Scientism, Romanticism and
Social Realist Images of Science

by Aant Elzinga
University of Gothenburg

It is possible to identify at least three distinct views and attitudes toward science that have been with us since that great cultural shock in European history, the French Revolution. The differences and lines of demarcation between these three views and attitudes become evident in times of crisis and social unrest: e.g. the period after the French Revolution was such a time; likewise the time of the Russian October Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and in Western Europe also the 1930’s, a prewar period. The three basic thought styles and inclination with respect to science and technological development that protruded during these periods, I want to characterize as follows:

— technocratic

— populist

— social critical

The catchwords are meant to indicate different positions (inclinations) at the level of action. In this sense they suggest three "policy" stances with respect to the development of science and technology in society. Correspondingly at the ideological level, I suggest, we have three associated "philosophies" or epistemological stances:

— scientism

— romanticism

— social realism

Scientism is the general philosophy according to which all aspects of the universe are knowable through the methods of science. Romanticism denies this and affirms intuition and other modes of knowledge as equal or better. Scientism also assumes the principle of progress through science. [1] Philosophically this belief may be underpinned by empiricist or mechanical materialist thought.

The third position in each case, social critical policy and social realism, embodies the tension between the other two, between technocracy and populism and between scientism and romantic criticism. Both Leszek Kolakowski and Alvin Gouldner have written histories of Marxist thought where they display a major rift between two traditions, a scientistic and a humanist oriented Marxism. [2] To understand the "deviations" and skirmishes around science policy in socialist countries and in times of revolutionary fervour, it is therefore useful to consider first the opposition between the scientistic and romantic tendencies. This can tell us something about the basic thought categories Marxists also tend to fall back upon when there is controversy about the place and role of science in society. At the time of the October Revolution in Russia both technocratic and populist views of science and strategies were advanced in Marxist language. Later the technocratic tendency came to dominate, being consolidated during the 1930’s when Stalin headed the Communist Party. Paradoxically, at the epistemological level, Stalinists took over one of the doctrinal tenets of the populists, viz, the thesis of "two sciences", according to which science is split on class grounds and that there is therefore a bourgeois and a proletarian standpoint and perspective even in the natural sciences. The task of philosophers was to criticize the theory of relativity, quantum theory and cybernetics as "bourgeois". As Dominique Lecourt has shown, the "two-sciences" thesis was also the epistemological basis of Lysenkoism, the phenomenon of settling intra-paradigmatic struggles within fields of science by extra-scientific administrative interventions. In a later chapter we shall show how a similar situation developed during the Cultural Revolution in China.

It is interesting to note, furthermore, how within Marxism, the tension between scientism and romanticism can also be traced with respect to views on literature. In this case the quarrel has mostly revolved around "realism". Corresponding to the scientistic philosophy there is the notion of documentary realism. The writer’s task is to document life as it is, without adding any values. This species of realism has roots back into the l9th century, when some European writers in reaction to romanticism’s loss of contact with ordinary life, sought inspiration from the scientific and social determinism of the times.

Realism really did constitute a fresh start because it was based on a new set of assumptions about the universe. It denied that there was a reality of essences or forms which was not accessible to ordinary sense perception, insisting instead that reality be viewed as something immediately at hand, common to ordinary human experience, and open to observation. This attitude demanded that its readers and adherents abandon a host of preconceptions about human nature, about the purpose and mechanism of the universe, and above all about the role of art. [3]

A feature associated with this realism is accurate description, a rejection of "literary lying". Thus William Dean Howells, a pivotal figure in the American realist movement, expressed the belief that the world should be reported in commonsense terms without metaphysical colouring in the presentation of facts. In this he was influenced by his understanding of scientific method, based on a reading of the French philosopher Taine who in turn took over Auguste Comte’s positivist ideas. [4] According to this method of "bourgeois" realism, fiction "should be the scientific laboratory of society". In France, Emile Zola had given the realist movement a major impulse in this direction when writing on scientific method in literature, referring to Claude Bernard. [5]

In Russia already before the October Revolution there were movements that in their struggle against the old culture found nourishment in a rationalistic positivist view of science. The Russian Pisarev in the 1860’s wanted a disappearance of culture and the emergence of a ‘non-cultural’ scientific culture, whose ideal was neither invented nor abstracted but found and left where it alone could be represented—in actual and living phenomena. [6] In the beginning of the next century constructivism in Russia in its early utopian phase was also inspired by scientism. Technology was praised for its labour-saving function, giving man more time to be creative. Among the constructivists technology was further fetishized. As early as 1918 experiments were tried with factory whistle symphonies in Petersburg and later in Nizhi Novogorad. The most dramatic and well-known expression of this came in the symphony of 1920, called "Concert of Factory Sirens and Steam Whistles", which was exactly what the title says, a concert put on by an orchestra composed of a crowd of motors, sirens, hooters and whistles. This "noise orchestra" was music to the ears of machine worshippers, the tune of progress in the new society. Proletarian music should no longer be confined to one narrow room or salon, but it should be the orchestration of noise of the streets and factories of industrial life. [7]

As scientism and technocracy were drawn out to the extreme here, they turned into their opposites, a spontaneous working class romanticism and populism. The practical consequences of the movement were anti-intellectualist and nihilistic. I shall come back to this later in connection with the prolecult movement’s thesis of "two-sciences" which was an outcome of their idea of the spontaneous class character of thought.

The later official dominant theory of realism in the Soviet Union, social realism, retained something of the technocratic ideal, not as a naive sense realism, but in a conscious moralizing over the glorious unity of workers, tractors and factory machines. In opposition to both the absurdity of the constructivist symphonies and the flat apologetic realism of the Stalinist period, there evolved a third standpoint, "socialist realism." According to this doctrine the great works of bourgeois culture could taken over and critically reinterpreted from a socialist perspective.

One of the points emerging out of the foregoing is that some species of "realism" is associated with both scientistic and Marxist philosophical doctrines. The romantic tendency on the other hand leans towards a non-realist theory of knowledge.

As far as "scientism" is concerned, this is a very broad term. Different variants of positivist philosophies may be seen as epistemological refinements of this one basic tendency, according to which either science stands above culture, or else the whole question of cultural determination is misplaced, being a pseudo-question.

Joseph Needham has made a useful distinction between science and scientism, where the latter refers to the metaphysical principles associated with mainstream science in the West, principles that go back at least as far as Cartesian dualism and the mechanistic world picture. It is these principles and the overly rationalistic ethos that must be peeled away from science, says Needham: the myth of objective consciousness, basing itself on an alienating dichotomy of observing subject and observed object: the invidious hierarchy of nature which places man at the top and legitimates an experimental "Inquisition and torture of living creatures and dead matter alike, in the name of scientific method; the mechanistic imperative, which says that everything that can be known should be known (through science) and that such knowledge should be utilized (without taking prior account of the consequences); the extension of the instrumental domination of nature to man himself, etc. These principles constitute some of the prime ingredients of scientism, a "European-American disease" with roots not only in the profit mechanism of capitalism but also in the cultural legacy that puts a premium on the Calvinist work ethic.

Needham’s own philosophy takes its point of departure in dialectical materialism, the epistemology associated with Marx and Marxism. It is dialectical because it seeks a middle way, between scientism and romanticism. Science is affirmed and accepted as a positive force in human history, but scientism is dismissed as negative and anti-human. At the same time the romantic tendency found in counter-movements is also (to be) avoided. [8]

Romantic ideology may be understood as a response to cultural crisis, when individuals become uprooted, isolated, anxious, confronted by a world of turmoil, danger, and rapid dissolution of traditional institutions and values. [9] It represents an inward escape, setting up an absolute opposition between disrespectful scientific attitude and the world of poetry, where one is supposed to cultivate a mysterious vagueness, hinting at what cannot be expressed. The components of romanticism characteristic to its ideology are: holism and organicism, voluntarism and "dynamicism", and diversitarianism. [10]

Against the Enlightenment analysis of a whole being mechanistically composed of the aggregate of its parts, the romantic view emphasizes the irreducibility of the whole, and that its "essence" can only be understood intuitively. Voluntarism furthermore affirms the primacy of process, strivance (streben), cumulative becoming, as opposed to the static and structure of something. There is also the notion of participation in the process. The individual is an active partner in a struggle against something, and knowledge is supposed to arrive spontaneously and intuitively in this process. Against the Enlightenment emphasis on the common denominator in things, common shared "natures", and the assumption that the uniform is the rational (and vice versa), the romantic tendency is to emphasize the diversity of things, of men and ages, and peoples, etc. Thus romanticism cherishes, intensifies and legitimates the "different", the idiosyncratic, the deviant and unusual. This is at once an ideal for the artist, the creator to negate universal standards, and it provides a rationale for the view that historical studies must by their nature be ideographic rather than nomothetic.

David Bloor has noted how "the romantic means of fending off an unwelcome investigation into society, whether scientific or otherwise, is by stressing its complexity, its irrational and incalculable aspects, its tacit, hidden and inexpressible features." [11] The Enlightenment style of thought, on the other hand, can mystify "by endowing logic and rationality with an a-social and, indeed, transcendental objectivity". Enlightenment style in its mystificatory role is what I associate with scientism.

