Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2015 > History as Insurrection: Searching for a Radical Science

Mainstream, VOL LIII No 22, May 23, 2015

History as Insurrection: Searching for a Radical Science

Friday 22 May 2015

by Murzban Jal

Humanity is the immediate object of natural science.
— Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

For apart from inquiry, apart from praxis, humanity cannot be truly human.
— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Three Ideas of Science

The crisis afflicting the domain of politics in India, besides being inexorably linked to the crisis of global capital accumulation and the legitimation crisis of the political elites, is also bound to a larger crisis of the retreat of revolu-tionary politics and the aborted construction of a radical social science that can break the political hegemony of the Indian bourgeoisie. What this essay claims is that, besides there being a crisis that is leading to the construction of a new Hindutva mythopoetics, there is also a crisis in the general sciences, a crisis that Georg Lukacs located in his celebrated History and Class Consciousness. What happens is that science under the hegemony of capitalism gets to be reified as mere technology. Here the idea of true knowing is displaced for a form of partial knowing that is determined by capitalism and the search for profits. It is here that fascist mythopoetics is born; and that claims to be the heir of true knowledge, the harbinger of development and the most authentic of all sciences.

Narendra Modi’s claim that stem cell research and plastic surgery were practised in ancient India, as he found from his miraculous reading of the Mahabharata, is an example of how on the one hand science as true knowing is reified as mere technology, and on the other hand where mythopoetics as the march-past of the ghosts and saints of ancient India takes centre-stage. If Modi’s claim of science as magic is an example of how the mind can be gripped by sordid fantasies, then the discovery of the contem-porary saints of practical unreason like the political Rasputin, Baba Ramdev, and now the new ordained saint, Baba Rampal, are examples as to how these disgusting fantasies can become truly violent.

What happens here is the dominance of myth and the state sponsored programme of the regression of thinking. But what happens is that science as mere technology (that is, science that completely forgets its original programme of true thinking) is either put to the service of the mythical regression of thinking, or at best, an artificial opposition is made between science (as mere technology) and mythopoetics. What happens in this false conflict between bourgeois science (as mere technology) and mythopoetics is that it veils the true conflict between science and mythopoetics. But what modern capitalism has also done is that it has made a difference between the three ideas of the sciences. Let us have a look at this. What we are claiming is that the crisis in the general sciences is because of multiple understandings of the sciences which somehow have not been neatly demarcated.

Let us see these multiple understandings of the social sciences. The first form follows the Weberian logic where science is understood as vocation. Now we know that Max Weber in his celebrated 1919 essay, ‘Science as Vocation (Wissenschaft als Beruf)’ had drawn out the aetiology of how science as a vocation is seen in what he calls a “material sense of the term” where employability is the main theme of this endeavour of science. For Weber, the main question is: “What is the prospect of a graduate student who is resolved to dedicate himself professionally to science in university life?” Specialisation, atomisation and the compart-mentalisation of the sciences are the leitmotivs of this idea of science as vocation. This theme of science as vocation was a theme of the use of the sciences in the history of capitalism probably till 1945. The end of the Second Imperialist World War ended this theme of science as vocation for a new theme of science as business and science solely in the service of big business. The collapse of the Soviet bloc of nations and the unhindered growth of neo-liberal capitalism has now transformed this understanding of science as vocation into the understanding of science as big business.

But there is a third perspective that lies rather buried and this is the theme of science as revolutionary endeavour. This third pers-pective was born at the times of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that culminated in the French Revolution which itself gave birth to the radical thoughts of Hegel and Marx. This essay is on the perspective of science as revolutionary endeavour and the Revolutionary Marxist critique of science as hegemonised by capitalism, where science is transfigured as the movement from the will to knowledge to the will to power. And considering that there has been a shift to the Right in Indian politics where serious sciences are now being confused with fascist mythopoetics where the very idea of science as science is now being devalued, this essay is on the defence of the idea of science. This third idea of science as revolutionary endeavour is basically a Marxist idea, but it is an idea that was also a part of the foundation of educational philosophy in newly independent India. It was J.P. Naik who had talked of beginning a Revolution with a Revolution.1 Now this idea of education in India as a revolutionary endeavour in the first moments of India’s independence was against both the ideas of the education as vocation and education as business. It was J.P. Naik who had talked of beginning a Revolution with a Revolution in his seminal essay, ‘To Begin a Revolution with a Revolution’. This theme of Revolution with a Revolution is basically an idea that emerged in the French Revolution, a theme that Slavoj Zizek keeps central to his philosophical discourse. But this theme is also a theme that is central to the works of Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar. Science is not something innocent, nor is it a commodity that can be bought in the global market. Science is fundamentally revolutionary in essence.

