This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reports from the SftP Midwest and Eastern Regional Conferences
I. MIDWEST REGIONAL
The Midwest Regional Meeting of Science for the People took place in East Lansing, Michigan on November II and 12, 1978. There were about 20 members present from St. Louis, Champaign-Urbana, Chicago, Ann Arbor and East Lansing.
On Saturday morning we set up the agenda for the meeting based upon the written suggestions proposed by the Ann Arbor chapter. We decided to discuss the magazine in the morning and to have a discussion of four different but related topics in the afternoon, preceded by chapter reports. These topics were:
- Sociobiology, its relation to sexism and national oppression and a discussion of sexism in science vs. sexism in Society.
- The Bakke decision and SftP.
- The conflicts between National Liberation movements and the Women’s movement.
- Sexism in SftP.
It was further proposed that we set up two work groups: one on the magazine and one on principles of unity for SftP. It was further agreed that the work groups would produce written proposals.
Then we agreed upon Sunday’s agenda which was to be a discussion of the reports of the work groups and a discussion of chapter building.
A member reported that he has been on the editorial board for 8 months but has had very little correspondence from Boston. It was remarked that at the last Midwest Regional we had made a proposal about an editorial committee, to attempt to systemize editorial work, but apparently these suggestions were not followed up. One member stated that it was his opinion that many of the problems originate in Boston, while another person stated that he thought that the problems with the magazine’s editorial policy also arise from the lack of responsibility of the chapters outside Boston. Another suggestion was offered, that the editorial work be done with a system of reviewers and editors spread throughout the chapters, where reviewers would state their interests and editors would have the responsibility to both solicit articles and send them to reviewers for consideration.
The discussion then shifted to the content of the magazine. One member suggested that some articles are rejected because they are too long and that serializing longer articles may allow the magazine staff to recruit more contributors. This was challenged on the basis that it might wreck the balance that the magazine now has (in terms of variety of articles and features of the magazine). Another member suggested that we might try to create a theoretical journal which could include longer articles which go into more depth than is appropriate for the magazine. It was also suggested that the magazine could have more on alternative technology and ‘how to’ articles.
Magazine distribution was then discussed. Members reported that actually going to bookstores every two months has been a successful method of distributing the magazine. Another member said she thought that local grocery stores might be a good place to try to distribute the magazine. Then it was suggested that we might look into how much it might cost to advertise in sympathetic national media. Another member suggested that we might try to swap advertising space in the magazine with similar space in other radical journals. It was also pointed out that radical publishing groups already exist and that we could try to contact them.
That concluded the discussion of the magazine. We then had a short discussion of principles of unity in order to try to direct the principles of unity .work group. The major features of that discussion were that we might want to republish the different sets of principles of unity which were proposed several years ago, and that the work group focus on a minimal set of principles which reflect the reality of the unity we have already achieved in SftP and then try to deepen our unity during the course of our SftP activities.
AFTERNOON SESSION, SATURDAY
Chapter reports followed. St. Louis and Ann Arbor submitted written reports included elsewhere in this report. Champaign-Urbana reported on its activities which included: an economic study group; a course on science for the people; a miner support committee during the strike; working with anti-apartheid groups; working with the Prairie Alliance and other anti-nuke groups.
It was also reported that the Champaign-Urbana chapter was able to facilitate interaction between different left groups, but this has caused a confusion between the name “Science for the People” and the chapter’s actual practice. This has combined with a general loss of contact with the “outside world” which, hopefully, will be re-established when the chapter begins outreach again. The Chicago chapter reported that it has started to do work, but haphazardly. A nuclear power work group has started as has some preliminary work around affirmative action programs and remedial math courses at Chicago Circle. At the time of the meeting both projects were floundering, but not dropped. The Chicago chapter has about 10 members and is growing.
The East Lansing chapter reported that they are just starting and that have about 5 or 6 people at their meetings. They presented a slide show about China, where about 20 people attended.
A member of the chapter wanted to know how to distinguish between programs which were mainly educational and programs which were aimed at recruiting new members. She also talked about hov. sociobiology is being pushed at MSU while the affirmative action programs had been undercut by many tactics including generating phony data for a computer study. She reported. in addition. that there is a split in the Women’s Studies program and the Minorities’ Studies programs at MSU and wondered about how to repair this split.
This concluded the chapter reports.
One member suggested that the participants try to relate the discussion to their actual experiences and/or organizing projects.
