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 email@example.com
About This Issue
The new description of the organization, magazine, and editorial policy, on page 2, is intended to introduce the magazine to a wider audience and spell out important aspects of its operation. Because readers of the magazine are urged to submit material for publication, we felt that ready availability of the guidelines and editorial policy is important. This description of the organization, as it is, will evolve in response to comments from, and changes in, the organization.
The Current Opinion feature, beginning with this issue, is concieved as presenting concrete, timely positions on issues relating to science and technology and representing some degree of informal consensus within SftP. There will be space for one or more of these short essays from the readership-membership. An effort will be made to have these positions reviewed by relevant, established activity groups or chapters prior to use. Subsequent debate through published correspondence and articles may result in new positions appearing as Current Opinion in later issues. Hopefully such discus-sions will stimulate ideas for new articles as well. Here are some examples of other topic-areas in which specific, proposal-related essays could be written: cancer research objectives, environmental toxicants, human experimentation, fetal research, retreat from affirmative action, technology assessment, academic freedom, medical ethics, actions of regulatory agencies, and so on. The Current Opinion in this issue, “Battling on Energy”, was prepared by the Editorial Committee as the first in what we hope will be a continuing series written by members and friends of Science for the People.
The “Nuclear Power” article was originally a pamphlet, produced by the Berkeley chapter of Science for the People, to organize support in the struggle for nuclear safeguards in California, and to counter the massive media onslaught of the energy cartel. Since the pamphlet was written for broad use, strategic questions could not be fully analyzed. What follows are some questions we felt should be studied with reference to the article.
As the pamphlet shows, the struggle for nuclear safeguards in California must be part of a continuing campaign for radical social change, not a one shot duel with the oil cartel. The crucial question we are continually faced with is: how should Science for the People involve itself in popular reform movements without submerging or relinquishing its goal or vision for a radically different society? In what way can we gain mass support and still retain our basic anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist positions? Which reforms are worth fighting for and why? Should SftP direct most of its energy to such community struggles for basic reforms in the area of science and technology?
In analyzing the objectives stated in the pamphlet, with the above question in mind, we need to spell out what we mean when we say the people should take control over energy. Similarly, what is meant concretely by “democratic nationalization of the US energy industry”? Is nationalization the answer? We should examine more fully the example of AMTRAK and consider the possibilities of decentralized energy.
What sort of political movement, uniting large sectors of the population, can lead to “democratic nationalization” of energy? For example, struggles around energy reforms must deal inevitably with the question of jobs. How can we ally with workers and unions who are suspicious that such reforms mean more unemployment, as claimed by the energy industry. While a more complete analysis is necessary to counter their position, it must be emphasized that there are no economic “laws” which determine the relation between energy and jobs.
The amount of energy is certainly a factor, but it is public policy and the level of worker militancy which determines the rate of employment.
Finally, will the people significantly gain any control over the energy cartel if the safeguards are passed? Can the state’s legislature be trusted? This will depend on whether the struggle ends here or continues to grow larger and challenge the basic structure and ideology of monopoly capitalism.
The review of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” presents a now-common view, among progressive people, of the destructive treatments currently used as a last resort in mental health therapy. Some people will argue, however, that there exists a substantial number of seriously disturbed people for whom electroconvulsive shock, heavy duty chemical therapy (e.g. lithium, powerful depressants) and even psychosurgery are not only the last resort, but indeed beneficial. The question of whether or not there is any place for these treatments in a legitimate therapy cannot be answered by looking at the intractable cases produced by the contemporary mental health care system. Most therapy today avoids identifying the real problems in peoples’ lives, introduces irrelevant or secondary factors as primary causes, at best promotes minimal symptomatic or functional relief, and almost never addresses the broader societal-class origins of conflict in personal relations. In many contexts, the objectives of therapy are simply making people more manageable and less costly.
