Pakistani daily DAWN reviews Reason in Revolt

On September 18, 2001, the daily newspaper DAWN, the biggest English language paper in Pakistan carried a complimentary review of the Urdu edition of Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science, the book by Alan Woods and Ted Grant. (You can get a copy of the English original through the Wellred Books on-line bookshop.) It is the Urdu translation of Alan Wood and Ted Grant's Reason in revolt - Marxist philosophy and modern science (1995). This comprehensive and highly readable book covers a wide range of the evolving scientific concepts of matter, energy, space, time and life, mind and body, in which the authors trace the evolution of scientific thought and new vistas opened up by scientific theories and discoveries in the light of Marxist dialectical materialism.

Appropriately dedicated to Hannes Alfven, the Swedish Nobel Laureate in physics, who struggled hard 'against the intrusion of superstition, mythology and fantasy in science,' the authors' thesis is that to understand the implications of modern scientific discoveries, recourse to the philosophy of dialectical materialism is essential.

Divided into four parts: 1) Reason and unreason; 2) Space, time and motion; 3) Life, mind and body and 4) From chaos to order, the discussion is rounded off with Chapter 19, Alienation and the Future of Humanity. The authors are optimistic about the future of humanity, even without the crutches of the concepts of immortality or paradise.

In chapter two, they state that philosophy is essential to understand the world, the laws of nature, society and the human mind. Catastrophes and barbarism, like in former Yugoslavia, or Rwanda, are "explained away by some as 'human nature;'", but very few have the courage to answer what human nature is. The standard religious explanation that this is how we are made by God, is unsatisfactory, because it fails "to justify worshipping a Creator who treats His own supreme creation in this manner."

When Marx/Engels' philosophy of dialectical materialism was published, they could presume that their readers were aware of classical philosophy including Hegel's philosophy of history. Today, a hundred years after Engel's death. This is hardly true. Science has taken over the task of speculating about the origins and conceivable ends of life and the universe. The vastness of the universe is already clear, secrets of life, mind and body are being revealed through psychology and neuron biology.

The case of the social sciences, the authors assert, is different. The desire to know is suppressed in proportion to the degree of conflict with the powerful, elite vested interests. The authors cite the severity and frequency of the attacks on Marxist dialectical materialism, despite claims of its defeat, as proof of its strength.

In Chapter 9, The big bang, they are highly critical of the mythology-like explanations of the origin of the Universe, unsupported by anything but often wild assumptions. Any new discovered facts that contradict the theories, are sought to be explained by fresh assumptions unsupported by observation or factual information, such as the assumption of a cold, dark matter pervading the entire universe, undetectable because it emits no radiation. This assumption was made when the observed density of matter in the universe turned out to be inconsistent with the Big Bang theory's assumption that matter was concentrated initially in what they call a 'singularity'. This amounts to inventing 'facts' to fit the theory, whereas it ought to be the reverse - "equivalent to permitting the intrusion of supernatural concepts into science."

Dialectical materialism regards debates about the creation of matter and beginning of time as ridiculous. Universe is infinite, has always existed, and is changing, dynamic and evolutionary, neither stationary nor in equilibrium, as Newton and Einstein thought. Matter cannot be created from nonexistence, nor totally wiped into oblivion. The authors are utterly against "metaphysical explanation of 'Hubble's red shift' and trying to smuggle the religious viewpoint of creation through the back door."

The book's complex second and third parts (physical sciences and cosmology/life sciences) require of the reader knowledge of the basic concepts of physics and biology such as Newtonian mechanics, Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Darwin's Theory of Evolution, besides major terms of philosophy.

'Social Darwinism' is condemned, quoting Engels who wrote that social Darwinism was a simplistic, prejudiced distortion of the truly scientific theory of evolution, aimed at justifying social injustice by pseudo-scientific rhetoric. Incidentally, the term 'survival of the fittest' was coined by Herbert Spencer, and was never used by Darwin.

In conclusion (Chapter 19), the authors contend that capitalism's inner contradictions, that led to trade wars and the Great Depression in the inter-war years, and the devastating Great Imperialist War (1939-45), are sought to be camouflaged by streamlining international trade and organizing world market, but are emerging with ever greater force, as evidenced by 22 million unemployed in the OECD countries alone.

Despite all the scientific and technological progress, there is systemic crisis everywhere: in church, morality, philosophy and in science itself. Private property and the nation state are the two impediments in the path of real progress. After the post war boom, we face crisis of productive forces. Capitalists are now more interested in making a quick buck through speculative ventures and crossborder movements into greener pastures.

Akio Morita, Chairman, Sony Corporation, is quoted as saying that turning away from productive manufacturing in the 1980s was a highly dangerous trend that has made the US alone lose half the jobs in the manufacturing sector since 1950. According to Akio Morita (1988), a fully service-based economy lacks a prime mover.

The authors' solution is that humanity revert to the socialist, cooperative model of development, to guarantee that technology is used for the benefit of man rather than for his destruction and alienation.

Marxi falsafa aur jadid science

By Alan Woods and Ted Grant

Translated by Abu Faraz

Published by Fiction House, 18, Mozang Road, Lahore

648pp. Rs400