. Lenin would uphold the central role of science in the cause of human freedom.

[1] See Lenin’s slogan, “Communism equals Soviet power plus electrification” as embodying Lenin’s commitment to the role of technical improvements in the process of building socialism.

[2] Kazcynski, Ted. Industrial Society And Its Future, Paragraph 115.

[3] See Mein Kampf, in which Hitler argues that sporting and physical pursuits are superior to study.

[4] Earth First: An Introductory Primer.