Report from the China Collective

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

Report from the China Collective

by The China Collective

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 4, No. 3, May 1972, p. 21

Early this year a group of people from the Boston chapter of Science for the People began discussing a SFP visit to the People’s Republic of China. A proposal has been made to the appropriate agencies in China and notice of our intent has gone out to other SFP chapters around the country. We have been meeting regularly to explore why and how such a trip should take place. We’ve put together our ideas informally in order both to widen the base of the trip and to get more feedback from SFP people nationally.

Several scientists have already visited China, and more will surely follow. Why a Science for the People trip to China? Although exchange of technical information between the people of China and the United States are to both our advantages, clearly a SFP trip would be politically motivated. The aims of our trip would be different from those of the usual scientific visit.

Most of us in the Boston group have been involved with radical political organization in the scientific and nonscientific communities for some time. Our goal has been to build revolutionary movement in the schools, universities, and laboratories where we find ourselves. While we seek through many projects to redirect and restructure science to serve the people, we recognize that the kind of changes we seek can only take place within a thorough reorganization of our entire society from a capitalist to a socialist base. Therefore much of our attention is directed toward the social and political context in which capitalist science is practiced and how it functions to restrict scientific benefits to a small sector and keep it from serving all of society. A particularly destructive aspect of this is the gulf between the elite producers and the consumers of science, the way science managers manipulate those differences, and the organizational and cultural changes needed to eliminate this division.

People all over the world have been led to confront these questions. China, as a revolutionary socialist society, is one place where concrete solutions are being tested. Seeing what “revolutionary change” actually means to a people can be very important to Americans who only discuss such change theoretically or read about it in books. Of course, we in America are going to have to develop our own solutions for our own problems. The Chinese model could hardly be transferred intact to our situation. Nevertheless, we feel that there is much to be learned from first-hand observation of their struggle, to see how they deal with questions such-as: How are the technical needs of the Chinese people assessed and articulated, and how is this information passed on to the scientific sector? What are the criteria and the mechanisms for making decisions about the relative value and the priority of one scientific project over another? How is scientific research organized and carried out at the work place? What is the relationship between workers at different levels in the same work place? What role does science education play in preparing people to participate in the control and production of scientific work? And so forth. These are questions that we are already dealing with here in the United States in our effort to make science serve the people. What we know about science in China suggests that we would profit from studying the solutions that the Chinese people have developed for their conditions.

There are other potential benefits to the trip. For the people who go, the experience may well have a serious impact on personal outlook and on future energy and dedication to the movement. This was the case, for example, with one member of our group who has already been to China, and with a radical teachers group which made a similar trip to Cuba two years ago. Preparations for the trip can contribute to the political education and development of those who take part, whether or not they go. Since the delegation will be national, contacts with Science for the People will be improved, and subsequent organization might be facilitated.

Although we don’t mean to inflate the importance of what we can learn from the Chinese, this information can be useful in several ways for our organizing efforts here when we return. Having a concrete example to describe should give us access to a relatively wide audience in scientific meetings, schools, both radical and liberal political groups, and so on. Then we can discuss the Chinese situation in the context of revolutionary change in America, the political perspective of SFP, and the role of science in society.

We hope that people will be chosen for the trip from SFP or similar groups across the country by collective self selection. The criteria that would seem most important are a demonstrated commitment to political organizing in the scientific sector in the past, and a major committment of time and energy after returning to using the experience of the trip, to organize around the concepts of Science for the People. Funding the trip may be a problem. We intend to try to raise the money on the basis of the trip’s political content, being careful to solicit sources that are not already supporting other ongoing SFP activities.

People who are interested in going to China, in helping preparations, or in telling us what you think about the project should write as soon as possible to the China Collective, SESPA, 9 Walden St., Jamaica Plain, Mass. 02130, or call Dan Connell at (617) 868-7572.

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