Scientific and Technological Revolution

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Scientific and Technological Revolution


the fundamental qualitative transformation of productive forces, based on the conversion of science into a leading factor in the development of social production. In the course of the scientific and technological revolution, whose origin dates to the mid-20th century, the process of the conversion of science into a direct productive force is developing vigorously and is nearing completion. The scientific and technological revolution is changing the entire face of social production, as well as the conditions, nature, and content of labor, the composition of productive forces, the social division of labor, and the sectorial and occupational structure of society. It is also leading to a rapid increase in labor productivity, exerting an impact on all aspects of society (including culture, daily life, human psychology, and the interrelation of society and nature), and leading to a sharp acceleration of scientific and technological progress.

The scientific and technological revolution is a natural stage in history that is characteristic of the era of transition from capitalism to communism. It is a worldwide phenomenon, but the forms in which it is manifested, and also its course and consequences, are fundamentally different in socialist and capitalist countries.

The scientific and technological revolution is a protracted process that has two main prerequisites—the scientific-technological and the social. The most important role in paving the way for the scientific and technological revolution was played by advances in natural science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which resulted in a fundamental revolution in the views of matter and the formation of a new picture of the world. V. I. Lenin called this change the “recent revolution in natural science” (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 264). It began with the discovery of the electron and radium, the transmutation of chemical elements, and the origination of the theory of relativity and quantum theory, and it signified a scientific break-through in the areas of the microcosm and high velocities. The theoretical foundations of chemistry underwent significant changes in the 1920’s as a result of advances in physics. Quantum theory explained the nature of the chemical bond; this, in turn, opened up for science and industry broad possibilities for the chemical transmutation of matter. Insight into the mechanism of heredity was acquired, genetics was developed, and chromosome theory took shape.

There was also a revolutionary advance in technology, mainly as a result of the use of electricity in industry and transportation. Radio was invented and became widespread. Aviation emerged. In the 1940’s science solved the problem of splitting the atomic nucleus. Mankind mastered atomic energy. The rise of cybernetics was of great importance. Research on the development of atomic reactors and the atomic bomb forced capitalist states to organize for the first time a coordinated interaction of science and industry within the framework of a large-scale national scientific and technical plan. This provided experience for the implementation of subsequent national scientific and technical research programs.

However, the psychological impact of the use of atomic energy was perhaps of still greater significance: mankind became convinced of the tremendous transformational capabilities of science and of its practical application. There was a marked increase in allocations for science and in the number of research institutions. Scientific activity became a large-scale endeavor. State agencies for the planning and management of scientific activity were established in most countries in the late 1950’s under the influence of the advances made by the USSR in the study of outer space, and also of Soviet experience in the organization and planning of science. Direct contacts among scientific and technical development projects were strengthened, and the use of scientific achievements in industry was accelerated. Electronic computers, which have become a symbol of the scientific and technological revolution, were developed in the 1950’s and became widely used in research and industry, and later in management. The appearance of computers heralded the start of the gradual transfer of human logical functions to the machine and, in the long term, the transition to integrated automation of production and management. The electronic computer is a fundamentally new type of technology that alters man’s position and role in the production process.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s there were fundamental shifts in the structure of most sciences and in scientific activity as a result of major scientific and technical discoveries. The interaction of science with technology and production increased. Thus, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, mankind entered the period of the scientific and technological revolution.

At its current stage of development, the scientific and technological revolution is characterized by the following ten main features.

(1) The conversion of science into a direct productive force through a combination of the revolutions in science, technology, and industry; the intensification of the interaction among these three spheres; and the reduction of the length of time between the birth of a new scientific idea and its practical implementation.

(2) A new stage in the social division of labor, associated with the conversion of science into the leading area of economic and social activity—an area that is becoming popular in nature.

(3) The qualitative transformation of all elements of productive forces (the object of labor, the production tools, and the worker himself), the increasing intensification of the entire production process as a result of scientific organization and production engineering, and the reduction of industry’s specific consumption of materials, capital, and labor: the new knowledge acquired by society in a way “replaces” outlays for raw materials, equipment, and manpower, repaying many times over the expenditures for scientific research and technical development.

(4) The change in the nature and content of labor and the growth of the role of creative elements; the conversion of the production process “from the simple process of labor into a scientific process” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 46, part 2, p. 208).