The discussion of sociobiology was initiated with the observation that sociobiology is replacing the IQ-race-sex myth as the major ideological weapon to be used against women’s and minorities’ demands for social justice. Different administrators at the University of Michigan are seeing the claims of the sociobiologists as the reasons for the failure of their affirmative action programs. This is particularly important since the federal government is paying a great deal of attention to university affirmative action programs at the present. It was also pointed out that Wilson’s new book, On Human Nature, was clearly designed to appeal to the ‘cocktail circuit’ — that is, the book has its main appeal in the executive managerial strata, not necessarily in the technical-scientific strata. A member suggested that SftP might look into high-school science textbooks to see how sociobiology is/will be used in the schools to propagandise students.
The discussion then shifted to the role of sociobiology in supporting sexism in our society. Members pointed out that since sex itself is rooted deeply in biology, sociobiologists are attempting to portray sex roles as having the similar biological roots. This also appears in the attempt to define a ‘normal’ woman — i.e., a woman with children — which is being used as an excuse to prevent childless women from obtaining certain jobs. A reason for this peculiarity is that a great many women who hold either feminist and/or other leftist views are seen as frequently being childless. The film. “Sociobiology: Doing What Comes Naturally.” used the kibbutz in Israel as an example to show the ‘genetic basis’ of sex roles. The ideas was that when the kibbutzim originated there was equality of the sexes, but now 30 years later most women on the kibbutzim have reverted to more traditional roles. The idea the the role reversal might be due to obvious political and economic forces was never considered in the film.
The Champaign-Urbana chapter reported that it had tried to establish some ties with the Society of Women Engineers, but failed because the Society has no political base — it is mainly seen as a service group. A member of the Chicago chapter stated that he thought that the people who are potentially affected by the claims of the sociobiologists may see the threat as being indirect at best and that our role is to make the issue more concrete.
Another member stated that he thought that the whole issue of sociobiology was not that important because most minorities and women would never believe such a theory. He claimed that the theory mainly benefits the ruling class. He also stated that Wilson’s major appeal is to professionals, not to the broad masses of people. He claimed therefore that scientific criticism will not defeat sociobiology but that political criticism is the correct form of criticism. One person replied that she thought that sociobiology would be used at the point of struggle to delegitimize the mass movement and that is why we must take the struggle against sociobiology to the people. Another member added that she thought the the arguments of the sociobiologists must be refuted point by point because these arguments are presented as ‘facts’ and this propaganda is used to undermine the confidence of oppressed people in their own just struggles.
Because of the time the discussion proceeded to the next item on the agenda: the Bakke decision. A member who has been involved in anti-Bakke work gave a short history of the Bakke decision, how the Trustees of the University of California had suggested to Bakke that he sue them for ‘reverse discrimination’, how they had lied in court in claiming that the medical school at Davis had never discriminated against minorities in the past, and this lie had paved the way for the Bakke case all the way to the US Supreme Court. One person pointed out that there are really 2 types of affirmative action programs: one type which opens the way to professions and another which opens the way to less skilled jobs. She wondered if this difference should affect our work. A person replied that he thought that the main problem here was to correct past discrimination and, although these differences exist, discrimination is the major enemy and not defending all affirmative action programs could divide the movements for national and women’s liberation.
Two members expressed the idea that many of the problems encountered by minorities and women really start in high school and before, and in fact that by the time these people get to college it is too late. Maybe SftP should, therefore, get involved in organizing in high and elementary schools. Another member replied that we cannot ignore the people in our society who want an education and have not received it. To deny these people entrance to college is to deny them their last hope for a decent education, thus one of our thrusts should be to insure that adequate remedial educational courses are available. Questions were also raised on how SftP, a mainly white organization. can initiate programs around affirmative action. A member of the Ann Arbor chapter reported that faculty members at the University of Michigan have had some battles with the administration around the admission of women to the faculty and that one of these struggles had been successful through the threat of a lawsuit. It was also pointed out that university administrators twist the facts to suit their purposes — e.g. no matter what is claimed,money is always available if the program is considered a priority. A member of the Champaign chapter recounted how the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana was forced to create affirmative action programs in 1968. These programs were under the direct control of the students involved and were doing very well (including math tutoring), yet these programs were cut back or eliminated by the administration.
The question of the role of SftP in these struggles was raised again. One member suggested that besides actively participating in these activities we should attack on an ideological level — show people how the ruling class benefits from oppression. Furthermore it was pointed out that ideologies like those hidden in sociobiology or reflected in terms like ‘math anxiety’ are used to keep women and minorities out of the sciences. A member of the St. Louis chapter reported that sex roles are clearly defined in his lab, and that he sees this as being a common practice in other labs.
