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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, MEDICINE AND THE SOCIALIST MOVEMENT

by The Radical Science Journal Collective

For the past decade the Radical Science Journal Collective has been attempting to reinterpret science, technology and medicine. Our aim has been to do this in a way which does not view science as above the battle for socialism or as the criterion of other practices. We began by wanting to move on from the belief that science in itself was value-neutral and objective but was being abused by reactionary forces. In the ferment of the late 1960s, the content and social relations of science were being treated deferentially as compared with other areas of knowledge. We set out to examine critically the meaning, in the class struggle, of the status of scientific knowledge and the role of science, technology and medicine, their rationality and their experts (see Editorials of RSJ 1 and 2/3). This directly political impulse intersected with developments in the history, philosophy and social studies of science which involved treating philosophies of nature and the scientific preoccupations of other periods in terms of the social formations of the times, e.g. ancient, medieval, Chinese and Arab science; the Renaissance, the 'Scientific Revolution' (Teich and Young). Analogous questions were being asked about nineteenth-century science and even about Weimar physics (Young, 1969; Forman). Social sciences' attempts to model themselves on natural science were also being criticised as ideological mystification (Gouldner, 1962). Finally, new ideas in the sociology and the anthropology of knowledge intersected with conceptions from the newly-translated writings of Lukács and the revival of Marcuse's critique of scientific rationality and pointed toward seeing 'nature' as a historical and social rather than a timeless, purely objective category.[1] All of these tendencies led us to ask whether scientific practices and theories had a social component at a very basic level. We never doubted that the findings and theories of science are true and efficacious.

In our efforts to integrate our political activism with our theoretical understanding of science we asked, in the first instance, how and to what extent the values of the society enter into scientific theory and practice. In working our way toward treating the issues in Marxist terms, we scrutinised the distinction between that knowledge which does not serve class interests and that which does. That is, we set out to challenge the science/ideology distinction made by the sociology of knowledge. We were concerned not with ideology as distortion but as representation of reality: 'When a particular definition of reality comes to be attached to a concrete power interest, it may be called an ideology' (Berger and Luckman, p. 123). Our working assumption was that situationally conditioned knowledge is the norm and our question was whether or not any knowledge was situationally detached. These questions were reinforced by developments in the philosophy of science and in psychology, which treated facts as theory-laden and perceptions as value-laden.[2] In a series of exploratory articles we cast doubt on the science/ideology distinction in various disciplines and ultimately found it useless, in anthropology, medicine, physics, mathematics, technology, biology, management science and science in general.[3]

We were also concerned with the problem of socialist struggle against the prevailing hierarchical and authoritarian forms of social relations in scientific, technological and medical institutions. We therefore tried to integrate our critique of the social relations with that of the substance of science and finally attempted to bring them into a single framework. The long-term results of these efforts (partly a response to critics who treated ideology as distortion and false consciousness, and who thought us crazy) has been to recontextualise our work in terms of the analysis of science as labour process (RSJ 6/7, especially Editorial). The trajectory has been from use/abuse to science/ideology to science as social relations and, recently, to science as a labour process (see Young, 'Science is a Labour Process'). It is on the basis of this approach that we write about science and socialist struggle, and consider recent socialist debates and the current restructuring of capital around new developments in science.

It is important to be clear that, although we shall review various past and current approaches, our argument is premised upon a labour process perspective. The questions we want to ask of science are, therefore, about the forces that constitute particular labour processes, the components of those labour processes (the raw materials, means of production, purposive activities), the resulting use values, the articulations of a given labour process with others and the problems they pose for socialist organising, agitation and transformation (London Labour Process Group). We are interested in productive, reproductive and legitimating aspects — for example, nuclear power and biotechnology; medicine and domestic technology; IQ and sociobiology.[4]

We are primarily concerned not with the properties of substances in nature but with their use values; we argue that the choice of use values plays a constitutive role in the framing of nature. We are trying to move on from concentrating on facts and artefacts as such and to focus instead on how the needs of capital constitute the research and development as well as the practices, labour, labour processes and use values in science. The analysis can extend from the most simple artefact (e.g., a paperclip) to the most abstract categories of knowledge, whose particular forms are 'the product of historic relations, and possess their full validity only for and within these relations' (Marx, Grundrisse, p. 105). We find this approach more useful than one which polarises science versus ideology or science versus technology, because it contests capital's framing of nature and avoids endlessly replaying epistemological debates; the science/technology distinction becomes as uninteresting as the science/ideology one.

We have been criticised in the Socialist Register and elsewhere for going too far with the concepts of ideology, fetishism, reification, social relations, labour process and reflexivity.[5] We contend that our perspective is more amenable to making subversive politics in science, technology and medicine than the traditional views, and that our approach takes the debate off the terrain of 'legitimacy' and 'objectivity' and onto that of class struggle. We maintain that the Left's prevalent ways of talking about science represent reality in a way which limits what it is plausible or possible to contest.

We propose a reorientation of the analysis of science in an agitational direction concerned with struggles around the process of origination of scientific products, the labour process, the social relations and articulations of scientific work. As things now stand, the socialist movement — and especially the labour movement — is profoundly ambivalent about capital's initiatives which expand the role of science in the current process of restructuring British industry and the state. Since science has been treated as a progressive force which increases efficiency, it has been difficult to combat wholeheartedly its role in deskilling, increased real subordination, pacing, surveillance, etc. Unions are reduced to a sense of resignation, redundancy schemes, 'technology agreements', and/or neo-Luddism. Some are even optimistic that as many jobs will appear as are eliminated or that unemployment can bring richer lives (Jenkins and Sherman). We believe that our perspective has the potential to take us beyond these defensive strategies — perhaps necessary in the short run — toward struggling for the reconstitution of science, contesting capital's control over the origination of new knowledge, products and treatments. In our view, the prevalent left positions stand in the way of this new strategy, even though in some cases they are positions held by people who have done important intellectual and agitational work.

There is a problem about the relationship between science, technology and medicine on the one hand and the critique of the capitalist mode of production and the struggle for socialism on the other. The knowledge and the practices of science (a term which we will use often in a generic sense to avoid tedious repetition of 'science, technology and medicine') are treated as privileged and are not subjected to the same scrutiny or seen as appropriate sites of socialist struggle as compared with other domains, e.g., culture, sex roles, the sphere of production. The standards, methods and objectivity of science are, on the contrary, seen as models or touchstones for other practices, often including socialism itself. At first glance, then, it would appear ludicrous to analyse science in the same way that we do spheres which are obviously constituted by historically contingent forces in the mode of production. We want to argue for more than a second glance — for a searching scrutiny and reorientation.

The problem we want to discuss can be seen in successive articles in Socialist Register 1979. The first opens by saying that it sets out to assess the impact of the new microelectronic technology on social relations — 'or, more correctly, to analyse the technologies as social relations. Thereby it intends to treat them as forms assumed by the capital relation as it seeks to impose itself ever more firmly and extensively on social life' (Webster and Robins, p. 285). Yet the very next article, 'Radical Science and its Enemies', by Hilary and Steven Rose, argues to the contrary that attempts to treat science in just those terms are based on an incoherent, relativistic and reactionary position whose claims to be Marxist are incorrect. Their article is the occasion of our writing this one. We want to show the basis for disagreement about these issues, to open them up and to provide an alternative account of them. We also want to show that this is not merely a set of problems within the radical science movement but that the Left has come up against them in other guises. The most fundamental problems of science have been at the centre of left debate, although it has seldom been clear that science itself was at issue.

In this article we want, firstly, to indicate what is at stake in the restructuring of capital, particularly the role of science as the embodiment of values; then, to reflect on the history of these issues in the Left and among Left scientists; and, lastly, to spell out some examples of what it means to treat science in labour process terms. The shape of our argument is to make a general case about science, then about socialist views about science, and then to treat the conflicts within the radical science movement as instances of a wider problem among socialists. This accounts for the order of sections in our article, while the scope of our argument explains why we have resorted to presenting lists (to a degree which readers may find rather trying). Our overall aim is to open up matters which would otherwise seem intractable, to make them amenable to contestation. We want to analyse apparently fixed phenomena — be they technologies or techniques, theories or therapies — back into the social relations which they embody and sclerose.

It may be worth stressing once again that we are not suggesting that science is untrue, nor, certainly, that it is merely social relations. Our priority, rather, is to overcome epistemological quandaries by relocating them in class relations, in capitalist domination and its opposition. Our political agenda entails struggling wherever capital seeks control, and grasping each site of capitalist domination as part of the totality of capitalist production and reproduction, which it attempts to keep fragmented as politics/economics, work/leisure, job/home, science/society, etc. This means that we oppose privileging some sites of struggle (e.g., wages and conditions at the point of production) while exempting others (science in the classroom and the lab) and hardly noticing others (home, sexual relations, community). We think that the special status accorded to science in the Left is connected with that peck order of places to contest capital. It is no coincidence, then, that our critique of science is geared to challenging that peck order and the forms of capitalist domination with which it colludes.

SCIENCE AND RESTRUCTURING

Science and the Restructuring of Capital: What Is at Stake?

The phrase taken from Webster and Robins' Socialist Register article — 'to analyse the technologies as social relations' — is very apposite, because their topic, 'Mass Communications and "Information Technology"', is only one part of a major restructuring of capital. Science is at the heart of the re-tooling of British industry we hear so much about and much else in other countries and in multinational integration. Very large claims and very large investments are being made, extending from cradle to grave and beyond. A Lucas executive has called the microprocessor ‘the biggest single blessing that mankind has ever had' (TV interview). A government advisory committee has attributed to new developments in biotechnology an importance comparable to atomic physics and microelectronics (Spinks, p. 16). In medicine, practically every stage on life's way is undergoing dramatic development: artificial fertilization and transplantation; sex diagnosis (and therefore choice through early abortion); fetoprotein, ultrasound and amniocentesis diagnostic techniques for foetal abnormalities; host mothers; hormone treatments; cerebral stimulation and implantation (including remote control); spare part surgery; international organ banks; purchase of organs in the Third World for transplantation; cryogenesis for indefinite cold storage of sperm and eggs; cloning. Both cryogenesis and cloning have already been successfully applied in other species — cryogenesis with cattle, cloning with mice. New industries are being developed around tailor-made molecules: growth hormone, insulin, interferon for virus infections and some cancers.

A man from Ferranti tells us that the chip will 'change all our lives and all our environments' (TV interview). By mid-1980, there will be 3000 firms in the industry, adding 200-300 new products per month. The micro-electronics industry is expected to have an annual turnover of Ł200 thousand million by 1990. In the domestic sphere, where about 90% of chips end up, home terminals will break down the role separations between houseworker, homeworker, consumer and student. No need to go out to work or to shop or to an evening class or to a film — just finish the dishes and hoovering and sit right down at the keyboard and type away. In the office, micro-electronics is bringing about the Taylorisation of white-collar work. One machine, the IBM 3750, can monitor all phone calls, control access to any telephone number, monitor and control movements of personnel on the site and keep track of company cars as they go about. Systems for controlling telephone access and for logging calls are already common in British firms and universities, and there are more than 150 'IBM 3750' systems already installed in this country. The Chubb 'System 8000' can monitor over 3000 individual sensors from a central position and combines the functions of security, fire alarm, control of access, building services, environment, monitoring, energy and surveillance (including complete closed-circuit TV).

Much has also been heard about word processors, but they are only part of the restructuring of office work. At the current 'Challenge of the Chip' exhibition at the London Science Museum, you can hear the following advert from a telephone handset:

’This is a centralised dictation system made by the Dictaphone Company. Everyone with a telephone on their desk can get through to the office typing department and record onto a machine there. They operate the machine using controls on the phone. The system has in its memory details of the typists' speeds and outstanding work. By comparing these figures, each person can get put through to the typist who can complete their work most quickly. For the supervisor the control console shows how much work each typist has, how much the department as a whole is doing and (from an additional microprocessor) full details of every piece of work going through the department. The supervisor can get details of who dictated work, of what type, how much there was, what time it was recorded, which typist did it and when, and so on: in fact, an automatic production control system. Using the console controls, the supervisor can switch typists from machine to machine, put two typists onto one machine to clear urgent work first and generally organize the department as the day goes on without anyone having to change desks or machines. In fact, typists have none of the fuss of having to find their next piece of work. It's there ready for them, and the supervisor has full control over everything with plenty of time to ensure a rapid service.’

All of this is made possible by the versatility and cheapness of the microprocessor. The effects on the porosity of the working day of the typist and the secretary make it clear that 'the Taylorisation of the office' is not hyperbole.[6]

This is just one of a number of innovations which were conceived and developed in the military sphere — requiring research and development (R&D) investments which would be unthinkable in private industry — and which have since been adapted and applied in domestic and work contexts. The result has been improved efficiency and convenience for some, but for most it has also increased surveillance, pacing, deskilling, real subordination, and redundancies.[7]

The generous funding of scientific and technological research by governments includes increasing control over the direction and approach of research itself. The National Science Foundation in America grew from zero in 1950 to grants of $400 million in 1970; that buys a lot of control. The same is true of private philanthropies such as the Rockefeller Foundation. The result can be the constitution of whole disciplines, e.g. molecular biology (Kohler; Yoxen), a reorientation of the approach of a family of disciplines, e.g., primatology and human sciences (Haraway), or the restructuring of a scientific profession and its institutionalisation, e.g., medicine (Brown). It is difficult to take in the scale on which this direct patronage operates. The main inventor of the transistor, William Shockley, worked for Bell Labs, part of American Telephone and Telegraph, the world's largest corporation. It was the military who financed his move to California to found Silicon Valley, and the great chip fortunes can all be traced to his original co-workers. Bell Labs, like some other electronics firms, worked for the government on thousands of projects, involving thousands of billions of dollars.[8] The same is true of the aerospace, atomic energy and biomedical research industries.

Turning now to the area which is likely to have even more effects on our lives than microelectronics, biotechnology has been described as the basis for transforming whole industries and creating new ones, providing bulk chemicals, antibiotics, vaccines, methane gas and other fuels, building materials, foods, food additives, and new ways of recovering fossil fuels and mining metals, as well as recycling waste and treating effluent. This is not the place to spell out the details of the promise of genetic engineering; we want only to point out that it involves the harnessing of biology as a productive force to a degree never envisaged by the most visionary horticulturalist. It has been said that biology will 'launch an industry as characteristic of the twenty-first century as those based on chemistry and physics have been of the twentieth century' (The Economist, 2 December 1978).