Bloor goes on to formulate a "law" concerning the ascendancy of then one then the other thought style:

The law which is at work here appears to be this: those who are defending a society or a sub-section of society from a perceived threat will tend to mystify its values and standards, including its knowledge. Those who are either complacently unthreatened, or those who are on the ascendancy and attacking established institutions will be happy, for quite different reasons, to treat values and standards as more accessible, as this-worldly rather than as transcendent. [12]

But it is more complicated than this, because in order to criticize an establishment that uses scientistic ideology some variant of romanticism may suggest itself. This would explain why critique of industrial capitalism come both from a critical dialectical left that affirmed science and a romantic right, with arguments that overlapped in both cases and resembled the profoundly conservative Burke. [13] Thus in the 19th century we find both a socialist anti-capitalism and a romantic anti-capitalism reacting against the "dehumanization" of bourgeois society, where the latter blame it on rationalism, science and technology, while former does not. [14] Enlightenment ideology itself fed both a utopian technocratic strain and a critical dialectical one. Against the Enlightenment ideology there grew up an anti-enlightenment ideology which fed those who protested the dehumanization of society. It was supported by both rich and poor who saw industrialization threatening their livelihood. Thus there were both conservative and revolutionary anti-progressives. This convergence was noteworthy among the Romantics who tended to put the blame on reason. Society could not be planned like a machine, they said. Their most serious intellectual effort went into historical analysis and showing continuity with the past, emphasizing tradition as against revolution. In contrast to this we find some technocratic utopians in times of revolution swinging over to the romantic view, pushing for a total cultural revolution, a clean break with the past. This was for example the case with the Prolecult movement following in the wake of the October Revolution in Russia. (see below)

One explanation for "pendular" swings in cultural history, between scientistic and romantic tendencies, assumes that scientists and cultural practitioners tend to oppose any such trend if it goes to the extreme—i.e., they pendulate back in the opposite direction. Following Paul Forman’s study of quantum mechanical indeterminacy facilitated by the cultural climate of the Weimar Republic, some authors have gone further to identify parallelisms between cultural styles and scientific theorizing, the question being, "how are changes in scientific theory related to the social, political and cultural environment of science, and to prevailing philosophical views?" [15] Indeterminist anti-realist phases are associated with Romantic cultural impulses and realism with anti-romantic impulses in culture. The following scheme has been suggested by Stephen Brush in a study of the development of quantum mechanics in historical perspective.

  Cultural impulse Science
Early 1800’s Romanticism, corresponding to what Mannheim defines as the romantic conservative style, vs. the "liberal-rationalist" style "Nature philosophy", J.W. von Goethe, Friedrich Schelling, Lorenz Oken, J.W. Ritter, Hans Christian Oersted, force rather than matter as primary entity
1850’s Realist movement
(a) liberal-bourgeois materialist wing
(b) socialist wing
Return to atomistic mechanistic programmes of classical physics. Tyndall, Huxley, etc. Claims of reductionism, biology can be reduced to chemistry and physics, etc.
1880’s-1905 Neo-Romanticism Contextualism, Heinrich Hertz, Ernst Mach: Science is not to explain, but to give economical notations of phenomena. Thought perceptions taken to be more real than the external world
1905-1918 Neo-Realism Einstein’s three papers, Rutherford and radioactivity
1918-1945 Romanticism III  
1945-1960’s Realism III  
1970’s- Romanticism IV  

Of course this type of scheme is very speculative, and can do no more than indicate periodic differences in the cultural climate. Especially when one comes closer to our own point in time it should be obvious that both tendencies, romantic as well as realist exist side by side. Also romantic organismic philosophies do not necessarily always dismiss the notion of determination and the need to establish some kind of causality in nature. The quarrel with realist mechanistic philosophy concerns rather the nature of the determining factor.

We may recognize the central importance of juxtapositions, but this need not lead us to claims about incommensurable cultural traditions. An aspect present in different cultural settings is the tension between the cognitive and non-cognitive function of concepts an symbols. On the one hand there is the truth-asserting character of symbolism and concepts used in investigating and dealing with nature, on the other hand there is the religious or gnostic dimension that is emphasized in magic or ritual activities and the intuition of the romantic. It would be wrong to say that the latter is typical for one period while the former type of connotation of concepts is exclusively anti-romantic and realist. It would appear that both functions are present in different cultural settings and periods. Even scientific and technological activity may have strong ritualistic (non-realist) elements with ideological impact, as is argued by Jürgen Habermas in his critique of modern industrial society. In all cultures there are groups or sects that tend to absolutize one or the other side of this tension between cognitive and non-cognitive. Absolutizing the cognitive function of science per se, it seems, leads one into scientism; and absolutizing the Gnostic or intuitive value of symbols and concepts seems to run into romanticism.

Rather than seeing the "pendulum" swings between scientistic and romantic tendencies modulated by returns from the extreme, we suggest that one look at the social basis of the different philosophies, noting that both exist at one and the same time, and in any period it is a question of the hegemony of one tendency over all others. Which tendency dominates at any one time will depend on the relative strength of social class forces.

A weakness in Bloor’s scheme is that it is rather restricted in scope. Brush, noting the failure of the Edinburgh school to take up long-term historical development patterns, suggests the above-mentioned scheme. However it also suffers from a weakness shared with the studies of the Edinburgh school, viz., the failure to recognize that science is a force that works upon and changes the natural world. Both the technological connection and the political connection of science are underplayed or ignored.

Kolakowski in his book Positivist Philosophy points out how even the ideological content of scientism in its logical empiricist form has an important political dimension. Historically the development of logical empiricism constitutes a departure from the earlier programme of empirio-criticism (Mach’s philosophy) through a "linguistic" inward turn. Logical empiricism came to concentrate exclusively on the logical validity of thinking, i.e., the forms of scientific thinking and not the contents. He also (p. 237) notes how politically the majority of logical positivists were close to the social democratic position. Other writers have noted how this class collaborationist position in politics coincides with their program of philosophical class compromise, which emphasizes the resolution of ideological conflicts and arriving at linguistic compromises, by an intellectual exercise of clarification and arriving at common agreement as to the meaning of statements. This is reformism. Class contradictions and their reflection in ideas to them appear, in principle, as irrational, something to be removed by linguistic analysis rather than political revolution. In their scheme, philosophically trained intellectuals, trained in logical analysis, are given the vanguard role.

Kolakowski says:

Logical empiricism then is the product of a specific culture, one in which technological efficiency is regarded as the highest value, the culture we usually call ‘technocratic’. It is a technocratic ideology in the guise of an anti-ideological, scientific view of the world, purged of value judgements. The fact that contemporary positivism is unable to grasp its own relativity and dependence on specific cultural values is perhaps of no special importance: after all, the same is true of all ideologies, which assume their own values are absolute in contradistinction to all others, and by the same token present the acceptance of these values as a result of purely intellectual labour, devoid of ideological considerations. [16]

Let us now look at the external history, which will reveal the ideological dimensions clearly. For this we have to go back to the time of the French revolution, a great bourgeois revolution in European history.

In European history the French revolution stands out as a landmark, also for scientists and philosophers. In the wake of its cultural shock there emerged three main tendencies as to standpoint and perspective in European history of science. These may be identified socially by their class orientation (partisanship) and epistemologically, i.e., with regard to differences in the image of science. A most influential tendency is positivism. It emerged socially as the utopia and philosophy of the technical-scientific intelligentsia, a social stratum closely allied with the bourgeoisie and expanding rapidly with industrialization. The other two tendencies are the Marxist, associated with the working class movement, and the petty utopian tendency promoted by writers like Sismondi, Proudhon and other petty bourgeois ideologists. These three tendencies in European thought differ not only as to their conception of society, they also form the point of departure for contending views of science, technology and progress.

The working class attitude is well known from the writings of Marx and Engels. Science and technology are seen as positive factors in human development. But they have no life of their own. Whether science contributes to emancipation or oppression is not something inherent in science itself, it is an economic and political matter. The decisive thing is the socio-economic system and the ruling politics of the society in which science is anchored and grows.

The bourgeois and the petty bourgeois inclination on the other hand is to see science divorced from social life, or else to speak only in terms of an "interaction" between science and society as if these were two wholly separate spheres. The difference between the bourgeois and the petty bourgeois attitude lay in their attitude to the changes brought about by science. The one judged it as something entirely positive, while the other saw it as negative, as a threat. This difference may be grasped when we look at the writings of Saint Simon and Comte, and compare with those of say Sismondi, the anarchist Proudhon, or the populist movement in Russia at the end of the last century. The former sing praises to science, industry and technocracy, while the latter cling to the old agrarian and craftsman society and oppose rapid industrialization. In the spontaneous protest of the Luddites (machine-stormers) in England at the beginning of the 19th century we have a physical expression of anti-science and anti-technological development. The populist stream also drew upon ideas in the romantic protest. There are many interesting parallels with populist tendencies with a strong anti-science bias today.

The basis for petty bourgeois pessimism lay in the development of capitalist industry, the social consequences of capitalist modernization.

