Pauling and the Peace Groups

Logo of the World Federation of Scientific Workers

[Part 1 of 2]

By 1950, largely as a result of information sharing between the FBI, the Tenney Committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and others, Linus Pauling’s name was high on the lists of congressional investigatory bodies harboring an interest in U.S. communist subversion. Because of his position and professional stature, Pauling was commonly referenced during discussions of communist infiltration within scientific institutions. Several consequences resulted from the attention, including a number of canceled speaking engagements across the country.

Most of the charges leveled against him were familiar, centering on his affiliation with suspected communists and communist fronts.  And over time the repercussions of these accusations began to escalate. As the controversies failed to abate, many of those close to Pauling professionally and otherwise – particularly Caltech president Lee DuBridge – became ever more weary of Pauling’s notoriety.

In spite of the difficulties that these attentions imposed upon him and the Institute, Pauling continued to produce substantive scientific research. He steadily published new findings, making especially impressive strides in his work with protein structures. Ironically, though he was continually bombarded by accusations of communist subversion in relation to his non-professional activities, his scientific work was simultaneously under ardent attack by Lysenko-era Soviet scientists. His theories were also being challenged by several leading British scientists, forcing him to spend a great deal of his time addressing criticism. Indeed, he was so busy at the height of this work that he postponed a trip to Europe and turned down a visiting professorship at Harvard.

Nonetheless, Pauling continued to receive widespread acclaim for his work. Among other honors at the time, he was invited to speak at an international scientific conference where he received spectacular coverage in the press. The positive coverage, as well as the success of his research, helped maintain the stability of Pauling’s position at Caltech.

Throughout most of the extended controversy surrounding his affiliations, Pauling remained a member and contributor to several different groups and causes. He gave what he could to those he deemed worthy and discriminated very little when choosing his associations – a tendency which often caused trouble with Caltech administrators and investigatory committees alike. One such controversial group was the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (NCASP), a national advocacy organization formed from the constitution of the Progressive Citizens of America. The organization was involved in Henry Wallace‘s presidential campaign with the Progressive Party – a campaign that Pauling supported and likely the primary motivation for Pauling’s membership.

The NCASP acted in the tradition of what it saw as the fight for national progress and welfare that had been assumed by American artists, scientists and professionals for most of the country’s history. Claiming basic non-partisanship but advocating for New Deal-era policies, the NCASP emphasized the important role of qualified individuals working in support of progressive political programs. The organization was intentionally composed of diverse professionals and supported peaceful governance, international cooperation, economic security, notions of universal equality, social welfare, and enforcement of constitutional rights. The NCASP made contributions to political campaigns, distributed educational material, conducted research and supported community activities. It also busied itself with the organization of peace conferences and petitions against abusive committee practices, and was heavily involved with protests against the persecution of the “Hollywood 10.”

Pauling also held membership in the American Association of Scientific Workers (AAScW), an American affiliate of the World Federation of Scientific Workers. The AAScW was founded primarily to strengthen the relationship between science, scientists and the rest of society. The organization sought to improve public education on scientific matters, safeguard the exercise of independent scientific endeavor and promote scientific involvement in the pursuit of public welfare. It was an organization of scientists parallel in scope and ideals to contemporary bodies in England and other parts of Europe. Pauling was first approached by the AAScW in 1939, however he declined admittance because of the organization’s opposition to American involvement in the growing European war. He later accepted a nomination as vice-president, and maintained steady contact with the organization’s action committees and national secretary.

The World Federation of Scientific Workers (WFSW) was made up of sixteen organizations of scientific workers from 14 different countries, including the U.S., Britain, the U.S.S.R., China, France and India. It was founded by members of the Association of Scientific Workers in Great Britain, and fully recognized by the United Nations as an international non-governmental organization. The WFSW was a strong advocate of international cooperation, especially as concerned nuclear technology and atomic weapons non-proliferation, but also sought the improvement of international relations through scientific institutions. It worked to organize scientists world-wide and establish higher principles for the social responsibility of scientific workers. The controversial organization held many international conferences, which were often opposed and obstructed by the national governments hosting them.  The group also published an official journal, Scientific World.

John Desmond Bernal, (1901-1971) a renowned British crystallographer, was very active in the organization. Bernal and his colleagues were competing with Pauling and his associates to further the analysis of protein structures, however the two men exercised mutual professional respect and maintained a lasting friendship. Indeed, one year after Bernal’s death, Pauling would write of his friend

He impressed me then [in 1930] as the most brilliant scientist that I had ever met, and I have retained this impression, which was substantiated by the many later discussions that I had with him.

Bernal was the author of The Social Function of Science, a book that was highly critical of predominant conceptions of scientific application, and an inspiration to Pauling amidst his future struggles. Pauling joined the WFSW near the beginning of the 1950s, but had little time to spare for practical participation. He volunteered as much of himself as he could after joining, but was more involved with the organization later in life as its acting Vice President.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the price that Pauling paid for his membership in each of these groups and the pressures that ultimately led to his distancing himself from all three.

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