Entrepreneurs have been very struck by the risk capital being made available in this field. The list of commercial firms is growing apace and recalls the developments in microelectronics which produced the current giants, e.g., Texas Instruments (first working integrated circuit, 1958), and Fairchild (miniaturised circuit on silicon wafer, 1960). One of the pioneers in biotechnology, Cetus, started with $5 million of venture capital in 1971, then Standard Oil of Indiana added $10.5 million and National Distillers $8 million. The market value reached $45 million in 1978 and $75 million in early 1980. When they went public they raised an additional $135 million; more money than any new American Company has ever raised (New Scientist, 9 April 1981, p. 106). Other firms in the race are Genentech, Hybritech, Bethesda Research, Genex, and (in Europe) Biogen and Celltech. This is in addition to investment in this area by existing firms: Eli Lilly, ICI, Glaxo, Unilever, Hoechst UK, G. D. Searle.

While looking forward to the benefits of biotechnology, we should not fail to see that they are being constituted, produced and marketed within the social and economic relations of private industry. It will also have the effect of helping to foreclose even further any democratic decision making in labour processes, employment, and relations between imperialist and dominated countries.

One reason why this field has been able to grow so rapidly is that commercial interests have persuaded academic scientists to do much of their research as projects in established university and other labs largely funded by public money. It is now accepted that choice of topic, direction of research (what to follow up), how much to talk to colleagues and when and how much to publish are determined by commercial criteria. Commercial pressures are also an important factor discouraging a given country from having stringent safety standards and controls, lest lucrative developments occur in another country with less stringent controls. This has been a successful argument in dismantling safety guidelines of the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Group in Britain and of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee in America. Commercial pressures have determined academic research and communications, as well as controls, in sponsored pharmacological research, as some recent scandals have shown. We pointed out above that the home terminal is likely to transform the domestic scene; something analogous is happening to make nonsense of the idea of the remote scientist in an ivory tower, where the jingling of coins is never heard.

Once again, the stakes are high. Interferon may cure virus diseases and certain cancers, but there isn't enough in existence to find out. One pound of it (if that much of it existed) would cost $22 billion using existing technology. A break-through in production by genetic engineering seems likely to transform the production of interferon. The current sales of insulin, mostly extracted from pigs and cattle, amount to $137 million per year, with 80% sold by Eli Lilley. It has recently become available from a genetic engineering process developed by Genentech, which has signed a contract with Eli Lilley to market its insulin. Similarly, the price of somatostatin, a brain hormone, is likely to fall from $300,000 to $300 a gramme as a result of another Genentech patent. In another area of biotechnology, Brazil hopes, by the mid 1980s, to replace petrol by ethanol made from sugar cane while the US aims to stretch its petrol by adding 10% ethanol and to produce two billion gallons of it a year by 1985. Sweden intends to devote 20% of its total forest to growing willows as an energy crop. The scale of cash flow in medicine is on an impressive scale, too. In 1978 the US medical business turned over $180 billion. This had less to do with gentle physicians exercising their bedside manners than with four very lucrative industries — drugs, construction, medical equipment and insurance.

It is no exaggeration to speak of the medium-term prospect of near complete restructuring of medicine, agriculture, food processing, energy production and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Analogous changes are already afoot as a result of microelectronics in industrial production, office work, retail marketing, communications, security, information processing, education and the domestic sphere.

If the foregoing account of the restructuring of capital around science and the recital of what is at stake seems relentless and exhausting, we will have achieved our purpose here. In the light of these and other developments (agricapital, video technology, digital recording, technology and the Third World), we just don't think it is good enough to go on talking about value-neutrality, objectivity and such like. We don't deny that they are popular academic topics, but they have obstructed our political agenda. We want to draw different conclusions from this list of areas where capital is at work restructuring around science. The first conclusion is that, if science was ever 'relatively autonomous', it is getting dramatically less so. There are fewer links in the chains of mediations, or — to put it another way — capital sets narrower and narrower limits to the areas of relative academic freedom. Indeed, researchers are now queuing up for the sort of 'customer-contract' relations that so scandalised the liberal scientific establishment when Lord Rothschild proposed them for science in 1971. A decade later, the government's response to the Spinks report on the promise and funding of biotechnology was brief and curt: let private capital find the money (Secretary for Industry). The number and different sorts of mediating authorities pledged to seek out and serve the needs of industry is producing acronymic indigestion: Royal Society, Research Councils, Advisory Council for Applied Research & Development (ACARD), Advisory Board for the Research Councils, UGC, SSRC, CNAA, DES, DOI and its MAP (Microprocessor Applications Project), Department of Energy, NRDC, Research Requirements Board, NEDC, NEB (funding three chips firms — NEXOS, INSAC, INMOS), EEC, NATO. And watching over them all is the Trilateral Commission — political, industrial and financial leaders from Europe, Japan and North America — organising 'the stable management of global change', including the transfer of technology to the Third World (Dickson in RSJ 10; Sklar)

Second, in the case of microelectronics there is a very general point to be made. The range of applications of the microprocessor beggars the imagination yet is easily stated: any process, no matter how complicated, which can be reduced to rules, can be controlled by microprocessors. Who makes the rules therefore becomes a matter of unparalleled importance. This means that the socialist movement, and especially the trade unions, can no longer afford to equivocate about the domain of class struggle. Contestation on the terrain of control over the labour process and the origination of new technologies becomes an urgent political priority. It is in the process of origination that capital's structuring of social relations gets built into the technology. This calls for organising and agitating in new places and new class fractions-among the people who design and develop new technologies.

Third, the point which has become obvious with the range and power of microprocessors can be generalised further to treat science and medicine — as well as technology — as the embodiment of values. The same argument applies, but the complexities of institutions and of conceptual levels make its applicability less obvious.

Finally, to say that capitalism is currently restructuring around science and technology is not to say that this is a new feature of capitalism. The scientific and the industrial revolutions of earlier centuries would make such a claim silly (see, further on, the quotations from Marx, Nasmyth and Ure). What is new, however, is how far science and technology are now penetrating. In the productive sphere there have been successive restructurings, e.g., water power, steam power, factories, mechanisation, moving assembly line, internal combustion engine, electric motors. automation, microprocessors, biotechnology (for a general exposition, see Ernest Mandel's Late Capitalism, pp. 120ff; Chapters 6 and 8). But science and technology are beginning to watch over, pace and control work in the office, shop, school, home — soon to be extended inside the body via electronic implants. Its reach is pervasive and intimate and growing very rapidly. The stakes are far higher than ever before.

The Embodiment of Values

We want to move on to writing about how science and technology are constituted by historical forces. A phrase which may appear cryptic at first has helped us to grasp this: technology, science and medicine are the embodiments of values. 'Advanced' societies have searched for so long for certainties through the study of the embodiment itself — the Baconian 'light and fruit' — that they have lost sight of what knowledge is the embodiment of. The artefacts of technology, the medicines, procedures and regimes of medicine; the 'findings', theories and metaphysical foundations of science — all are derived from purposive endeavours which are historically specific. They are assigned by this R&D department, that industrially-induced lung disease, and the other framing of the manifold of nature as 'code' or 'information', as in the case of molecular biology. At a deeper level. individualism evokes individualist transport and leads to the internal combustion engine as the appropriate power source for automobiles. Another example: greater expenditure on fixed capital, e.g., in large cotton mills, requires constant running of machines to secure an adequate return on investment. This calls forth the need for reliable attendance, shift work and a fit workforce — which can be aided by better nutrition and public health. Science helps by searching out the role of micro-organisms in acute, debilitating infections. When much has been learned about the germs, the treatment of war wounds accelerates the development of a range of antibiotics. The model becomes: discrete disease, single causes, specific cures. Each of these connections is, of course, only part of a wide network of determinations, setting limits, exerting pressures within a manifold of social/natural alternatives, giving direction to developments which — in the last instance — are determined by the 'production and reproduction of real life' (Engels' phrase, Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, p.417). This is structured in ways based on the social relationships of the mode of production in a particular period of history.

In other periods the need for reliable navigation, the development of chemical dyes, the problems of illumination and portable sources of power and then of fuel for diesel and petrol engines, and of information transfer and storage have engendered — successively — developments in astronomy and horology, chemistry and electricity, petroleum geology and petrochemistry, electronics and solid state physics, culminating in the recent developments of microprocessors, genetic engineering and biotechnology.

Of course, an atom is an atom and an electron an electron, and the enduring findings and theories of science are true. 'Truth', however, does not obviate the 'fact' that researchers formulate their questions and set criteria for acceptable answers in terms which express the values and priorities of a given epoch and its ruling elite. Truth, then, is a practical construct from human labour. The search for particular units of matter and the effort to build apparatuses whose movements of electrons make this or that current or this or that molecule is an effort to embody particular values in the service of particular social relations. Nature is framed: we have no access to it in a primordial state of innocence.

Finally, at the deepest level, the metaphysical foundations of modern science are the embodiment of the deepest assumptions of the mode of production, selected from among various ontological and epistemological positions in a wide-ranging debate during the 16th and 17th centuries.[9] We have for too long had our gaze diverted from the struggle over values to the problem of the epistemological status of their embodiments. And while we are making sure that our readers don't find it easy to caricature our position, we should add that we do not mean to underestimate the recalcitrance of things, fixed capital and existing knowledge. Our intention, on the contrary, is to show how difficult it is to change 'the way things are', at the same time that we show that they aren't merely things.

Since the argument of this section may strike readers as abstruse, we offer two examples — one from technology, one from medicine. A simple example of how technology embodies values is the automobile. Its design incorporates a set of assumptions about the size of groups in which people travel, the variability of destinations (and the articulation of that tremendous flexibility with living patterns and road networks), the safety parameters of travel, the cost and availability of energy resources. A reconstitution of transportation might vary the size and safety levels, the risks we are prepared for people to take to obtain fuel (e.g., North Sea platform workers and divers) or brake linings (e.g., asbestos, see below). The amount of pollution is already being controlled in some countries, requiring significant changes in design and involving some very sophisticated technologies in exhaust systems.

An entirely different aspect concerns power in many senses of the word. A driver can now express his/her aggression and competitiveness through control over a powerful instrument by putting the accelerator on the floor, racing through the gears and leaving rubber on the road. A reconstituted technology might have built-in monitoring devices to control acceleration, gear selection and speed in order that safety and fuel economy should come before expression of ego. The technology could be constituted differently to embody different values. The properties selected from the manifold of nature would be different ones, serving different ends. Alternatively, the society — workers — might decide not to have automobiles at all and, instead, make a decent public transportation system and divert resources toward, say, track hovercrafts, road-rail vehicles, kidney machines and/or solar heating panels.

There is another aspect to this example of the car. Cars do embody the individualistic values of 'society', but 'society' in turn expresses the movements of capital in a way analogous to what we said above about the appearance of academic freedom and the reality of control. Just as science is organised, so too is the expression of individualism in transport. Machismo is marketed through the design, the advertising, even the name - Avenger, Jaguar, Fury, Firebird, Pinto, Mustang. National images differ: the VW called 'Golf' in Britain is called 'Rabbit' in America. Cars are also favoured as transport by hidden subsidies. While the railways come under close scrutiny because their subsidy is publicised and taken from tax revenue, the automobile industry enjoys the benefits of capital's private support (with injections of 'the taxpayers' money' in times of crisis, under the guise of pump-priming). Capital provides its meritocracy with tax-free perks to the extent that 70% of new car registrations are by private firms. The costs in pollution, accidents and disruption of communities by road schemes and traffic are paid not by private capital but by society at large. Society pays for all the costs of public transport, while capital appears to have provided a cheaper alternative. Overall, the individual choice to travel by car seems a rational choice in a free market, rather than a heavily subsidised, dangerous, costly embodiment of particular values.

In that example, we tried to move out from apparently technical matters such as the size of cars, the internal combustion engine, and the linkage between the throttle and the carburettor to much wider issues abut the expression and manipulation of personality in late capitalism and the relations between capitalism and transport policy. These issues include: who decides what products to make, how much to squander energy, pollute, despoil the environment and allow people to be killed in accidents (7000 a year in the UK).

Our next example also involves a number of contexts. Hilary and Steven Rose argued that our approach 'confuses the social determinants of a phenomenon for (sic) the phenomenon itself — it is not the social relations of the Hebden Bridge asbestos factory which penetrated the lungs of the workers, but the asbestos fibres. The asbestosis and the painful deaths of the workers are not merely social relations either (Roses, Socialist Register, p. 327). We would, of course, never want to be forced to choose analytically between the social determinants and the properties of asbestos fibres or to say anything as daft as that disease and death are ‘merely’ social relations. What we do want to argue is that thinking about asbestos and asbestosis in terms of values, social relations and practices — rather than strictly in terms of a substance with properties and a disease with symptoms — can help in understanding the hazards and in fighting them. Selection and framing from the manifold of nature led to particular criteria for which properties to seek and which substance to use for insulation and brake linings, for the conditions permissible in mining and processing it, for the 'safe level' of exposure to it, as well as for manufacturing and cleaning equipment, safety equipment and extractor fans, health and safety legislation and monitoring, the handling of data on lung dysfunction, etc. To isolate 'the phenomenon' of a fibre or its effect on lung tissue and to set these against all the rest is to create a dichotomy, whereas it is the organisation of the totality which is crucial. The same is true of dangerous pathogens, nuclear radiation, vinyl chloride monomer causing liver cancer in process workers (Clutterbuck); dioxin, the impurity in a herbicide causing chlorachne and birth defects in Seveso, Vietnam and elsewhere (Pomata); coal dust causing black lung ; noise, causing deafness (Fletcher); oil sprays (Dalton), lead in petrol (Peters) and the stresses of executive and domestic life, causing ulcers and depression (Schneider). We are not suggesting that a labour process perspective should simply displace either the traditional concentration on substances and diseases, the preoccupations of science's epistemology: 'objectivity' and 'scientificity'. Indeed, we will argue below that the British Left has been surprisingly silent about these issues and has failed to extend its critique of scientism into the privileged area of science itself. What we are proposing is a re-ordering of priorities around questions of knowledge production and a re-contextualisation of the epistemological issues. We think the labour process perspective is more likely to open up agitational possibilities where they were previously not apparent, no matter what the ultimate answer might be to the epistemological questions. In so far as the epistemological issues have a place, our view is that it should be in the context of 'science' as a set of practices, producing use values. We find such an approach more fruitful than bringing forward ever more elaborate analyses of the problems of perception and/or veridical knowledge. We situate problems of perception and knowledge within production. We also take this to be the point of Marx's 'Theses on Feuerbach', The Poverty of Philosophy, The Grundrisse, etc., as applied to the problem of knowledge (Schmidt).