However, with the triumph of the fascist forces in the 2014 elections, followed by the victory in the State elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, and also with the fascistisation of education by the RSS now, the role of the sciences has totally changed. Science as vocation and business will now be subservient to the fascist forces. Unfortunately studies on fascism in India in particular and Asia in general have not taken the centre-stage of the academic imagination. One could point to Jairus Banaji’s works on fascism that have raised the issue of fascism. However, the finer details in the Asiatic mode of production and the role of caste hegemony have not been brought out in his works. In a way then one can say that even critical social sciences of some sort, that did not take the idea of the Asiatic mode of production and caste seriously, are struck by the spectre of Eurocentric discourses. The main point is then to look into an alternative discourse of the social sciences in India.

In 2006 Syed Farid Alatas published his Alternative Discourses in the Asian Social Sciences: Responses to Eurocentrism where he argued for an alternative model which is neither caught up in abstract particularism (the natavist discourses), nor in abstract universalism (Eurocentrism). What Alatas claims is that Western imperialism has systematically created what he calls the “captive mind” where the sciences in non-Western countries are subservient to the interests of imperialism.2 In this sense, the social sciences in not only India, but in Asia as a whole, are, by and large, under the grip of what we know as the “imperialism of categories”. According to this line of thinking, one has academic imperialism that is predicated on economic and political imperialism. What the elites of the Third World have done is that they have formed a politics and policy of what Alatas calls “intellectual dependence” on the capitalist elites and corporate institutions of the First World.3

The counterpoint to this is the decolonisation of the education that thinkers like Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon and Pierre Bourdeieu talked of. In this sense we are directly in opposition to the old Weberian thesis of science as vocation and the neo-liberal ideology of science as big business. What one does is that one directly confronts educational and scientific orthodoxy. For understanding this, a little history of the crisis of the sciences in the twentieth century is necessary, a theme located in Edmund Husserl’s TheCrisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology as the crisis of European humanity itself.

To understand this double-bound crisis, it is necessary to go to the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School in order to understand that the sciences cannot be taken uncritically, but they have to undergo a radical historicist and humanist critique.

Critical Theory: Science as Will to Power

Searching for the crisis of the sciences and the epistemic roots of Critical Theory (especially as found in the works of Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse) is an extremely complex affair. Whilst Horkheimer and Adorno were influenced by their teacher Hans Cornelius in the 1920’s—Horkheimer received his doctorate on the topic: Zur Antinomie der teleologischen Urteilskraft (1922) and his Habilitationsschrift titled Kants Kritik derUrteilskraft als Bindeglied zwischen theoretischer und praktischer Philosophie (1925) both were completed under Cornelius’s direction, whilst Adorno’s doctorate under Cornelius was on transcendental phenomenology titled Die Transzendenz des Dinglichen und Noematischen in Husserl’s Phanonenologie (1924)Marcuse’s teachers included Husserl and Martin Heidegger. However it is Husserl and Lukacs’ critiques of what Husserl called the “Europeansciences” that would form the epistemological basis for both Critical Theory’s entire oeuvre as well as our investigation into the question of what Marxism as science in actuality is.

It must be noted that the reception of Husserl and Lukacs in twentyfirst century India, would pose the question: “What is one to do with the sciences when they were already stated to be crisis- ridden a century earlier?” It must be noted that both Husserl and Lukacs’ works emerged in the gory aftermath of the First Imperialist World War. Lukacs, one must note, wrote these essays comprising his main text immediately after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, whilst Husserl’s text was composed in the thirties, the first part being published in 1936, the second part was published posthumously only in 1956-59. And because of the imperialist war and the abuse of technology for imperialist destruction, the intellectual climate of that period raised the question of the relation between science and society.

