SESPA Politics

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SESPA Politics

Statements by Arlene Ash, the Industrial Group, & Berkeley SESPA

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1973, p. 4 – 6 & 42 – 43

The present issue of Science for the People is initiating a discussion of the political orientation of SESPA. SESPA has no definite political orientation at this time. The various constituent collectives are each doing their own thing, and many of our members express the feeling that discussion of broader political perspectives for SESP A, let alone the adoption of a political program, is unnecessary or even harmful. This is not our opinion. We feel that the discussion of SESPA ‘s political perspectives will contribute to the growth and vitality of the organization and our actions.

To clarify matters, we will try to state the key issues that should be discussed.

First of all, there is a question of whether it is desirable for SESPA to have a political program. At the very least such a discussion could induce people to formulate and share their own political goals.

Second, the political meaning of the present SESPA activities should be critically scrutinized. We have to examine the pros and cons of informative, organizing, and confrontational activities.

Third, who are we addressing ourselves to? Researchers, technical workers, all those where we work; students, community groups, or political groups?

Fourth, how should we address our constituency? Providing technical assistance, exposing the harmful uses of science, organizing around short- or long-term demands? There have recently been attempts to redefine unionism. (Gorz and others) Are any of these idea·s relevant to us?

Fifth, what role in our activities should alternative science and alternative community building play?

Sixth, we should try to define the relation of SESPA to other political movements in this country. If at the present time we cannot relate to any political movement we should at least discuss the characteristics of a future movement to which we could relate.

The above outline is hardly exhaustive. We invite members of SESPA either collectively or individually to contribute to this discussion in future issues of the magazine.


The more I work within this system, the more I feel the need for radical (fundamental) change. But however radical I may become, I want never to let my analysis—the framework within which I seek reform—keep me from doing what is right. For example, I won’t accept that human suffering should be fostered ( or, at least, should not be opposed ) to hasten the fall of capitalism. The fall of capitalism in no obvious way creates or guarantees the rise of a more decent structure. To me, fascism seems just as likely a response, since revolutions can only be made by mass revolutionary movements, not by circumstances or by power vacuums. From this perspective, socialism itself is a tactic. The goal is communal decency and I’m willing to work under the same banner with anyone striving in that direction who is honestly willing to re-evaluate assumptions on the basis of feedback. I think it would be a big mistake to pinpoint exactly what SESPA’S ideology is. I don’t see why we need a spokesman or ideology. Why can’t we be defined by the things our chapters are doing?

I want to talk a little about the AAAS actions. I read Al Weinrub’s letter (printed in this issue) and found it useful and informative. What exactly does SESPA want out of the AAAS meetings? Is it best to talk intensively to a few likely recruits, to try to jar the main body of scientists into some kind of minimal kind of recognition of the failings of the convention to face reality, or to try to make publicity for the general public to discredit the mythology surrounding the scientific establishment? You may wish to work towards all three, but not with the same action. I think it is merely facing reality to see that these separate goals are not easily reconciled—both making anti-science publicity and winning over the hearts and minds of your fellow scientists is difficult, if at all possible.

Each potential action, then, should be tailored to the special audience you are trying to reach. General harangues against the scientific establishment are a drag when someone is already looking for an alternative to the state he is in. Better to talk about alternative actions that SESPA is into. Your potential recruit knows that something is wrong and I think there is plenty of time for him to get a deeper sense of the structural nature of his problems. SESPA should seek one-to-one or small informal rap-sessions in which it listens first and then talks about how it is dealing with similar disaffections.

Perhaps the recurrent theme of all my criticisms and suggestions boils down to the maxim that political action must be individually tailored—to your audience if you’re recruiting—to each person’s sense of usefulness and satisfaction when we are joined to make the revolution. Continual openness to criticism should serve to prevent us from getting carried away with our individualism.  


The following article was submitted by the Boston industrial group in response to a request from the December/January Editorial Collective.

That SESPA has continued to exist and has even grown is evidence that there are shared motivations for political unity. These include: (1) rejection of the pervasive and perverse uses of technology in this society; (2) objection to being used as instruments of that technology and to being victims of the oppressive corporate-state apparatus that pursues those technological objectives; (3) particular outrage at those blatant atrocities made routinely feasible at “acceptable political cost” by technology; and (4) the desire to encourage among other technology-related workers a political consciousness leading toward unity and toward alliances with other groups of working people.

The organization that has evolved has been avowedly characterized as a “non-organization”, often professing to have no “political line” and it has largely taken the form of somewhat autonomously operating subgroups. Together these groups have constituted a type of counter-community, providing support for their members in our politically hostile environment. In this organizational framework, the consequence of most activities regardless of their intent has been consciousness raising and those who join are usually those already receptive to radical ideas.