If we take this new order of priorities seriously, i.e., if we think in terms of values and practices and social relations embodied in science and not in terms of reified knowledges, then we re-locate the epistemological aspect as a problem within concrete practices. In the case of asbestosis, this leads us to want to know how the disease appears within production. Production, in this case, means the practices by which asbestos is extracted and prepared for industrial use and by which it is fabricated into other products such as sheets of insulation and brake pads. But 'practices' must be taken in a broader sense as well. It includes taking it home and around the community on workers' clothes. It also includes the whole range of other practices by which its use becomes necessary and tolerable and by which danger is contained within a small group for the innocent 'benefit' of everyone else. (This sort of blinkering is characteristic of the relations between producers and consumers. Think of commonplace or precious commodities and then think of the lives and work and hazards of those who produce them: sugar, cocoa, tea, coffee, rush matting, silicon chips, slates, coal, oil, gold, diamonds.)

Here we have two sorts of practices — the material extraction/fabrication, and the fragmentation of labour processes — organised so that people do not perceive the real human cost of producing and using asbestos. Capital has constituted illness, especially occupational illness, in a particular form. This has been done through the mediation of medicine, insurance and factory legislation, especially the Workmen's Compensation Acts. All of these practices involve the production of knowledge. Karl Figlio has described the 'insurance mentality', by which he means the tendency to fragment illness into units of 'assessable risk'. Like machinery, human investments can be written off over a specified period, and the costs to capital of 'down-time' or premature write-off can be calculated and the risk can be insured against (Figlio, RSJ 10, pp. 49-51). This is true in everyday practice, in that companies can decide on the costs of risking their workforce and can transfer responsibility for health and illness onto those who fall ill by calling in an insurance assessor and fixing an acceptable premium to compensate them (Kaufman, p. 34). This practice, which involves knowledge producers in the insurance business (actuaries) as well as physicians, literally shifts the burden. But it also reconstitutes the issue: illness becomes quantifiable risk. All risk means hazards and possible 'irresponsible' behaviour such as failure to wear protective clothing or breathing apparatus. The victim-blaming ideology isn't simply a clever ruse (Berliner, pp. 118-20; Ryan; Duster). Rather, it is built into the historically developed relations of production which — at the same time — in the case of factory legislation, had a progressive moment in limiting the workers' disablement from factory work.

The fragmented way we tend to see these practices makes it difficult for us to think holistically about illness. We do not normally see the relevant labour processes and their articulations as part of a single story bristling with potential sites of socialist struggle. When illness does occur, it seems natural to follow the procedure already set up: to certify disablement, litigate for compensation, call in inspectors to examine sources of potential hazard and fight through trade unions for better conditions. These are sets of discrete practices, but they sustain the broader, less easily comprehended, sense of the nature of illness as separate diseases, contracted as a kind of accident. In fact the model for Workmen's Compensation for industrial illness was the accident, and the subsequent history of compensation has involved the separation of 'genuine' accidents from non-accidents. These are all material practices, but they work ideologically as well, so that any other way of thinking becomes absurd. That is, people tend to think along the same fines when new instances arise, accepting the model which separates the pathogenic substance from the disease and separates both from social relations.

However, previously inaccessible areas of agitation are opened up by analysing practices whose articulations ideologise illness as hazard — limiting the question to that of assigning responsibility or weighing risk against cost in defining threshold limit values (Doyal, p.79; Levidow in RSJ 9; Peters). Pursuing the study of labour processes and their articulations opposes all of capital's attempts to hive off ill health into agitationally less promising areas — those favoured by sociologists, such as class incidence, life-style or environmental factors. Of course, no matter what agitational possibilities the labour process perspective brings to the range of practices which form the network of articulated labour processes, and no matter what theoretical advantage it confers for seeing scientificity in terms of nature mediated by social relations, the fact remains that it cannot cure the exposed worker. Unfortunately, people tend to pose these concerns as stark alternatives. Indeed, our critics try to skewer us with a dichotomy between the phenomenon and its social relations. The point, however, is that illness as social relations of production. and illness as hazard, both emerge as inseparable aspects of the same labour process.

Knowledge production, specifying the lung damage and tissue change which characterize asbestosis, holds out the prospect of cure. Such details comprise a set of scientific problems which we have never sought to dismiss — problems of objectivity. These problems fall within the sphere of embodiments, sequestered from what they are embodiments of, and stem from a preoccupation with the epistemological problem of certainty. They arise inescapably in the practices of knowledge production and of trade union bargaining over pay, conditions and compensation. This means that the aspect of illness as hazard — which concerns unions, physicians, pathologists, health and safety workers and ill workers — is real and important. But to see illness only as they see it (and must see it) is to work within capital's constitution of illness. The other necessary component is, as we see it, inseparable: the social relations internal to the production of asbestos and asbestosis. Failure to see the inseparability will ensure that we cannot struggle towards healthy production. We need to open up the possibility of contesting the labour processes which make the diseases and their risks appear inevitable, the scientific knowledge of them 'true', and their study and cure the sole progressive approach.

It is difficult for us to understand how those who oppose our approach manage to conjure up extra words for our slogans and to disprove triumphantly an assertion which we never made: that science is just or merely social relations. The labour process perspective attempts to situate the traditional concerns of scientificity in a way which treats them historically, as part of a set of articulated practices.

SCIENCE AND THE LEFT

Some Marxist Insights

We want to offer some passages which have helped us to work out our approach. We have been struck by the failure of orthodox Marxists to take up some of the insights in these texts. More particularly, writers who have made powerful critiques of other aspects of knowledge and culture have not subjected science to the same scrutiny.

A fitting conclusion to the previous section might be this passage from Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness:

’Marxism, however, simultaneously raises and reduces all specialisations to the level of aspects in a dialectical process. This is not to deny that the process of abstraction and hence the isolation of the elements and concepts in the special disciplines and whole areas of study is of the very essence of science. But what is decisive is whether this process of isolation is a means towards understanding the whole and whether it is integrated within the context it presupposes and requires, or whether the abstract knowledge of an isolated fragment retains its ”autonomy“, and becomes an end in itself’ (p.28).

On the question of how class struggle leads to the embodiment of structured social relations in new technologies, Marx offers this guide to the history of machinery and the role of science:

’It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt. We would mention, above all, the self-acting mule, because it opened up a new epoch in the automatic system.

’Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam hammer, gave the following evidence before the commission on Trades Unions, with regard to the improvements on machinery which he himself introduced as a result of the widespread and long-lasting strikes of engineers in 1851. ”The characteristic feature of our modern mechanical improvements is the introduction of self-acting tool machinery. What every mechanical workman has now to do, and what every boy can do, is not to work himself but to superintend the beautiful labour of the machine. The whole class of workmen that depended exclusively on their skill, is now done away with. Formerly, I employed four boys to every mechanic. Thanks to these new mechanical combinations, I have reduced the number of grown-up men from 1500 to 750. The result was a considerable increase in my profits.”

’Ure says this of the colouring machines used in calico printing: ”At length capitalists sought deliverance from the intolerable bondage” (namely, the terms of their contracts with the workers, which they saw as burdensome) ”in the resources of science, and were speedily re-instated in their legitimate rule, that of the head over the inferior members.“ Then, speaking of an invention for dressing warps, whose immediate occasion was a strike, he says: ”The combined malcontents, who fancied themselves impregnably entrenched behind the old lines of divisions of labour, found their flanks turned and their defences rendered useless by the new mechanical tactics, and were obliged to surrender at discretion.” Of the invention of the self-acting mule, he says: ”A creation destined to restore order among the industrious classes... This invention confirms the great doctrine already propounded, that when capital enlists science into her service, the refractory band of labour will always be taught docility”’ (Capital 1, pp. 563-4).

The social constitution of technology is stressed in The Grundrisse:

’It must he kept in mind that the new forces of production and relations of production do not develop out of nothing, nor drop from the sky, nor from the womb of the self-positing Idea; but from within and in antithesis to the existing development of production and the inherited, traditional relations of property’ (p. 278).

The point is driven home in a later passage:

’Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules, etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process' (p. 706).

We hope that in the light of this we can be understood more easily when we refer to ideology as a material force in work, science and everyday life. Marx makes the connection explicit:

’But to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ”powerful effectiveness” is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production.)... No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing as a middle link between the object and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor’ (pp. 704-5).

Two generations later, in the wake of Taylorism and Fordism, Gramsci observed that the 'so-called exact or physical sciences' had 'come to acquire, within the philosophy of praxis [his term for Marxism while writing in Mussolini's prisons], a position of near-fetishism, in which indeed they are regarded as the only true philosophy or knowledge of the world' (Prison Notebooks, p.442). But Marxism, as Stuart Hall has reminded us, rests on a historical epistemology (WPCS 6 pp. 153, 155). Gramsci applied this to the historicity of science and its objects of study. In his critique of Bukharin, he says this of conceptions of matter and of science:

’Matter as such is therefore not our subject but how it is socially and historically organised for production, and natural science should be seen correspondingly as essentially an historical category, a human relation. Has the ensemble of the properties of all forms of matter always been the same? The history of the technical sciences shows that it has not. For how long was the mechanical power of steam neglected? Can it be claimed that this mechanical power existed before it was harnessed by man-made machines? Might it not be said in a sense, and up to a certain point, that what nature provides the opportunity for are not discoveries and inventions of pre-existing forces — of pre-existing qualities of matter -—but ”creations”, which are closely linked to the interests of society and to the development and further necessities of development of the forces of production?’ (Prison Notebooks, pp. 465-6).

Lest it be thought that this does not apply to science itself, he concludes his reflections on 'matter' as follows:

’According to the theory of praxis it is evident that it is not atomic theory that explains human history but the other way about; in other words that atomic theory and all scientific hypotheses and opinions are superstructures’ (p. 468).

Science, Orthodoxy, and Socialist Historians

Those passages might lead one to believe that our approach is the orthodox Marxist one, but, of course, the opposite is the case. We are glad to say that our approach is gaining some respect and that others are thinking on similar lines.[10] The American Marxist Stanley Aronowitz, for example, has independently taken a parallel path from considering science as ideology to recontextualising his approach in labour process terms:

’Science and technology appear to be autonomous forces rather than the outcome of the struggle between capital (itself a form of congealed labour under specific historical conditions) and living labour... Among the most significant ideological productions of the logic of capital is the notion of the autonomy of science and technology’ (pp. 133,134).

On the other hand, our approach and ones related to it have been subjected to a number of strong criticisms and polemical attacks.[11]

It is here that our approach intersects with the mainstream of Marxist debates on a number of topics. The orthodox position has been consistently allied with the privileging of science. There are important differences in the details, but the treatment of science as an unequivocally progressive force, a model and a method to be followed, is almost the uniting theme among left positions which may vary on all sorts of other issues. Engels is, of course, the extreme case, although Marx is not entirely free from determinist scientism (see Thompson, Poverty, pp. 26061). Engels ontologised the laws of the dialectic in Anti-Dühring and treated these as the most general laws of nature. This was the Marxist text — either in full or as excerpted in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific — for an entire generation (Colletti on Bernstein). Second International Marxism was a scientism in its generalisation of the domain of science to embrace history and culture. Scientism united Plekhanov and Kautsky (Arato). Even the founders of revisionism and Fabianism — Bernstein, the Webbs, Shaw — adhered to versions of evolutionary scientism (Lichtheim, Marxism). Finally, as a paper at a recent History Workshop showed, an uncritical approach to science has been characteristic of the Labour Party from its inception all the way to Harold Wilson's 'white heat of the technological revolution' (Ford). It is only now that a knitted brow has appeared on the face of Tony Benn (STSA).

Within orthodox Marxism the role of scientism has been very important. It was united with economism, the theory of the productive forces and the base-superstructure metaphor to provide legitimacy for the Bolshevik model of development and, in particular, Stalinism and its international ramifications: Comintern, Cominform (Corrigan et al.; Harrison; Claudin). There has also been a tradition of searching critique of this orthodoxy and especially of Stalinism — the Lukács of History and Class Consciousness, Korsch, Gramsci, the Frankfurt School (Jay; Kellner) particularly Marcuse's analyses of Soviet Marxism and of scientific and technological rationality in One Dimensional Man, Sartre, Goldmann, the later Garaudy, Ollman.

Here, however, there is a parting of the ways. In Britain, unlike America and the Continent, the critiques of Stalinism, economism, the theory of the productive forces, technological determinism, and the base-superstructure metaphor were not connected with a critique of orthodoxy with respect to science. There have been critiques of all the branches of scientism but not of its root. For reasons which include its unsatisfactory analysis of class, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School made little headway in Britain. As a consequence, its searching analysis of science and technology was not influential here. According to critical theory, 'no phenomenon, nothing, escapes determination by social processes. Individuals, scientific theory, works of art, the state are all to be understood as part of a social process, moments of a social totality' (Kellner, pp. 139-40). The critique of science developed in one of the parent traditions, of critical theory, phenomenology, made even less impact (George; Piccone; Poster). If one thinks of the rejection of Stalinism, the growth of the New Left and the exciting writings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, there is a resounding silence about science and technology in the work of Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson, and the New Left Review. When the NLR turned to science, it did so in praise of structuralism and then Althusser. Raymond Williams has had a great deal to say about 'Ideas of Nature' and then about 'Social Darwinism', but somehow missed out science in the middle. He has also written on Television but has not entered deeply into the social relations embodied in its technology. His one four-square sally into science is a review of Sebastiano Timpanaro's On Materialism, where Williams points out that, 'for a generation, now, there has been an unusual uneasiness between Marxism and the natural sciences' (NLR 109, p. 5)

Edward Thompson adhered to a position which expressed the strengths and the weaknesses of the British empiricist tradition, and we want to dwell on it in the hope that comradely criticism will shed light on the broader issues we are attempting to illuminate in this article. In the debate between Thompson and Perry Anderson science played a small but revealing role. Both of them attempted to make a sharp distinction between science and ideology, even to the extent that Thompson painted Darwin as pure scientist, contrasted with T. H. Huxley as pure ideologue. Both Thompson and Anderson underestimated the social character of natural science, and Thompson conveyed no sense of Darwin's place in the intellectual traditions and ideological debates of the period with respect to the philosophies of 'nature, man and society'. He focused instead on Darwin as the patient gatherer of facts. As he would later do over Althusser, he forced the reader into an uncomfortable dichotomy. In the case of ‘The Peculiarities of the English', he defended the empirical mode against Anderson and Nairn's sweeping generalisations. One wanted to side with him in this, only to find that it was the philosophy of empiricism which he was defending. This position led him to make a remarkably blinkered observation about the impact of Darwin's On the Origin of Species:

’There should have been more crisis than there was, more a parting of the ideological heavens. The intellectuals should have signalled their commitments; signed manifestos; identified their allegiances in the reviews. The fact that there was comparatively little of this may be accounted for by the fact that Darwin addressed a Protestant and post-Baconian public, which had long assumed that if God was at issue with a respectable Fact (or if a dogma was at odds with a man's conscience) it was the former which must give way’ (Poverty, p. 62).

