‘‘Some Scattered Thoughts...’’
‘‘Marxism vs Science’’
This has reference to the
two-part article ‘Marxism vs Science’ by Subhas Chandra Ganguly [Frontier, Vol 47 Nos 41 & 42, April 19-25, 2015 and April 26-May 2, 2015]. From the content, tone, tenor it is clear that it comes from within the 'scientific socialist' tradition, or, to be more specific, from a part of the same, of Bengal. Moreover, some explicit allusions (like e.g., "Many a young person, enamoured as they were, with the term 'scientific"', "lost or almost lost their sanity", "leaving their earlier phase of life completely behind" and the like) scattered all over the writing also seem to reflect both close observation and/or some past participatory personal experience in terms of social action. So, in all likelihood, drive behind this write-up is more experiential-cum-theoretical in nature than theoretical alone. In other words, this write-up appears to be from someone who was part of those who can be said to have had 'jumped' into the 'Revolution'—like the large generations of people of 50s, 60s and 70s in Bengal (who were opposed to social injustice).
Subsequently, getting sort of 'burnt-out' was the fate of all these generation of people, like us. In that era of the 'revolutionary' storm in Bengal we used to ceaselessly discuss and live in the world of 'Revolutionary Theory/practice' and 'path'. Astronomers tell us that quite often a star explodes, becomes a 'Nova' or a 'Super-Nova', it becomes the brightest object in the universe for few weeks or months. Then it implodes, burns out, and becomes a 'black hole'. Not only does it become utterly dark, but it sucks all light coming into it. Similarly, after our 'Nova' era of Revolution, an era of utter break-down, depression and oppressive silence followed.
We saw Revolutions always failing; but who can question the Truth of Science? We were imprisoned in an utterly fractured consciousness. On one side was our dreams, faiths, belief-system, the infallible Gods of the era of 60's—all that put us on a high meaning, ethical pedestal and security; on the other was the overwhelming non-deniable reality of their failure and irrelevance to the society. It was an impossible double bind. How could we give up our faiths to fall in the terrifying chaos? How could we hide from the reality all around? We never learnt to see the new configuration of meaning in the real world! This era kept silencing and suffocating us in the last 30 to 40 years. That is why such writings that are critical, non-partisan & balanced, giving an abundance of facts convincingly examining the 'holiest of holy' citadels of our passions, "The Scientific Ideology of Marxism" have been extremely rare.
Moreover, this write-up avoids falling into the usual binary and war of Marx vs. anti-Marx. It is certainly not against the driving spirit of Marx. It rather respects and fully supports Marx's stance against exploitation and social injustice. It is not anti-Marxist in the sense that it recognizes Marx as a dedicated theoretician driven by that very ethical spirit. Thus this write-up is most sympathetic to Marx as it shows that Marx was trapped by the simplistic and arrogant, omnipotent paradigm of science of his time. And it also contextually/relevantly points out with sufficient evidence, how this trapping even led to, unbelievably enough, virtual endorsement, by Marx, of two deeply inhuman contemporaneous continuing acts of the West—slavery of African blacks in American continent and extermination of original inhabitants of the 'discovered' Lands, America and Australia—on the basis of a notion of inevitability under the supposedly scientific laws of social evolution.
This write-up also overcomes the Science vs anti-Science; Scientific Materialism vs Idealism/ Spiritualism or 'Scientific Spiritualism', 'leftism' vs 'rightism' binaries and war that blocks our vision in Bengal. It is not against 'Science' as such. Nor does it criticize 'Marxism' from the standpoint of some 'superior ideology'. The write-up shows that the paradigm, philosophy, method of pre-20th century science was all Marx knew. Here the author shows with large number of illustrations of quotations of the leading scientists how the paradigm and scope of science has changed drastically in the 20th century. In fact, the tragedy is—in India (in all likelihood, in blind imitation of the West) we are taught and so we remain immersed in a 'Science' that is based on the paradigm and philosophy of the Victorian era! Thus even today, in Bengal, this writer does not know of any full length work that describes this paradigm shift in its entirety. But even then such works, by path-finders themselves and from a few others from the West (from which the author could present the relevant fragments), are (like many other from the West routinely referred to in classroom teaching here) not unavailable here. But the relevant message is not incorporated, as pointed out by the author, in the institutionalized science education.
Science in Marx's era was simplistic and believed that it can know everything in the universe, can solve every problem of the world/ psyche/ society by using the omnipotent and universally applicable 'scientific method'. This writing gives a lucid pen sketch of the 'scientific method'. Then it shows convincingly that much of the realms of human mind, psyche, relationships, society is beyond the domains where the 'scientific method' is valid, where to a large extent it is non-quantifiable, non-measurable, non-tangible; where we cannot 'experiment' upon it under 'controlled conditions'; where the clear 'subject' 'object' separation is not valid. The write-up in no way asks us to forego critical reason. In fact it is a deep example of the same. Also it does not ask us to give up the method of science altogether. Rather it seeks to draw attention to its field of applicability. It also seeks to point out that fields which, in their very nature, do not allow such method to be used do not lose its worth of study thereby.
This clears up a central confusion that always bewildered Marxists. Hundreds if not thousands of contending Marxist theoreticians and their followers always claimed their theory to be the latest scientific development, the self-claimed inheritors of the true Marxist Science', the true path of Revolution. But they could never work together. Not only that. There was never a process to arrive at a consensus, a commonly accepted methodology, a system of mutually agreed referees / umpires and public exchange to arrive at the 'correct' path collectively. In this fierce competition, the competitors themselves would be the referees and public! This was probably because it has been always the goal to find out the "correct Science", 'The True Path" which is a mirage (i.e. there cannot be any such 'Marxist Science') in the context of, as pointed out in the write-up, study of society-cum-economy-culture and could never weed out the supposedly wrong claimants -something that happens much less in the domain of the conventional science, i.e. where notion of 'science' is relevant!
And in the more general context of all organized social movements the write-up also seeks to raise issues worth re-examining : i) the tradition of calling others to die for some 'cause' or other; ii) the widely used traditional declaration, both written and oral, from various platforms cutting across political/ideological divide: 'people are great' & so on.
The write-up is long as it is quite complete, giving detailed evidence of this issue in all its entirety in one single piece. Thus it is worth reading by all those concerned about these issues. This write-up seems to me an essential read for those who feel the necessity to revisit our traumatic past (that remains embedded within the depths of our psyche without such 'revisiting') with criticality and compassion, balance and wisdom.
Marxism is not just an intellectual system. One has to go to the field and stand with the struggle with the oppressed in order to understand. The success of the revolutions in Russia, China, Vietnam, and how it is getting the acceptance of the oppressed in Bengal is the crux of the matter. We had thus had a lot of filters—non-Marxists, Trotskyite, anarchist, intellectual argumentators, drop-outs, renegades... to close our minds to those truths that would disturb our faith. Thus we could easily create a world constituted by our brothers in faith and their discourse, a world of mirrors that would keep validating our world view.
Our psyche is surely far from just 'rational'. Old habits of thought persist insidiously. There is no easy way out. Traditions of closed mind-sets, fundamentalism of all types are not minority or marginal phenomena. They constitute a huge part of our minds. And I am/ we are never aware of the load (of old habits of thought) I am / we are carrying!
Vol. 47, No. 46, May 24 - 30, 2015