These characteristics developed as we were acquiring experience. Nevertheless, they reveal inherent weaknesses, some of which reflect features of our society at large and invite further analysis. For example, trying to be an organization that doesn’t formulate explicit positions—having no political line—suggest a lack of confidence in struggling collectively over political concepts. Numerous attitudes resulting from our socialization favor that outlook. Elitism, competitiveness, individualism and authoritarianism themselves reflect the stratification and fragmentation of our workplace roles in society. Thus the willingness to take criticism and to openly criticize, to express the honest basis of our views, and to learn from and teach others—which are essential for the synthesis of political agreement—are very difficult processes when our training says: “Don’t rely on other people”, “competence reflects innate ability”, “success means outperforming other people” and “people won’t agree so don’t bother trying”, etc. Authoritarian attitudes taking the form of relying on the judgement of leader, frequently defined by society’s criteria of successful, i.e., workers of high status, also deny the relevance of political struggle and see political action in terms of co-existing clubs. An opposing view, one which perceives how manipulation occurs in this social system, is anti-authoritarianism. In its extreme form it denies that any view is really correct, or holds that all views are valid, or that no legitimacy could possibly be accorded to a view collectively arrived at and put into practice. Another aspect of extreme anti-authoritarianism is the position that while collectively derived decisions are appropriate, there should be no resulting organization, structure or leadership since these cannot be made to serve the collective will.

It is on this basis that the idea of non-organization grows, and from which the role of an organization is seen primarily as being whatever the naturally coalescing subgroups happen to be “into”—which may in themselves be very worthwhile activities. A damaging consequence of this is that the organization is unable to bring together and focus its members’ experiences and resources on very important questions or even to decide what these questions are. One question which has lacked SESPA’s attention is how to function politically in our respective workplaces—industrial, academic or government—developing support and participation among our fellow employees. This is the fundamental problem to confront in order for SESPA to provide technology-related working people with the radical organizations they need to unite them in struggle.

In deciding what the important questions are we should consider the societal context. People in general are organized by the system itself, in ways which serve the interest of those in power. For example, technology related workers constitute a group having many common experiences and perspectives. Their educational and employment histories, their role in the technological program prescribed by the system — in education, research and/or applications — define them as an identifiable sector of the working class. They form a subculture which, for some, means attending meetings, seeing certain trade publications, and being cultivated as purportedly privileged “professionals” by management or the administration. For many of them organizing, in the form of unions or insurgent movements in the professional societies, has begun.

While disenchantment with technology as it has functioned in the corporate economy is becoming widespread among all working people, it is particularly apparent in those who directly deal with it in their work. Technology assessment is a debated issue in journals. Nader-type exposures of industry, government and academia are becoming common, frequently assisted by employees inside the institutions themselves. At the same time, profound problems affecting the profit outlook and security of the capitalist class and its administrators demand ever-increasing reliance upon technological responses, ranging from developing new hardware to packaging and disseminating revised ideologies, and thus depends increasingly on the tacit cooperation of the practitioners of technology. Meanwhile, as suggested by the organizing activities, many technical scientific workers now perceive that rather than being a group protected and “valued” by management and the academic-government establishment, they are merely another resource which, after years of scarcity, has finally been brought to a market equilibrium more favorable to their employers. Thus, there is an objective basis for technology-related workers developing a more cohesive political unity. Furthermore, the conditions that bring technical workers together are even more other workers and therefore, the potential exists for political unity among all working people in organizing to oppose their common enemies.

However, several endemic features of our society again stand in the way and are thus important matters for our attention. Unity among technology-related workers is strongly discouraged by the status-stratification, elitism, competitiveness and division of labor that the system fosters as well as by discriminatory ideology, primarily sexism. Within the working class as a whole, unity including the sector of technical-scientific workers is further inhibited by the intellectual elitism implicit in the “professional” categories: mental vs. manual labor; the mystification of intellectual skills; the relative privilege of technical workers; and very crucially, the discrimination which operates throughout the institutions of this society—mainly racism in all its manifestations, and again, sexism. So effective is racism that minority groups are scarcely represented in the higher status levels of technological work.

Unless political organizations striving for unity learn to deal with these causes of division in their programs and daily practice, unity will not be achieved.

Analyzing society and ourselves leads us to conclude that the system is fundamentally destructive to the majority of people, and that our task is to help unite that majoritxy in struggle for basic change. Since, as workers, we find ourselves already organized in groups functioning as integral parts of this system, politicizing these groups attacks the system in a fundamental way. Perceiving the nature of the system increases the alienation from the workplace and fosters disunity. However, finding a basis for common involvement with others in the same situation (not always easy) is not only politically valuable, but also is gratifying and counters the alienation. In the industrial-government workplace, SESPA has had limited but encouraging experience with study groups, which have led to varying degrees of involvement in action. We need to find out and describe how to make study-action groups most meaningful to technical workers, and what activities outside the workplace might stimulate their participation. These might be forums, exposes of corporate behavior, newsletters, public campaigns, etc. Collectively pursuing small but significant goals in the workers’ interests can be valuable and exemplary for other groups in the same company and in other industries. In some companies, serious fights against workplace oppression are taking the form of successful union struggles. In this form of struggle there is obviously ample opportunity to address the divisiveness based on stratification, racism, sexism, etc.