It was noted that political oppression very commonly results in a lack of self confidence and that as members of universities, that is one of the major forms of oppression that we observe. Another member pointed out that teachers can unconsciously undermine the confidence of his/her students and we need to determine how to spot this in order to expose it.
Time again terminated this discussion and we moved on to topic 3, conflicts between the women’s movement and movements for national liberation. This discussion was started with the observation that different SftP chapters have played a role in trying to unite these two struggles. It was also pointed out that sometimes the left opposes liberal reforms like the ERA which does damage to any unifying efforts. Another member reported that it has been her experience that the above two movements are sometimes pitted against one another. Someone else stated that he thought that both movements are basic and cannot be satisfied under capitalism and that is why some reforms, like ERA, should be strongly supported.
The discussion shifted slightly when a member remarked that sometimes differences occur in practice and cited his experience in dealing with unions. He went on to suggest that in order to avoid disunity with different organizations involved in joint work, different chapters may have to loosen certain of their positions. Another member stated that he thought that sometimes the disunity that occurs in practice is the result of conflicts over goals, not short term projects and stated his experience with working with a gay group — apparently there was little political agreement between the two groups and much sexism was evidenced among non-gays.
A member of the Champaign-Urbana chapter stated that we should not look at the end product of affirmative action programs as the goal, but rather see the light for affirmative action as being part of a longer struggle. He then went on to suggest that his chapter should focus more on sexism.
A member of the St. Louis chapter said that his priority is around sexism. His experience is that groups who deal with racism are less likely to deal with sexism than groups who deal with sexism are likely to deal with racism. He thinks this may be due to the facts that men and women have so much day-to-day contact with each other that sexism is so common as to go unnoticed, while members of different races have much less contact with one another so that racism is more clearly perceived.
A member of the Chicago chapter reported that the women’s clinic that she belongs to sometimes makes short-term tactical alliances with other groups. Another woman reported that in Cuba institutional racism has been eliminated, but not institutional sexism.
Another member claimed that SftP has never dealt with gay issues. He stated that working class people are affected by gay issues more than one might suspect. but because working class people are not allowed the same freedom of sexual expression as middle class people, homosexuality in the working class is less recognizable than in the middle class.
Another member stated that she believes that sexism is part of the culture of oppressed minorities. Thus, when national minorities fight for their rights and for the liberation of their culture, the sexism which is traditionally associated with the culture also comes out.
Finally a member stated that the oppression of gays is also fundamental in keeping the system going.
The discussion turned to the last topic, sexism within SftP. One member stated that there are so many meetings to go to that this sometimes gets in the way of taking up issues and cited conflicting meetings between some women’s groups and SftP. Someone else stated that he thought sexism could be conquered in SftP the same way racism in SftP can be conquered, by recruiting more women and minorities into the organization and tackling both issues, at least as they occur in science. Another member brought up that the midwest regionals have always dealt with sexism, but hardly ever racism. This is, he contends, because of the petit bourgeoisie base of our organization — not because of under representation of minorities.
Another member stated that he thinks that SftP has not made much progress in dealing with sexism inside the organization. He feels that the personal aspects of sexism have never been challenged. We have a very macho style reflected in the aggressiveness of the verbal and written approaches of many of our male members. The rest of this discussion is very hard to accurately piece together in that the note taker became too involved. The major ideas seem to be that not all of the women in the organization feel comfortable in meetings with so many competitive males. That some men see the criticism of their ‘aggressiveness’ as attempts to water down their politics. While other people pointed out that the criticism was one of style, not content. It was pointed out that, at least in St. Louis, women’s leadership has changed things around a lot. Lastly another person suggested that some of the attacks against jargonism and aggressiveness sometimes seem more like veiled anticommunism.
MORNING SESSION, SUNDAY
The principles of unity work group read their proposed minimal set of principles for SftP. A member of the committee suggested that a summarization of the history of SftP would be helpful in the principles. to which was replied that such a summary would be more appropriate in an introductory flyer. The discussion then proceeded on two different topics: the principles of unity, and the introductory flyer. The flyer discussion will be summarized first. A member thought that the flyer should have broad appeal and suggested that therefore words like ‘class’ should be avoided. Several members replied that they thought that social classes are a reality and that we should seek to educate people to their existence. It was also suggested that a history of SftP could not only explain the role of social classes in our society. but could also show people concretely how the past experiences of SftP have led naturally to the inclusion of such notions in our literature.