The fact is, on the contrary, that everything Thompson denied in that passage took place, and there is a vast literature about it, while the confrontation between Huxley and Wilberforce at the British Association meeting at Oxford in 1860 is a familiar epitome of the crisis, the parting of the heavens, the manifestos and the allegiances declared in the reviews which it takes one student of the debate fifteen pages to list.[12] Over a decade later, he remains unrepentant about his conception of Darwin, suggests that his critics have not read The Origin and notices only Anderson's objections to his position (Poverty, pp. 255-6). There is no point in going further into criticisms of Thompson's views on Darwin, especially since a critique of this aspect of the Thompson-Anderson debate has appeared elsewhere (Young, Historiographic, pp. 421-26; Evolutionary Biology, pp. 192-3). The point, rather, is to shed light on views of science among distinguished marxist intellectuals, revealing an inattentiveness which is surprising in the work of such meticulous scholars.

In Thompson's The Poverty of Theory the reader is forced into a false choice. While agreeing wholeheartedly with his rejection of theoreticism, we find ourselves in danger of assenting to his false claim that theory is inherently impoverished. In the domains of historiography and philosophy of science, Thompson's empiricism often endangers his marxism. This is the case with respect to the concept of fact, as Gregor McLennan has argued (p. 155). In drawing us away from the theoreticism of Althusser and the English version by Hindess and Hirst which abrogates historical research (see also Corrigan and Sayer), Thompson invites us too close to the positivist's conception of fact: 'The very givenness of facts, the determinate properties which they present. to the practitioner, constitutes one half of the dialogue...' (p. 219). '...Facts are there, inscribed in the historical record' (p. 220). These assertions strike us as examples of what Thompson himself calls 'the dignity and special clarity of italics' (p. 273) and culminate in the extreme claim that the facts 'are determining' (p. 222) and are 'the immediate object of historical knowledge' (p. 231). Thompson seems determined to root the empirical aspect of his Marxism in an empiricist/positivist notion of fact. He forcefully rejects a wide consensus shared by progressive and more conventional historians and philosophers of science, as well as by historiographers and students of the sociology and anthropology of science, in expressing three levels of astonishment at Laclau, who 'tells us that "modern epistemology asserts" (!!!) that "the 'concrete facts' are produced by the theory or problematic itself' (p. 395, n. 148). The excesses of some French intellectuals notwithstanding, some version of that thesis is what modern epistemology asserts, and it would be difficult to find anyone to make a stand for the 'givenness of facts'. In lumping together all work which takes seriously the social construction of knowledge, Thompson is in danger of mislabelling and banishing important Marxist writings. For example, one might (mistakenly) characterise Karl Figlio's paper on the social construction of the somatic illness chlorosis as 'Althusserian', because it treated a disease as constituted by historical forces (Figlio, Chlorosis).

At the same time that Thompson is uncritical about science itself, he is eloquent and convincing in his critique of scientism. His attack on some tendencies within Marxism for their pretensions to the status of science agrees closely with our own approach:

’It is in the very notion of Marxism as ”Science” that we find the authentic trade-mark of obscuranticism, and of an obscuranticism borrowed, like so much else, from a bourgeois ideology of great longevity. Utilitarians, Malthusians, Positivists, Fabians, and the structural-functionalists, all suppose(d) themselves to be practising a ”science”, and the most unabashed academic centre of brutalised capitalist ideology in contemporary England acclaims itself as a School of Economics and Political Science ’ (p.360).

We agree with him that 'the project of Socialism is guaranteed BY NOTHING - certainly not by "Science", or by Marxism-Leninism' (p. 363). In the particular case of theoreticism, 'Theoretical practice, in its spurious pretensions to Science, is seeking to validate the bad faith of the Marxist tradition, and is reproducing as ideology the central vacancy of Stalinism' (p. 369). Elsewhere, he points out an appalling consequence: 'It was the total absence of even a language to discuss morality and values which was the distinguishing character of Stalinism. So that when it was finally admitted that the entire flower of the Revolution, as well as about everyone else, had been butchered, orthodox Communists had no word for it except "mistake"' (Radical History Review, p. 76). It is in this light that one should view the absurd scientistic rhetoric of theoreticism, for example, in the editorial of the first number of its British journal, Theoretical Practice: '...theoretical political deviations, deviations from Scientific Socialism, necessarily lead to an incorrect and unscientific politics, and therefore an ineffective politics, which is objectively reactionary' (April 1971, p. 1).

We find it bewildering that Thompson has so effectively criticised Althusserian ahistoricism and various forms of scientism while at the same time adhering to empiricist and near-positivist views with respect to natural science, the philosophy of science and its consequences for historiography. There is a considerable irony in the fact that we have drawn much of our own critique of science from the analyses of vulgar marxism, economism and scientism by Raymond Williams and Edward Thompson, while they and other cultural marxists have exempted science from their critical scrutiny. This lacuna has also had, in our view, a more directly historical consequence. It has contributed to an overwhelming concentration on social history at the expense of a full account of the contradictory unity of the forces and relations of production. The familiar injunction to 'dig where you stand', which has evoked so much interesting historical work, has tended to underemphasize the history of the forces of production and the ways in which the history of technology, science and medicine are part of the history of class struggle. It would be ridiculous to lay all this at Edward Thompson's door, but since so many socialist historians have been profoundly influenced by his magnificent The Making of the English Working Class, it is tempting to let his example carry the entire weight of inspiration and emphasis of recent socialist social history.

Whatever the factors explaining it, it is undeniable that Marxist historians have concentrated on economic, social and cultural history at the expense of the histories of science, technology and medicine. A related under emphasis is in an area where Thompson contributed a seminal paper, 'Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism'. But if we compare British with American historians, there is surprisingly little work on the history of capital's attempts to reify the relations of production and convert them into forces of production, i.e., the more recent history of attempts to 'make machines of men as cannot err', as Wedgwood set out to do early in the industrial revolution (McKendrick; Pollard). Taylorism and its more recent progeny, job enrichment and socio-technical systems theory, are under-represented in British socialist writing.[13] More generally, the role of science in work, and the role of politics in structuring the technology and the labour process, seem to escape the gaze of British Marxists. The craft tradition and class fractions such as the labour aristocracy seem to catch their eye instead (e.g., Foster, McClelland). The overall range of topics covered by the work of the History Workshops and the journal, and other publications which have resulted, give the same impression. Science, technology and medicine are under-represented; there is a wariness of theory (and a curious restriction in the range of theory when it is addressed) and a preference for narrative accounts and social history themes.

Having set their faces against technological determinism, they have deprived themselves of a vantage point from which to scrutinise the social relations embodied in the means of production. Rejection of technological determinism should, in our view, have the opposite effect — that is, encouraging socialists to dismantle and reconstitute the forces of production and their interrelations with the relations of production. In terms of Marxist theory the argument can be compressed into the following expression: the anatomy of dead labour, and the boundary between dead and living labour at any point and in any instrument, is the resolution of class forces at that site of class struggle, no matter how unobvious the relationship may be. The forces of production invite the same subtle and sensitive dissection as has been devoted to customs, laws, unions, songs, poems, paintings, films, television programmes, bikers, quarrymen, mothering, and so on. The story — from Falcon's loom, the self-acting mule, the flying shuttle, the moving assembly line, automation, the vacuum cleaner to electronic news gathering and pay TV — awaits newly-focused examination. The ultracentrifuge, fibre optics, the microprocessor, the body scanner, and the spliced gene also belong in that list of forces awaiting reconversion into relations.

These silences in historical studies echo others. The 1956 political break with Stalinism was not followed through intellectually, in the domain of theory and practice. Capital is about to make us pay a high price for failing to get to the bottom of Stalinism as a world view. Leftist scientists didn't bring politics to work, and even the New Left made no change in its understanding of how the forces of production are constituted — this remaining a major lacuna. There has also been a failure to contest the effects of capital's restructuring as it affects the unions, with the result that 'technology agreements' are becoming commonplace — as if technologies were simply bearers of an enlarged cake to be divided up, rather than weapons in the class struggle. Finally, there has been a failure to struggle for socialist forms of social relations in the Left's own organisations and relations among 'comrades' — a failure often justified, ironically, by representing the organisational tasks as simply the dissemination of a ready-made, inherited Marxism. Given these hiatuses in theory and practice. it becomes an urgent priority to re-think the problems of legitimacy and organisation.

Generations of Marxist Scientists

It is in the light of this situation among Marxist historians and other writers that we want to turn to the problem of how Marxist scientists have interpreted science. Our point so far is that there is in this country no tradition of critiques of science within Marxism. Indeed, orthodox Marxists were eloquent in emphasizing that science was an unequivocally progressive force unless distorted by capitalism. What was needed was more and more of it, and science should serve as the model for social and economic planning. This perspective was applied to the history, philosophy and sociology of science in a dramatic appearance by a Soviet delegation at the Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology in London in 1931. There is no need here to spell out the events of the congress and its influence, since there have been a number of accounts and interpretations of it, and Gary Werskey has made special studies of it in his Introduction to a reprint of the Soviet papers, Science at the Cross Roads (Bukharin et al.). He has also written a collective biography of five British socialist scientists flourishing in the 1930s in which the Congress looms large. His Visible College includes Hyman Levy, J. B. S. Haldane, Lancelot Hogben, J. D. Bernal and Joseph Needham. (P. M. S. Blackett, who went on to become President of the Royal Society and a Nobel Laureate, was a prominent non-Communist leftist who was also influenced by the Congress.) The overall effect of the Soviet intervention — and especially of Boris Hessen's dazzling paper on 'The Social and Economic Roots of Newton's "Principia"' — was to engender euphoria. Science was brought into the orbit of social priorities, and as long as it was in progressive hands (as it was thought to be in the Soviet Union), only good could result. Put crudely, good science is good Marxism (Young, in Head and Hand; RSJ 10).

With the addition of this approach from within the community of scientists and analysts of its social relations, a formidable chorus sings an uncritical hymn to science: the self-conception of the scientific community, the official line of the Soviet Union, the British Communist Party, and this eminent group of researchers, popularisers and historians, some of whom became Communists. That position (with variations) was propagated in several influential popular and scholarly works: J. G. Crowther’s The Social Relations of Science (published 1941 but well along before Bernal's work was announced): Joseph Needham's essays, particularly Time: The Refreshing River (1943) and History is on Our Side (1945), followed much later by his monumental Science and Civilization in China (1954- ); J. B. S. Haldane's The Inequality of Man (1932), The Marxist Philosophy and the Sciences (1938); Lancelot Hogben's Science for the Citizen (1938); Hyman Levy's A Philosophy for a Modern Man (Left Book Club, 1938). They were also very active as lecturers and in the periodical press. Crowther actually founded the profession of science journalism, and was science editor of Oxford University Press. Haldane wrote much-read articles in the Daily Worker. But the most influential single work in this tradition was J. D. Bernal's The Social Function of Science (1939), followed by a spate of books, the most relevant of which are The Freedom of Necessity (1949) and the three-volume Science in History (1954; 3rd ed. 1969). Bernal's influence was celebrated in The Science of Science (1964) and Needham's in Changing Perspectives in the History of Science (1973) (see also Goldsmith, Sage; Young in RSJ 10).

Lest it be thought that we have represented the view of science of this group as more sanguine than it actually was, here is a sample from The Social Function of Science:

’Already we have in the practice of science the prototype for all human common action. The task which the scientists have undertaken — the understanding and control of nature and of man himself — is merely the conscious expression of the task of human society. The methods by which this task is attempted, however imperfectly they are realized, are the methods by which humanity is most likely to secure its own future. In its endeavour, science is communism' (p. 414, cf. pp. 410, 412).

It was in this spirit that the Marxist scientists threw themselves into World War II, fighting for freedom against the enemies of Britain and the Soviet Union, contributing to radar, bomb damage assessment, combined operations, intelligence, operational research, communications, cyphers and a number of other significant boffins' endeavours. The War did not dim Bernal's scientism. In 1949 he wrote,

’Science, by accepting corporate opinion and reason as its criterion, is itself a democracy; one always open to conviction but not accepting any dictum until it has been convinced. In so far as science infuses government, it enhances all the democratic elements in it’ (quoted in Werskey, Invisible College, p. 274).

We suppose that other Marxist intellectuals, including the historians, were likely to be influenced by the writings of the Marxist scientists, perhaps including Christopher Caudwell, whose work combines a critique of the mechanical materialism which masqueraded as Marxism, with an exploration of scientific categories, but not a critique of them (Caudwell; Thompson, 'Caudwell'). Nothing we have seen in the historical writings of Maurice Dobb, Christopher Hill or Eric Hobsbawm disturbs this deferential way of treating science, although Hill's work on the seventeenth century resonates with an approach in the history of science which we also find congenial in the work of Charles Webster and Piyo Rattansi. The tradition of British empiricism seemed compatible with the version of Marxism to which those generations of scholars adhered, whatever their differences on other issues.

The unequivocal view of science among scientists could not, however, outlast Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Too many thorny issues were thrown up by the atomic bomb, nuclear diplomacy (Alperovitz) and the debate over the hydrogen bomb, as the origins of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the Pugwash Conferences soon made clear. British Russophile scientists also got into deep trouble over 'the Lysenko affair', a story which has yet to be told from the British side (G. Jones; Symonds). Haldane and Bernal, in particular, were compromised by it, while Western anti-Communist ideologues such as Conway Zirkle and Julian and Andrew Huxley continued to make capital out of it (see Young in RSJ 6/7). The perfect fit between Marxism and science — whether experimentally successful or not — was no longer easy to maintain.

The result of these developments was a move to an equivocal position from which it was argued that capitalist or other ideological forces could abuse, distort or incorporate scientific research. The job of socialists was, then, to fight to purify science and to promote its use for progressive purposes and fight its abuse for reactionary ends. A great deal of important agitational work was done within this framework: Ban the Bomb, opposition to chemical and biological warfare, fighting the use of defoliants in Vietnam, race and IQ campaigns (Rose, Chemical; Roses, Science in Society).

