Science and Education in Capitalism Ruthless Criticism

Science and Education in Capitalism

Nowadays it is taken for granted that there must be research and invention so that businesses are competitive and increase their profitability. That today science and technology are resources of the capitals and their applications is no longer understood as a criticism, but as a prelude to concern about whether they adequately fulfill this function.

1. Knowledge as a means of capital

a. Science as a resource for the maximization of profit

Entrepreneurs strive to sell their commodities, and as many of them as profitable, in a competition for solvent demand. In this competition, they are dependent in two different ways on technical innovations: on the one hand, it is their means to assert themselves against others in the price war: to sell cheaper than the competition. Their efforts are directed at lowering the production price of their commodities so that their profits do not suffer from the lower price. The primary lever for this is “rationalization,” i.e. the introduction of productivity increasing machines in order to lower costs for the company. The engineers' inventions have to prove to the company that they are an effective means for the company to get more in product for the paid labor, or vice versa: less of the produced value is paid out to the workers.

On the other hand, companies try to open new markets with new products and to monopolize purchasing power for their sales and profits, or by technical changes in their products to add new useful qualities in comparison with those of other manufacturers, so that they can expand their customers at the expense of the competition and/or obtain a higher price for their own product.

Scientific results that promise to increase profit in neither one way or the other are of no interest and remain unconsidered.

b. Science as faux frais in the competition of capitals for profit

All entrepreneurs are dependent on the results of the natural sciences – however, each wants to apply them exclusively for their own profitability (and against that of the others), which contradicts the general and systematic development of scientific knowledge in three regards:

c. The state organization of science: separate from competition and thereby subject to it

Because the systematic, general investigation of nature is not a means of business and is also not a business, the state organizes science and research separate from capitalist business. It pays for scientists and their working conditions and sets them free to examine whatever questions of science may be posed to them. It relieves its official thinkers of the pressure of always earning money and constantly supplying results – ultimately, it is a scientific question what the results of their fields actually are and what the current state of knowledge develops. Investigation into the laws of nature follows the development of technological knowledge, which the state also pursues and whose results it places at the disposal of the capitals generally and free of charge. As long as applications are foreseeable, they access whatever promises to lead to a reduction in the costs of business or new saleable products.

This separation of science from its application makes science the resource of capital. Because it is not science that decides on its application, it is not shaped by its interests or up for criticism, but that it presupposes that the interests of competitive entrepreneurs – separate from it – determine whether and how it is applied.

2. State education in the service of capital

a. Education required by capitalist society as a state task

Because science is useful to the economy, trained workers are needed who can provide it with these uses and others who can at least get along with the modern conditions of work produced thereby. But education is not a business: the trained people do not belong to the company – their education is not an investment in the capital of the company. The state thus produces this precondition for commerce by establishing schools and universities.

b. The organization of the education system as a sorting process

The state organizes education for capital: it provides knowledge on the basis of the criterion of the necessary minimum: do not teach everything, but only what's necessary for functioning. At the same time, the transfer of knowledge serves as a sorting of trainees into the hierarchy of occupations. Education takes place as a sorting process (that all children are obliged to participate in this selection, that they all must participate in this comparison, is understood as permission – the right to an education”).

Knowledge is thus given to most people in this country very economically. State expenses should be as low as possible to produce the training needed by the world of occupations: lots of stupid people for the normal jobs and a few more highly trained for the supervision of the former and for other responsibilities. The content of learning functions the same as the prerequisites: to produce differences in people’s school performances. At the same time, the learners are brought into the learning competition with their conditions abstracted from – previous teaching by parents at home, material and personal support from the parents – so it is no wonder that education reproduces the class position of parents in their children.

c. The education hierarchy and the hierarchy of occupations

The hierarchy of educational attainment represents a pre-screening of young people for the hierarchy of occupations, in which the principle applies that the activity with “more responsibility,” thus with more power, obtains a higher income, and the more subordinate, shabby and tiring the work, the less the payment. Therefore, there is the cruel saying: one must learn so that one makes something of oneself. But it is not quite true that one owes one’s position in society to one’s education.

