More on Marxism and science

In a recent article I argued for being skeptical about equating Marxism with science. While I accept some objections raised by commenters on that article that suggested the pursuit of science – objective analysis and experimentation – is still a high priority for Marxists, recent research seems to support my main concern about claims to scientific objectivity of Marxism, i.e., Marxism transcends history or its specific historical and material location.

According to, two biology researchers published a new study that examined scientific research in their field. As suggested by the title of their report, "Active male, reactive female: stereotypic sex roles in sexual conflict research?", they found that scientists who studied animal behavior tended to impose their views of human gender roles on the animals they studied – without even realizing it. (Although the langauge in the report seems to suggest that attributing this effect to the subconscious may be a generous description and that "perhaps" some scientists impose their ideological viewpoints deliberately.)

During the study, the authors discovered "evidence of choices and interpretations that may build on researchers' own, possibly subconscious, perception of male and female." According to one of the authors, "We have now identified and quantified terms used to describe male and female in sexual conflict research and seen that different terms are used depending on the sex being described. It is not just something we think and suppose."

In addition, "In the literature, the male is described more in terms of activities to promote his own interests, while the female is described in more passive terms, such as that her behaviour is merely a reaction to that of the male," the other author explained.

Simply put, objective scientific work was colored by the ideological and cultural views of the social relationships that form the lived experience of scientists, in this case aspects of unequal relationships between men and women. This apparent fact I think is in line with how I tried to view equations of Marxism with science and the elevation of Marxism out of its historical, cultural, and ideological contexts.

The question then becomes, does this new research that tries to become self-conscious of science in an ideological field help science research transcend itself, evolve dialectically, qualitatively into a more objective  methodology? Or, does it simply push biological research (both subjectively and objectively) into a new ideological field in which gender relations (in humans and in animals) are explored in a more egalitarian manner? 

The outcome of this study may be a good model for rethinking how we view Marxism: constant self-criticism of how scientific and ideological fields overlap to produce an evolving, dynamic methodology. Indeed, this may be a closer description of the real life practice of Marxism than its idealization (or idolization).

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  • I accept the "simply put" truism that work is "colored" by the lived experiences of scientists. It directly follows from this, that, Marxism is more scientific and objective precisely because it is relatively shielded from the knee-jerk acceptance of bourgeois philosophy, etc. etc. So, no thanks, I don't need to "rethink" Marxism. In fact, that was the name of a revisionist journal put out by professors in Mass. ~ R

    Posted by Robert Cymbala, 03/28/2011 8:08pm (8 years ago)

  • Whoever said that Marxism "transcends" history?
    Certainly not Marx,and not Lenin.
    Certainly not Du Bois.
    Certainly not Flynn.
    But let's not only mention personalities,let's talk about primitive accumulation and how it prepared African American labor to propel a victorious Union Army,documented in Du Bois's Black Reconstruction(a Civil War closely followed by Marx/Engels,Marx predicting a Union victory based on his scientific, historical materialist analysis).
    Within the confines of history these personalities moved within the parameters of Marx's science of the economics of natural history to make change.
    In a nutshell,that's the scientific content of Marxism.
    Materialism aids and has aided all fields of inquiry since its discovery,from anthropology to algebra. Quite frankly,that is what modern Marxists seek and have accomplished,from Dirk Struik to Robert Hodes, to Paul Robeson.
    One does indeed,hesitate to render Marx more profound,questioning his science,without even discussing it,or the proven science of the Marxists,the pudding of Capital,ranking with the Bible,Critique of Pure Reason,and The Origin of Species.

    Posted by peaceapplause, 03/25/2011 11:30am (8 years ago)

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