The issues united the Old Left with the first generation of the New Left. Indeed, it was in the Bernal Peace Library that a conference was held on chemical and biological warfare in the late 1960s. This conference led to the founding of a new organisation whose founder members included eminent members of the Old Left scientific Marxists: Bernal, Lancelot Hogben, Hyman Levy, Joseph Needham. All were professors as well as Fellows of the Royal Society (Werskey, Invisible College, p. 325).

The Radical Science Movement

The mentality which saw the abuse of science going deeply into whole fields of research makes natural the title chosen for the organisation set up by a broad coalition of scientists in 1969: The British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Its original members included social democrats, Marxists and liberals. The first large-scale public event mounted by BSSRS brings us to another theme in our argument. The conference on The Social Impact of Modern Biology in 1970 was top-heavy with Nobel Prizewinners (Fuller). Some, like Maurice Wilkins, the President of BSSRS, were/are active socialists in science, but others were more conventional in their attitudes. A number of the participants in that conference found it elitist, hierarchical and authoritarian and began to set up new activities which were more collective and low-key. The results of this tendency included conferences on Workers' Self-Management in Science (1972), Community Science (1973), Is There a Socialist Science? (1975), Science Under Capitalism (1979) and Women in Science (1979, 1980). It also led the establishment of the Radical Science Journal Collective in 1971, with a view toward bringing the theory and practice of the widespread revolts of 1968 into the critique of science.

It is worth trying to capture some of the tensions between the approach which mounted the Social Impact conference and those just mentioned. Attracting a number of eminent scientists, hiring a large hall, BBC recording of the entire proceedings, paperback rights sold in advance, speakers on a rostrum, press releases — these conjure up a well-established approach to getting across a point of view. But in this same period the ways things were done were being critically examined. It was the period in which 'the end of ideology' was exposed as a form of neo-conservatism and in which knowledge and its institutionalisations were no longer seen as above the battle. A contemporary slogan was 'the long march through the institutions', transforming them democratically through teach-ins, self-organisation, anti-universities, arts labs.

The question of who defines legitimacy and on what grounds was one which led easily to criticism of the role of experts and eminence in legitimating power. It also led to a critique of the role of appeals to objectivity and scientificity in attempts to controversial political and social views. This deeply scientistic tendency was (and remains) rife in the social sciences, especially economics, but also in psychology and sociobiology. The tension between two tendencies which were developing in the nascent radical science movement can be captured by the difference between the people who organised the Social Impact conference and another group which staged a happening at the Durham meeting of the British Association in 1970 where they lampooned the way the BA does things.

The group which set up the RSJ Collective was only one anti-establishment and anti-careerist tendency in science at that time, although one based largely on academia. People whose views were more environmentalist, non-Marxist and in some cases 'counter-cultural' began Undercurrents ('the magazine of radical science and people's technology'). Later, people who wanted to concentrate on working directly on factory and office floor issues focused on health and safety and began hazards groups and the Hazards Bulletin. Members of the RSJ group tended to come from history, philosophy and social studies of science, with some working scientists; their politics were non-aligned libertarian Marxist or unorthodox CP or Trotskyist. The Undercurrents people tended to be radicals, many suspicious of explicit politics or of what they regarded as 'heavy' theory. Some of the most active people in the Hazards tendency were Trotskyists. All three groupings, however, contrasted their approach with that of the first generation of New Leftists in their emphasis on the politics of process and their criticisms of formal structures and careerism. In this they were in sharp contrast with the Marxist scientists of the 1930s and with orthodox CP policy, which argued that one should rise to power at the top of one's profession or union and use that power for progressive purposes. There was an intermediate, first generation of new leftists who were less conventional in their ambitions but who, on the whole, assiduously pursued straight careers, and who found the Old Left writings on science more congenial than did others. This group found it hard to continue to work in BSSRS, while the liberals and most professors left as soon as the predominance of activists became apparent. Some who left, e.g., Sir Michael Swarm and John Ziman, set up a right wing liberal rival, The Council for Science and Society.

The Socialist Register published an account of the early days of BSSRS (Roses, 1972; Science for People 22 and 23). Gary Werskey’s critique of that version (not mentioned in the Roses’ 1979 article) attempts to consider the problems confronting the different generations (Werskey, RSJ 2/3) and Hilary and Steven Rose have responded critically to his accounts (Roses in Science Bulletin). The contradictions involved in trying to work collectively within hierarchical structures have caused severe problems in a number of settings, and they led to at least one major row within BSSRS (BSSRS Natl. Comm.). We believe that the resignations of Hilary and Steven Rose from BSSRS, and their subsequent publications and comments made both here and abroad about the radical science movement and individuals in it, are importantly connected with these issues in the politics of process. However, neither we nor the Roses have so far found a way, of discussing them which promises to be constructive and which avoids what strikes many people as malicious and petty personalisation of significant issues. We do want to express regret, however, that almost none of the activities and publications which we will list below were mentioned in Hilary and Steven Rose's 1979 Socialist Register article, which purported to cover developments since their 1972 article on the radical science movement. We believe that their separation of questions about the nature of scientific knowledge from ongoing publications and campaigns in the movement is not in the best interests of a movement which has any hope of changing the world.

In recent years the radical science movement has become a network of people in local and topic groups, concerned with particular issues and campaigns. Some of the published fruits of this have been periodicals. Science for People has included both eclectic and special issues, including ones on Women in Science, Health and the NHS, Agricapital, Nuclear Power, Science under Capitalism. The Radical Science Journal has published editions focusing primarily on scientific workplaces, the labour process, medicine, the Third World. Hazards Bulletin and Radical Statistics continue to appear in their domains, while a new periodical on Food and Politics has recently been founded. Many of the periodicals and pamphlets are directly geared to active campaigns. There have also been significant spin-offs. A pamphlet on The New Technology of Repression in Ireland led to a Penguin on The Technology of Political Control, both now in their second editions (Ackroyd et al..). Work in Undercurrents helped to produce a book on Radical Technology (Undercurrents eds.). The Radical Statistics Group contributed to a volume on Demystifying Social Statistics (Irvine et al..). The Agricapital Group produced a pamphlet — Our Daily Bread: Who Makes the Dough? — which earned a writ. The Hazards groups have produced a series on Noise, Oil Sprays, and a book Asbestos: Killer Dust. The Politics of Health Group's publications include pamphlets on Food and Profit: It Makes You Sick and Cuts in the NHS — What are We Fighting For?, while one of its most active members, Lesley Doyal, has brought out a book on The Political Economy of Health. Other publications have appeared or are pending from groups concerned with Race and IQ and Sociobiology, while other groups are active in Lead in Petrol, genetic engineering, office work, the politics of nuclear power (Nuclear Power: The Rigged Debate), microprocessors, and scientific unemployment. In the same way that other tendencies have tried to build stronger links with their respective reference groups, the RSJ collective has tried to work to bring issues concerning science into a wider left culture. Our activities in this direction include monthly seminars and major commitments of time and resources to the setting up of the Publications Distribution Co-operative and the Radical Publications Group, as well as recent involvement in CSE Books and Head and Hand: A Socialist Review of Books. Members of the collective have also edited a collection of essays on Science, Technology and the Labour Process: Marxist Studies (Levidow and Young).

In a wider sense, socialist critiques of aspects of science are becoming more common. There have been several significant pamphlets challenging the onward and upward image of the 'Mighty Micro'. Social Audit and War on Want have produced important booklets, respectively, on the marketing of food and drugs in the Third World (Medawar) and powdered milk in the Third World (Chetley). The ownership and control of seed on a world scale has also been exposed in a recent study (Mooney). The Centre for Alternative Industrial and Technological Systems has one foot in studies based at the North East London Polytechnic and the other in the campaign of the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee Corporate Plan — challenging management's right to control the origination of new technologies and products (CAITS). There are arrangements by which radical science publications exchange information and meet to consider common issues and campaigns, including the annual meeting of groups from France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Britain (Levidow in RSJ 10 and 11). In the area of feminist struggles, there is a Women's Therapy Centre in London (with a waiting list of over two years) and Well-Woman Clinics in several areas. We sketch these activities to help remind readers of the wide range of struggles and publications over the last decade around science, technology and medicine.

Hilary and Steven Rose were among the most active founders of BSSRS and organisers of its first conference, and Hilary Rose was the Society's first chairperson. We see their work as drawing on Bernal's position and developing into a critique of the abuse and incorporation of science, and of pseudoscience. They have done significant work on Science and Society, Chemical and Biological Warfare, Race and IQ. Their two-volume collection of papers on The Political Economy of Science and The Radicalisation of Science has been influential. We have included some chapters from it on our reading lists (RSJ 6/7), while we have treated others with qualified praise (Young on Lysenkoism), criticism (Barrett), and severe criticism (Levidow in RSJ 6/7). The Roses have countered forcibly and repeatedly, often with caricaturing polemic and innuendo. We wish we could find a way of engaging in debate but infer that their version of Marxism seeks a single, correct line.

The same impulse which insists that a position disagreeing with theirs cannot be Marxist has, in our view, led them to claim that a defence of IQ or sociobiology must be pseudoscience. It may very well be bad science, as recent critiques of Cyril Burt and Arthur Jensen and E. O. Wilson have argued. However, we maintain that the answers to reactionary research are not only scientific ones — that is, refutations combining data, technique and scientific criticism of the terms of reference taken by the research. This kind of refutation appeals to the authority of a 'scientificity' which entraps us in treating human differences as quantitative differences, as measurable quantities of unitary qualities, such as 'intelligence' or 'dominance'. Thus a scientific refutation can preclude more subversive responses, such as challenging ordinal ranking and the possessive individualism (of 'ability' or 'power') underlying it, both in classrooms and in collective work. We would also want to make directly political arguments against constituting research projects and framing nature in the terms employed by researchers in IQ and sociobiology. In particular, we have in mind the all-pervasive nature/nurture dichotomy, which naturalises historically specific social relations by attributing them to genes and which treats the individual as a manipulated object of ‘environmental factors', in a manner suitable for social engineering.

In this article we have made no attempt to give an exposition of the Roses' views, but we have striven to cast our disagreements with Hilary and Steven Rose in a wider context — one which we hope will be of real political interest to readers — and to avoid particular rebuttals which would be of only parochial interest. One matter of wider interest is the relationship between knowledge and social relations. In their attack on our approach, and in particular on 'Science is Social Relations' by Bob Young, they are almost silent about the major theme of that article. Although its critique was in the service of the development and articulation of forms of struggle among scientists, technicians, and medical workers, Young's article is treated as if its arguments were exclusively about epistemology. It is about that as well, but not primarily so. A second general issue: their argument about what is Marxism (and what is not) is built of the very scientism that we have long been at pains to oppose. It is not that we are critical of their points of entry into the movement and its controversies, but we do deplore their attempt to foreclose other possible ways in.

Again and again they try to draw us on to a terrain of debate about dichotomies which we think it necessary to transcend, and on which we think it diversionary to engage either comrades or enemies. One example is the question of 'relativism'. We have argued that science, technology and medicine can be constituted by historical (class) forces — in their philosophy of nature, in their choice of research areas, their concepts and methods, and even in more particular and intimate ways — without thereby ceasing to be true. The Roses try to discuss our approach in terms of the dichotomy of objectivity/ relativism. Their determination to represent the issue in these terms is so great that they resort to invention. They say of 'Science is Social Relations' that 'Despite its claims, this position is the antithesis of Marxism and in developing it, Young draws heavily on the writings of Feyerabend and a particular reading of Sohn-Rethel' (Socialist Register, 1979, p. 326).

It is true that Young and other Marxists working in science have found suggestive Sohn-Rethel's views on the relations between the commodity exchange abstraction and scientific laws. However, the Roses go on to lend some credence to Sohn-Rethel's views in a way which makes Young's appear absurd: 'But as a materialist he [Sohn-Rethel] eschews the claim that social determinants of a phenomenon dissolve the phenomenon itself, and nothing less than this constitutes the enterprise that Young sets himself.' (p. 327) This is a ridiculous, mendacious representation of Young’s views, as it has never occurred to him that social determination is a solvent. On the contrary, the bourgeois dichotomy of ‘social determination/material reality (or truth)’ is one which he has set out to transcend.

Paul Feyerabend's conceptual anarchism is another matter, since it is an avowedly relativistic philosophy of science. The claim that 'Young draws heavily on the writings of Feyerabend' is very surprising, since Young has never made any reference to Feyerabend's ideas, has never mentioned his name or works in publications, and in fact has never studied them. This is not a slip of the pen. In their zeal to tar Young and RSJ with the brush of relativism, Hilary and Steven Rose have made this claim in several recent published attacks. Yet it refers to an intellectual debt which is a complete fabrication. The only sense we can make of it is an overwhelming belief on their part that any attack on the scientific community’s self-conception of objectivity must lead to relativism, and since Feyerabend is a well-known relativist, Young must have drawn heavily on his writings. This is not, we submit, a very impressive example of objectivity and respect for evidence. [14]

A third instance of their pitching the debate on alien terrain is the way they treat our long-standing concern with the analysis of 'social relations'. Conventionally, science is treated as one thing and social relations as another, the relationship being interactive rather than dialectical: science and society, science in its social context, sociology of science, 'internalism' and ‘externalism' in the history of science. We have set out to see how far we can productively go in treating science as social relations, as practice in a totality of practices, to see how far the dialectical interpenetration can be shown to extend. The argument, as Hilary and Steven Rose understand it, hangs on different approaches to the politics of science and ideology. We are certain that the area of political and intellectual struggle is much broader.

In pressing the point that science — like any practical phenomenon — is social relations, RSJ has tended to do this by challenging the commonly-held distinction between science and ideology. It is in part due to this challenge that the issue is given its misguidedly epistemological status in the radical science movement, but our focus has always been wider than 'ideas'. We have tried to take the concept of social relations, and make it a common conceptual context for relating issues central to Old Left, New Left. and libertarian Marxists. The expression 'social relations' conjures up a number of conceptions. One is that of ideology. Ideologies construe (or refract) events in terms of value systems based ultimately in class practices. The ordering of social interests in which conservative ideologies participate is that of the status quo, the capitalist mode of production: competitive individualism, hierarchy, authoritarianism, and more specifically, the commodity-form, fetishism, reification. Another facet of ‘social relations' is class politics, in the traditional sense, where the point of production is given primary status as the site of class struggle. Another is 'social relations' as advocated by libertarian groups in the 1960s and early seventies, meaning collective work, criticising of macho leadership, and emphasising process and prefigurative forms of socialist organisation — the issues currently being discussed in the wake of Beyond the Fragments (Wainright et al.). A further key connection is the concept of 'social relations of production' — part of the contradictory unity of forces and relations of production, which alters historically but retains the contradictories intrinsic to the mode of production (see Clarke).

