What do we mean by progress?

BY: Scott Hiley| March 1, 2018
What do we mean by progress?
QWhat is the position of CPUSA on the idea of progress? Do you believe that so-called "progress" results in an improvement in the human condition? I strongly support the socialist ideals of equality and liberty, but am led to believe that technological and economic "progress" undermines those ideals. Of the societies that exhibit the most egalitarianism, most are "domestic-scale" or foraging societies—like the !Kung of Africa and the Washo Native Americans; these societies are not considered "advanced" by Western conception, yet exhibit many ideal social structures that often contribute towards their high degree of personal contentment.  Does the CPUSA seek to continue our commercial-scale pursuit of progress for the sole sake of progress itself? Or does it recognize the affluence in what is conventionally considered the "primitive" and strive to model that? Thank you so much; I apologize for such a lengthy question! -Rohan (11th grader)
AHi Rohan,

No apologies necessary!  Thanks for such a thoughtful and nuanced question.

You're right to question the term 'primitive'.  It's a racist category, rooted in European colonialism and used to erase the scientific achievements of indigenous peoples.  In fact, many indigenous societies were highly technologically advanced.  The best-known example is Mayan astronomy, but we could also think of the deliberate creation of crops like corn and cotton from wild species, the management of land to influence animal migrations and maintain food sources, and even advances in social science, like political democracy and administrative methods. Check out the first chapter of Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz's An Indigenous People's History of the United States for a good introduction.

So the problem, in our view, isn't science and technology as such--it's the capitalist social relations that make progress benefit the rich and powerful, rather than society as a whole.  For example, we can now diagnose and treat disease in fantastic ways.  Those treatments don't just prolong life--they diminish pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, under capitalism, those advances are used to make a profit for drug companies.  Another example might be the way we organize our work.  Automation is replacing human labor.  Under capitalism, that means unemployment, low wages, etc. Under socialism, though, it could mean shorter work days with more leisure time to pursue... whatever, really.

So, to sum up, our goal isn't to recreate an earlier social model.  We want to build a new kind of society, where science and technology serve the people, rather than subjugating them, and sustain the planet, rather than destroying it.  Looking back to earlier societies, learning from their models of social organization, and getting out of the Eurocentric framework for what science looks like will be part of that.

Hope this helps.
    Scott Hiley has taught French, literature, history, and philosophy at the high school, college, and post-graduate levels.  A member of CPUSA since 2010, he is active in struggles against austerity and for education justice and labor rights. His articles have appeared in the People's World (US), the Morning Star (UK), and l'Humanité (France). He lives in a rural town in upstate NY.

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