Marxism and populism

A second wave of social movements in the nineteenth century, with the growth of the labor movement in Europe and populism in America, also had an important influence on knowledge-making. Not only were there inputs to the sciences themselves, philosophically, organizationally, and technically/methodologically, which drew, in complicated ways, on the critiques of socialists and populists (Hobsbawm 1979), but also many of the revolutionary innovations that were to fuel the second industrial revolution (Landes 1969) - electricity, organic chemistry, internal combustion engines, airplanes, moving pictures, the automobile - were motivated by populist or socialist impulses. At the same time, the broader democratic ambition that was so widespread in the 1870s and 1880s led to whole new fields of knowledge, and, in particular, to an opening of the world of science and scientific rationality to new practitioners: women, colonized peoples, farmers, and workers. Perhaps most significantly, however, this second wave of social movements shaped a fundamental new social philosophy that would, for more than a hundred years, lead to a bifurcation of science and politics into the warring worlds of socialism and capitalism. The social movements of the 1870s and 1880s would create not only Marxism (Gouldner 1980), but also the social anarchism, associated with Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, the populist economics of Henry George, the conservationism of John Muir, and the ecology of Ernst Haeckel.

The Marxian contribution would prove to be especially important for the ways in which we think about the processes of knowledge-making and their relations to society. For Karl Marx sought to turn the revolutionary project itself into a science. He brought together the positivist cosmology of Auguste Comte with the technological determinism that was emerging among economists. Perhaps even more significantly in the long run, Marx articulated and practiced a new kind of scientific role: the partisan intellectual. As he put it in one of his early manuscripts, "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." And for Marx, the key resource in changing the world was a scientific understanding.

The particular scientific understanding that he sought to develop, his historical materialism, as it came to be called, was a central element in the transformation of the social movements of the working class into institutions. The scientific socialism that Marx created in the late 1860s and 1870s helped give political power and, perhaps most importantly, intellectual legitimacy and credibility to the institutionalizing representatives of the working class. In the transformation of movement to party in the 1890s and early twentieth century, the theories of Marx would be enormously influential (Kolakowski 1981). And, as a modest contribution to avoid repeating some of the mistakes that were made at that time, it might be valuable to look a bit closer at those theories, and, in particular, at the ideas about knowledge-making.

Marx was nothing if not a believer in science. He viewed the making of scientific-technological knowledge as the central driving force of industrial development. As he put it, "technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations" (Marx 1976: 493). For Marx, it was technology - changes in the means, or instruments, of production - that formed the basis for changes in work organization, social relations, and even for changes in the "superstructural" ideas of art and science. "Modern industry never views or treats the existing form of a production process as the definitive one," Marx wrote. "By means of machinery, chemical processes and other methods, it is continually transforming not only the technical basis of production but also the functions of the worker and the social combinations of the labour process." (ibid.: 617) For Friedrich Engels, who supported Marx financially and then served as the main propagator of the doctrines after Marx's death, "If society has a technical need, that helps science forward more than ten universities" (Engels 1894 in Marx and Engels 1968: 704).

The Marxian conceptions have served as points ofdeparture for almost all subsequent theorizing about technological innovation. In the words of Nathan Rosenberg, one of the leading contemporary authorities in the field of innovation economics, "his [Marx's] formulation of the problem still deserves to be a starting point for any serious investigation of technology and its ramifications" (Rosenberg 1982: 34). As Rosenberg has led others inside the black box of technological change, he has reformulated the Marxian conception oftechnology, laying special emphasis on the way in which Marx analyzed what might be called the "internal" workings of technological innovation.

Marx, of course, examined scientific and technological development within a broad political framework. He never lost sight of the consequences of technical change under capitalist society: the destruction and disembodiment of workers' lives, along with the loss of tradition and artisan skills. The ideological point of departure for his analysis of capitalism was the contradiction in capitalist society between the revolutionary nature of industrial development - its technological driving force - and the private-property relations within which its logic unfolded. "This contradiction bursts forth without restraint in the ceaseless human sacrifices required from the working class, in the reckless squandering of labour-powers, and in the devastating effects of social anarchy" (Marx 1976: 618).