These four inter-related conceptions of social relations are all parts of the approach which we have tried to bring to bear on science and politics. The Old Left response to our exploratory discussions has been, on the whole, a knee-jerk dismissal. Yet the resolution of these issues is crucial. How are we to relate traditional forms of class struggle with libertarian initiatives and insights, and with struggles to transform the relations of production opening up the forces of production to historical transformation with politics in command? In another context some of us have considered this as 'The Problem of Articulation in Left Strategies', where these questions are related to the problem of revolutionary strategy (London). Whatever the answers, one thing is sure — mocking dismissal the issue of social relations forecloses questions which must be addressed across political generations and tendencies.

SCIENCE AND STRATEGY

Labour Process Perspective

We have realised that the concept of social relations was insufficiently precise and too vulnerable to caricature and wilful misconstruction in terms which reduced it to a position within the bourgeois dichotomy of subjectivity/objectivity. We have since moved into a theoretical context which is more familiar to Marxists, closer to agitation, and less susceptible to uncomradely ridicule. By treating science as a labour process we are confident that socialists can talk more systematically about the structuring of social relations, in and out of scientific practice. We are also confident that this approach — which extends considerably beyond the radical science section of the socialist movement — can help agitation in more powerful ways.

From the earlier identification of science with progress, the critique has moved on substantially in the political generation of the New Left. Nevertheless, some of the current approaches still carry limitations essentially the same as those of the Old Left. The 'science as ideology' tendency approaches big science, corporate R & D and military industrial innovation as — in fact — capitalist development dressed up by 'scientific' ideologues in 'neutral', abstract or 'progressive' terminology. The major political task is seen as showing the reality of capitalist domination in the apparently neutral science (IQ, technology transfer, computer systems, combinatorial mathematics). The use/abuse dichotomy is the rock bottom form of this perspective, shading towards the more sophisticated pole of 'purge the ideology, and select the elements of an anti-capitalist knowledge'. The implicit (ahistorical) assumption is that capitalism is making 'ideological penetrations' or 'incorporating' a science which could otherwise have provided positive and liberating knowledge.

The kind of activism that goes with such perspectives is 'radical professionalism'. Radicals use professional expertise — and the material facilities available to them for intellectual work — to catch out science when it errs, to criticise aspects of science by way of 'demystification'. They claim that nature isn't like (some) scientists say it is — for example, IQ isn't really genetic, women and blacks aren't inferior, there really are no safe levels of toxic pollutants, microtechnology really won't increase employment. The argument assumes that if these ideological and politically vicious interventions in science could be rooted out, then the capitalist ruling class could no longer (ab-)use science to control the rest us. A purified, ideology-free science might then reveal the 'real truth' about nature, and even perhaps guide us in building socialism by, for example, defining a 'socialist environment' for socialist life (as Marxist and radical scientists of the 1930s and 1940s began to do with studies of ‘social medicine', diet and housing). The politics of 'serving the working class' reinforces the radical intellectuals' position as a particular class fraction of workers whose practices become privileged by the logic of impartial knowledge.

Over the past four years or so, we have been developing a theoretical approach to activism aimed at overcoming the limitations of radical professionalism — limitations intrinsic to its use/abuse logic and its reliance on 'objectivity'. What is most significant about this alternative is that it looks first and fundamentally not at ideas, truth, and knowledge as such but as practices — not at ideology and science but at production in general and 'mental' labour in particular.

What we call 'the labour process perspective' recently came into British Marxist circles from sources in France and especially Italy, where it originated in the critique of capitalist science and technology, mounted in Quaderni Rossi (1961-64) (Panzieri). It was met by a vehement counter-attack by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), just as our critique meets critical disdain from within the British Left today. The stakes were high, as Quaderni Rossi analysed the technicism underlying the PCI's role in subordinating working class interests to the 'planned development of the productive forces'— in effect, 'capitalist socialism'. Their critique provided the theoretical basis for the perspective developed subsequently by Potere Operaio on the 'refusal of work', in opposition to factory discipline and the 'social factory' (Bologna, Tronti). Its trajectory led, in turn, to the ‘area of workers' autonomy', now being criminalised by the Italian state, particularly as part of the PCI's Eurocommunist strategy (democracy for the bourgeoisie, austerity for the proletariat) (Autonomia; Working Class). So not only has the treatment of production as a capitalist labour process come to prove decisive for choosing revolutionary versus counter-revolutionary practices, but also this divide originated over two decades ago in a 'theoretical' debate over the non-neutrality of science and technology.

The RSJ Collective didn't know any of this history when they came across writings about the labour process during their self-education in social and economic history. Nor did the London Labour Process/Left Strategy Group when they found their critique developing from social history, science and technology to a general approach to the spheres of production and reproduction, especially as it bears on the problem of articulation in Left strategies. It is reassuring, however, to learn that later developments in a perspective which we found so congenial, especially for our attempts to re-think the role of science and technology in the capitalist mode of production, turns out to have had its origins in an attempt to bring to bear a critique of science and technology upon a critique of Left orthodoxy.

We came into contact with this approach through the 1976 Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE) at Coventry. Some members of the RSJ collective worked with socialist historians to prepare a session on the history of labour-process struggles. We were disappointed by the empiricism, narrative style and opposition to theory on the part of some of the historians, but the group nevertheless continued after the conference to discuss the literature of the marxist labour process analysis. Another RSJ collective member, working in industry, took inspiration from the presentation by the Brighton Labour Process Group at that conference (Brighton; Hales, Living Thinkwork). With academic colleagues he began to connect the ideas to his industrial setting. There were other connections, too. Having come to 'the labour process' through scientific work, the academic history of ideas, and the BSSRS of the early seventies, we felt optimistic that the concepts of labour and practice (praxis) would be invaluable in bringing the criticism of science into the mainstream of Left theory and practice. As Jacoby stresses, 'Labour is neither nature nor history, but their matrix' (Jacoby, 1971, p. 45). By treating science as a labour process, we felt that we could begin to clarify, in a way not previously available to us as British socialists, how much scientific production had in common with other forms of productive activity, under capitalism. We could stress the similarities rather than the differences — differences which allowed the area of scientific work to sink an absurdly long way down the socialist agenda at a time when ‘scientificity' was becoming the theoreticist fetish — without losing the connection with the political theory of process, central to 'Science is Social Relations'.

Like other labour processes, scientific practices are constituted by (1) raw materials. (2) means of production, (3) purposive activity, all organised in the creation of some use value (Capital I, chs, 7, 15). The raw materials can be chemicals or information or blood; the means can be ultracentrifuges or computers or kidney machines; the purposive activity can be analysing sequences of amino acids or calculating airframe stresses or directing the bodily circulation through external filtration; and the use values can be establishing the structure of insulin or producing a minimum-cost airframe or keeping someone alive. These use values are embodied, respectively, in a molecular model and a scientific paper, a ‘computer-aided' design, and a flow of purified blood. In cases such as these, the labour process approach accepts that values are internal to the practice and intrinsic to its organisation and products. The approach opens up possible insights into points of struggle within workers' work situations by showing how values are embodied in the material organisation of day-to-day practice.

It will be apparent that we are taking the concept of 'labour process' well beyond its conventional limited application to industrial production of physical use-values which are also, directly, commodities. The incentive to develop the labour process approach to politics in science is that it facilitates the conversion (both analytical and practical) between living and dead labour, variable and fixed capital, social relations and their sclerosed form as technologies. It is worth recalling that Marx emphasised this when he said in the Grundrisse that it is the aspect of human labour which should be stressed, rather than a purely technical materiality, in each element of the labour process. Thus we have the more emphatic terminology: materials (or objects) of labour, means (or instruments) of labour, and living labour (Grundrisse, p. 691). In any labour process — be its product goods, services or facts — living labour applies instruments of labour to objects of labour, in order to produce a use value of one kind or another. That product, now embodying dead labour, can be analysed back into the elements of the labour process which produced it.

From a labour process approach arise two additional conceptions: the constitution of that product by social relations, and the origination of new technologies which are geared to particular labour processes. In other words, social relations are not simply a context within which an otherwise ‘material/technical' (a-social) process of production occurs; rather social determinants constitute the use-values being produced and the way they are produced. Furthermore, the social 'impact' of new technologies does not merely follow their application but is also built into them at the design stage. Thus we can seek opportunities for intervention in the labour process of science and technology itself, in the process of origination of new endeavours rather than at the point of application alone.

A reasonably attentive follower of the debate over science and ideology would see these three conceptions — labour process, constitution, origination — as an attempt to recast old positions in a new mode. This is first and foremost an agitational mode, less about knowledge or 'truth’ than about power and intervention. It is not Marxism in general but the Marxist conception of the labour process, producing use values; not the theory of fetishism as such but the coming-to-be of fixed capital, where capital's priorities become embedded in a project which thenceforward becomes increasingly refractory to willed, organised efforts to alter it; not a counter-hegemonic world-view but specific counter-hegemonic struggles where facts and artefacts are conceived and moulded. We think this is the most intellectually rigorous of all the available ways of interpreting science within history and has the broadest agitational potential. In attempting it we are not setting out to dismiss the use-abuse model. Tactically, the use-abuse response leads to what we agree are many of the right targets, analyses and campaigns. But strategically, the specific analyses and the limited problematic of use-abuse must be re-contextualised if the mutual isolation of science and the Left is to be broken through, towards enabling socialists to combat and subvert capital's restructuring around science.

A virtue of labour process analyses is that they plainly demand a detailed concrete examination of the relations of production in capitalist society. The centrality that sciences occupy in the forces of production of monopoly capitalism needs to be accounted for more completely than can be done through the conventional vocabulary: wage-labour, commodity form, surplus-value. Why are forms of mental labour so central in current capitalism? This characteristic question of the labour process approach provides the obvious connection for radical analysts of science. When pursued seriously, the question leads, we are beginning to think, to the conclusion that conceptual production as a dominant mode implies new relations of production within the general forms of capitalism. Such conclusions generate opposition in those Marxist circles which see progress as taking place through the application of Marxism but not in its development, or through the party but not the class struggle on the historical stage.

We return in the next section to the question of how to locate ourselves in that class struggle. What we stress here is that for radicals in and around science, as for socialists struggling elsewhere on the map of the capitalist world-division of labour, it is essential to clarify the concept of relations of production. What are socialists struggling against in capitalist societies? What is different, by definition, in socialist societies; what are we struggling for? If the practical centrality of scientific work and ideas heralds a real change in the historical form of capitalist production, then clearly it matters that this change should be pinned down. For example, though the slogan 'Safety or Profit' is a good one, and useful, it has limits grounded in the limits of surplus-value as a relation of production determining the immediate content of work. To the extent that other relations of production play a significant role in giving concrete shape to practices on the shop-floor (as well as office floor and kitchen floor) then this slogan will be inadequate — even misleading — and will fail to direct struggles to practical targets. In a world where the production of ideas (scientific ideas, but also advertising imagery and media vocabulary) plays such an obvious part in fixing the concrete conditions of struggle, activists must be prepared to follow the real shifts in the locus of power with shifts in their own analysis and practice.

Intrinsic to the labour process perspective on scientific practices is the insight that forces of production can never be in any sense neutral, and therefore open to 'abuse'. Conceptual and physical artefacts are produced in definite practical contexts and exist — as elements of social reality — only in definite practical contexts. They are never floating free, available for simply any alternative use. Ideas and things are tied to practices. Sometimes they can be 'stolen', used in another practice. But in general, a new use implies a new practice. The concern of labour process analyses of science is to show what are the contingent material and historical limits on 'freedom' in scientific production. This is, in part, a matter of analysing the apparatus of social practice: machinery and experimental apparatuses and physical access to them, physical commodities, human time-and-motion, the objective dynamics of a transnational money economy (rising organic composition, falling rate of profit), and so on. But the analysis of a labour process is more than this, as becomes inescapable when it is a practice of conceptual production — such as a science — which is addressed. The analysis of apparatus (which is the stronghold of economistic marxisms) must be complemented by the analysis of culture: languages, images, values, knowledges, purposes. It is only here that we connect with Marxism's often implicit substratum of use-value, and it is only at this level that we can begin to feel that the analysis grasps class struggle, as distinct from simply capital, or machinery, or deductive logic and statistical inference. Use value is a matter of culture, not simply apparatus. The struggle for socialism is a struggle to transform the totality of use value, from use-value-for-capital to use value for human self-development.

Like any other species of use value, scientific ideas, technological artefacts, and medical procedures all exist only in specific social locations. To make explicit the politics necessarily built into science (as into all practices) requires careful analysis of objective and subjective articulations within the totality of the forces of production. The struggle to change these material connections, affecting the processes and products themselves, is quite inadequately conceptualised in terms of use/abuse, or even use/alternative use. It is a matter of reconstituting practices, not simply of re-using things. Our concept of socialism must speak to the re-appropriation of the forces of production through transformed practices.

Furthermore, not only do we refuse to accept capital's forces of production as class-neutral, but we can no longer even accept capitalist development as simply technical increases in the forces of production. In this period the development of fixed capital (automation, nuclear power, biotechnology) is increasingly geared towards fragmenting and degrading creative human powers, for the sake of extending methods of factory discipline ever further into the production and reproduction of daily life. It is no longer a question of how to liberate fixed capital from the capitalist social relations which contain and restrict them, but rather of how to liberate the working class' own forces of production from the destructive direction of fixed capital. Yet, at a time when the main rationale and 'benefit' of technological development is managerial tyranny over living labour, the trade union debate over the new technology is centred upon how the working class can 'share the benefit'.

The whole nature of both knowledge production and industrial production is shifting in ways which make the traditional 'radical science' concerns (social responsibility, use/abuse, truth) at best irrelevant, at worst misleading, for any kind of revolutionary intervention into struggles against capital's latest strategy. It is through the labour process perspective that we are attempting to make radical science adequate to the task of subverting and superseding the direction of capitalist development. The sometimes mocking reception afforded our critique within the left only serves to de-politicize the issues as to what capital is doing and why; indeed, it obscures how capital has constituted our very own 'professional’ skills as part of its forces of production which we need to contest.

