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NASA-funded Study Reasserts Historical Materialism

It is interesting that an institution that was once invested in demonstrating the superiority of capitalism to communism during the cold war has now released a study that proves the opposite.  I am speaking, of course, about the NASA-funded study that pretty much agrees, though not with the same language, with one of the axiomatic claims of historical materialism––that capitalist forces of production are being hampered by capitalist relations of production.

Even though this study does not define itself according to a slogan such as "socialism or barbarism" this is pretty much what it argues: the production of surplus and "overconsumption of resources" in the current global system will destroy civilization unless we "reduce economic inequality."  Moreover, not only does it argue that market forces are incapable of producing equilibrium (thus rejecting the parascientific claims of bourgeois economists), but it asserts that groups of "Elites"––those who benefit from this situation of inequality that threatens human civilization(s)––are not interested in preventing societal collapse.

…and they'll help end things earlier if they have to!

Here it is worth pointing out the ways in which this study has failed to be properly scientific insofar as it has used the tools and languages of other scientific terrains (namely, biology, environmental science, physics, etc.) to describe the subject matter that properly belongs to the science of history and society.  Conversely, we should be critical of how the tools of historical materialism are inappropriately used to make declarations about physics and biology––and not in the appropriate sense when we are analyzing the historical development and social relations behind certain aspects of other scientific theories, but in the unscientific way of deciding that a theory of physics (i.e. "the Big Bang") is wrong simply because we think it is "undialectical" or some other such nonsense.  The NASA-funded study does the same thing when it attempts to map the topographies of history, society, and economics: its language is imprecise, its understanding is often vague.  There would be much more precision, much more clarity, if it could draw upon the scientific concepts of forces and relations of production, not to mention the concept of social class that it has bludgeoned into a discourse about "Elites", always an imprecise and unscientific term.

Hence, in many ways, the NASA-funded study does to historical materialism what someone unfamiliar with the terrain of biology would do if they suddenly realized, without having ever read Darwin or the development of evolutionary science since Darwin, that the world was not created in six days.  Proverbial "reinventions of the wheel" on the part of people who lack the scientific tools to understand the metaphorical wheel are always woefully imprecise and meandering.

Even still, due to the fact that historical materialism (regardless of how many times it axiomatic concepts are proven and reproven) is not a hegemonic science, a semi-scientific reinvention of its wheel on the part of "acceptable" scientists who know nothing about its concepts presents an opportunity to reassert its scientific strength.  Indeed, because the NASA-funded scientists lack an understanding of the scientific terrain that could thoroughly describe the problem they encountered through their own scientific investigation––because this problem must have appeared to them spontaneously as a moment of crisis––their research necessarily points, though unintentionally, towards the science that possesses the tools to solve what they were incapable of solving.  Biology cannot solve the problems of physics, or vice versa, though there may be significant intersections.

Realizing that the problem is economic inequality, and that something is standing in the way of this inequality, the NASA-funded study can only go so far.  What sort of proposals can it offer?  Only those promised by historical materialism: class struggle.  And yet it lacks the tools to theorize these proposals, nor does it dare to treat past revolutionary moments as hypotheses tendered towards such a solution––hypotheses from which we can learn.  It even goes so far as to understand how this productive forces/relations contradiction has served as the threshold to past civilizations, but is incapable of grasping the mechanism of class struggle… just as someone who had never encountered Darwin, and was trying to reinvent evolutionary biology without knowledge of its history, might talk about the change and variation in species over innumerable generations and fail to grasp that the mechanism of this change was natural selection.  Without grasping such a mechanism we are stuck at the realm of appearance, describing only symptoms (population scarcity, natural predators, environmental disasters, species-difference) that are not, in the last-instance, the determining factor of evolution.  Similarly, the NASA-funded study names population, climate, water, agriculture, and energy without properly grasping the motor that determines social change: class struggle.

And yet, at the same time, the study does grasp, though nebulously, the determining instance of social change when it recognizes, though treating it as another (but significant) factor of social change, the fact that civilizational collapse is often due to "the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses."  It even goes so far as to treat this factor as one that has played a "central role"!  Again, the study points towards a science that can solve the problems it has simply reasserted, though with more recognizable scientific authority.

It is worth wondering, due to the "common sense" of capitalist ideology, whether this report will be dismissed as socialist nonsense.  All scientists will find their credentials questioned when they come face-to-face with ruling class ideology.  But for those of us who are marxists, this study should remind us of the importance of the slogan "socialism or barbarism" and its immediacy.


  1. Bourgeois ideology rests upon a faith in non-contradiction. It will necessarily denature the sciences, putting them in the service of the bourgeois dictatorship. The NASA study reveals that even bourgeois scientists are acknowledging contradictions, seeing the interconnectedness of the social sciences with the natural sciences. Whereas bourgeois ideology serves to mask contradiction, we as historical materialists must introduce the law of contradiction in an ideological clash with bourgeois ideology everywhere it rears its ugly head, particularly in the sciences, so as to deprive the bourgeoisie of the strength of the weapon with which it felled the feudal aristocracy and put the productive forces under its command.

    1. While I agree in general, I think we have to be careful about how we speak of "non-contradiction" and "bourgeois science". There is a tendency, amongst people who have not studied analytical logic, to think its false and simply replaced by dialectical logic. Both are correct and an analytical (formal) contradiction is not the same as a dialectical contradiction. In fact a formal logician would laugh at you if you gave him a dialectical contradiction and called it a "contradiction"; he would simply say you're talking about A&B and not A&~B and, in some ways, he would be correct. So when these kinds of statements about "contradiction" are made in general, I feel that it sounds somewhat dogmatic and a formulaic appeal to dialectics that ends up in a series of slogans and platitudes. Not saying that you're doing this, but every time I see these claims about "faith in non-contradiction" (because there *is* a good reason to have faith in the analytical understanding of contradiction as well as the dialectical understanding, which is indeed the broader dialectical point) I am reminded of the Lysenko affair, or the claims that Einstein's General/Special Theories of Relativity were "incorrect" and "bourgeois" (lol) and the more recent Trotskyist dismissals of the Big Bang Theory and other aspects of quantum physics, on the part of people who have no real understanding of science, that resemble some kind of appeal to Newtonian mechanics and are thus, because of this, ultimately reactionary.


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