The following questions that emerged in both the works of Lukacs and Husserl would also be relevant even today. They are: Is science then an autonomous, objectivistic system of knowledge or a social project closely related to the ruling ideology of that period? What are the specific characteristic of the modern sciences and if they are crisis-ridden (as Husserl and Marcuse would claim), would the traditional sciences be a solution to the problem? What is the relation between modernity and the modern sciences? Or should one cease using the term “modern science” in the abstract and instead talk of the struggles taking place in the sciences when on the one hand the natural sciences were developing methods of great discoveries as well as removing scarcity, they were also at the service of imperialism and global cartels who would reify sciences for developing technology for barbaric destructions? Then would not the sciences (as technology under the dominance of imperialist cartels) give way to the apocalyptic natural disaster that Zizek now is warning of? Thus are there not a politics of science and also a political economy of the sciences? Would not the sciences be determined by the class struggle and thus the struggle between capital and labour?

One must stress that one has to put these questions at the basis of the understanding of the debates in the methodology of the sciences. Now if not Husserl’s TheCrisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology,at least Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness,not to forget Critical Theory emerging a few years later, has a pre-history based on the methodological dispute (Methodenstreit) in the social sciences in Germany and the question of the nature and relation between the natural sciences (Natur-wissenschaften) and the social sciences (Geistes-wissenschaften). One only needs to recall Wilhelm Dilthey’s Introduction to the Social Sciences, 1883 (Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften)and Origin of Hermeneutics, 1900 (Die Entstehung der Hermen-eutick) to understand the rigorous line of demar-cation to be drawn between the Geisteswissen-schaften and the Naturwissenschaften.

This methodological divide between the natural and social sciences is said to lie in the difference between pure reason (the domain of necessity) and that of practical reason (the realm of freedom) that was an inherent postulate in Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. But one could also go back and say that this division in the sciences lies in Cartesian philosophy which divides reality between what Rene Descartes called “res extensa” and “res cogitans”.

In some form, this old debate between “matter” and “consciousness” would emerge in a different form. The realm of “matter” would be left to the natural sciences and the realm of “consciousness” would be the domain of the social sciences. Somehow, very uncritically even today we have taken this division for granted and refused to have a critical investigation on the origin of the problem. One would need, instead, a radical re-examination of philosophical reason itself that has split itself in these binary oppositions: nature/society, natural sciences/social sciences. In fact what this binary: nature/society does is that it not only degrades science as mere technological reason, but also trans-forms another part of the human enterprise as mythopoetics. Modi’s phantasmagorical discovery of stem cells and plastic surgery in his deluded mind is also part of the nature/society, natural science/social science split. If liberal Europe worked in this binary proble-matic, it was Nazi Germany that perfected this binary methodology and left science to the mercy of their Nazi myth-making of the alleged superior race. The spurious ‘science’ of eugenics that inspired both Nazi Germany and Zionist Israel is an example how ‘science’ can be at the service of fascist forces.

But for Marx—in antagonism to the liberal democratic opposition of nature and society, natural science and social science (where the sciences are at the service of their liberal democratic profit-making) as well as the fascist binary of nature and society, natural sciences and social sciences (where sciences are at the service of fascist myth-making)—there can be no absolutist method which the positivists created that could be imposed on every form of reality. One could not reduce science to the ideology of scientism. Here it is imperative to say that positivism’s search for an ideal unified science is a form of concealed dualism, where the human aspect, and thus the social and social scientific aspects are totally and permanently veiled. But one could also not involve, as we are repeatedly saying, an obvious dualism between nature and society, and thus a dualism between the natural and the social sciences, as done by the Geisteswissenschaft school of thought. .

First let us take the liberal democratic opposition of nature and society, natural sciences and the social sciences. Remember that this methodological theme appears in a full blown form in capitalism in its progressive stage of development in Western Europe. It is in this Marxist space that one locates the emergence of the dualistic school in the universities of Germany in late nineteenth century. One also recalls the neo-Kantian Wilhelm Windelbland’s war of attrition against positivism in his 1894 rector’s address at Strasbourg. And it is this hermeneutics of suspicion unleashed on the natural sciences (the tradition would be carried by Heinrich Rickert and Georg Simmel) that would soon be embedded in Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness. One cannot, as Lukacs claims, “seek refuge in the methods of natural science and use it as an ideal model of knowledge”.4 And so Lukacs suggests a double-bound critique: not only is something rotten in the state of the natural sciences, but a rigorous archaeology of the knowledge of the natural sciences reveals the manipulative social structure that produces this false episteme. For Marx, as one has already pointed out, the problem lies elsewhere.