A position in the world of occupations arises not from what one has learned, but its respective function for state and capital. Being a politician or an entrepreneur is not a question of knowledge, but a question of wealth and power. Vice versa, the needs of capital decide on what is actually considered knowledge that is worth knowing. Someone may have learned something; whether he possesses a “qualification” does not depend on his knowledge, but the interest of the employers, according to their calculations. Every kind of knowledge is constantly devalued; when business does not grow to the expected extent, knowledge shifts to other fields or becomes superfluous because of its objectification in new technology. A few years ago, computer scientists were needed so urgently that Indians were imported; today, they are unemployed along with native graduates. Their knowledge is no longer a resource because capital no longer needs it. The “freedom to chose a career” is nothing but the private risk as to whether something one has learned is wanted by the relevant interests, so its qualification is ennobled, or not. However, it is correct that someone without a good education first has less chance on the labor market and second of earning a nice income in it. But nothing is decided by education: it is an offer to the employers that in no way obligates them to anything.

On a different level, the education system represents the real economic competition around money, but it is about grades and school results, and happens – in a different way than in the real one – very fairly: only school performance counts. The transformation of the audition in the educational hierarchy into a condition for admittance into the occupational hierarchy is an enormous legitimization of the real competition: in principle everyone in capitalist society takes the place that they deserve on account of their knowledge. It seems natural to everyone that differences in knowledge are by no means only differences in knowledge, but always directly justify social status. Actually, it is not the education hierarchy that justifies the labor market, but the reverse. Therefore, the education institutions can be criticized by “realism”: if the real demand of the economy for a quality or quantity of workers devalues their certifications, then the schools adapt themselves – and strive to produce valuable results by trying to adapt their output to the needs of the economy.

3. The triple criticism following from the state organization and purpose of science and education

These three criticisms do not give a criterion for the decision. The sector is useful precisely because of its separation and because it is not a business; that is its starting point: how in line is it with standard practice of what is most useful for the state? How accurately does the number and educational level of the trainees correspond to the current labor market – capital does not even know which sort of people it will need more or less of tomorrow. And the price? How much in state expenses are worthwhile for the competitive power of the nation?

Because of the irreconcilability of the conflicting viewpoints, effective criticism and reform of the sector always comes about because of the state leaders' dissatisfaction with the performance of the nation in economic competition. To that extent, a most unobjective criticism of science and education, but on the other hand precisely the fitting one: it can do nothing for it; but what it is there for is foisted on it as either its success or poor performance.

4. On the imperialistic content of the current university reform

Politicians are dissatisfied with the performance of their scientific sector; this is expressed in their call for more Nobel Prize winners and “excellence in research.” This discontent is not directed at the general supply of the “productive power of science” because politicians always make it known with their call for “top level universities” that their “education and scientific institutions” do not need to hide from the rest world; there is enough “qualified” graduates, there is even a surplus of these service providers, as their rising unemployment shows. Enterprises are obviously supplied with enough engineers, computer scientists and other scientists – but all this is just not enough for the politicians.

What is lacking for the politicians are “innovations in high technology.” They are not available through the usual scientific enterprise, which is why it needs an “top level” universities and their separation from the “mass university.” These “innovations” are for securing a competitive edge for the national capital on the world market, so that other nations cannot catch up so quickly by identical efforts, and so that the attractiveness of “science” in the national location is promoted to international investors. Politicians say very clearly that the purpose of science is to be a productive force for capital: it should prove itself as a weapon in the competition which one capitalist nation fights against the other. It has to answer for the fact that very large parts of the world market belong to “us” and not to the “others.” For this superior competitive power, the nation should have a lead ahead of other nations in science and its development. What the politicians want to have from their scientific sector is only good if it is something “we” have and “others” don’t. With their “innovation offensives,” they want to align the intellectual capacity of the nation to just this purpose. For example, the national research institutions should become something like patent machines for spheres of business thought to be “promising,” such as genetic or information technology.

So that science functions for the nation in increasing measure as a source of wealth, the state sees itself challenged to organize the conditions for the development of science anew. By introducing “more competition” in and between the universities (for financing via third parties and student fees, for famous professors, by “payment by performance,” etc.), by “high profile education” in the universities (connecting finances to accomplishments), by using high technology to outsource colleges and faculties (“distance learning”), to separating elite universities and departments from the “mass university,” etc. – this should produce services cheaper and faster under the pressure of money.

This employment of the national scientific apparatus for the increase of national wealth is not new, nor is the confrontation with other prominent world market nations, which likewise maintain such apparatuses. But the openness with which the national mission of science is blared and the eagerness with which it goes after the “elite scientists” of the whole world, the service of elite institutions is more evidence for how the animosity between imperialistic powers increases. The times have drawn to a close of a western “scientific community” in which all research results were in principle open to all the allies. From now on, science and research policy will be a fight for the monopolization of knowledge.