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
Christine Rack has based her article “US Medical Research Abroad: For the Power Not the People” on her own experiences in Colombia and on documents obtained here from governmental agencies despite their resistance. She describes how the design of a public health system has served the United States’ interests in Latin America. The article seriously questions the bene-fits for most Colombians of these aid programs sponsored by the U.S. government.
The United States has sought to model Colombia’s medical system on that which has emerged here. Even without questioning the value of that system for most people in our own country, we doubt that a medical system growing out of our urban, industrial, relatively wealthy economy can be appropriate to Colombia.
Rack shows that little difference actually exists between programs of the military and those of the supposedly nonpolitical foundations and social welfare agencies. Indeed, many of the programs funded by the National Institute of Health, Tulane University, the Rockefeller Foundation and other civilian institutions also receive funds from the C.I.A., U.S.A.I.D., and the Army. Their combined activities add up to another instance of what is aptly called “cultural imperialism.” Because this is the actual purpose of supposedly altruistic health-care programs, many documents pertaining to these programs remain classified. Thus, it was only after months of persistent investigation that many of the facts presented in Rack’s article were revealed.
In this issue Linda Gordon traces the history of the birth control movement in this country from 1920 to 1940. For many of us today, birth control is a familiar concept or an actual practice. Simply because it has become so familiar, we are perhaps prone to forget the difficult struggles which have been, and continue to be, waged around it. Women here and abroad continue to demand that safe, reliable and nondiscriminatory methods of birth control be developed and made readily available. The demands that birth control be demystified and be made socially acceptable also reflect a more general demand—that people have the power to consciously determine the course and quality of their lives.
At the present time we exist in a class society. The members of any class generate, share, and serve com-mon class interests. We expect class conflict over any issue which may serve or oppose the general interests of one class in opposition to the general interests of another. Birth control has proved to be one such issue. The capitalist class continues to direct birth control research and birth control technology in its own interests within the present social and economic order. These interests are in opposition to the interests of universal human emancipation. Gordon’s article supports this analysis.
She argues that the birth control movement started out in the 1910’s largely among radical feminists seeking fundamental change in social, sexual and class relationships. She then demonstrates how the movement was slowly coopted by deferring leadership in the struggle to a bourgeois professional class championing bourgeois professional class interests.
The article teaches us a valuable historical lesson in the development of political struggles in general. It points out how the movement began, who initially supported it and for what reasons, how the movement changed and developed with time, how the class composition of its supporters changed with time and for what reasons. It also demonstrates how a science-related issue can serve as the focus for a movement which initially advocated radical social change.
A related article in this issue, “Fighting Sterilization Abuse,” deals with another of the struggles surrounding women’s demand for control over their lives and bodies. This article by Judith Herman outlines how a small group of individuals representing narrow class interests can exercise ultimate control over the reproductive lives of impoverished, lower and working class women. The reasons given to legitimate this practice of coercive sterilization reflect the class interests of those who benefit from the existing social and economic or-der. These doctors, their supporters and their sympathizers argue that such a practice represents a social good because it cuts down on the number of welfare dependents. “But good for whom?” Certainly not for the women who have been, are being or will be sterilized. There can be no more blatant an example of science against the people.