But indeed if one has to take the Lukacs- inspired thesis of the alleged ‘rotten’ state of the natural sciences (for Lukacs the natural sciences impose a form of mechanical and fatalist type of necessity on free people) then one is also making Lukacs into some form of existentialist philosopher (something that he would indeed disagree with). Science then, in this paradigm, becomes what one can call after Louis Althusser who called after Lenin as der Holzweg der Holzwege: the falsest of all false paths.5 Of course, it is important that both Lenin and Althusser called philosophy (that is, traditional, idealistic philosophy) as a false path, and not science. For both Lenin and Althusser, science leads to true knowledge. It is thus a true path. But for the theory that stems from Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness and which is crystallised in the Frankfurt School, it is the natural scientific method in its bourgeois form which presents an estranged supra-historical reality. In this para-digm, the natural sciences are, as if, studying the eternal laws of nature. There are, as Marx famously points out: no eternal laws of nature.6

But if one brackets Lukacs’ Kantian baggage, there is also something serious in what he is saying on the nature of the natural sciences. Whilst Lukacs uses the term “natural science”, we will instead talk of the “practice and ideology of the natural sciences in the service of capitalism”. One must state that there are five basic characteristics of Lukacs’ critique of this estranged and reified model of the natural sciences. It must be noted that Lukacs prefers to use the term reification (Verdinglichung). This implies the following: (1) loss of totality, (2) rationalised objectivism, (3) pure quantification, (4) fetishisation of facts, and (5) abstract formalism, culminating in anti-historicism and the repression of radical praxis. It is with the exposition of these fundamental characteristics of the modern sciences that its crisis can be understood.

  Now the crisis of the modern bourgeois sciences (both the natural and social) is under-stood in the perspective of the reduction of science to quantified rationalism based on a false and fragmented, or what Lukacs after Marx calls a, “ghostly objectivity”7. One, how-ever, has to state that a distinction has to be drawn between modernity and the modern-bourgeois sciences. What the modern bourgeois sciences do is that they mimic the ontology of the commodity that Marx had highlighted in the first pages of Capital. Remember that Marx says that the essence and driving force of commodity production is this “ghostly objecti-vity”, which abstracts humanity, qualities and diversities from its ontological and methodo-logical framework. Thus what this ghostly ontology of the commodity does is that it produces anti-humanism and a pure quantified methodological framework.

For Lukacs (following these above insights), what the modern bourgeois science claims to be ‘scientific’ based on facts, has to be taken only at its face value. In fact what is called ‘fact’ has to be taken very, very critically. This ‘fact’ that the modern bourgeois sciences talk of is in actuality only the reflection of a fragmented world, broken from its social and historical context. What seems to be a ‘fact’ is actually the estranged and fragmen-ted world of the capitalist mode of production appearing in delusory form. For example, the capitalist society will not appear as a capitalist society, but as a ‘technocratic society’, ‘industria-lised society’, ‘developed society’, etc., to these modern bourgeois scientists who celebrate these so-called ‘facts’. For Lukacs:

Thus only when the theoretical primacy of the ‘facts’ has been broken, only when every phenomenon is recognised to be a process, will it be understood that what we are wont to call ‘facts’ consists of processes. Only then will it be understood that the facts are nothing but parts, the aspects, of the total process that have been broken off, artificially isolated and ossified.8

Fragmented reality appearing in delusory form is what is described as a “fact” by the ideologists of the modern bourgeois science. To sum this discussion of the bourgeois worship of ‘facts’, we say that there are three concrete domains where we understand this problem of the fetishisation of facts: (1) empiricisation, (2) fragmentation, that is, the breaking of the dialec-tical whole into unconnected parts, and (3) anti-humanism, where the mechanical method which completely erases the human content from its discourse is heralded as the exemplary scientific method.

What happens in this terrain of what one may call a “regressive dialectic” or a dialectic going backwards is that modern science, or bourgeois science as pure quantified technology, regresses into a form of delusion, almost in the form of a myth. And it is this regressive dialectic that the fascists have mastered. It is they who have known how to transfigure enlightenment into a myth. It is mythical because it completely abstracts humanity from its episteme. Modi’s magical collapse of science into myth stands on this concretely defined terrain. Just as for Lukacs modern science negates the human question and creates an abstract methodology, so too fascist myth-making totally negates humanity and creates its march-past of phantasmagorical ideas.