The first half of the 1800’s were characterized by a largely pessimistic attitude. One reckoned with the coming of a social catastrophe. In all countries, industry’s advance brought with it a series of serious consequences: poor living conditions for industrial workers, especially in the textile mills, and the fall of an entire social stratum, the independent small crafts- and tradesmen. It was not only the newly emerging working class and its ideologists, who with the French revolution fresh in mind, drew revolutionary consequences of these observations, but even conservative historians warned for a catastrophe. [17]

The latter were worried about a revolution of the fourth estate, the populace. The machine was a symbol of the times, hated and loved by different social categories. It was not only the workers, the Luddites who hated the machines. There were also the large agrarian owners, the aristocracy threatened by the financial power of the bourgeoisie. There were the non-technical intelligentsia, poets and writers, who said they hated the new machines like they hated everything ugly and that which spreads ugliness. There were the small manufacturers, and shoemakers, tailors, butchers, carpenters, all fearing what a future with machines would bring for them. Also there were handfuls of revolutionaries who supported the Luddites, because they saw the attack on machines as the point of departure for riot and revolutionary actions, to storm the "whole" system of exploitation. [18]

The Swiss economist Sismondi de Sismonde denounced too rapid an economic growth, in his book New Principles of Political Economy, or Wealth in Relation to Population . [19]

His thesis was: "If. . . the discrepancy between the new production and the preceding one is great, capital perishes (sout entamés), suffering is caused, and the nation retrogresses instead of progressing." Lenin in his work, A Characterization of Economic Romanticism [20] notes: "It would be difficult to formulate the fundamental thesis of romanticism and the petty bourgeois view of capitalism more vividly and more plainly than is done in the above tirade. The more rapid the progress of accumulation, i.e., the excess of production over consumption, the better taught the classical economists . . . The romantics assert the very opposite, and base all their hopes on the feeble development of capitalism, they call it retardation." [21] They see a way out of crisis only in a secondary economy, viz. the foreign market. Sismondi points to the contradictions which lead to machines replacing people, but he stops there, moralizing only. For him it is the point of departure for "arguing about some abstract society in which there are no longer any contradictions, and to which the ethics of the thrifty peasant can be applied." [22]

Lenin compares Sismondi’s and Marx’s theory of economic crisis. "The first theory explains crises by the contradiction between production and consumption by the working class; the second explains them by the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of appropriation. Consequently the former (Sismondi) sees the roots of the phenomenon outside of production . . . the latter (Marx) sees it precisely in the condition of production." [23] Lenin’s conclusion is that "Sismondi turns his back on reality in its specific, historically determined form and substitutes petty-bourgeois moralizing for an analysis. Particularly amusing are Sismondi’s attempts to clothe this moralizing in a ‘scientific’ formula." [24]

The other bourgeois utopian tradition goes in the opposite direction, and sees more machines, and more production as the solution of all social contradictions. Saint Simon makes fun of the bourgeoisie, because it incited the popular masses to revolution in 1789, to put down the nobles, only to fall into the same reactionary social pattern of the nobles themselves. The bourgeoisie "chose from amongst its ranks a bourgeois whom it made king. To those members who played the chief role it gave titles of prince, duke, count, baron, chevalier, etc. It created majorats in favour of the new nobles. In short, it reconstructed feudalism to its advantage . . . The bourgeoisie has certainly rendered services to the industries, but today the bourgeoisie and noble classes both burden the industrial class." [25]

Further: "You then say that we want to see only one class in society, the industrials. You are mistaken: what we want, or rather what progress of civilization wants is to see the industrial class made the first class, with the other classes subordinate to it." [26]

Saint Simon thought that the industrial system, which follows upon the feudal system, is the final system, free of inner contradictions. There will be no contradictions within "the people", the productive groups including both workers and capitalists. The difference between worker and business man were superficial, he felt, their antagonism only based on a lack of mutual understanding.

Here we have the idea of class collaboration in Saint Simon’s doctrine, basic to the later notion of solving contradictions by clarifying mutual interests.

Further in his social philosophy there is the idea that science must be a political institution in society, to steer social affairs, and to raise the standard of living of the masses, and their efficiency, through production.

It is well known that the progress of the sciences has contributed greatly to the progress of industry and the whole of civilization. What has not been so well noticed hitherto is that the relations between the sciences and industry have only ever been individual and often very indirect. Now, it seems that scientists are today destined to play a loftier role, to establish themselves socially, and to establish general relations between the whole of science and the whole of industry. In short, the Academy of Sciences must become a political institution . . . . Once that happens, scientists will demonstrate a great philosophical truth in the scientific field: that studies of high abstraction in each particular science, which have hitherto been regarded by them as the most important studies, must now give way to general studies, sufficiently prepared by the particular studies in each branch of knowledge . . . [27]

Saint Simon envisaged two scientific academies. One is the Academy of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and it should include economists. Its task was to establish a code of interests. It is also called the academy of reason. The other academy is the Academy of Moral Sciences, composed of moralists, theologians, lawyers, poets, painters, sculptors and musicians. Their task was to establish a code of sentiments, using positivist inductive methodology. To balance these two academies and coordinate their work there was to be a Supreme Royal Scientific College. Its task was to bring together "in a single doctrine the principles and rules produced by the two Academies. It will first form and then improve the general doctrine which will serve as the basis of public education for all classes of society, from the lowest proletarians to the richest citizens. It will also be engaged in framing the code of general laws most advantageous to the majority . . . " [28]

There we see the idea of scientism formulated as an utopia. The principles of positivism here are revealed in both their external social aspect, and in their internal methodological aspect. Positivism in the history of bourgeois thinking is both a social philosophy, for technocracy, and an epistemology to fit it. In the 20th century, with logical empiricism the external dimension is forgotten, and critique of ideologies is required to notice the real essence of this trend. With Saint Simon, who before Auguste Comte, developed the doctrine of positivism, we still see both the epistemological and research policy suppositions side by side. Later they became separated. Saint Simon’s positivism glorifies the new natural sciences, together with the planning and coordination function of banking activity, and wants to make these the norms for intellectual and social life. This social philosophy, is the embryo of State Capitalism, where the credit system, through central banks, has become the institutionalization of the personal profit motive at the collective level.

Historically, the epistemological aspect was developed in positivism as philosophy, while the social aspect was developed in bourgeois sociology as a science.

The class character of positivism's clarification of concepts also becomes evident when we consider Saint Simon’s rejection of the concept of "freedom" as being a metaphysical principle, which was all right in a previous period but has no meaning or function in modern times. "The principle of freedom, he believes, filled an important function in the struggle against the feudal powers. But since the industrial and scientific system has been built up, freedom can no longer be a goal in itself . . . The idea of freedom as a goal for the organization of society is an empty and metaphysical thought, explains Saint Simon, a thought that only corresponds to the needs of a period of transition, viz. during the dissolution process of the feudal-clerical system." [29]

Saint Simon’s goal was a new encyclopedia, which would be positive, supporting itself on the exact sciences. This would be put against the negative critique of the previous century, where the main task had been, not the creation of a new system, but using reason to pull down the old. The task in the 19th century was to use reason to construct the new system of society and philosophy guiding it. Thus the term positive philosophy, and positivism has a polemical class connotation, reflecting a phase in the development of the bourgeoisie. Empirio-criticism and logical empiricism likewise reflect a further phase, one when the imperialist stage of capitalism was developing.

Comte was even clearer than Saint Simon in his anti-working class partisanship. For him the scientific elite is invested with the final authority regarding the lawlike development of society, and shall determine to which degree the condition of the lower class can be improved, slowly. The class structure of society is to be as it is and a conciliation between classes must develop through the insight of the necessity of the moral authority of the elite. [30] Comte declared explicitly that his philosophy and methodology were aimed at stifling revolutionary tendencies. It is the only weapon able to combat "the anarchistic force of pure revolutionary principles", it alone can succeed in "absorbing the current revolutionary doctrine." [31]

He denounces theories that question the prevailing property order. Certainly the condition of the lower classes should be improved, but this must not be done without disturbing "the indispensable economic order." [32]

Comte’s positivism also has the physics ideal, the notion of observational material as basis of knowledge. He attacks several philosophers of the Enlightenment, their ideas of the freedom of thought, which he says is a dogma, a negative principle which sabotages the social order. Equality is another concept that is metaphysical and must be rejected. "It is only through the positive polity the revolutionary spirit can be harnessed . . .". "Further, the positive spirit tends to consolidate order . . ." . And, "the positive philosophy supports the general order by leading people’s understanding back to the normal condition, through the influence of method, before there has been time to develop some social theory. It dispels disorder by once and for all fixing a series of indiscrutable conditions for the study of political questions." [33]

Here we see manifested the ideological straight-jacket role of positivism, which with logical empiricism became latent and implicit. As Marcuse says, Comte’s philosophy "arrives at an ideological defence of middle-class society, and, moreover, bears the seeds of a philosophic justification of authoritarianism." [34]

Many of Saint Simon's followers were among the men who took part in European industrial and colonial ventures. It has been stated that Saint Simonians were the most important single force behind the great economic expansion of the Second Empire, particularly in the development of banks and railways. Enfantin, an immediate disciple, formed the society for planning the Suez Canal. Others were involved in railway construction projects, in Austria, Russia and Spain. Some were involved in a shipping company, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (G.T.C.) still existing, which gave its first ships the names after Saint-Simonian followers, including the Saint Simon. [35]

The foregoing review of three tendencies in the history of ideas is meant to show how social class positions may be associated with the attitudes and inclinations introduced at the outset of this chapter—technocracy/scientism; populism/romanticism; and social critical/social realism. It is evident that the correspondence is never a clear-cut one-to-one correspondence, but by and large, the basic categories have meaningful connotations in the political field, and this is what we wished to indicate.