Schools and universities are where almost all technology-related workers are produced. Faculty and research-in-training workers thus also have an important workplace to politicize. Student and faculty political consciousness can be raised through study/action groups that critique curriculum and propose alternatives; exposing the role of schools and universities and attacking specific research projects, intellectual swindles and the ideological foundations of racism, elitism, sexism, etc. The experiences of some SESPA groups have already shown the value of these activitites. An important and largely untouched area related to academic workplace organizing is discussions of students’ career plans from a political perspective. It is not enough to analyze how most institutions don’t serve the people. Learning how to function in those institutions would be an invaluable aid to many people who want to have productive lives and who see but don’t yet understand the defects in the system which will someday, maybe, employ them.

As scientists and technicians we are close to the workings of technology and therefore have a special role in making public issues of the control and use of technology. This includes activities at professional meetings, muckraking and making hard-hitting analyses of current technology. We should also make serious suggestions of alternative technological possibilities as could occur in a society run by the working people, e.g. in transportation, health care or job stratification.

Our conviction that liberation struggles throughout the world are in the best interest of the majority of people leads us to unite with anti-imperialist struggle. Building organizational ties with foreign technical workers would help us fight nationalism and racism, factors which facilitate the execution of these wars. One way that SESPA’s contact with many foreign technology-related workers could be vastly increased is to involve in our activities foreign students and workers who come to the U.S. for their education and special training.

These various forms of struggle at our workplaces determine what is required of our organization. For, effective, concerted action on the larger issues, workplace groups need to interact, and Science for the People as a whole must act in coordination with other organizations such as antiwar groups, unions, community organizations, etc. Often a timely response to a situation such as a firing or layoff, or the appearance on campus of a racist ideologue can be decisive to the development of political struggle. Equally necessary is the research on profits, management personnel, company investment or moving plans, etc., that supports workplace politicizing and struggle. Virtually impossible to do alone, workplace politicizing requires skills and perseverance that can only be developed with the support and active assistance of an organization of dedicated comrades. This support is needed in the form of training and criticism, encouragement and the warmth of friendships that develop in mutual struggle. In the last analysis, our effectiveness in unifying and politicizing our fellow workers depends on how we act, how much and how well we understand, and how we relate to other people. Our organization must provide the means for all who would like to become such cadre without diminishing the opportunities for participation of those who would choose a less stringent commitment.

What structure is required in SESPA to carry out these functions? Coordination and ability to respond rapidly require some type of steering committee to carry out necessary decision-making between regular, general meetings. The composition of the steering committee should reflect the entire spectrum of workplaces, from industry to university. The structure should be sufficiently flexible such that committees to carry on research, prepare for general events, etc. can be formed as needed.

No organization is fully defined only by its goals and formal structure; the actual practice of its members in their relationship to one another and those not in the group is equally important. We must resocialize each other away from the destructive sexist, elitist, or authoritarian behavior. We also need to struggle against the dissipative effects of certain attitudes such as extreme anti-authoritarianism, individualism, lack of responsibility, cynicism, and liberalism. We cannot do this unless there is a general commitment to criticism, self-criticism, and mutual support. But such a commitment itself only can develop from constructive struggles and increased political understanding. We must begin therefore with a strong desire to develop a unified political understanding as we strive to achieve solidarity among ourselves and with our class sisters and brothers.

Further contributions elaborating and extending the discussion will be submitted to subsequent issues of Science for the People. The industrial group in Boston has seven members from four and one-half companies (one was recently fired). Of the total constituency of about 1500 technical and associated workers about 150-200 have related to petition statements or actions in the past. Currently only about fifteen are active. There are three study groups, about fifteen subscriptions and twenty to twenty-five magazine sales each issue. The industrial group was formed to give mutual support to one another in developing more effective politicizing at the workplace, better understanding of the role of technical workers and to build a more numerous and more cohesive group of industrially employed workers in Science for the People.


Science, in a Capitalist society is used against the people. The basic control over scientific work and its further development is in the hands of a few people at the head of large private institutions and government bureaucracies. Under these people science is consistently utilized for the perpetuation and extension of economic and political power based upon the monopolization of natural and human resources in the hands of a few.

Science provides the technology which is utilized to exploit resources on the basis of maximum profitability. This results in inefficiency and waste and in ecological disruptions which assault our health and life.

Science provides the ideology necessary for the camouflaging of social and economic problems by labeling them as technical problems with technical solutions.

Science provides for the intellectual intimidation of the public. Technical knowledge is mystified by special jargon and useful knowledge developed by the people is appropriated if it serves to support the system or stigmatized if it serves human needs against the system.

Academic institutions and professional societies serve to institutionalize the monopoly on knowledge and to legitimize as “neutral and objective” the political functions of science.

And, when all else fails,

Science provides the weapons of war and the tools of the police state, so that an obsolete economic system can defend itself against growing movements for fundamental social change through force, violence and intimidation.

Science for the People means the explicit recognition of the political nature of science in this society.

Science for the People means access for all people to useful human knowledge. Science for the People means the alliance of those who presently have access to scientific knowledge with movements for fundamental social change.

(Originally printed in New Morning)



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