(5) The emergence, on this basis, of the material and technical prerequisites for surmounting the contrast and significant differences between mental and physical labor, between urban and rural areas, and between the nonproduction and production sectors.

(6) The development of new, potentially boundless energy sources and of synthetic materials with prescribed properties.

(7) The extremely large increase in the social and economic significance of information service as a means of providing scientific management and control of social production and the corresponding development of the mass media.

(8) The growth of the level of general and specialized education and culture of the workers; the increase in free time.

(9) The growth in the interaction of the sciences, the comprehensive study of complex problems, and the role of the social sciences and ideological struggle.

(10) The sharp acceleration of social progress, further internationalization of all human activity over the entire planet, the rise of “ecological problems,” and the associated necessity of scientific regulation of the society-nature system.

In addition to the main features of the scientific and technological revolution, its main scientific and technological trends may be distinguished. Among them are integrated automation of production and of control and management, the discovery and use of new types of energy, and the development and use of new structural materials. However, the essence of the scientific and technological revolution reduces neither to its characteristic features nor, much less, to even the most important scientific discoveries or trends of scientific and technological progress. The scientific and technological revolution does not consist merely in the use of new types of energy and materials, electronic computers, or even integrated automation of production and management. It consists, as well, in the restructuring of the entire technical base and the entire industrial method of production, beginning with the use of materials and energy processes and concluding with the system of machines, the forms of organization and management, and man’s relation to the production process.

The scientific and technological revolution creates the prerequisites for the emergence of a uniform system for the most important fields of human endeavor: theoretical mastery of the laws of nature and society (science), the body of the technical facilities and knowledge used to transform nature (technology), the process of creating material wealth (production), and the methods used to achieve a rational interrelation of practical actions in the production process (management).

The transformation of science into the main link in the science-technology-production system does not signify relegation of the other two links of the system to the passive role of merely absorbing momentum from science. Social production is the most important condition for the existence of science, and as before its requirements are the chief motive force behind the development of science. However, in contrast to its role in the preceding period, science has taken on a highly revolutionizing, active role. This is manifested in its discovery of new classes of substances and processes, and especially in the emergence, as a result of fundamental research, of entirely new sectors of industry that could not have developed from previous industrial experience (such as atomic reactors, modern electronic and computer technology, quantum electronics, and the discovery of the code used to transmit the hereditary traits of the organism). Under conditions of the scientific and technological revolution, practice itself requires that science outstrip technology and production and that the latter increasingly become a technological embodiment of science.

The strengthening of the role of science is accompanied by an increase in the complexity of its structure. This process is expressed in the rapid expansion of applied research and development work as links that connect fundamental research to production; in the growth of the role of comprehensive interdisciplinary research; in the strengthening of the interconnection among the natural, technical, and social sciences; and in the rise of special disciplines that study the patterns of the development of scientific work itself and the conditions and factors that help increase its effectiveness.

The scientific and technological revolution is making a fundamental change in agricultural production by transforming agricultural labor into a type of industrial labor. At the same time, the rural way of life is increasingly yielding to the urban way. The growth of science, technology, and industry promotes intensive urbanization, and the development of the mass media and modern transportation contributes to the internationalization of cultural life.

As the scientific and technological revolution progresses, the relations between society and nature are entering a new phase. The uncontrolled impact of the technological civilization on nature is leading to serious and harmful consequences. Therefore, mankind must change from a consumer of natural resources, which it has been up to the present time, into a true master of nature, showing concern for conservation and for multiplication of natural resources. The ecological problem, or the task of conservation and scientific regulation of the environment, faces mankind in all its gravity.

Under conditions of the scientific and technological revolution, the interrelation of various processes and phenomena is growing; this increases the significance of the comprehensive approach to any major problem. Close interaction of the social, natural, and technical sciences, and also their organic unity, has become particularly urgent in this regard. Such unity is increasingly capable of affecting the increase in the efficiency of social production, the improvement of living conditions, and the growth of culture and of ensuring comprehensive analysis of the scientific and technological revolution.

The change in the content of labor that is gradually taking place in various sectors of society during the scientific and technological revolution has greatly altered the demands placed on labor resources. In addition to the increase in the volume of compulsory general education, the problem of providing advanced occupational training for workers and the possibility of periodic retraining, especially in the most intensively developing fields of labor, is arising.

The scale and rate of changes in production and public life that accompany the scientific and technological revolution necessitate to an unprecedented degree the timely and fullest possible prediction of the aggregate of their consequences, both in economics and in the social sphere, as well as their influence on society, man, and nature.