Let us now look at the connection between science and society during the first two decades of the 20th century when modernization was brought into China and Russia. We begin with China because there "scientism" as a movement achieved its clearest expression, culminating in a great debate on "science versus metaphysics" in 1923. Among the issues raised were, firstly differences in epistemology, secondly is Eastern spiritual civilization superior to Western materialist civilization, and thirdly, is science adequate to provide a philosophy of life. Hu Shih, who spent seven years abroad, among other things in the United States where he was influenced by John Dewey, returned to China in 1917 to propagate liberalism and the belief in science. Three Western trained scientists supported him, V. K. Ting the geologist, Jen Hung-chun a mathematician and Tang Yueh, physicist. Wu Chih-hui the philologist and Chen Tu-hsin a Marxist and founder of the Communist Party of China also chimed in. They criticized the alleged "spirituality" of Chinese culture, and with them scientism largely became an effort to discredit Chinese culture, including Confucianism. Hu Shih later (in 1929) advocated the full scale Westernization of China along liberal capitalist lines. During the 1930’s a debate among intellectuals came to revolve around full-scale modernization vs. a sinification of the Western model. Here the differences between the scientistic views of the liberals and the social-realism of the communist movement became evident. However in 1923 the scientistic tendency dominated, even in the thinking of Chen Tu-hsin, who in some ways reminded of the Enlightenment philosophers, and the Russian nihilists. "As in the case of the nihilists, his readings led him to identify science with certain crude forms of naturalism. By stridently proclaiming on the authority of science that the material atom was the only ultimate reality, he was quickly able to dispose of the whole basis of religious "rites" (Confucianism), as well as the mysticism of Buddhism and Taoism". [36] Science was identified with social progress, both at the material and the ideological levels. Science together with democracy became the symbols of attack on the old order. In an editorial in the journal New Youth, replying to attacks from the traditionalists who saw something special in the Chinese heritage, something superior to the materialistic West, Chen Tu-hsin explained:

In order to support Mr. Democracy, we must oppose Confucianism, the code of rituals, chastity, traditional ethics, and politics; in order to support Mr. Science, we must oppose traditional arts and crafts and traditional religion; in order to support Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science, we cannot but oppose the so-called national heritage and old-style literature" [37].

This was written before Chen became a Marxist. But even after he became a Marxist he retained much of the scientism of his earlier position.

Scientism as a set of liberal capitalist values, attitude and all-embracing philosophy to answer even social problems came to China from without, just as Marxism did. D. W. Y. Kwok in his book Scientism in Chinese Thought 1900-1950 argues that scientism had an empirical wing and a materialist wing. Empiricist scientism attached to the ideas of British empiricism from Bacon onward, while materialist scientism referred back to Hobbes, Ernst Haeckel and German philosophers. The difference depended to some extent upon where the Chinese advocate had studied, abroad, in England or Germany. Those who studied in America brought pragmatist philosophy back with them. Karl Pearson’s epistemology of phenomenalism was also an important influence.

In the grand debate of 1923 the traditionalists were also able to refer to Western intellectuals who also opposed materialist philosophy and argued that the World War had shown the bankruptcy of science. They drew upon the philosophies of Bergson, Eucken, and Driesch, and referred to the writings of J. A. Tomson, H.G. Wells, Urwick and Kant to show that the scientific method could not be the only road to knowledge, and that recognition must be given to philosophy, art and religion. Chen Tu-hsin in a preface to the book documenting the debate noted that this only proved how the Chinese controversy was nothing more than a replay of the debates that had taken place in Europe earlier, already in the previous century. Quoting Comte, Chen reaffirms his belief in the social laws of history, mechanistically interpreted. Human society must go through three stages, the religious, the metaphysical and the scientific. The Chinese traditionalists in their attacks on Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy only give vent to their own adherence to the metaphysical stage in a period of transition to scientism, which is necessary. As in Europe, "when industry expanded and science advanced, atheism and antitheism followed." [38] This is an objective law of progress according to the advocates of scientism.

The conflict between scientism and the old Chinese values, especially Confucianism and spiritualism was evident enough amongst the Chinese intellectuals generally. However it would be too schematic to classify all the traditionalists as "romantics", because they attached to Chinese rather than European cultural patterns.

To find the differences between the scientistic and romantic tendencies, in the sense that is comparable to developments in the West, one has to go to the Marxist oriented intellectuals, in particular their discussions in the late 1920’s about the role of art and literature. We have already noted the positivist orientation of Chen Tu-hsin. On the one hand this line of thought continued and was supported from without, especially through the offices of the Comintern. On the other hand the experience of indigenous Marxists like Mao Tsetung, strongly rooted in the spontaneous peasant movements, gave rise to a non-scientistic Marxism. Art and literature were important weapons in the struggle for emancipation, and it is therefore not strange that it was here and not around science, that the tension between scientism and romanticism became the subject of debate. Science was not involved until after the Communist Party came to power in 1949, but then the lineups as far as the various positions are concerned were similar to those in the discussions on art and literature.

It was largely on the basis of Chinese experience and in opposition to mechanistic philosophy that Mao Tsetung developed his sinified Marxism, rejecting the linear view of the past. During the Cultural Revolution Mao argued about the possibility of a relapse from socialism to capitalism, and that proper handling of the contradiction between "redness" and expertise in science was an important battleground against the cultural orders of past society which lived on in people’s minds and habits. In the field of literature Mao’s standpoint was closer to the romantic than to the scientistic tendency. In his Yenan lectures Mao emphasized the propagandistic role of literature, how good works of art and literature should concentrate typical progressive aspects of life. Also in judging literary works one must apply both political and artistic norms, to determine political quality and artistic quality. This bifurcation into two types of norms, one externalist and one internalist is a step away from scientistic realist criteria according to which the work’s degree of authenticity (authentic documentation of reality) also gives a one a measure of its artistic value. [39]

Torbjörn Lodén in a perceptive work on the debate on proletarian literature in China 1928-1929, has argued convincingly how ever since the beginnings of the movement for a new culture that started in China in the second decade of our century, romantic and realist tendencies clashed against each other in the literary debate on the question of how literature can best support the development of a better society and a better life for people. The romantic tendency as he defines it emphasizes the propagandistic role of literature, its task of expressing certain principles and values, and depicting these in the shape of typical heroic characters. The realist tendency on the other hand calls for a description of existing reality, both its positive and negative features, even under socialism. Chen Tu-shin (Chen Duxiu) was an early representative of this latter view, making literature the objective description of reality. Mao Dun and others associated with the Communist movement developed this scientistic view within the literary field. [40] Gu Moruo, Ching Fangwn on the other hand opposed to this the theory that literature is the subjective expression of the author’s social and emotional life, and should be partisan in the class struggle in a subjective way. The cultural worker is to play a conscious avant garde role in the revolutionary process.

In the debate 1928-1929 the representatives of the "romantic" tendency attacked the "realists" Mao Dun and Lu Xun, saying that their works were adequate during an earlier bourgeois democratic phase of Chinese social evolution, but no longer in a time when the working class and peasants were to achieve hegemony. The realists are blamed for vacillation, and that they do not show a way forward.

In 1929 the Communist Party leadership put an end to the attacks on Lu Xun and Mao Dun because it harmed the party’s image. Later on the attacks were condemned as ultraleftist deviations. During the 1930’s the Communists in the main followed a policy of united front between socialist and critical nationalist forces within the cultural field.

It is significant that after liberation in 1949, whenever there was a controversy over the role of literature and art, the representatives of the contending views leaned to either scientism or romanticism, and each reinterpreted the early debates differently. During the cultural revolution not much was heard of Mao Dun, whereas after the cultural revolution he has been elevated together with Lu Xun, as a model author. The ultraleftist romantic tendency in the Chinese literary debate in the late 20’s derived support from similar ideas expressed in Russia where the new society was already at hand. Qu Qiubai 1923-1924 developed the view that proletarian culture and literature were only possible once the bourgeois state had been crushed and a new socialist order established. Until that time proletarian culture could only exist in embryonic form. This argument resembles that of the Prolecult movement in Russia, which extended the position to include science, since science was taken to be a part of society’s culture. As far as we know the Prolecult view was never developed in China as far as science is concerned, at least not until after liberation.