Theory of Practice

Many radical critics relegate themselves unwittingly to a rear-guard position by accepting claims which sciences make about their own methods and by conceding in principle some putatively non-ideological core of scientific knowledge. The implication is that the world is made up of objects just waiting to be taken and studied, as if sciences do not actively construct their own objects of study from existing cultural and physical materials. Consequently, for critics who share the commitment to orthodox canons of scientific knowledge-production, the term 'ideology' can mean only subjectivity which is grossly wilful, obvious, and otherwise distasteful. This kind of rationalism implies that it is only scientists' ideas nature which need to be challenged, and that they can be successfully challenged as 'unscientific'. When this tactic breaks down (as when some racist scientists cannot be shown to have cooked the books), radical rationalists have, of course, no resort but to stand on their own individual-, group-, or class-subjective positions, and so expose themselves to criticism of the more-objective-than-thou variety. By conceding the epistemology objective status of science, radical professionals set limits how far they challenge their own complicity in reproducing forms of power which scientific and other professional practices carry and constitute. Examples are expertise, deskilling, 'participative' decision making, schooling. It is all too easy for people to privilege the practice of professionals, as workers with a particular (if contradictory and unclear) class location, without analysing the political conditions in which the ideas themselves are produced. It is part of our aspiration to make this privileging more difficult.

The significance of the labour process approach here is that it does not limit its attack to the bourgeois ideology of nature — nature as possessing pre-given properties discovered by science. It goes deeper, to attack the bourgeois ideology of practice, refusing to restrict itself to arguments about whether it's true that this chemical is harmful; or that radiation level safe; or that IQ is genetically determined and unequally distributed between the sexes or races (sorry, gene pools); or that microprocessors labour-displacing. We must talk firstly about the kinds of practice which produce these kinds of statements about the world, and how they attain and maintain their hegemony, and how that hegemony can be subverted in socialists' day-to-day struggles over the form and content of work. In a labour process attack in a specific area of science, conceptual artefacts need to be carefully examined in their practical connections — through racial and sexual oppression, hierarchical work organisation, the repression and suppression of alternative modes of creativity; as well as through 'career capital' (Bourdieu). Conceptual and physical artefacts be made to reveal the living labour that they contain, and the living labour that they in turn dominate: apparatus designed to facilitate routine work, scientific papers attributed to prestigious individuals regardless of whose mental and manual labour they incorporate. The approach is entirely compatible with a tactical decision to fight on an ideological front, to debate. But the key distinction underlying such a decision is no longer the demarcation of science and ideology (or, for that matter, science and technology, 'internal' and 'external' factors, or pure and applied science). The key issue is the relation between living and dead labour, forces and relations of production, concepts and reality — as historical class relations concretely present in practices of scientific work.

It is ironic that, in current Marxist debates around science, our approach finds itself labelled 'relativist'. Since we regard knowledges as intrinsic to, and varying with, the social forces which constitute and maintain them, this is taken to amount to a complete agnosticism with regard to the validity of knowledges. There are some (academic) schools which collapse into this epistemological state of despair, but RSJ has never allied itself with them. Indeed, a significant portion of our work has involved criticising the positions available in the academic supermarket: science and society, sociology of science, sociology of knowledge, anthropology of knowledge, and various forms of social constructionism in the social sciences.[15] For those whose politics of science are held to ransom by epistemological questions, it appears that our refusal to be trapped into such questions must be a liberal (or anarchist) tolerance for any and all views of nature; it remains out of their ken that we are trying to demote epistemological questions rather than answer them. Our refusal to slip easily into labelling aspects of science as ideology is grasped by the epistemologically preoccupied as a matter of surrendering all existing science to capital — as if it were not already capitalist both in form (as wage-labour, for example) and content. We want to see debate move onto the terrain of practices, taken whole, thus escaping from the intellectual ghetto of the science/ideology debate.

What we think is now possible, within a general framework of labour process theory, is a thoroughgoing historical and materialist approach to the production of theoretical concepts — corresponding, at a general level, to the Marxist analysis of 'production in general' (the phrase comes from Marx's 'Preface'). The production of knowledge is paralleled in, and proceeds through, a process of producing physical phenomena. At the most elementary level the physical phenomena are those of speech, extended at more sophisticated cultural levels by experimental apparatus, academic papers and journals, public talks, lectures, broadcasting, pamphlets, etc. Through this apparatus, conceptual objects are transformed into conceptual products (see Hales, Living Thinkwork). What needs to be understood is how this production is materially constituted by the location of a practice in the division of labour, by physical means of production, by wage-labour, by commodity-secrecy (patents, confidentiality), by the book as commodity. From the Second International to the present, we have been stalked by the albatross of an epistemology in which 'material reality' is entirely purged of social organisation. Scientism in the Old and New Left sees things — especially concepts — as if they were only contingently related to purposes. But artefacts are not normally packaged in the form of time-capsules, as we argued earlier in rebutting the use/abuse perspective. Practices are the foundation of a Marxist analytical route around the pitfall of epistemology. Let us consider some specific examples.

In the case of designing chemical processes, the design team preoccupies itself with technical criteria such as 'reliability', 'efficiency', 'safety', ‘quality'. These are seen simply as engineering matters, but here we want to analyse how they ultimately mediate the subordination of living labour to capital — indeed, are constituted to do so.

The design team originates a novel conceptual product — the 'design' —objectified in the form of documents. This objectified product passes into other labour processes, within and outside the firm. To become finished ‘means of production', it is reworked by other special kinds of living labour (fabrication, construction, 'rigging', purchasing) along with other kinds of materials: e.g., metal bar- and sheet-stock in contractors' workshops (where the design is tuned to the contractor's labour process), is turned into an on-site skeleton of rolled-steel joists and concrete, filled out with pipes, lagging and electrical wiring, and stocked with suppliers' inventories of feedstocks. The original conceptual product ends up as dead labour in the form of the completed plant, ready for start-up waiting for living labour to attend it. When chemical process workers confront these means of production, they find that this technology has diminished the space for insubordination. They find themselves reduced to the role of mere labourers or of dial-minders requiring little special knowledge to intervene, and what they do need is very specialised and particular. Complementing the workers' enforced ignorance is a wide of knowledges elsewhere in the plant and the industry — those of chemists, engineers, systems-analysts, production managers, personnel managers, sales managers. Along with the designers themselves, these all help to make real capital's material ownership of the plant, subordinating living to dead labour.

Chemical process workers watching the dials are no longer even machine-minders retaining a significant space for refusing to mind the machines properly, e.g., by work to rule or covert sabotage. They are left with fewer options in between the extremes of either accepting their subordination or pushing the panic button. The dead conceptual labour of designers, researchers and managers confronts living labour with the direct challenge: either do the obvious — which we have painstakingly made obvious, so that you need not think about it — or unravel the social and historical forces woven into this situation. And do it in your 'spare' time, because you are not paid to think.

The chemical process design thus advances capital's aim of reducing workers' control over their own labour (and taking that historical tendency as far as the pre-chip technology could take it). The design embodies the 'intelligence' in the fixed capital, which literally fixes the possible uses of the machinery, such that process workers could not choose what to do with the plant even if they wanted to. They do not — and even cannot — know what is possible to do with it. Their only significant 'freedom' is to choose to make the plant not work at all — very high stakes indeed. In this situation, the knowledge which the workers would need, in order to resist, encompasses the entire labour process. Combatting their own subordination to dead labour requires analysing the fixed capital back into the capitalist relations of production it embodies, back further into the conceptual product (the design) which originated it — and then intervening at the stage of origination. This doesn't mean challenging the scientificity of the engineering criteria but rather uncovering the values which the design embodies and substituting oppositional values which contest the capitalist relations of production.

The Grunwick photo-processing plant provides another illustration of how living labour is subordinated indirectly by conceptual products — in this case, by logical sequences written in computer languages embodied in computers organised to eliminate living labour from those tasks most amenable to workers' job-control and resistance (Levidow, 'Grunwick' in RSJ 6/7). Readers familiar with the Grunwick strike may find this example strange. since Grunwick became notorious for the low wages, compulsory overtime and autocratic shopfloor control which management imposed, particularly upon the Asian women in the mail-room. Indeed, their labour-intensive task lent itself to images of 19th century sweatshops which needed to extract 'absolute surplus value' for failure to invest in technology which could increase productivity ('relative surplus value'). Accordingly, Grunwick has been popularly represented as a Dickensian employer who needed to be forced into the 20th century.

However, we need to understand Grunwick in almost the opposite sense — that is, as capital's vanguard of the 20th century, particularly because of its roles in consumer culture and in automation. Firstly, Grunwick has come to occupy a small corner of the modern hegemony industry, geared to the fast turnover of holiday snapshots — the Instamatic's approximation to the 'instant nostalgia' made available from Polaroid and now Kodak. Grunwick won its place in that market by using advanced technology to computerise the customer accounts and the chemical processing of the film.

Secondly, the computerisation made a bottleneck out of the clerical work done in the mail order department, where management ruthlessly pressured the workers to keep pace with the rest of the process. In other words, the particular choice of the hardware investment followed on from an assessment as to which human tasks were marginally worth replacing or subordinating with fixed capital, so that other tasks could be exploited more flexibly. Thus Grunwick's very selective automation facilitated exploitation of the mail room workers, whose numbers and workspace could be varied at will by the management, according to seasonal (or even daily) fluctuations in custom.

The campaign to unionise Grunwick arose precisely out of the exploitation of living labour in the mail room and focused on the articulation between that labour-intensive process and the postal sorters. When the blacking of postal deliveries was defeated, attention turned to other public sector workers — gas, electricity, water — but deference to threats of legal action precluded denying those essential services. A labour process perspective might have drawn attention to articulations between the Asian women's work and the rest of Grunwick — the fixed capital. The capital-intensive high technology photo-processing equipment could have been analysed in terms of raw materials, means of production and purposive activity. The analysis would include delivery of chemicals and paper, articulating with workers in transportation and manufacture. It would include maintenance of, and spare parts for, the processing machinery. Seeing through the dead labour, to the living labour it embodies and the living labour it controls might have provided many more opportunities for class solidarity. Had it all come alive, the employer, George Ward could have been confronted with opposition from subversive workers on all sides.

And if, in the particular case of Grunwick, the management always prevented or circumvented selective blacking with a little help from its friends at the National Association for Freedom (NAFF), then we could move on from the labour process proper, to ask how the company's allies succeeded in severing the labour process politically. How did the postal and essential service workers get defined as outsiders lacking any legitimate material interest in the Grunwick strike? Indeed, how did doubts arise about the strikers themselves not being real workers, by virtue of not producing for Grunwick? (Levidow in Levidow and Young).

It might appear that examples from chemical process design and Grunwick will not extend easily to embrace medicine and science, but this is far from the case. Think of the complex and rigid division of labour and hierarchical organisation of medical education and institutions — all done in the name of efficient care. Similar analyses of the social relations of scientific research and institutions are just beginning to be made. They are less open to summary presentation because of the complex and subtle mediations between the research and the wider forces at work constituting them. Nevertheless there is a growing literature: Simon Pickvance on "'Life" in a Biology Lab', Jean-Paul Levy-Leblond on 'Ideology of/in Contemporary Physics', Andre Gorz on 'The Scientist as Worker: Speedup at the Think Tank', Donna Haraway on 'The Biological Enterprise: Sex, Mind and Profit from Human Engineering to Sociobiology' (as well as other, more detailed papers), and Edward Yoxen on 'Life as a Productive Force: Capitalising the Science and Technology of Molecular Biology'. [16]

Most concept-producing practices have a significant real object of labour as well as a conceptual object — be it a page (to be made into a book), an ‘audience' (to be 'enlightened'), or a piece of experimental apparatus (which will demonstrate the truth of a concept), or an industrial labour process (to be made more 'efficient'). Some practices, like old-style pure maths, appear to have no real object, and the great variety of possible relations between conceptual and real object, offer an enormous possible range of varieties of rigour in intellectual work.

Think of laboratory science, 'operational' research and systems analysis, 'mission-oriented' but 'basic' research, applications research and technical service, non-experimental natural science; and also about hard and soft social sciences, literary traditions, political traditions. Each has its characteristic forms of rigour within which work is judged to be good of its kind. By a gross process of ideological and financial hegemony, some of these forms of rigour attain cultural supremacy. What labour process analysis offers is the opportunity to analyse at a general level these different modes of theoretical and ideological production, so that socialists can evaluate them in quite detailed and specific tactical studies, according to their needs in prefigurative struggle. Just how different, and how robust, are 'scientific' modes of theoretical production, compared to others? And how can a strategy for agitation and transformation in the sphere of the sciences be integrated with an assessment of political strategies leading to alternative social forms? We think that this kind of strategy is now within reach as an offensive one for the radical science movement, and as an absolutely necessary complement to defensive struggles on the terrains of ideology on the one hand and of redundancy agreements on the other.

The Reflexive, the Personal, and the Professional

We are attracted to the labour process approach, in preference to narrower ones, because it offers a more direct route to agitational practice. It does this by clarifying possibilities for contestation in the settings in which we work and struggle every day. As a theory of practice, labour process theory must first be applied as theory to our own practice.

Without such a self-reflexive theoretical approach, we cannot clarify whether and how our activities truly challenge capital's control. How else can we avoid reproducing, even in our radicalism, the oppressive social relations of the social order which we consciously intend to oppose? It is its reflexivity — the necessary reflexivity of a theory of practice — which gives the labour process approach its edge over approaches focusing on some 'external' nature instead of on socially constituted nature.

We are growing wary of the self-labelling of the 'radical science movement'. Given our educational and employment histories, we certainly consider the sciences and other spheres of 'professional' work as important territory in which to struggle politically. But we notice a tendency to fetishize science as a separate, specialised sector of struggle — the new technology, IQ, sociobiology, hazards, the technology of state repression. The labour process approach, in our experience, connects radical science with other spheres of activity. These include white-collar and shop-floor work in industry (ICI and Lucas Aerospace), other political movements (notably, the women's movement), and groupings of radical academics outside science (the Conference of Socialist Economists, for example). In making those links, in both theory and agitational practice, we are loath to grant science any privileged status. We do not wish to elevate our scientific backgrounds to the level of a specialist expertise, i.e., to represent an occupational contingency as a political virtue. We need to get out of a scientific/scientistic ghetto.