The true carrier of the scientific and technological revolution is the working class, for it is not only the chief productive force of society but also the only class that is interested in the consistent, complete development of the scientific and technological revolution. As the working class under capitalism strives for social liberation and the elimination of capitalist relations, it at the same time opens the way for full development of the scientific and technological revolution in the interests of all workers.

The scientific and technological revolution is creating the prerequisites for a fundamental change in the nature of production and in the functions of the main productive force, the workers. It imposes increasing demands on occupational knowledge, skills, organizational abilities, and the general cultural and intellectual level of workers, and also increases the role of moral incentives and personal responsibility in labor. The content of labor will gradually come to include the management and control of production; the discovery and use of the laws of nature; the development and introduction of progressive manufacturing techniques, new materials and types of energy, and implements and tools of labor; and the transformation of the living conditions of the people. A necessary condition for this process is the social liberation of workers and the development of the human factor in the scientific and technological revolution—the rise in the educational and general cultural levels of all members of society and the creation of unlimited room for the harmonious development of the individual, which can be accomplished only in the process of building communism.

The advances of science and technology in the first half of the 20th century were able to grow into the scientific and technological revolution only after society had reached a certain level of socioeconomic development. The scientific and technological revolution became possible as a result of the high level of development of productive forces and socialization of production.

The scientific and technological revolution, like previous technological revolutions in the history of society, has relative independence and an internal logic in its development. Like the industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which began after the bourgeois revolution in some countries and before it in others, the scientific and technological revolution is taking place today simultaneously in both socialist and capitalist countries, and also is drawing into its sphere of action the developing countries of the Third World. The scientific and technological revolution is aggravating the economic contradictions and social conflicts of the capitalist system and, ultimately, cannot be contained within its bounds.

V. I. Lenin emphasized that every fundamental technological revolution “is inevitably followed by the most thoroughgoing destruction of social production relations” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 3, p. 455). The scientific and technological revolution is transforming productive forces, but a fundamental change in them is impossible without a corresponding qualitative transformation of social relations. Just as the industrial revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which laid the material and technical basis for capitalism, required not only fundamental technological transformation of production but also deep-seated transformation of the structure of society, the contemporary scientific and technological revolution requires for its full development not only the transformation of production engineering but also a revolutionary transformation of society. By making thoroughly apparent the incompatibility of the free development of modern productive forces with the capitalist method of production, the scientific and technological revolution has intensified the objective necessity for the transition from capitalism to socialism and thus has become an important factor in the world revolutionary process. By contrast, in socialist countries the creation of the material and technical basis for communism and other prerequisites for the transition to communism presupposes an organic combination of the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution with the advantages of the socialist system. Under modern conditions the scientific and technological revolution “has become one of the main areas of the historical competition between capitalism and socialism” (Mezhdunar. soveshchanie kommunistich. i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow, 1969, p. 303).

The worldwide character of the scientific and technological revolution urgently requires the development of international scientific and technical collaboration, including collaboration between states of differing social structures. This is dictated mainly by the fact that a number of consequences of the scientific and technological revolution go far beyond national and even continental bounds and require international effort and regulation—as, for example, in the control of environmental pollution, the use of communications satellites in space, and the development of the resources of the oceans. The mutual incentive for all countries to exchange scientific and technical achievements is associated with these factors.

For the world socialist system the scientific and technological revolution is a natural extension of fundamental social transformations. The world socialist system consciously places the scientific and technological revolution at the service of social progress. Under socialism the scientific and technological revolution promotes further improvement of the social structure and social relations.

The capitalist use of the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution primarily pursues the interests of monopolies and is aimed at consolidating the monopolies’ economic and political positions. Developed capitalist countries have a highly organized production mechanism and solid research facilities. The desire of monopoly capital to use governmental intervention to find organizational forms that would make it possible to surmount the obstacles to the growth of productive forces intensified greatly during the 1950’s. The programming and forecasting of technological progress and scientific research have become widespread.