The problem, however, is that Marx was unable to bring this social pathos into his analytical framework. In keeping with the rationalistic biases ofhis age, he sought to develop a scientific understanding ofcapitalist society, which eventually formed the basis for the ill-fated experiments in the twentieth century with scientific socialism. Marx and later Marxists rejected the insights of the critics of capitalist society, who did not subscribe to the technological imperative and its natural laws ofdevelopment. Engels called them utopians, and wrote diatribes against them. Marx battled, in particular, with the anarchist theorist Mikhail Bakunin over leadership in the working-class movement and over the role of science in society. For Marx, science, and a scientific understanding of society, followed laws, like physics, while for Bakunin it was all a question of how knowledge was used. "Intrinsically," Marx wrote, "it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that spring from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies winning their way through and working themselves out with iron necessity. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future" (Marx 1976: 90-91).

The cognitive praxis of the social movements in the 1870s and 1880s was not, of course, only Marxist. In the United States a home-grown populist movement drew on indigenous traditions of republicanism, self-reliance, and artisanship to fashion an American-style socialism that in the twentieth century has been institutionalized in popular culture, as well as in the religious right (Lasch 1991). In technology, populism has had an enormous impact - from Henry Ford's people's car to the personal computers of the 1970s. And in the sciences populism has provided, particularly in its religious varieties, an ambiguous counterpoint to the project of modernity itself. As we shall have occasion to discuss later on, the populist influence on American environmentalism has been substantial.

In Britain the working-class movement, as it developed in the 1870s and 1880s, also drew on indigenous traditions, much to the dismay of Engels. Of particular significance to the institutions of knowledge-making, socialism mixed with romanticism to help form what Lewis Mumford termed the "polytechnic creativity" ofWilliam Morris. Both in theory and in practice, Morris has been an important influence on British society, and, more particularly, his impact has been widely felt on the emerging ecological culture (Mumford 1979; Thompson 1977).

Morris - who was an artist, poet, and designer as well as a socialist politician - combined the ideas of Marx with those of John Ruskin and the Romantic poets into a new synthesis (McCarthy 1994). Morris was not opposed to technology as such; it was, rather, the effects that machinery had on human work that he considered to be so problematic. As a craftsman himself, who ran a successful design and architecture business, Morris could criticize, perhaps more colorfully than any other nineteenth-century thinker, the one-dimensionality of industrial technology. He wanted machines that would help people to carry out their "necessary work" and not turn workers into machines or machinetenders. "In spite of our inventions," Morris said in one of his socialist speeches, "no worker works under the present system an hour less on account of those labour-saving machines, so called. But under a happier state of things they would be used simply for saving labour..." (Morris 1973/1884: 151).

Even more importantly, perhaps, Morris, with his artistic and romantic background, formulated a vision ofan alternative, more human type of technological society; he sought to apply an artistic sensibility to innovation processes as he continually tried to specify, for his fellow socialists, something of the substance of the future socialist society. He wrote utopian novels, countering the American populist Edward Bellamy's proto-technocratic vision, Looking Backward, with his own News from Nowhere (1891). But he was even more eloquent in his socialist lectures, as when he envisaged a future society in which beauty and craftsmanship were given a place of honor. In a lecture entitled "Useful Work versus Useless Toil" he put it this way:

The factories might be centres of intellectual activity also, and work in them might well be varied very much: the tending of the necessary machinery might to each individual be but a short part of the day's work. The other work might vary from raising food from the surrounding country to the study and practice of art and science. It is a matter of course that people engaged in such work, and being the masters of their own lives, would not allow any hurry or want of foresight to force them into enduring dirt, disorder, or want of room. Science duly applied would enable them to get rid of refuse, to minimize, if not wholly to destroy, all the inconveniences which at present attend the use of elaborate machinery, such as smoke, stench and noise; nor would they endure that the buildings in which they worked or lived should be ugly blots on the fair face of the earth. Beginning by making their factories, buildings and sheds decent and convenient like their homes, they would infallibly go on to make them not merely negatively good, inoffensive merely, but even beautiful, so that the glorious art of architecture, now for some time slain by commercial greed, would be born again and flourish. (Morris 1973/1884: 104)

Morris and Ruskin helped to create what came to be called the "arts and crafts movement" - the various attempts around the turn of the century to combine artistic and technical practices in product design. Their critiques also came to influence the "reinvention of tradition" in India, as Gandhi took home from his years in England not only a British law degree but also a grounding in British (counter)culture (Elzinga and Jamison 1986). The critical counter-currents to the emergent technological civilization, which would emerge in the 1920s and 1930s, would not only be European; literary and philosophical "journeys to the east" would provide new kinds of alternative contexts for conceptualizing technological development, as would the prophets of liberation who would emerge in the anti-colonial struggles for national independence (Jamison 1994).

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