Science, Politics, Activism in the U.S.: A Three-Body Problem

Nafis Hasan
Pages 13-28| Published online: 05 Nov 2023

Hasan, Nafis. 2023. “Science, Politics, Activism in the U.S.: A Three-Body Problem.” Marxism & Sciences 2(2): 13–28. 


The steady depoliticization of science with its concurrent neo-liberalization has brought us to empty epithets such as “believe in science” and the rise of anti-scientific populism, exemplified by the right-wing backlash to COVID vaccines across the globe and on most prominent display in the United States. The fears that propelled scientists to take to the streets in the early days of the Trump administration in the U.S. have largely been assuaged as bipartisan support continues to pour in for profitable chronic diseases, ballooning the budget of National Institutes of Health and continuing the biotech boom. Scientists, who were galvanized into participating in the political sphere and elected to office, have turned out to serve the interests of capitalists instead of the working class. Currently, science activism remains constrained within lobbying and running for office, a politics divorced from material reality. This complex scenario then presents us with a three-body problem—how can scientists practice politics with a material basis? Are politics and activism the same thing? If not, what differentiates them? And lastly, how do we solve it? In this essay, focusing on the political and social landscape of the U.S., I trace the historical class position of scientists in the U.S., and argue that the solution lies in the practice of Marxist politics, one that is grounded in class relations and takes place at the point of scientific knowledge production. Just as there is no general solution for the three-body problem in a closed form, tactics of challenging capitalist power and creating a science for the people will require learning from history and evolving with the shifting political landscape.

KEYWORDS: Science, politics, organizing, activism, labor.


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