What every revolutionary ought to under-stand is that science as mere technology and myth-making go hand in hand. One thus cannot make a simple non-historical opposition: science versus myth. Instead one has to understand the multiple layers of the sciences and critique the idea of science as mere technology for a science that argues for science and human emancipation and science for human emancipation.

What happens in this problematic of sciences in the eras of liberal democracy and neo-liberalism is that not only is the mode of appearance in this methodology delusory, it is also fragmented. And it is this fragmentation that the bourgeois technicians claim to be the “scientific truth”. Thus the alleged facticity of the bourgeois sciences (under the hegemony of capitalism and the colonial elites) is actually a monadic and empiricist interpretation of reality which studies only surface structures. It does not proceed into the deep structure. It does not ask: “How and why has the world been fragmented?”

It does not ask: “Why does reality appear only in what Marx calls ‘object form’ (Form des Objects)?9” and “What is this strange ‘form of appearance’ (Erscheinungsform) of the object form of reality?” And thus Lukacs claims that science has “torn the real world into shreds and has lost its vision of the whole”.10 It is this paradigm that locates the reified consciousness of the modern science which “will turn its back on the ontological problems of its own sphere of influence and eliminate them from the realm where it has achieved some insight. The more highly developed it becomes and the more scientific, the more it will become a formally closed system of partial laws. It will then find that the world lying beyond its confines, and in particular the material base which it is its task to understand, its own concrete underlying reality lies, methodologically and in principle, beyond its grasp.” In the same vein Husserl claimed that

Science has nothing to say to us. It excludes in principle precisely the questions which man, given over in our unhappy times to the most portentious upheavals, finds the most burning: questions of the meaning or meaninglessness of the whole of this human existence ... Scientific, objective truth is exclusively a matter of establishing what the world, the physical as well as the spiritual world, is in fact. But can the world, and human existence in it, truthfully have a meaning if the sciences recognise as true only what is objectively established in this fashion, and if history has nothing more to teach us than all the shapes of the spiritual world, all the conditions of life, ideals, norms upon which man relies, form and dissolve themselves like fleeting waves, that is always was and ever will be so, that again and again reason must turn into nonsense and well-being into misery?11

It is in this way that the crisis-ridden character of the modern bourgeois sciences appeared to Husserl and Lukacs. It must be noted that whilst for Husserl modern sciences are rooted in Descartes and Galileo (he called Galileo “a discovering and a concealing genius”), for Lukacs the modern sciences include the natural sciences, political economy, philosophy and law. Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School would continue this Lukacsian rendering. Secondly, Husserl and Lukacs disagree on the basis of the crises of the sciences—for Husserl it is based on “the attitude”, for Lukacs the crisis is deeply embedded in the history of commodity production and the reification of the conscious thereof. The modern sciences have to be understood as the mimesis of the actual social structures of the commodity society and the estrangement and reification produced thereof. Commodity production and estrange-ment are the ‘roots’ of the five above-mentioned features of Lukacs’ critique of the modern sciences. It is this binding estrangement of capitalist sciences which serves as a model from which Critical Theory’s reading of the crisis of the modern sciences would soon emerge. Whilst Lukacs himself at no given time was sympathetic to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Critical Theory would borrow heavily from his thinking. In such a reading what one got was an abstract a-historical theory of the sciences, as if the dominant classes were totally to be erased from this discourse. Consider Nietzsche’s The Will to Power:

In the formation of reason, logic, the cate-gories, it was need that was authoritative: the need not to ‘know’, but to subsume, to sche-matise, for the purpose of intelligibility and calculation.12

This is the summary and the leitmotiv of Critical Theory, the conversion of the will to knowledge to the will to power. Here the following questions emerge: “Where has this will to power to be located?” “Can one find a historical space wherein this will emerge?” “What is the relation between the will to power and modern science as mere technology?” “Or is the Frankfurt School’s rendering of the modern sciences an idealisation that stemmed from Kant’s difference between pure and practical reason and can have no grounding in a historical materialist’s rendering of the sciences?” 