Not all the chapters even agree with the principles expressed in the magazine, so unifying our organization should be a national priority. We cannot really write a flyer without a minimal set of unifying principles. A member of the Ann Arbor chapter suggested that we were really discussing four topics:
- evolving principles of unity
- minimal principles of unity
- principles stated in a SftP flyer
- principles stated in the magazine.
Further discussion defined more clearly the purposes and differences between these four categories of principles.
Evolving principles should be elucidated regularly in the IDB and/or the magazine (inclusion of such debate in the magazine is still open to debate). Principled political disagreement will exist and should be openly addressed.
Minimal principles are the principles that in fact all members of SftP accept. Minimal principles may be more detailed and extensive than what we would wish to publish as an introductory statement in the magazine or a flyer.
Statements in the flyer and magazine should accurately present the political perspectives of the organization but need not necessarily go into the sort of detail that exists in category No. 1 or 2.
Continuing, a member of the East Lansing chapter said that many members of SftP in Boston and Amherst should leave the organization if being pro-socialist were a principle of unity and that that is an important consideration in defining principles of unity. Another member recalled that this very same issue (disagreement with socialist principles) also appeared the last time that this discussion occurred in SftP. He also wondered what it means to be an organization for social justice with 10 years of experience which cannot even agree on the existence of social classes let alone some form of socialism as a desirable goal.
Several other members pointed out that achieving unity among the midwest chapters would be useful even if that unity cannot extend beyond the midwest. A member cautioned that SftP is a mass organization which focuses on working on specific issues and we must be careful not to suppress ideas in the organization, for this would cut away at our base. It was also suggested that we may not have to stress specific agreement with a set of principles as a condition of membership, but rather agreement and/or acceptance of the general thrust of a set of principles. Another person pointed out that there is a difference between the principles which already exist and the principles which we want to exist. Someone else said that there is no way to determine what principles actually exist without proposing some ourselves. We then moved on to proposing a rough set of topics which we all agreed should be incorporated into a set of principles. There were 14 specific points. which could be divided under three separate headings. They are:
Science and Society as They Now Exist
- Science is not politically neutral.
- Science is directed by the Bourgeoisie.
- The lack of broad participation in science distorts the nature of scientific information and theory.
- Sexism. racism and elitism divide the working class
- Science cannot ‘serve the people’ under capitalism.
Goals of Science for the People
- Science should respond to human
- People should have free access to scientific knowledge and training without regard to background.
- Science should be demystified.
- Science for the People is pro-socialist.
Strategy of Science for the People
- SftP should support progressive reforms.
- SftP is anti-capitalist.
- SftP is pro feminist and antisexist.
- SftP is anti-imperialist.
- SftP will try to facilitate an alliance of the technical strata with other progressive forces.
The magazine workgroup next read its report (which, unfortunately, is not included here). As I remember. the report was an editorial reform proposal designed to bring more of the chapters outside of Boston into the editing of the magazine. thereby reducing the work load on Boston. A discussion followed which is meaningless without the document.
The meeting concluded after a short discussion on chapter building and the creation of the Midwest Regional Coordinating Committee and the formalization of the principles of unity and magazine work groups into ongoing projects.
II. EASTERN REGIONAL CONFERENCE
On September 29 and 30th, representatives of SftP chapters from Boston to Tallahassee met at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Long Island) to discuss issues, prepare for the national meeting and renew old friendships. In contrast to previous regional meetings, very little preparatory work had been carried out with regard to the agenda, so a tentative agenda was prepared at a meeting on Friday night. Perhaps because the previous regional have by now established a rhythm for the weekend, based on a plenary-workshop-plenary structure, the committee was able to come up with an overall plan for the meeting on quite short notice.
The Saturday morning plenary (full session) opened with a series of chapter reports describing a broad range of activities. The Washington DC chapter reported on educational activities around science and teaching in Cuba, a sociobiology workshop and work with public interest groups on energy issues. At Amherst, previous work with a committee set up by the town government to study the dangers of recombinant DNA research is being replaced by an interest in occupational health and safety issues among technical workers at the University of Massachusetts.