Theoretically prolecult ideas were based on the thinking of the Russian philosophers Plechanov and Bogdanov, the latter a supporter of Mach’s empirio-criticism. It was in this capacity Bogdanov was criticized in Lenin’s philosophical work Materialism and Empirio-criticism of 1908. Prolecult's main ideas were largely formulated in the journal Proletarian Culture which came out in Russian 1918-1920. The basic idea of partisanship was expressed in a resolution which stated:

Art organizes social experience by means of living images, not only in the sphere of cognition, but also in that of feeling and desires. As a consequence it is a most powerful weapon for the organization of collective forces, and in a class society of class forces. The proletariat must have its own class art to organize its own force in social labour, struggle and construction. The spirit of this art is that of labour collectivism: it perceives and reflects the world from the point of view of the labour collective. [41]

Literature was understood not only as a reflection but also as an active force in the social process, on the side of one or another of society’s two main classes, the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. The literature of the new society must therefore be consciously directed toward mobilizing the masses of people for socialism. Similarly science, being a part of culture, must be partisan. Unless research is built up consciously on the basis of proletarian perspective and values, it will become bourgeois science. The practical policy consequences of this view was to recommend that the old Russian Imperial Academy of Science be torn down and a new proletarian organization built up from the ground up, populated with proletarian scientists.

Lenin rejected this extreme standpoint and held that redness and expertise must always be combined in such a way as to serve the construction of socialism. In contrast to Bogdanov he held that natural scientific knowledge is objective and therefore neutral. From this point of view, which bears some resemblance to scientism, he was able to formulate a formula for progress: socialism= electrification + American efficiency. Taylorism was a form of American efficiency and it was imported, unashamedly, as a neutral management instrument.

When the Soviet system was introduced, the place and role of science and scientists was no longer a theoretical question. It became a highly practical question. The scientific intelligentsia was a small privileged but strategic group. In all there were about 11 000 persons with science as an occupation. Even if many were against the old tsarist regime on account of Western liberal ideas, very few sympathized with the revolutionaries. During the civil war years 1918-1919 some scientists and engineers were arrested and executed as enemies of the new state, and until the situation had stabilized and Lenin tabled a resolution saying that the ideological demands be dampened, quite a large number of Russian scientists and intellectuals left the country, either by emigration or deportation. Some came to be prominent names in international science. It was not until after 1921 that the policy of using "bourgeois experts" and giving them a large degree of autonomy was consolidated. By 1929 there were about 24 000 scientists in the Soviet Union, but only 79 of them were party members. Although many new research institutions were founded during the first two years of the new society, the main-line policy continued to be challenged from the ultra-left until l92l.

A basic thesis in Prolecult’s theory was that since the cultural sphere is relatively autonomous, class struggle will continue here, with even greater intensity, after the bourgeoisie’s defeat in the political and economic spheres by revolution. Culture, including science, is the last post where the bourgeoisie seeking a retreat gathers its forces and hopes to undermine the new society. Therefore the new regime must smash, not only the old state apparatus (Lenin’s thesis), but also the whole of the old culture and science. Prolecult saw its own task being that of creating a new class culture and science. [42]

While Lenin held that the natural sciences, to the extent they yield objective knowledge are ideologically neutral, Prolecult, focusing on the subjective side of science, came to the opposite conclusion. Science has to be revolutionized from within, right across the line from its perspective, its method to the relationship to production. Science must consciously be collectivized and democratized as an activity, to end fragmentation of knowledge, create a unified monistic world picture, and foster a new socialist man who will be an "encyclopedist in the best sense of the word." [43] The proletariat has to rely on its own forces and talent, create its own intelligentsia, its own experts. "The feeling of class-solidarity, the ‘we’-feeling... It is through this that the class consciousness of the proletariat is determined. It is alien to the peasant, the bourgeoisie, and the intellectuals—doctors, lawyers, engineers, who are brought up on the principles of capitalist competition, the basis of which is the ‘I’". Moreover, the intervention of the specialist, whosoever, may never be more than an exception to the rule. The bourgeois specialist is psychologically and organisationally incapable of serving the proletariat. [44] The radical wing of Prolecult denied completely the possibility that a non-proletarian person, one who accepted the Communist ideology, ever could play a positive role in the revolution.

The practical consequences of this romantic ultra-proletarian viewpoint was a policy that was against building up scientific resources within the framework of the old institutions, further great suspicion of intellectuals generally, and antagonism which pushed them over to the camp of the counterrevolution.

We shall see that, in principle in China 1966-1976, during the cultural revolution, a similar position to Prolecult’s was embraced by certain theoreticians. Basically it rests on a psychologization of the view of science, whereby the social relations between researchers, their values, etc. are totalized, while the truth-contents of knowledge statements and the contribution science makes to raising the material standards of life of a people are totally ignored. This is quite the opposite of the advocates of the theory of productive forces, who make the material standard the final measure and totally ignore elements of class struggle. The theory of productive forces is usually associated with the name of Nicolai Bucharin who for a while during the 1930s was top man in the Soviet Union responsible for research planning and science policy. Bucharin was a representative for the scientistic view, and as such distinguished himself even from Lenin, who after all sought to maintain a dialectical approach.

Lenin's draft for a resolution for Prolecult’s first national congress is interesting since it shows how he takes a middle position between scientism and populism. Compared to Bogdanov’s "principled" view, Lenin is "pragmatic", but he does not, like Bucharin later, leave out class politics. Two points in the draft resolution are worth noting, since they, almost cryptically express Lenin’s general approach:

1. No special ideas, but Marxism.

2. No invention of a new proletarian culture, but develop the best models, traditions and results of existing cultures, from the point of view of the Marxist world-picture and the concrete conditions of the life situation, as well as the struggle of the proletariat in the period of its dictatorship. [45]

In the 1930’s this approach became the point of departure for a critical review of all sciences from a philosophical point of view to try and incorporate new theories of physics, etc. into a materialist dialectical world-picture. In the climate of intensified ideological struggle some politicians and also scientists held that it was impossible to draw a line between say Einstein’s physics and his idealist philosophy of science. Every such demarcation between physics and philosophy, it was held, would function as a barrier behind which all sorts of anti-socialist ideologies would grow like weeds.

The polarization of views during the 1930’s led to a situation where, paradoxically, the populist thesis of two-sciences was grafted onto a technocratic view of science in society.

After Bogdanov’s Prolecult organisation was crushed in the early 20’s, there emerged at least three different schools of philosophy of science, before "official dialectical materialism" came to dominate the scene. [46]

First there were the vulgar materialists with Emmanuel Euchman and O. Minin as foreground figures. They got their inspiration, like Chen Tu-hsi in China, from Saint Simon and August Comte, All philosophy was declared to be a bourgeois invention. There should only be science. Social science and psychology should be reduced to biology.

Secondly, there were the mechanists, led by among others I. Stephanor and a woman philosopher L. I. Axel'rod. They also pursued a reductionist programme that was vulgar-materialist. Theirs was the leading school of thought attacked by Deborin and his onhangers in the mid-20’s. Bucharin's philosophy, which is particularly deterministic and undialectical, may be traced to this school of thought, even if he never openly associated with the mechanists.

Thirdly, there was the school of A. M. Deborin, which reached its zenith 1926-1929. Deborin emphasized Hegel and the study of dialectics, which gave the school a strong Hegelian colouring, and led to them being attacked as Menshevik idealists.

Fourthly, "official dialectical materialism" became influential in 1931 when one of its leading figures, M. B. Mitin joined the editorial board of the Soviet journal Unter der banner dess Marxismus that came out internationally. Mitin also became chief editor of the Russian domestic journal which came out in Russian, the leading philosophy periodical. Mitin tried to find a balance in the tension within Marxism, between positivism and metaphysics, between Bucharin and Deborin. The line he represented was later officially sanctioned by Stalin, but then it became encodified as "diamat" and fell back into a mechanistic point of view.

It was this view that Mao Tsetung criticized when he developed a sinified Marxism (see below).

I have already noted how Bucharin was the clearest spokesman for the "theory of productive forces", a mechanist theory, according to which social history and the history of science included within it, can be reconstructed as a history of the development of productive forces, which according to Bucharin is identical with the history of the division of labour in society, viz, history of technology and economic history.

In his contribution Congress of History of Science and Technology in London 1931, Bucharin indicated that he had left his earlier extremely mechanistic view expressed in a sociology reader of 1921. However both Antonio Gramsci and George Lukacs continued to regard Bucharin as a mechanist philosopher of science. Gramsci, after reading Bucharin’s London contribution [47] describes his philosophy as a positivist Aristotelianism. The basic reason for Bucharin’s deviation, says Gramsci, is that he separates Marxism into two parts, a sociology and a philosophy, where the former can be developed by empirical methods following a natural scientific ideal and the latter contains epistemology but does not influence the former. This separation rests on the scientistic fallacy. It is the same with Bucharin’s reduction of natural science to technique and the history of science to a history of development of instruments and external social-economic needs. [48]

But if the question is put in this way", says Gramsci, "one can no longer understand the importance and significance of dialectics, which is pushed from its place as theory of knowledge to a level there it is a subdivision of formal logic and elementary scholasticism. The true and fundamental function and significance of dialectics can only be grasped if praxis-philosophy (Gramsci’s term for Marxism) is understood as an integrated and original philosophy that constitutes a new phase in the history and development of thought. This is the way it is, to the degree that it (praxis-philosophy) transcends both traditional idealism and traditional materialism, philosophies which are expressions of bygone societies, while it retains their vital components. [49] Gramsci further notes how Bucharin's mechanical interpretation of Marxism implies that his concept of science "is entirely taken from the natural sciences, as if these were the only sciences, or science par excellence as is held by positivism". [50] Sometimes Bucharin seems to mean that there is only one single scientific method, as if one could promote "progress in one area of research by applying a standard method, chosen because it gave good results in another field of research for which it was naturally adapted—this is a strange illusion that has nothing to do with science". [51] Gramsci himself insists that in science there exists a methodological pluralism and that this is natural, just as much as rivalry between different schools of thought in one and the same field of research.