Therapy is another region of science where basic concepts and uses are direct products of the social order and its ideology. Because the conditions leading to mental “illness” are, if anything, going to get worse for most people, and pressures for technological solutions are therefore going to intensify, exploring these issues and documenting a fundamental critique of present-day therapy should become a significant focus for Science for the People.
In the summary of AAAS activities, we have included some excerpts from the press coverage that SftP got. While Science for the People has never gone far out of its way to get into the papers, it is a fact of life that the way the press presents us has a lot to do with how we’re seen by the broader public. Therefore it’s important to ex-amine this coverage and evaluate our activities in that light.
This particular press coverage, moreover, is significant because it raises some troubling questions about what Science for the People has become. In all cases, the press presented us as a group that has given up militant tactics. In the article in Science, this was attributed to a ‘new maturity’. In the Washington Star, it was explained, at least by implication, as Science for the People having lost its political determination and fight. We should ask ourselves: Was the lack of disruption at the AAAS due to the fact that there was nothing there worth disrupting? Had they given us everything we asked for, a free hand to question speakers and do political organizing? Or did we sell out our most effective tactic, the ability to disrupt and prevent the presentation of obviously harmful ideas and programs, merely for the sake of a respectable place on the AAAS program?
Opinions vary within SftP on the press’ characterization of our actions at the AAAS, reflecting disagreements about the actions themselves and the underlying policy issues. Some members claim that SftP has fundamentally modified its approach to the AAAS. Some others (less often quoted in the press) hold that the situation has not substantially changed and that no organization-wide discussion and decisions have taken place on these matters. Thus while some people argue that past “disruption” was destructive or counter-productive, others believe that past militant action, includ-ng some disruptions, was (and still is) both appropriate and worthwhile for advancing our objectives. There is also disagreement, apparent in the two assessments, about the general operations of SftP at the AAAS. The issues include: (1) whether or not policy questions should be fully discussed and determined by all members prior to implementation; (2) whether detailed planning, review and evaluation of our activities at events like the AAAS should take place on a continuing, interactive basis, involving not only all the assembled SftP members but also friends and allies who are interested in participating in the decisions as well as the consequent actions. There are numerous points raised in support of these various positions which cannot be described here. However the debate remains unresolved and members and/or readers are urged to contribute.
Finally, a point about future issues. The Boston chapter during the past two months has been examining sexism in our own organization. We see this sexism both in the second-class role of women within Science for the People and in the lack of attention we have paid in the past to issues which concern women. Most of the activity groups have discussed the interpersonal relationships within their groups, and several have decided to find ways to include women’s issues in their activities. We on the editorial committee have decided to give higher priority to women’s issues in the magazine. We are thus actively looking for articles written by women, articles about women in science or about how science and technology are used to keep women down, and for any other articles from a feminist perspective.
Many articles appearing in Science for the People have shown how political and economic power has distorted or perverted the direction of science and technology. The priorities of the capitalist ruling class in large part govern the choice of what research is done, and what form of technology will be developed. But is the nature of science, its conceptual structure, also determined by the requirements and interests of a society’s ruling class? The article, “The Politics of Scientific Conceptualization” argues that this is the case. It claims, further, that the ·insight, that conceptual structure is a product of social relations, opens up an important new area of political struggle that a group like Science for the People should engage in; it would be a struggle about the conceptual structure of contemporary science. We would like the opinion of the reader about the force of this analysis, and the way its political potential might be realized.
Finally, a point about future issues. The Boston chapter has been spending time during the past two months examining sexism in our own organization. We see this sexism both in the second-class role of women within Science for the People and in the lack of concern we have shown in the past with issues which concern women. Most of the activity groups have discussed the interpersonal relationships within their groups, and several have decided to find ways to include women’s issues in their activities. We on the editorial committee have also decided to give higher priority to women’s issues. We are thus actively looking for articles written by women, articles about women in science or about how science and technology are used to keep women down, and for any other articles from a feminist perspective.