Tallahassee SftP started a chapter of the Catfish Alliance, a Southern anti-nuke group, and worked on educational projects such as a “Health Week” and a Sociobiology conference. They are also engaged in gathering books and educational materials for Dominica, an ex-British colony in the Caribbean, and they produce the “Resources” column in the magazine. The New York City chapter held a series of forums on topics such as “Women in Science” (Freda Salzman spoke) and “Health Hazards for Art Workers”. The forums were usually well-attended, but the core group remains small. The Stony Brook chapter has had scattered successful events around Sociobiology, food and nutrition, and China. They have also been engaged in an ongoing effort around energy issues, including a public debate with representatives of Long Island Lighting Company and Westinghouse on the virtues of and need for the Shoreham and Jamesport nuclear reactors.
Boston’s main activity has been the magazine, with special emphasis on increasing distribution. Educationally oriented activities, such as new general study groups and a “Science for the People” course offered at the Food Coop and at public libraries, have brought in some new members. Unfortunately, some older groups, such as the Science Teaching Group, have dissolved or appear to be in danger of doing so.
A group active on China-related issues discussed activities that would result from the recent trip. These include a book on how decisions are made concerning the funding of scientific research in China, slide shows, and articles for SftP, Nature and other magazines.
After a brief and inconclusive discussion of the agenda, we moved into a discussion of SftP’s ideology and practice. Various speakers recalled our early leadership on a broad range of specific issues, many of which are now the subject of mainstream debate, and contrasted this success with our recurrent inability or unwillingness to get organized, as exemplified by the non-implementation of many of the resolutions voted on at previous regional conferences. There followed considerable discussion about the difficulty of maintaining a reasonably high level of political debate without alienating newcomers or succumbing to factional rigidity. Our success as a “nucleating center” for activities around particular issues as they come up was again emphasized, but the debate swung back towards the notion of consistent politics. Several people pointed out that we had had socialism “on the agenda” since a resolution describing SftP as prosocialist was passed at the 1974 conference, that we should be more forthright, and that times have changed and socialism is no longer such a dirty word. Opposition was raised that newcomers might be discouraged by such an emphasis, while others stressed that what we do is more important than what we call ourselves. This then led back to discussion of how various SftP activities in nuclear power or health care could have been more effective had we had a more clearly defined line, which both related directly to the issues and provided a larger context in which to place the analyses of immediate struggles.
The familiarity of this discussion emphasizes its importance to the organization, but realizing that it will occur again at the national meeting. people turned to organizing the format and content of the afternoon workshops.
MAGAZINE WORKSHOP REPORT
Discussion in the magazine workshop centered around the issue of involving chapters and members outside of Boston in magazine work. Several goals and ideas were developed in the course of the workshop which, if implemented, should result in a considerably better magazine.
The most important suggestions concerned the dispersal of editorial work to members outside of Boston: to the extent possible, each chapter should designate two members to maintain contact with and function as members of the Boston Editorial Committee. These members will solicit articles, both from members and nonmembers, write book reviews, look for appropriate articles to reprint or translate, and send in newsnotes. Each member of the Boston Editorial Committee should have a “buddy” or “pen pal” from another chapter to provide one-to-one contact.
To improve communications, the Boston newsletter will be used to keep outside Editorial Committee members posted on articles that have come in or are in the process of being reviewed and on planned topical issues of the magazine. Also, a description of magazine mechanics should be prepared — providing timetables for editing and production, the procedures for acceptance and rejection of articles and communications with authors and other important aspects of the process of preparing the magazine.
The importance of collective discussion of the politics of articles was stressed, along with the problems this raises for outside contributions to the editorial process. Workshop participants felt that substantive editing should be done by at least two people, and that those people should also try together to develop comments about the articles for “About This Issue”: the problems this raises for outside editorial work were discussed. but only resolved to the extent of stressing the desirability of having two or more EC members in a chapter.
With respect to content, the workshop felt that the coherence provided by topical issues of the magazine (such as on education or health care) was desirable and that the increased focus might make it easier for other chapters to take on the whole editorial process for a single issue, as Ann Arbor is doing now with the May-June issue on food and agriculture.
The possibility of putting out a Spanish or bilingual edition was discussed, and the question referred to the distribution committee. Finally, the workshop endorsed the possibility of bringing in work teams from other chapters for a weekend to help with magazine production.