When one is reading Critical Theory, especially Theodor Adorno’s works, a theme continuously recurs to haunt the reader, the theme of calculation and control. The modern sciences thus have, at the underlying epistemic base, the theme of calculation and control. Science (that is, science in general) thus no longer wants to know nature—it wants to control it. The modern sciences (from this Adorno inspired reading) are thus constituted within this peculiar fusion of technology and domi-nation, rationality and oppression. The earlier theme of quantified rationalism and the question of the modern science’s act of concealment—both underlying themes in Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness—would reappear again, not only in the works of Adorno, but also in the works of Jurgen Habermas.

Marx: The Historicisation and Humanisation of the Sciences

Now if the above were the dominant themes in the social sciences in Europe, there are two important and intertwined questions with respect to the social sciences in India. By and large, the themes stated by the Frankfurt School have been ignored in India both in academia and radical politics. The first question deals with the question of Marxism as a rigorous social science, especially in its applicability in India in particular and other South bloc nations in the periphery of global capital accumulation. This question deals with an alternative view of Marxism—a Marxism that is different from the one practised by the Established Left’s politics of history that follows the unilinear model of progress and development. This alternative Marxism brings in the scientific thinking of non-Western societies where the study of social formations is not determined by Eurocentric understanding that is also determined by a form of economism what one may call “classicist” reductionism, where class in the form of political economy of Western Europe is imposed on Indian conditions. This brings to the social sciences the question of caste, its relation to both the Asiatic mode of production and modern capitalist class system

But there is another question that emerges. If an alternative form of Marxism is possible wherein the caste system is kept as the central part of its discourse, then where would one put the works of Phule and Ambedkar? Would this alternative Marxism also involve another question: “Can there be a rigorous science called Ambedkarism?” How would Phule’s critique of the ritual be related to the idea of the ritual as magic, as proposed by Walter Benjamin in his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction? Or how would the idea of the ritual (of both Phule and Benjamin) be related to the psychoanalytic ideas of neurosis and psychosis? Could we say that Freud’s ideas of neurosis and psychosis as forms of different stages of mental disturbance is now superseded for a new mental disturbance called “neurosis-psychosis”? Would fascism be the manifestation of this “neurosis-psychosis”? Would we be able to create a New Critical Theory for India? How would this new theory—I would like to call this the “New Physics” in the Indian social sciences—relate with the original Marxist idea of historical materialism? And how would this new critical historical materialism be essentially humanistic in both form and content?

A different paradigm is seen by the humanist and revolutionary Marx. For Marx, the question of humanity cannot be erased from the ambit of science. For him, science as Wissenschaft is knowledge-seeking. It is not a positivist (or “inverted theological”) rendering of the sciences. It is not mere instrumental reason. But under the realm of the alienated society what we have is the “estrangement of all these senses”, that is, the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, observing, experiencing, wanting, acting, loving, etc.13 In contrast to the realms of domination and human estrangement, Marx talks of the “emancipation of all human senses”.14 Science for Marx then is the culti-vation of the “essential powers of humanity” where the “human sense” is taken as the basis of its discourse.15 We have a New Science as “human natural science” (die menschliche Natur-wissenschaften) which is at the same time the “natural science of humanity” (die naturliche Wissenschaften vom Menschen).16

What capitalism has done is that it has broken the unity between nature and humanity. And in the methodology of the sciences, it has broken the unity between the natural and social sciences. Natural sciences are only said to deal with nature (or should one say abstract nature, nature independent of humanity), whilst the social sciences completely divorce themselves from the tremendous revolution in the natural sciences. In this estranged paradigm, the natural sciences get an “idealist tendency” and develop an “abstract material” (as we shall see from the below quote), whilst the social sciences cease to deal with great discoveries. Instead they become merely speculative.

The natural sciences have developed an enor-mous activity and have accumulated an ever growing mass of material. Philosophy, however, has remained just as alien to them as they have remained to philosophy. Their momentary unity was only a chimerical illusion. The will was there, but the power was lacking. Historiography itself pays regard to natural science, only occasionally, as a factor of enlightenment, utility and of some special great discoveries. But natural science has invaded and transformed human life all the more practically through the medium of industry; and has prepared for human emancipation, although its immediate effect had to be the furthering dehumanisation of humanity. Industry is the actual, historical relationship of nature, and therefore of natural science to humanity. If, therefore, industry is conceived as the exoteric revelation of humanity’s essential powers, we also gain an understanding of the human essence of nature or the natural essence of humanity. In consequence natural science will lose its abstract material—or rather, its idealist tendency, and will become the basis of human science, as it has already become—albeit in an estranged form—the basis of actual human life, and to assume one basis for life and a different basis for science is, as a matter of course, a lie.17