The differences between Bucharin and Gramsci are interesting because they clarify the conflict between scientistic and critical approaches within Marxism. Bucharin's view is extremely externalist, while Gramsci’s view reckons with a combination of external and internal factors in the growth of science. Gramsci counted intellectual and political-ideological factors as particularly important. His notion of methodological pluralism is reminiscent of Mao Tsetung’s idea, later, of letting "one hundred flowers bloom and one hundred schools of thought contend", i.e., a science policy principle emphasizing the importance of relative autonomy of science and intra-paradigmatic struggles in science.

During the 1930’s Marxist intellectuals came to see the fight against fascism as the main political task of the period. In this the question science was taken to have both a practical and an ideological side. The first concerned the role of science in production and the war industry, to strengthen the anti-fascist forces. The second had to do with the fight against obscurantism, and propagate for the Enlightenment function of scientific truth. Science became synonymous with clarity and truth, against the demagogy and lies of fascists and Nazis. It is not a coincidence that the French Communists for example, in this spirit, glorified the rationalism of Descartes. It was a question of mobilizing forces against reaction, and thence the finer distinctions between Descartes’ mechanism and Marx’s dialectical world picture could be left aside.

In Leftist circles the view of the situation and the role of science was largely influenced by the Communist parties which followed Comintern directives. Within Comintern the general analysis asserted that the social crisis depended on the degeneration of the capitalist system, in which science was pulled between practical use in the service of profit and the search for truth. Because of the degeneration of society, obscurantist ideologies emerge and are blown under by the establishment, even in science. According to R. Palme Dutt, writing in 1934, "the revolt against science, which bourgeois society today encourages in the ideological sphere, at the same time as it utilizes science in practice, is not only the expression of a dying and doomed social class; it is an essential part of the campaign of reaction. This is the basis which helps to prepare the ground for all quackeries and charlatanries of chauvinism, racial theories, anti-Semitism, Aryan grandmothers, mystic swastikas, divine missions, strong-man saviours, and all the rest of the nonsense through which alone capitalism today can try to maintain its hold a little longer". [52]

The antifascist context of the 1930’s contributed to reinforce the scientistic tendency represented by Bucharin. There was a necessary emphasis on developing the productive forces, while underplaying social class differences in order to advance national and antifascist unity. At the same time the campaign against irrationalism and obscurantism came to counterpoise science against metaphysics, and therewith favoured objectivist criteria of demarcation and an idea of the social neutrality of science. Or as Bernal formulated it, the social function of science under capitalism was what was at fault. With Bernalism the tradition from Bucharin gained considerable influence.

It is interesting to note that in England, with the Bernalists, especially natural scientists and mathematicians became aware of the role of science in society. They, rather than scholars in the humanities, played a leading role in the radical critique of science.

Within the revolutionary intelligentsia the view of natural scientists was that they are "for the most part, rather simple minded fellows outside of their laboratories". [53] However their lack of a sense of social responsibility and narrow-minded fixation on their scientific career could also win them the following comment: The typical natural scientist is one who, "If he has to choose between capitalism and science, he chooses capitalism every time. For he is a spokesman of the capitalist class, long before he is a scientist". [54] This is an allusion to the ideological and political implications of the science-is-neutral notion, which actually was discussed and criticized during the 1930’s, as Werskey shows by an example from chemical and biological research involved in producing poison gas, a case taken up in an important novel of the mid-Thirties, Geoffrey Gorer’s Nobody Talks Politics. In this novel a geneticist confronted with criticism responds: "Our business is to find out as much as we can about certain phenomena. What these phenomena are to be is decided partly by us and partly by the people who pay us. The use that is made of our research is not our business. Our business is exclusively with chemical and biological facts. I may personally deplore the use to which some discoveries are put, but that is neither here nor there. My business is to do my job". [55]

It was against the attitudes of this kind of run-of-the-mill natural scientists that the Marxists reacted and put forth the demand for a Social Responsibility of Science consciousness.

John Bernal was a physicist. The others who are usually counted as belonging to the radical group were Joseph Needham and J.B.S. Haldane, biologists, Levy Hyman, a mathematician, and Lancelot Hogben, a mathematical biologist. [56] In France too natural scientists played a prominent role. Marie Curie’s daughter, Eva Curie, was for a time Minister for Scientific Affairs in the Popular Front government in 1936. Her husband, Fréderic Joliot-Curie, combined his research activity with underground work with the partisans during the Second World War. So also did the physicist Paul Langevin and the biologist Marcel Prenant. Jacques Salomon, a young and gifted physicist, was one of the first martyrs in 1941 in the struggle against the German occupation troops. Various other natural scientists were, together with colleagues from the humanities, active at the Worker’s University.

In France there was already an organization of scientific workers and other intellectuals in 1934—the Comité de Vigilance des intellectuels antifacistes. Its express purpose was to work toward preventing a second world war. Paul Langevin, Fréderic and Irene Curie, Georges Politzer, Andre Malraux, and many other—some now forgotten names—were amongst its activist core. A Workers University was already founded in Paris in 1932, to strengthen the bonds between workers and intellectuals. Georges Politzer’s textbook, Principes Elementaires de Philosophie, dealing with materialist dialectical philosophy, is a product of courses there. [57] Politzer together with Jacques Solomon and Langevin was active in the Resistance in Paris, where they among other things brought out the journal L'Université libre which during the occupation days of 1940-1941 instilled a fighting spirit at high schools and institutions of higher education where it circulated. This was in a sense a continuation of some of the activities of the Worker's University which was dissolved in 1939 when the movement was forced into illegality.

In France, just as in England, one of the issues widely discussed in radical science circles in the 1930’s was the comparison of science under socialism with science under capitalism (including its most degenerate political form—fascist dictatorship). Belief in socialism and belief in science were two sides of the same coin. This was demonstrated in practice in 1936, the year that France got a Popular Front government founded on the united front pact of the French Socialist Party and the French Communist Party, 27 July 1934. The Popular Front government, led by the reformist Leon Blum, lasted from 13 May 1936 to 21 June 1937. During this time efforts were made to mobilize resources for science. An Under-Secretary of State for science was created, a post held by Mme Joliot-Curie and later by Jean Perrin. There was a complete reversal of the previous (Laval and Doumerge) governments’ policy of letting science live on a shoestring. In a sense one can speak of the existence of an active science policy during the Popular Front government. [58] It would appear that this gave a boost to French science in the late 1930’s.

In the discussions comparing science under different social systems, references were frequently made to the situation in Nazi Germany, where progressive intellectuals were being persecuted. Nazi terror and the obscurantist teachings that served to legitimate this particular form of bourgeois rule undermined science. Certain branches of science proper were either forbidden to be taught or simply neglected. Communists, Jews and progressive intellectuals were driven from their positions. One report in 1938 states that in 1936 there were 1684 professors and scholars chased from the universities and five of ten laureates in physics were forced to flee from Germany to other countries. [59] This was a great loss to Germany and a gain to the countries that gave refuge to the exiles.

The practical question of aiding their German colleagues gave reason for radical scientists to organize international contacts. Radical scientists in Cambridge and London seem to have contacts with the Paris group quite early. In 1936 there was a meeting in Paris where the urgency of the situation prompted discussion of organizing on an international level. The idea also of creating an international organization of scientists was discussed, This meeting has been described as the direct forerunner of the formation of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, which came after the war, in l946. [60]

Soon after the Soviet Union had joined in the war in 1941 there was an international conference on science and world order. It was held in London, September 26-28, 1941, attended by delegates from 22 nations, Including the USA, USSR and China. Bernal, Needham, Crowther, Blackett, Hogben were among those active in the discussions. The report from the conference gives some idea of the atmosphere at the time as it begins:

The Nazi bombers were less than half an hour’s flying distance away. Around the Royal Institution, the assembly hall of the Conference on Science and World Order, there was plenty of evidence of what that could mean gaps where tall buildings had stood before the last blitz season. And anyone glancing round the horseshoe tiers during the meetings and recognizing scientists whose contributions to this war are profound and important, who would have recognized the risk that was being run with that assemblage of ability. [61]

And there is a summary description of the collective experience digested in the radical science movement, Influencing the social consciousness of the scientists:

The men of science, more plainly than anyone, had foreseen what war, made terrible by abuse of science, would mean. They had seen too, how the abundance made possible by science, had, when translated into gluts and over-production, meant unemployment, insecurity, hunger and misery. They had seen science, which must be international since the wit of men of every nation and every race contributes to it, fettered as ‘Nazi Science’ or ‘Fascist Science’. They had seen their colleagues in the Nazi-Fascist countries driven out, imprisoned, or converted into servile mechanics of the war machine. They had protested against the biological blasphemy of the ‘race theory’. And they, who had stood aside too long, disowning the stupid world and disclaiming the perversions of their discoveries, realised that science has a social function". [62]

It appears that the French Comité de Vigilance Des intellectuels antifacistes was instrumental in stimulating an organisation of antifascist intellectuals in the Netherlands. And again, as in England, the Communist Party in the Netherlands did its part to develop the movement in accordance with Popular Front policies. This was shortly after the Comintern’s VIIth world congress.