The 1970s saw the emergence of a large number of groups of intellectual workers spanning disciplines and transgressing conventional boundaries between academic work, political activism and non-academic work, while still committed to theoretical activity. In shifting from a focus on academic economics, the CSE has become a federation of such groups. This is where the RSJ collective has been most directly involved, via CSE working groups on education, the labour process and left strategy, microprocessors, and ICI. This last one, along with the Motors Group, is an example of a joint venture within the CSE structure between intellectual workers (mainly academics) and militant industrial shop-floor workers. These in turn are only part of the network of academic/shop-steward connections which has begun to develop in the context of workers' struggles in specific firms and sectors of employment: Vickers, Parsons, GEC, Chubb, motor industry firms, Lucas Aerospace; also in state employment.[17] The Lucas situation is unique in a number of respects — the workers' combine Corporate Plan being a development which inspired many others. It has gone further in setting up its own apparatus than any of the other combine-based research projects, both in the extent of organisation through the combine and in the establishment of a research centre with some full-time staff (Centre for Alternative Industrial and Technological Systems at North-East London Polytechnic). The Community Development Project and many local community action projects have deposited residues of socialist-intellectual activism which link closely with ventures such as those above and also with local health and safety groups which blossomed in the wake of the Health and Safety at Work Act: Coventry Workshop, Benwell Community Project, Coventry Health and Safety Movement, Manchester Area Health and Safety Committee; Trade Union and Community Research and Information Centre (TUCRIC) in Leeds, TUSIU in Newcastle; socialist education centres. Our list is selective, but indicates the lively innovation that has been taking place between academic research and industrial trade union activism. It seems obvious to us that such initiatives in socialist politics are too important to pass without serious attempts at general analysis. Forthcoming publications on shop stewards combine committees, and a recently published book on struggles In and Against the State (London Weekend-Return Group) show that others share this concern.

At the most general level, there is one debate now surfacing which has great significance for political strategy in the radical science movement. It concerns the role of 'the Professional-Managerial Class' (PMC). Barbara and John Ehrenreich started the debate with an article addressing the emergence of the American New Left and its limitations in the 1970s, which also rang true in the British experience (Walker). The authors defined the PMC as 'consisting of salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major functions in the social division of labour may be described broadly as the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist social relations' (Radical America 11 (3), p. 7). They argued of the PMC and the working class that, 'Both classes confront the capitalist class over the means of production. They confront each other over the issues of knowledge, skills, culture' (p. 22; Walker, p. 45). As a theoretical perspective, this has many resonances for people in our position. Specifically, it challenges us to analyse the class position of broadly New Left and new Old Left movements of which radical science is only a part.

Members of the PMC, as described by Barbara and John Ehrenreich, range from teachers, lecturers, social workers and media workers, through doctors, nurses, psychologists and consultants of many kinds, to managerial, scientific and technical workers. We would like to make further distinctions among scientific workers, for surely it matters whether, we are manager or managed, research associate or lab technician, academic or industrial or unwaged worker, professor or student, natural or medical or management or engineering scientist. Depending on where we work, our politics must differ, and to 'dig where we stand' will have quite different implications. How should we understand the political differences between professors and those intellectuals who may be neither scientists nor academics, or among various intellectuals comprising an editorial collective of a radical science journal? In trying to clarify alliances and resolve unexamined tensions, the reflexivity of the labour process approach has become our touchstone. As theory of practice - specifically, of knowledge-producing practice - it is surely our best bet for a putative theory of the internal and external relations of the PMC. In the 1980s we want to see the radical science movement moving on: beyond science into work, beyond ideology into culture, beyond knowledge as such to knowledge as subversive practice. The labour process conceptual framework offers us the chance of articulating our theory with this necessary practical advance.

Our renunciation of the intellectual's bolt-hole of 'objectivity', and our stress on the necessary self-reflexive aspect of any radical practice, has provoked severe reactions from some quarters. Many reject our insistence that radicals must include in their criticisms the criticism of their own ways of doing things — not simply criticism of their opponents' and their own former views. That problem has manifested itself in a way inseparable from that of finding it difficult to work collectively. We could make things easier for ourselves (at least in the short run) by ignoring the contradictions of our lives as professional workers attempting to challenge professionalism, as meritocrats attempting to overcome individualism. We could concentrate more intensively on the products and less on the political process of our practice. But this would be to abandon the sine qua non of labour process politics (like RSJ politics since its inception) — that it is processes which have to be grasped, in all their contradictoriness, and that political self-consciousness amounts to nothing if it starts and ends 'out there', outside of our own class relations.

Living this commitment can raise personal anguish to a high pitch. The contradictoriness of having a career (or any job at all) in science and simultaneously conducting a critique of science can erupt in individuals with a force of unbearable intensity. Though we regret such victories by capital's division of labour, we should not be surprised that working scientists tend to compromise on the critique rather than on the career. Of course it can happen the other way around, with workers leaving their jobs because of political commitments, but the quandary remains no less serious for them. The lived contradictions involved in keeping the job while struggling collectively to transform it lie at the heart of labour process politics.

Our aim in this section has been to give a clearer historical, class meaning to the insight that 'the personal is the political'. The labour process approach, with its essential reflexivity, offers us the broadest way of doing so. We regret that some socialists reject the insight entirely by parodying reflexivity as 'hyper-reflexivity' (H. Rose).

We said at the beginning that we wanted to show that the problems raised by the privileged treatment of science have been encountered by the left in other guises. In the course of our argument it has turned out that legitimacy, correct line, orthodoxy and the entire basis of political practice have all been at stake — so have some of the peculiarities of marxist intellectual and political culture in Britain. Science, technology and medicine are found at the centre of capital's current restructuring of the labour process. Unless we can learn how transform the capitalist social relations embodied in the labour process, and to transform our own labour process accordingly, no amount of objectivity and no amount of scientific research and debate will bring about socialism rather than barbarism.

Comments by Norman Diamond

The strength of RSJ’'s position is its large scope. In understanding science as a manifestation and embodiment of the social totality, RSJ's analyses have the potential directly to challenge that social totality. The perspective on science as social relations, manifested in Les Levidow's 'A Marxist Critique of the IQ Debate' (RSJ 6/7), Bob Young's 'Science is Social Relations' (RSJ 5), and other essays including my 'The Politics of Scientific Conceptualization', (in Levidow and Young) has raised the possibility of one's being a science radical and not simply a science worker who is radical on the side. The process of responding to the critics who have a narrower and more exclusive view of science seems to me to have induced the collective (in this essay) to risk focusing down the RSJ perspective in ways that are both unnecessary and undermining of its subversive potential.

A labour process perspective which understands science in terms of how the entire society is constituted not only refuses to accept the existing society as given, it also equips people to understand any social phenomenon, any manifestation of consciousness, in light of its social conditions. It is that continuous non-acceptance and that equipping which is subversive.

On the other hand, science as a labour process — at least as this essay tends to present it — appears to look primarily at the process of science activity. This narrowing of approach is defended at a couple of points as being for agitational purposes. There's little doubt that this orientation, which sees the changing needs of capital from within the workplace, is an important means of identifying issues with agitational potential. No issue is radical per se, however. The subversive potential depends on how and toward what aim the issue is used. The move towards a labour process perspective presented here runs the risk of economism. Science radicals will find it a useful tool but must constantly go back to the broader perspective of science as social relations.

Notes

1. Lichtheim, Concept of Ideology; Douglas; Berger & Luckmann; Lukács, esp. p. 234; Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man.

2. There are extensive bibliographical notes on these literatures in Young, 'Evolutionary Biology'.

3. These have appeared in various issues of RSJ: Stauder, RSJ 1; S. Young, RSJ 2/3; Figlio, RSJ 9; Sohn-Rethel, RSJ 2/3; Hodgkin, RSJ 4; Dickson, RSJ 1; Levidow on IQ, RSJ 6/7; Pickvance, RSJ 4; Hales, RSJ 1; Young, RSJ 5.

4. Levidow in Head and Hand; in Radical Philosophy, in RSJ 9; Young, 'Reconstituting Technology'; Yoxen; Brown; Cowan.

5. H. and S. Rose, Socialist Register and a number of articles containing more or less on the same text; Shallice; Benton.

6. C.S.E. Microelectronics, Barker and Downing; Young in Computing and Time Out; Garson; Glenn and Feldberg.

7. The list of innovations is a long one, beginning with nuclear power (in both senses). It includes computers, transistors, sonar, radar, miniaturisation, silicon chips, numerical control of machine operations, robotics, electronic sensors, cybernetics, operational research, systems research (the only section of the US Defense Department which consistently argued that the bombing of Cambodia was militarily useless), rocketry, orbiting satellites for communications and surveillance, high resolution long-range photography, bugging devices, lasers, microwave transmission, optical fibre transmission, voice scramblers, electronic voice recognition, and (currently making progress) voice-to-print translation. The material for rocket nose cones which prevented the astronauts from frying on re-entry found its way to frying in the kitchen as Teflon. Finally, the immunological research of Sir Peter Medwar, which brought him a Nobel Prize and made transplant surgery possible, had its beginnings in the treatment of horribly burned airmen in World War II.

8. We can get some idea of scale from a review of A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System, Vol 2: National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975), which has been called 'the finest history of a major industry which we have'. In the period 1939-45

Bell Labs handled approximately 2000 projects out of which came all the navy radars and between one quarter and one half of the army's (army included air force in World War II). There were 97 radars developed and designed, and 76 put into production, usually with Western production starting ahead of model completion (shipboard there were 10 surface fire control, 22 anti-aircraft fire control, 7 search, 4 submarine search, and two aircraft warning; groundbased there were 7 search, one ground control intercept, three gunfire control, one mortar locating, three anti-aircraft, 4 aircraft gunlaying, 11 aircraft search, 8 high-altitude bombing, three low altitude bombing, and two aircraft missile control). To accompany the radars and guncontrol systems there were more than 115 new instruments or test sets developed and standardized, and ten more designs nearing completion by V-J Day ... Gun control and gun direction were logical extensions of radar work — radar control and gun radar detection, followed by applying output information to weapons or automatically controlling the gun (fuse settings; direction of fire taking into account, in the case of the navy, the roll, yaw, and pitch, and vector velocity of the vessel, the coordinates and motion of the objective, the Euler angles or equal of the gun, anticipation of the elapsed motion of the objective until contact). One gun director (the M-9) was responsible (with its radar from elsewhere) in shooting down 89 of the 91 V-1 bombs launched by the Germans against England in one week.

Other developments with comparable detailed projects — were concerned with sonar, torpedo design and control, worldwide communication systems, secrecy systems, the DEW line, Nike systems and other warning and guidance systems, including ones to distinguish explosive carriers from among decoys, tracking and intercepting ICBMs travelling 24,000 ft/sec above 100,000 ft. The reviewer remarks, 'The work of the Bell Labs sharply illustrates the condensation of about twenty years of normal R&D work into the five years of World War II with invention and innovation almost to order. The transistor and some Nobel Prizes came later' (Brainerd review of Fagen, pp. 817-21). It should be added that there were and are numerous other large-scale contract arrangements between electronics and aerospace firms and government with R&D extending across a range from electronic miniturization to things that fly to the generation of nuclear-powered electricity.

9. Burtt; Whitehead; Dickson in RSJ 8; Young in Irvine.

10. Rosenberg; Diamond; Jacoby, 1971; Jacoby, 1976; Aronowitz.

11. See above, note 5; and Colletti on Marcuse; Horton and Filsoufi; Hoffman.

12. Ellegard; see also Eisley; Greene, Brooke; Durant; Moore; Young, Impact. The progeny of this ideological struggle continue to shape the biological, medical and human sciences. See Greene, Science and Young, 'Natural Theology' and 'Naturalization', as well as the Open University Course Units on Science and Belief: Darwin to Einstein.

13. Significant exceptions are Bill Schwarz's research on Taylorism in Britain (Birmingham Cultural Studies Centre) and Mike Hales' dissertation on the history and ideology of Operational Research.

14. Their inventiveness reaches new heights (goes into orbit?) when they report in yet another rehash of their Science Bulletin article that 'Young owes a considerable philosophical debt to the anarchist Feyerabend (particularly his book Against Method) ...’ (Working Papers, p.82). Now we know which of the unread works of Feyerabend Young is supposed to have studied most closely.

15. Young in RSJ 5; New Scientist; in Teich and Young; McNeil; Mackenzie.

16. Pickvance; Levy-Leblond; also Gorz; Haraway in Signs; in RHR; in RSJ 10; Yoxen in Levidow and Young; in RSJ 10.

17. Beynon and Wainwright; CSE Energy Group; Brighton; Institute for Workers' Control Motors Group.

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Robert M. Young, 'Interpreting the Production of Science', New Scientist, 29 March 1979, 1026-1028.

Robert M. Young, 'Science is a Labour Process', Science for People 43/44 (1979), 31-37.

Robert M. Young, 'Reconstituting Technology: Chips, Genes, Spares', CSE Conference Papers (1979), 119-127.

Robert M. Young, 'Why Are Figures So Significant? The Role and the Critique of Quantification', in John Irvine et al. (eds.), pp. 63-74.

Robert M. Young, 'Closed Circuit', Time Out, 4-10 April 1980, 8-9.

Robert M. Young, 'Jumping Beans on Public Show' (on the London Science Museum exhibition - 'The Challenge of the Chip'), Computing, 17 April 1980, 22-23.

Robert M. Young, 'Being Socialist', a review of P. G. Werskey, The Visible College, Allen Lane, 1978; Head and Hand 5 (Summer 1980), 16-17.

Robert M. Young, 'The Relevance of Bernal's Questions' (An Essay Review of Maurice Goldsmith, Sage: A Life of J. D. Bernal, Hutchinson, 1980), RSJ 10 (1980), 85-94.

Robert M. Young, 'Natural Theology, Victorian Periodicals and Fragmentation of a Common Context', in Colin Chart and John Fauvel (eds.), Darwin to Einstein: Historical Studies on Science and Belief, Longman/Open University Press, 1981, pp. 69-107.

Robert M. Young, 'The Naturalization of Value Systems in the Human Sciences', in Problems in the Biological and Human Sciences, Block VI, Unit 14 of Open University Course on 'Science and Belief: Darwin to Einstein'; Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1981, pp. 63-110.

Sheila Young, 'The Politics of Abortion: Women and the Crisis in the National Health Service', RSJ 2/3 (1975), 51-64.

Edward Yoxen, 'Playing God: An Essay Review of June Goodfield, Playing God: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life, Hutchinson, 1977', RSJ 10 (1980), 75-84.

Edward Yoxen, 'Life as a Productive Force: Capitalising the Science and Technology of Molecular Biology ', in Levidow and Young (eds.), pp. 66-122.

Edward Yoxen, 'Constructing Genetic Diseases', in P. Wright and A. Treacher (eds.), The Problem of Medical Knowledge: Towards a Social Constructionist View, Edinburgh University Press, in press.

Reprinted from Radical Science Journal No. 11 (1981), 3-70.

Copyright: RSJ Collective

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ
robert@rmy1.demon.co.uk


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