That is why we insist that Marx’s idea of science is not the positivist searching of laws that are independent of humanity. Marx trans-forms the very idea of science. For him, the humanist concern for human sensuous reality is said to be the basis for all science.18 There are four main points that one can draft as Marx’s fundamental understanding of the natural sciences: (1) articulating humanity’s essential powers, (2) of understanding the genesis of nature and human society, (3) articulating the sense perception in the two-fold forms of sensuous consciousness and sensuous need, and (4) of understanding humanity as humanity and human history as part of natural history.19

Marx thus concludes:

History itself is a real part of natural history—of nature developing into humanity. Natural science will in time incorporate into the science of humanity, just as the science of humanity will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science.20

Thus by putting the Ludwig Feuerbach- inspired idea of human essential powers and the Hegelian idea of truth as a process,21 Marx transcends the sites of human estrangement and the consequent emergence of what he calls a question that is “wrongly put”,22 or simply a pseudo-question, and comes onto the new site of humanity as radical historisation. Marx’s science thus becomes the science of human knowing as well as human emancipation. If “knowing” and “being” are no longer considered as opposites, then “knowing” and “emancipation” are also not regarded as binaries. To transcend this state of binaries is the fundamental point for the scientific revolution. Once one does this then science becomes a material force that literally “grips the masses”.23

Break up nature from humanity, natural sciences from the social sciences is what capita-lism has consistently done. What capitalism has done is that it has developed an alien science, rather fragmented-alienated sciences. One has to understand the functioning capitalism and the problematic of alienation in order to understand the problems that arose in the production of the social sciences since the last century. One simply cannot take any of the theories (whether that of Lukacs or Husserl) uncritically.

Louis Althusser in Lenin and Philosophy had talked of Marx discovering a new continent of knowledge: that of history.24 And Marx himself had talked on there being a unified science—he calls it “one science” in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 184425 and The German Ideology26—the science of history. Accordingly this one science of history has two sides—that of nature and the other of human society. Whilst both ideas of history (nature and humanity) had captured the attention of Marx, it was the second that was essential for his revolutionary repertoire. In it is this line of thinking that we borrow from Lenin’s Marxism and Insurrection where he had talked of understanding insurrec-tion as an art form. This insurrection as an art form is what we call, after Zizek, the arousal of “the sublime feeling of revolutionary enthu-siasm”. Marxism as a unified science goes back to the classical philosophical concerns of the true, the good and the beautiful.

And since fascism is false, evil and ugly, Marxism will have to necessarily confront it. This shall be the immediate future of the social sciences in India.


1. J.P. Naik, ‘To Begin a Revolution with a Revolution’, in The Social Context of Education. Essays in Honour of Professor J.P. Naik, ed. A.B. Shah (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1978), pp. 1-13.

2. Syed Farid Alatas, Alternative Discourses in Asian Social Science. Responses to Eurocentrism (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2006), pp. 47-50. See also his father Syed Hussein Alatas, ‘The Captive Mind in Develop-ment Studies’, in International Social Science Journal, (34)(1), 1972; ‘Intellectual Imperialism: Definition, Traits and Problems’, in Southeast Journal of Social Science, 28(1), (2000) and The Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century and its Functions in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism (London: Frank Cass, 1977).

3. Syed Farid Alatas, Alternative Discourses in Asian Social Science. Responses to Eurocentrism, p. 25.

4. Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness. Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1983), p. 5.

5. Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2006),
pp. 16-7.

6. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983), p. 28.

7. Georg Lukacs, op. cit., pp. 83, 100. See also Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Erster Band (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1993), p. 52.

8. Georg Lukacs, op. cit., p. 184.

9. Karl Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in Marx. Engels. Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 28.

10. Georg Lukacs, op. cit, p. 104.

11. Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), pp. 6-7.

12. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York Vintage Books, 1968),
p. 278.

13. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), p. 94.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 96.

16. Ibid., p. 99.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., p. 99.

22. Ibid.., p. 100.

23. Karl Marx,’ A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, in Karl Marx. Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), p. 251.

24. Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 22

25. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, p. 98.

26. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 34.

The author belongs to the Indian Institute of Education, Pune. He can be contacted at e-mail: murzbanjal@hotmail.com