Modern science and technology can develop effectively only under a coordinated economy, with planned distribution of resources on a national or at least sectorial scale, and they require management of the entire complex system of socioeconomic processes in the interests of society as a whole. However, the capitalist method of production cannot create the conditions necessary for realization of the potential of science and technology. The scale of scientific and technological progress in the most highly developed capitalist countries does not nearly correspond to existing scientific and technological potential. Competition and the race for profit—ideas that are in conflict with scientific and technological development—remain the motive force behind scientific and technological progress under capitalism. Capitalism needs science but at the same time restrains its development. Relations among men in science are transformed into relations between labor and capital. The scientist finds himself in the position of selling his labor to a capitalist who monopolizes the right to exploit his results. Research is used as the most important tool of the fierce competitive struggle among monopolies.

Serious organization of scientific research and development and the effective introduction of new equipment and processes have been achieved within the framework of certain large capitalist firms; this is dictated by the necessity for competitive struggle. The objective requirements of socialization and internationalization of production under the conditions of the scientific and technological revolution have brought about the significant growth of the “supranational corporations,” which are larger than many capitalist states in terms of the number of employees.

Some expansion of the functions of the capitalist state as a result of its coalescence with monopolies and of attempts at governmental programming and regulation makes possible temporary mitigation of the most acute contradictions, which consequently merely accumulate and become more deep-seated. State support for various fields of science and technology contributes to their advance, but since such intervention pursues the interests of the monopolies and the military-industrial complex, scientific and technological progress acquires a unilateral orientation in capitalist countries, and its results are frequently in conflict with the interests of society and proclaimed goals, leading to tremendous dissipation of scientific and technological potential. Capitalism is unable to overcome the disorganized nature of social production and to use the great force of cooperation, planning, and management on the scale of an entire society. Neither can it eliminate the fundamental contradiction between productive forces and production relations, between the social character of production and the private nature of appropriation.

A capitalist society sharply limits the possibilities that are opened up by the scientific and technological revolution for the development of man himself and often causes them to be realized in a distorted form (standardization of the way of life, “mass culture,” and alienation of the individual). By contrast, under socialism the scientific and technological revolution creates the conditions for raising the general cultural, scientific, and technical level of the workers and thus is a very important means of harmonious development of the individual.

The interpretation of the essence and social consequences of the scientific and technological revolution is a field of acute struggle between Marxist-Leninist and bourgeois ideologies.

Bourgeois-reformist theoreticians at first tried to interpret the scientific and technological revolution as a mere extension or “second edition” of the industrial revolution (the concept of a “second industrial revolution”). As the distinctiveness of the scientific and technological revolution has become apparent and its social consequences irreversible, most bourgeois-liberal and reformist sociologists and economists have taken positions of technological radicalism and social conservatism, contrasting the technological revolution to the social revolution and to the workers’ liberation movement in their concepts of the “postindustrial society” and the “technotronic society.” In response, many on the “new left” in the West have taken the opposite position—technological pessimism coupled with social radicalism (H. Marcuse, P. Goodman, and T. Roszak in the USA). Accusing their opponents of heartless scientism and a desire to enslave man through science and technology, these petit bourgeois radicals claim to be the only humanists and call for the rejection of rational knowledge in favor of mysticism and for the religious revitalization of mankind.

Marxists reject both of these positions as one-sided and theoretically groundless. The scientific and technological revolution is incapable of resolving the economic and social conflicts of an antagonistic society and of leading mankind to material abundance without radical social transformations of society on socialist principles. The leftist concepts according to which a just society can be constructed solely by political means, without the scientific and technological revolution, are also naive and Utopian.

The aggravation of the conflicts of capitalism in connection with the scientific and technological revolution has brought about the spread in the West of “technophobia,” or hostility toward science and technology, both among the conservative segment of the population and among the liberal-democratic intelligentsia. The incompatibility of capitalism with further development of the scientific and technological revolution has found erroneous ideological reflection in the socially pessimistic concepts of “limits to growth,” the “ecological crisis of mankind,” and “zero growth,” which resurrect Malthusian views. However, numerous social forecasts of this nature do not indicate that any objective “limits to growth” exist, but they do attest to the limits of extrapolation as a method of predicting the future and to the limits of capitalism as a social formation.

The founders of Marxism-Leninism repeatedly pointed out that communism and science are inseparable and that communist society will ensure the complete unfolding of the capabilities of all its members and full satisfaction of their highly developed needs on the basis of the highest achievements of science, technology, and organization. Just as maximum use of the potential of the scientific and technological revolution is necessary for the victory of communism, further improvement of socialist social relations and their gradual conversion into communist relations is required for the development of the scientific and technological revolution.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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