WORKSHOP ON NATIONAL ORGANIZATION AND THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE
We discussed the following topics, came up with proposals, and presented them to the Sunday morning plenary:
1) National Conference: We discussed the need for a national conference. Everyone supported the idea, with the strongest support coming from members of smaller or outlying chapters. People felt that any decisions arrived at such a national conference should be binding, i.e., should carry more weight (and override, if necessary descisions made by the Boston chapter and/or regional conferences. What everyone most strongly felt, however, was the importance of adequate preparation, without which the conference was not worth having. For this reason, people felt the conference should be postponed from December, as originally planned, to March ’79 or until adequate preparations could be made. Issues should be discussed well before the conference, with position papers prepared in advance and circulated. The agenda should be set two months in advance and circulated. As far as planning, coordination and decision-making for the conference, people felt that an arrangement modeled on that used by the various SftP China groups to plan for their trip could be used. This would entail a network of contact people from each chapter or group who use the mail and phone to make collective decisions. Any chapter could initiate a proposal and get it ratified by sending copies of this proposal to all the other contact people and waiting an appropriate length of time for responses and votes. The Tallahassee chapter volunteered to assist Ann Arbor in whatever coordination may be necessary for the conference, especially with regard to facilitating communication with the Eastern Region through this kind of mail network. We presented a summary of the above discussion to the Sunday morning plenary session and there was general agreement on it.
2) Regional Decision-Making: We talked about the need for a minimum decision-making process or structure that could be used in times where it was not possible to use the general method of arriving at a decision on the regional level (which is first to thoroughly discuss the issue within chapters, then to send it in to the IDB, and finally to discuss and adopt it at a regional conference). One example of the kind of decision that might come up is the recent decision by the Boston chapter to raise the price of the magazine. In this case, and other cases, not to make a decision is in effect to make a decision. We suggested to the plenary session (which accepted the suggestion) that in such instances the mail-and-phone network used by the China groups in preparing for their trip be adapted as a model. The process of establishing this regional decision-making structure could itself be carried out through the use of this same structure. The Tallahassee China group volunteered to write up for reference the details of the communications network used by the China groups.
3) Third Staff Position: People felt that continuing to have a third SftP staff person was a good idea, if it were feasible financially. However, the possibility of having this staff position located outside the Boston area should definitely be explored, with a call to other chapters, especially in the West and to consider having a staff position located in their area. Chapters that are seriously interested should write up proposals justifying such a position and explaining how it would be used. People felt that if there were three staff positions, one of them could perhaps concentrate on organizing and outreach. This discussion was presented to the Sunday plenary, to general agreement.
The financial workshop met, with representation from New York, Stony Brook, Washington, and Boston. We discussed the financial situation of the organization and made some resolutions to bring to the National Conference.
Peggy Lester reported on some of Boston’s successful fund-raising efforts: (1) a pledge letter, (2) obtaining tax-exempt status, (3) a garage sale, (4) better magazine distribution.
We recognized that many active members aren’t aware of the financial problems, so we designated one person from each chapter to be a contact person with responsibility for bringing up the issue of fundraising in his/her group.
Since the magazine is by far the most lucrative activity, we should put much more effort into its distribution. The magazine aids outreach, and we should encourage all active members to subscribe through Boston and make more of an effort to get bookstores to carry it.
All publications of Science for the People subgroups or chapters should have the Boston address and a plug for the magazine.
Third Staff Position
We discussed the temporary position and tried to decide whether it should be made permanent. Our final recommendation was yes, at least until after a final vote can be taken at the National Conference. The cons are that this will increase Bostocentricity. The pros are that it will allow more energy to be spent in fundraising, and allow coordinators to participate in the organization which they now have little time to do.
WORKSHOP ON RACISM SEXISM AND ELITISM
We spent most of our time discussing racism and what we can do about it. As a way of using our experiences in dealing with another issue to help us get started, we briefly traced the history of the organization’s struggle against sexism. The following points came out in tracing that history:
1) The organization’s most recent concern with sexism began with the formation of a feminist caucus at the 1977 Eastern Regional, which pushed people in the organization, who sometimes resisted, to recognize the extent of sexism both within Science for the People and in the larger society, and the need to oppose it in both spheres.
2) In the years prior to the 1977 conference, women in SftP had continuously struggled against sexism within the organization and had put together a special women’s issue of the magazine.
3) Women in Science for the People, their numbers now increased (perhaps because of improvements in the organization’s practice and in its support of women’s issues), have continued to press the importance of antisexism: many men are more supportive than was true in the past, although problems remain — as is sometimes evident, for example, in the dynamics of our meetings.
4) For the last two years, there has been at least one article dealing with women’s issues in each issue of the magazine.
