Today we are witnessing a new scientific and technical revolution sparked off by stirring achievements in automation, radio electronics, telemechanics, the harnessing of atomic power, space exploration, cybernetics, chemistry and biology.
This revolution is being accomplished in both the socialist and the capitalist systems. Inasmuch as the laws of social development and the objective of social production differ fundamentally in these systems, the motives behind scientific and technical progress as well as the social and economic consequences and prospects of this progress are likewise different.
The threat of being crushed and ruined in the life–and-death competition with his rivals forces the capitalist to improve production on the basis of the latest scientific and technical advances. Thus, scientific and technical progress is objectively vital in capitalist society as well. In the more developed countries the capitalists skilfully use modern science and technology to increase production capacities, raise labour productivity, improve the quality of output, and so forth.
At the same time, there are deep-rooted contradictions in scientific and technical progress under capitalism. By virtue of this progress production shows a trend towards unlimited expansion. On the other hand, the population’s purchasing power is limited and competition creates difficulties in the sale of products abroad. The narrowness of the market restricts production, while automation and other scientific and technical achievements, especially those that cut the demand for manpower, increase unemployment and thereby still further reduce the people’s purchasing power. In capitalist society the development of the scientific and technical revolution is thus seriously hindered by chaotic market conditions, anarchy of production, and competition, which give rise to commercial secrets in science and technology, thereby impeding scientific and technical co– operation. The reason behind all this is that production, science and technology are furthered with an eye to profit. Hence the deterioration of the position of large groups of working people, unemployment, the ousting of man from the sphere of labour and the attendant curb on opportunities for the development of man’s capabilities.
Capital, Marx wrote, “exploits science and appropriates it in the process of production”. Under capitalism the scientist is usually a slave to the moneybag and has no freedom for creative work. In order to engage in creative research he has to sacrifice his convictions, conscience and common sense. Like Goethe’s Faust he sells his soul to the devil, and with it his talent, convictions and conscience.The capitalists and their theoreticians offer many recipes for ending the contradictions inherent in scientific and technical progress. Some of them go so far as to demand the banning of science and technology, calling upon mankind to return to the primitive herd. One of them declared that unemployment could be ended by banning the wheel, arguing that if people carried everything on their backs there would be work for all. But the wheel cannot be banned any more than the wheel of history can be stopped.
The more far-sighted minds in the capitalist world are beginning to understand this and are coming round to the view that the solution lies in a fundamental reform of the capitalist system itself. S. Lilley, the English scientist, wrote: “There is no ultimate escape from the fact that capitalism, well though it worked in its time, is not a suitable economic structure for making beneficial use of the advanced techniques of today.. .. Turn and twist as we may, there is no ultimate way forward except that of changing the whole economic system into a socialist one.”
In socialist society, the purpose and prospects of production and of the scientific and technical revolution are completely different. Social production is organised by plan to ensure the welfare and all-round development of all members of society, and therefore only socialism and communism give scope to the new scientific and technical revolution and use scientific achievements and production not to the detriment of man, as under imperialism, but for his benefit.
Naturally, this does not mean that under socialism automation does not engender serious social problems. One of these is the problem of creating the facilities for retraining and correctly utilising manpower made redundant by technical progress.
In the process of communist construction science draws ever closer to production which, in its turn, makes ever broader use of scientific achievements. Science is increasingly growing into a direct productive force, while production is gradually becoming the technological embodiment of science.
To a large extent, the rate of the Soviet Union’s progress depends on scientific achievements because they help society not only to resolve present-day problems but also to peep into the future. They enable man to harness natural wealth and know and apply the laws of nature and the laws of social development. Marx’s prophetic words that with the development of large-scale industry the creation of real material and spiritual wealth will depend “upon the general level of science and technology or on the employment of this science in industry" are coming true.
an excerpt from Chapter Eight of Afanasyev's 1967 book Scientific Communism.