A leading member of the French Comité de Vigilance, E. du Perron, went to Holland on a lecture tour in January 1936. Intellectuals belonging to or sympathizing with the CPN, in Leiden, Utrecht and some other university cities helped rally democratic and liberal youth, the Social Democratic student clubs, and an organisation called student action for peace, to build the Comité van Waakzaamheid, on the French model. [63] The activity of the Dutch Communist intellectuals themselves has roots that went back at least to 1933-34 when Willy Munzenberg’s pamphlet Braunbuch against Hitler was translated and disseminated through the youth and student movement. (Munzenberg was the leader of the Communist Youth International . In 1933 he was forced to leave Germany and fled to France. His pamphlet exposing the Nazi crimes in Germany up to 1933 was spread in many countries.) [64]

Left of the mainstream Bernalist-Comintern point of view there were some individuals who argued more perceptively about the eventual cognitive non-neutrality of scientific thought. However this was never developed as a coherent standpoint. We find only allusions and scattered arguments in the writings of the most radical young intellectuals, e.g. the mathematician David Guest or the literary critic Christopher St. John Sprigg (alias Christopher Caudwell). Caudwell wrote a critique of ideologies, among others a work on physics, which according to Bernal was schematic and sometimes plainly wrong, even if it contained a brilliant intuitive attack upon " the philosophical conclusions of bourgeois scientists". Bernal's comment was made in 1951, in the wake of Zhdanov’s and the CPSU Central Committee’s cultural revolutionary interventions in intellectual life in the Soviet Union which had repercussions in Marxist circles in the West. Both Guest and Caudwell lean toward the Romantic tendency in Marxism, a tendency which could not compete with the Bernalist majority opinion condoned by Comintern. Nor did the romantics have much of a chance to work out their views of science into a coherent philosophy and policy for research. Both Guest and Caudwell were led by their activism to participate in the Spanish Civil War, where they fell on the battlefield, Caudwell in 1937 and Guest in 1938. David Guest’s career is representative of those who wanted to go far beyond the bounds of academic science.

The gifted young mathematician David Guest entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1929 and then spent 1930-31 in Göttingen where he took part in the struggles of the German student movement, joined the Communist Party at Cambridge in the summer of 1931. After leaving Cambridge he combined his political activities with lecturing in mathematics at various places, including a secondary school for English-speaking children in Moscow for a while. In 1938 he left a lectureship after two terms at University College in Southampton, to volunteer for the International Brigade in Spain. A note found among his papers explains his decision:

Today we have certainly entered a period of crisis, when the arguments of ‘normal times’ no longer apply, when considerations of most immediate usefulness come in. That is why I have decided to take the opportunity of going to Spain. [65]

Guest’s note conveys something of the sense of urgency that must have existed amongst the most radicalized sections of the intelligentsia.

The thesis that science itself has a class character was latent in the biological research carried out by Lysenko already in the 1930’s. However, it was not until the years 1947-1948 that it was raised to the status of official doctrine in the Soviet Union. In 1947 the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party had Zhdanov make a critique of a book on the history of Western philosophy, written by Alexandrov. This book was found to represent a bourgeois influence corresponding to similar non-proletarian values in the arts, music and literature. It was during the period of national unity and mobilizing all forces in the "great war in defence of the fatherland" that the socialists had dropped their ideological guard. Now after the second World War, and especially in connection with the failure to keep Tito and Yugoslavia on the Stalinist road, the Communist Party’s chief ideologists emphasized the fundamental differences between socialism and capitalism and the global conflict between East and West. This prompted a move to ideological purification in the Soviet Union, a form of "cultural revolutionization". For the sciences it meant a critical review to get rid of "objectivism" and "cosmopolitanism" in scientific circles and theories. The background to an intensification of ideological polarization is thus to be found in the sharpening of international tensions after the second World War, when in the West the Truman doctrine of containment laid the groundwork for the cold war. Where the international situation and Soviet foreign policy earlier had tended to favour cooperation, and at the ideological level strengthened "scientism" in scientific and political circles, now the changes in the international situation tended to swing the ideological pendulum to the opposite extreme.

Dominique Lecourt has a more internalist explanation of Lysenkoism's emergence as official doctrine. He refers to the voluntarist interpretation of Marxist philosophy and Stalin’s ontological version of dialectical materialism that was canonized in Stalin’s essay on dialectical and historical materialism in the mid-1930’s. This is certainly an important internal factor. However, I think the external factors of world tensions and the concomitant intensification of ideological struggle against everything capitalist and "cosmopolitan" was crucial for the success of the populist tendency represented by Lysenkoism. It should also be remembered that Lysenko’s doctrines included two aspects, on the one hand a mechanical materialistic theory in the field of genetics, on the other hand a research ethic that put science in the service of the people. These two aspects should not be confused or blurred. And as Lecourt says, it was the second of these that was probably instrumental for Lysenko’s popularity amongst politicians—he promised that his research would give a boost to the development of productive forces. Thus Lysenkoism, despite its populist component, reminiscent of Bogdanov’s philosophy, was compatible with and could be grafted onto the dominant mechanistic theory of productive forces stemming from Bucharin and propagated in the West by Bernal and others.

In addition the bureaucratic environment in which intellectuals worked in the Soviet Union, as well as political pressures, is a further aspect that must be taken into consideration when looking at Lysenkoism. In this respect the statement of the now deceased Arnost Kolman, the mathematician who left the Soviet Union in protest a couple of years ago, is significant. Kolman participated at the London Congress in History of Science and Technology in 1931. He worked as a philosopher in the Soviet Union right up to the time he fled Moscow and sought asylum in Stockholm in the late 1970’s. He recalls:

The huge majority of Soviet philosophers were and are ‘pure philosophers’, who had and have no knowledge of concrete social and, even more, of natural sciences. But imitating Stalin, they—including myself—meddled in spheres where they were absolutely incompetent. My personal experience is very characteristic. In physico-mathematical disciplines where I had an appropriate grounding, I struggled against the drive started at first by the physicist A.K. Timirjasev and continued then by the philosopher Maksimov against the theory of relativity, the reactionary einsteinianism. I fought also for acknowledgment of the quantum theory, the theories of Pauling and Ingold in physical chemistry, for cybernetic and mathematical logic, and against the attempts to restrict mathematics to its immediate practical applications, declaring the abstract as ‘idealistic’. But where I was fully incompetent—in psychotechnics, pedology, eugenics, and in particular in genetics, I took active part in the campaigns against these disciplines which were declared pseudo-scientifical. As a member of the editorial board of the philosophical magazine "Under the banner of Marxism", I, according to the instruction of the Central Committee of the Party, obediently went with the other members of the board into the question of heredity for three months—but how could we, unprepared and prejudiced, understand such a complicated problem in such a short time!—and afterwards in the discussions about ‘formal genetics', 'Mendelism-Morganism', in three articles of mine I threw myself into the battle for the ‘innovatory ideas’ of Lysenko. [66]

It is evident then that Stalin’s type of metaphysics had a distorting effect on the way radical scientists might deal with the question of the relationships between science and ideology.

It is well known that Mao Tsetung insisted on making a clear distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. In his view leading people in the Soviet Union made mistakes here, and Stalin was one of the ones to blame. The crucial question according to Mao is whether or not dialectics is properly appreciated, understood and used. For, "Marxism is a wrangling ism, dealing as it does with contradictions and struggles. Contradictions are always present, and where there are contradictions there are struggles". [67] This being so, the proper grasp of dialectics must be the key to correct policy making. "Stalin failed to see the connection between the struggle of opposites and the unity of opposites. Some people in the Soviet Union are so metaphysical and rigid in their thinking that they think a thing has to be either one or the other, refusing to recognize the unity of opposites. Hence political mistakes are made. We adhere to the concept of the unity of opposites and adopt the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend. When fragrant flowers blossoming, you will inevitably find poisonous weeds growing. This is nothing to be afraid of, under given conditions they can even be turned to good account". [68] This was written in 1957, when Mao was pondering the mistakes of the Soviet road to socialism, which was to become a road to social imperialism and superpower politics. Paradoxically, Mao Tsetung’s own inclination to romanticism laid the ground for aberrations similar to Lysenkoism, particularly during the cultural revolution in China.