5) Women within SftP feel more comfortable in the organization than they had previously.
The discussion then turned to racism. We felt that for Science for the People, an important difference between sexism and racism is that while there are significant number of women in the organization, there are very few Third World people. This means that if we are serious about working against racism, it is necessary that whites in Science for the People take the initiative themselves. The organization cannot wait for members of the oppressed groups to push the issue as was possible (although not necessarily desirable) in the case of sexism.
Some people felt uneasy about addressing racism without the direct participation of Third World people: somehow it did not seem legitimate and could possible be interpreted as patronizing. Others pointed out, however, that these feelings were more reflections of our own fears and anxieties concerning race than of political reality. In fact. Third World people — like women and all oppressed groups — need all the allies they can get, and it is in our own and everyone’s interest to work to build a united left. Furthermore, even though Third World people and groups have not come to us, we cannot assume they would reject or resent overtures on our part. Although at first we may make some mistakes and step on some toes, the related tasks of opposing racism (in ourselves and the larger society) and building a united left are so important that we must be willing to take risks, to confront our internalized racism, to eliminate all forms of racial chauvinism.
We came up with the following list of concrete steps we can take to oppose racism:
1) Solicit and run on a regular basis articles that challenge people’s racism and expose the economic, social and political basis of racism in our society.
2) Publicize Science for the People issues and activities to a broader community.
3) More explicitly explore the relevance to racism of the issue we work on: this is a good way both of aiding our understanding of the links between issues and reaching out to Third World people (an example of this was a forum on “Sociobiology and Racism” which was held in Cambridge and attended by many blacks).
4) Establish contact with with Third World groups.
Although we did not have enough time even to begin discussing elitism, we did note that many people felt their understanding of elitism had been enhanced lately by analyses and exposures (e.g. through the magazine article on nursing) of how elitism often backfires and hurts those who had considered themselves beneficiaries of the elitist structure. So-called “middle-level professionals”, such as nurses and technicians, have been discovering that their professional status, which often encourages identification with management rather than labor and stigmatizes organized opposition to management. means that they are impotent to pursue their interests. In terms of wages, benefits and job security. they have sometimes been surpassed by so-called “low-level” but organized workers.
We all felt that a good, simple way to improve and evaluate our work is, as was suggested by Bob Broedel, mechanistically to ask, “How does this work relate to sexism, elitism, racism, imperialism?” Although this may seem trite, it is unfortunate that too often it is neglected.
WORKSHOP ON IDEOLOGY AND POLITICAL ANALYSIS
We first held a general discussion on the nature of and necessity for political principles, and on the nature of (but not the necessity for) SftP. We then developed a specific proposal: that we make the political identity of SftP more definite, or at least express it more clearly. The workshop felt that increased clarity about our political identity, whether it involved actually changing that identity or simply expressing what is already implicit in our activities, would only help in both outreach and in internal activities such as organization building.
With this end in mind people wished to adopt as a starting point or base the “political principles” of the organization as currently expressed on the inside front cover of SftP magazine. These say that one of our purposes is “to expose the class control of science and technology” and that “SftP opposes the ideologies of sexism, racism, elitism and their practice, and holds an anti-imperialist world-view”. People agreed to these “principles”, and wanted to add further points, the main (or most controversial) one being that SftP was an organization fighting to bring about socialism. “Socialism” was defined using the basic, original and specific definition of the term: “common ownership of the means of production”, to which we added the phrase “collective control of the means of production” as well. We also wanted make the point that we are working to change our society into one structured in such a way that no one individual or group can accumulate a profit off of the labor of others, a society based on human needs rather than the needs of private profit.
Other points not having to do with socialism, but just as important to our political identity: were that SftP encourages people from all parts of the progressive political spectrum to participate in our activities and to become members of the organization (i.e., we are not exclusionary) and that a main focus of our activity is educational (both political and other kinds of education).
We presented a summary of this discussion at the Sunday plenary, but there was almost no time for discussion of our proposal, and so it was left that the proposal should be sent to the national conference and IDB for discussion, not as one adopted by the regional conference, but as a proposal coming from one of its workshops.
WORKSHOP ON POLITICAL WORK
Most of the discussion in this workshop centered on how to relate to other groups such as political organizations, public interest groups, or unions. Some individuals expressed a desire to stick to what SftP has traditionally done best: exposes of the political nature of scientific issues, consciousness raising in the scientific community, and technical assistance to political organizations. Others expressed a desire to see SftP expand its interests to include theoretical political writing, active participation in militant political movements and coalitions, and labor organizing around occupational health and safety issues.