1. Edgar Zilsel , "The Genesis of the Concept of Scientific Progress", Journal of History of Ideas 6 (1945), 325. [—> main text]

2. Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism (Oxford, Clarendon 1978) 3 vols., Alvin Gouldner, The Two Marxisms: Contradictions and Anomalies in the Development of Theory (New York, Seabury Press, 1980). [—> main text]

3. George Becker, Documents of Modern Literary Realism (Princeton U P 1963), cited after Perry Miller, "An Investigation of Nineteenth Century American Realism and Aspects of it in some of the Works of Mark Twain", English Department, University of Edmonton 1979. [—> main text]

4. Everett Carter, Howells and the Age of Realism. [—> Main text]

5. See e.g. Emile Zola, "Naturalism in the Theatre", in Becker (ed.), op. cit. [—> main text]

6. See further, Eugene Lampart, Sons Against Fathers, Studies in Russian Radicalism and Revolution (Oxford, 1965). [—> main text]

7. See further R. Fülöp Miller, The Mind and Face of Bolshevism (London, 1927). [—> main text]

8. Joseph Needham, "History and Human Values, A Chinese Perspective for World Science and Technology", in Hilary & Steven Rose (eds), The Radicalization of Science (London, McMillan 1976). [—> main text]

9. Eugene N. Anderson, "German Romanticism, and Ideology of Cultural Crisis", Journal of History of Ideas 2 (l94l), pp. 301-317. [—> main text]

10. Arthur O. Lovejoy, "The Meaning of Romanticism for the Historian of Ideas", Journal of History of Ideas, 2 (l94l), pp. 257-278. [—> main text]

11. David Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976), p. 67. [—> Main text]

12. ibid., p. 68. [—> main text]

13. Ibid., p. 69. [—> main text]

14. E.J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution (London, Abacus 1968), p. 265. [—> Main text]

15. Stephen G. Brush, "The Chimerical Cat: Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics in Historical Perspective", Social Studies of Science, 10 (1980), 393 - 447. [—> Main text]

16. op. cit., p. 235. [—> main text]

17. Friedrich Rück, Utopister och realister. Från Rousseau till Marx. Kooperative förbundets förlag, Stockholm 1948, p. 54. [—> Main text]

18. Jürgen Kuczynski, Arbetarklassens uppkomst. Aldus/Bonniers 1967, pp. 55-57. [—> main text]

19. 1st edn. 1819, 2nd edn. Paris 2 Vol. 1827. [—> main text]

20. Progress Publ., Moscow 1971 ed. [—> main text]

21. Op. cit., p. 20. [—> main text]

22. Lenin, ibid., p. 51. [—> main text]

23. Ibid., p. 40. [—> main text]

24. Ibid., pp. 28-29. [—> main text]

25. Selected Writings on Science, Industry and Social Organization ed. Keith Taylor, London 1975, Cathéchisme Des industriels, Bk I, 1823; p. 251. [—> main text]

26. Ibid., pp. 251-252. [—> main text]

27. from L’Artiste, Je savant et l’industriel: dialogue, Opin. litt. 1825, Taylor ed. p. 286. [—> main text]

28. Cathéchisme Des industriels bk IV, 1824, Taylor ed., pp. 259-260. [—> main text]

29. Rück, op. cit., p. 76. [—> Main text]

30. Zeitlin, p. 75. [—> Main text]

31. Comte, cited by Marcuse, Reason & Revolution 1969 pp. 345-346. [—> main text]

32. Marcuse, p. 347. [—> Main text]

33. The Positive Philosophy, cited in Irving Zeitlin, Ideology and The Development of Sociological Theory, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice Hall, 1968), p. 75. [—> Main text]

34. Marcuse, p. 342. [—> Main text]

35. F.H. Markham, Henri Comte de Saint-Simon: Selected Writings Oxford 1952; see also Daniel Bell, "Technocracy and Politics", Survey 17, (1)-197l pp. 2ff. [—> Main text]

36. Benjamin Schwartz, Chinese Communism, pp. 4 - 10, cited after D.W.Y. Kwok, Scientism in Chinese Thought 1900-1950 (New Haven, Yale U.P. 1965), p. 64. [—> main text]

37. cited after Kwok, op. cit., pp. 67 - 68. [—> main text]

38. cited after Kwok, p. 153. Peter Buck has recently argued that the scientism faction of the Chinese intelligentsia advocated a course of development of Chinese society which objectively harmonized with American imperial interests. Peter Buck, "Science and Modern Chinese Culture", in Everett Mendelsohn & Yehuda Elkana (eds.), Sciences and Cultures Sociology of Sciences Yearbook 1981 (Dordrecht N-H, Reidel 1981), pp. 133-160. [—> main text]

39. Torbjörn Lodén, Debatten om proletär litteratur i Kina 1828-1829 (Stockholm, Gotab 1980) Skrifter utgivna av Föreningen för orientaliska studier nr. 15, p. 177. [—> main text]

40. Ibid., p. 58. [—> main text]

41. cited after Lodén, p. 33. [—> Main text]

42. Carmen Claudin-Urondo, Lenin and the Cultural Revolution (Sussex, Harvester Press 1977), p. 39. [—> Main text]

43. Ibid., pp. 41 - 42. [—> main text]

44. Ibid., p. 43. [—> main text]

45. Ibid., p. 45. [—> main text]

46. see D. Joravsky, Soviet Marxism and Natural Science 1917-1932 (New York, Columbia University Press 1961); also Loren R. Graham, Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union (New York, Alfred A. Knopf 1972). [—> main text]

47. Nikolai Bucharin/Abram Deborin Kontroversen über dialektischen und mechanischen materialismus (Frankfurt a/M, Suhrkamp 1974), p. 295 (with introduction by Oskar Negt). [—> main text]

48. Antonio Gramsci, "Critical Notes on an Attempt at Popular Sociology", in Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci ed. & transl. by Q. Hoare & G.N. Smith (London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1971), pp. 419 - 472. [—> main text]

49. Ibid., p. 435. [—> main text]

50. Ibid., p. 438. [—> main text]

51. Ibid., p. 439. [—> main text]

52. R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution. A Study of the Economics and Polities of the Extreme Stages of Capitalist Decay (1935; San Francisco, Proletarian Publ. reprint 1974), p. 77. [—> Main text]

53. cited in Gary Werskey, "British Scientists and ‘Outsider’ Politics, 1931 - 1945", Science Studies, 1 (1971), p. 69 (that article is reprinted in B. Barnes (ed.), Sociology of Science (Penguin, 1972), pp. 231-250. [—> main text]

54. Ibid. [—> main text]

55. Ibid. [—> main text]

56. The "Bernalists" are portrayed in Gary Werskey’s book, The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s (London, Allan & Lane 1978). For a discussion of labour colleges and proletarian schools in England after World War I, see Stuart MacIntyre, A Proletarian Science 1917 - 1933 (Cambridge, University Press 1980). [—> main text]

57. op. cit. reprinted by Edition Sociales, Paris 1972. [—> Main text]

58. Jacques Solomon, "Pour le libre développement de la science", appendix xi in Joe Metzger, Pour la science (Paris, Edition Sociales 1974), pp. 148 - 156. The appendix is a document from 1938, evaluating the situation then in the light of the experience under the Popular Front government. [—> Main text]

59. Ibid. [—> main text]

60. E.H.S. Burhop, "Scientists and Public Affairs", in Maurice Goldsmith & Allan Mackay (eds.), The Science of Science (Penguin books 1964), pp. 37-38. [—> main text]

61. J.G. Crowther et. al., Science and World Order (Penguin pocket 1942), p. 9. [—> main text]

62. Ibid., p. 10. [—> main text]

63. Albrecht Mellink, "Het Comité van Waakzaamheid na veertig jaar", Jaarboek vaor de geschiedenis van socialisme 1977 (Nijmegen, SUN 1977), pp. 249-250. [—> main text]

64. Ibid., p. 250. [—> main text]

65. David Guest, Lectures on Marxist Philosophy (first publ. 1939, reprinted by arrangement with Lawrence & Wishart Ltd. by Suren Dutt, in Calcutta 1971), p. 88. [—> Main text]

66. Arnost Kolman, "The Adventure of Cybernetics in the USSR", a contribution to the Biennale ‘77 Il Dissento Culturale in Venice. The author was kind enough to supply me with a copy of the typescript of this article. [—> Main text]

67. Mao Tsetung, Selected Works vol. V (Peking, Foreign Languages Press 1977), p. 364. [—> Main text]

68. Ibid., p. 369. [—> main text]

SOURCE: Elzinga, Aant. "Scientism, Romanticism and Social Realist Images of Science", in: Essays on Scientism, Romanticism and Social Realist Images of Science (Göteborg, Sweden: Göteborg University, Institutionen for Vetenskapsteori, June 1984), Report No. 143, Chapter 1, pp. 1-49.

©1984, 2002 Aant Elzinga. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of author. Edited by Ralph Dumain for this site.

Aant Elzinga, Professor, Department of History of Ideas and Theory of Science,
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