During the discussion almost everyone had a story or two to tell about the benefits or disadvantages of work with other groups. These testimonials ranged from accounts of mutually beneficial, lasting relationships which encouraged political growth and tactical effectiveness to tales of SftP projects being swallowed whole by other organizations.
Some general guidelines for political work emerged from the workshop, but due to lack of time these were not ratified by the entire conference. They included maintaining the scientific and technical orientation of SftP in all our work, insuring that SftP subgroups maintain their autonomy when servicing other groups, encouraging more theoretical political discussion within SftP and renewing our efforts to reach a broader constituency by identifying scientific and technological needs in our local communities.
WORKSHOP ON NATIONAL ORGANIZING AND OUTREACH
Three main topics were discussed: relationships with other groups (alliances), organizing new chapters, the role of attending AAAS and NSTA meetings.
The first discussion centered on creating an alliance between SftP and Clams for Democracy (CFD, a subgroup of the Clamshell Alliance). Several members of CFD were present and discussed the merits of CFD, why such an alliance would be desirable, and what form such an alliance would take. They suggested: a) technical assistance, b) sending “fact-finding” representatives to their Oct. 21 meeting in Providence, c) creating a SftP affinity group. The discussion broadened to encompass the larger problems of creating alliances: first we must define more who we are (what our goals are) before we can ally with other groups. We must also define the ways in which we can relate (in the past we’ve related to other groups by supporting them with articles in the magazine, the involvement of individual members, and the active support of local chapters), how would forming a “national alliance differ or add to the movement. What are the criteria for relating to other groups, how do we decide which alliances would be most fruitful? Some people suggested that SftP really can’t ally with other groups until we’ve established more “principles of unity” and have come up with a national decision-making process by which we could take stands as a national organization. It was suggested that SftP participate in alliances as an active participant and form a critical perspective, raising political issues and infusing a political perspective. One member brought up the importance of outreach/alliances with union groups.
Organizing new chapters was discussed briefly. We began by asking what the purpose of starting new chapters was, i.e., how could we start new chapters until we had more “principles of unity”? One person said that he got the magazine for a while before realizing that there was an organization behind it and thought there should be more discussion of chapter/organization activities in the magazine. We didn’t have time to discuss more concretely the organizing efforts of the DC and NYC chapters, so it was left for more informal discussion later.
We discussed AAAS and NSTA in the context of our organizing effort. Everyone agreed that they were good forums for our ideas, that we had a natural constituency there that no one else was reaching, and that they were fun. So we felt that we should continue attending but not make them a major focus.
The closing plenary on Sunday consisted mostly of workshop reports and minimal discussion of issues and proposals raised in the reports.
It was agreed that one person from each chapter should take responsibility for magazine distribution and fundraising. This should be proposed for the whole organization at the National Conference.
It was resolved that the Eastern Region shall recommend to the National Conference that the third staff position be made permanent. The position shall last at least until one month after a final decision is made at the conference.
Workshop on National Organization and the National Conference
It was agreed that a proposal to locate the third staff person outside Boston should be placed, along with a job description, in the IDB. Chapters should write proposals that justify having the third staff person in their area.
A regional decision-making process based on the China group model (see section on this workshop) should be set up. The China group will write up a proposal and Tallahassee will coordinate implementation.
A national conference should be held in March or April of 1979. A proposed agenda should be circulated for approval and revision at least two months in advance. A decision-making process for the national conference should be decided upon in advance. It should not exclude the mass of members (most of whom won’t be at the conference) – perhaps the China group model could be adapted. Tallahassee will help Michigan coordinate the conference, in particular with regard to the Eastern Region.
There was discussion of how decentralized the magazine process can and should be. There was considerable disagreement. It was felt that the editorial process as well as the content and role of the magazine should be important topics of discussion at the National Conference.
No conference resolutions came out of the other workshop reports and there was almost no time for discussion of their content.
The session closed with a short period of reflection on the conference itself. As usual, people voiced a good deal of frustration — that more had not been accomplished, that no definitive manifesto had come out of the conference. that the conference had lacked coherence (perhaps mirroring the organization). Yet people also said that they had learned something, that they had enjoyed meeting with comrades from other areas, and that they felt some of the modest resolutions coming out of the conference would help us in our future work. Special thanks were given to Mary Verdon of Stony Brook, who did much of the logistical planning and work for the conference