It doesn’t take an Einstein … or does it? May 27, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Socialism.
Tags: activism, albert einstein, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, capitalism, Communism, government, marxism, paul robeson, peace, political science, politics, radicalism, revolution, roger hollander, socialism
“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”
by Albert Einstein
This essay was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review (May 1949).
Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.
Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.
But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.
Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.
For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.
Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”
I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?
It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.
Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”
It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.
Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.
If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.
I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.
For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.
Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.
This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service
Albert Einstein, Radical:
A Political Profile
by John J. Simon
2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein and the centennial of the publication of five of his major scientific papers that transformed the study of physics. Einstein’s insights were so revolutionary that they challenged not only established doctrine in the natural sciences, but even altered the way ordinary people saw their world. By the 1920s he had achieved international popular renown on a scale that would not become usual until the rise of the contemporary celebrity saturated tabloids and cable news channels. His recondite scientific papers as well as interviews with the popular press were front page news and fodder for the newsreels. Usually absent, however, was any sober discussion of his participation in the political life of his times as an outspoken radical—especially in profiles and biographies after his death.
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, into a liberal, secular, and bourgeois German Jewish family. Young Albert’s childhood and early adolescence does not seem to have been out of the ordinary. Like many late nineteenth century young men, he was curious, read Darwin, and was interested in the material, that is the natural, world and wished to fathom “the arcana of nature, so as to discern ‘the law within the law.’”
In 1895, Einstein, aged sixteen, renounced his German citizenship and moved to Switzerland. His main reason was to avoid military service and also to complete his education at Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute. There he eventually earned his Ph.D. in a climate relatively free of the anti-Semitism that pervaded German and Austrian universities. But Zurich had other rewards. Einstein spent much time at the Odeon Café, a hangout for Russian radicals, including Alexandra Kollontai, Leon Trotsky, and, a few years later, Lenin. Einstein admitted to spending much time at the Odeon, even missing classes to participate in the coffee shop’s intoxicating political debates.
Unable to find an academic job, Einstein went to work in 1902 in the Swiss patent office in Berne. It was there in 1905 that he had his annus mirabilus, publishing articles on the special theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and Brownian motion. In 1914 he was offered and accepted a full professorship in Berlin. Fred Jerome, author of The Einstein File,* notes that the job offer was probably a result of a bidding competition among universities in Britain, France, and Germany looking for scientific and technological talent to abet their respective governments’ imperial objectives. Unfortunately, Einstein took up his post just as the First World War broke out with Germany among the chief belligerents.
Einstein opposed the war, putting him at odds with the German Social Democrats to whom he had been previously sympathetic, instead aligning himself with the party’s minority who saw the war as a dispute among the ruling classes of the belligerents. Einstein also found himself in disagreement with most of his scientific colleagues. Max Planck, then a physicist of roughly equivalent stature to Einstein, and nearly a hundred other scientists signed a supernationalist “Manifesto to the Civilized World,” endorsing Germany’s war aims in language that prefigured the Nazi rants of a generation later, rationalizing the war as justifiable resistance to “Russian hordes,” “Mongols,” and “Negroes” who had been “unleashed against the white race.” Einstein and only three others replied in a document suppressed at the time by the German government, describing the behavior of the scientists (sadly joined by numerous writers and artists) as shameful. At least one of the signatories of the reply was jailed. Einstein was not; it was the first instance of the power of his newly acquired celebrity not only to protect himself, but to allow him to speak out when others couldn’t.
In the turbulent aftermath of the war Einstein continued to speak out. Famously, on the day Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated—it was during a fortnight that saw not only the armistice, but the fall of seven other European monarchies, all replaced, for the moment, by liberal and socialist regimes—Einstein posted a sign on his classroom’s door that read “CLASS CANCELLED—REVOLUTION.” He had joined with and defended liberal and radical students and colleagues for their wartime opposition; now he was with them in their postwar resistance to the burgeoning revanchist militarism that would quickly morph into Nazism.
Einstein’s visibility made him a focus of the revival of virulent anti-Semitism. His work on relativity was denounced as a “Jewish perversion” not only by far right-wing politicians, but even by fellow German scientists. Einstein was by now an illustrious international figure. In 1921 he received the Nobel Prize for Physics for work on the photo-electric effect, which demonstrated the quantum nature of light. He was also a visible presence in the cultural and social life of the Weimar Republic. At the same time, Einstein became increasingly outspoken in his political views. Opposing the mounting racist and jingoist violence and ultranationalism in Germany in the 1920s, he worked for European unity and supported organizations seeking to protect Jews against growing anti-Semitic violence. His egalitarian streak was irrepressible: confronting rising course fees poorer students couldn’t afford, Einstein routinely offered free after-hours physics classes. As the European economic and political crises grew more acute, Einstein increasingly used platforms at scientific conferences to address political questions. “He had no problem,” Jerome notes, “discussing relativity at a university lecture in the morning, and, on that same evening, urging young people to refuse military service.”
By 1930 Hitler’s National Socialist party was poised to become the dominant political force in Germany and Einstein, while still vocal at home, more and more found himself looking abroad for congenial outlets for both his scientific and political expression. He lectured in Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe and, from 1930 on, annually as a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. On January 30, 1933, the Nazis seized power and confiscated Einstein’s Berlin property. In May, Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, organized a public book burning, prominently featuring Einstein’s work; photos of the atrocity were published worldwide. Following the offer of a large cash bounty for his murder in Nazi newspapers, Einstein was forced to complete a speaking tour in the Netherlands with the protection of bodyguards. That winter, while at Cal Tech, he and his family decided not to return to Berlin. Instead he accepted a lifetime appointment from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, settling into a modest house on Mercer Street.
There, while trying to orient himself to his new country, Einstein worked doggedly on his Unified Field Theory, an attempt to demonstrate that electromagnetism and gravity were different manifestations of a single fundamental phenomenon. It would be his main scientific concern for the rest of his life and remains one that continues to animate contemporary physics and cosmology.
In the years before he was granted U.S. citizenship in 1940, Einstein’s political concerns were focused on the depredations of Nazi anti-Semitism and the rise of fascism. Once again, making use of his renown, he petitioned the government to allow refugees to migrate to the United States, but to no avail. He then joined with other European intellectuals to ask Eleanor Roosevelt to intervene with her husband, but the result was the same. This was not Einstein’s first conflict with FDR’s administration. He vigorously and publicly supported the anti-Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War. While the Nazi Luftwaffe bombed Spanish villages, the United States, along with Britain and France, enforced a phony “neutrality” embargo, denying Republican troops needed munitions. Despite organized demonstrations and appeals to which Einstein lent his name, the blockade was never lifted and the fascist regime imposed on Spain survived (with postwar U.S. aid) for nearly four decades. Nearly 3,000 American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade defied their government to fight with the Republic, with Einstein an early and zealous supporter.
In 1939, at the urging of the physicist and fellow refugee from the Nazis, Leo Szilard, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt to warn about German advances in nuclear research and the prospect that they might develop an atomic weapon. The letter led to the U.S. effort to build such a bomb. It remains Einstein’s most remembered public act. However, a combination of government fear of Einstein’s radicalism and his own reluctance kept Einstein from having any role in the Manhattan Project.
After the war, Einstein protested the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fred Jerome cites a 1946 interview with the London Sunday Express, in which Einstein “blamed the atomic bombing of Japan on [President] Truman’s anti-Soviet foreign policy” and expressed the opinion that “if FDR had lived through the war, Hiroshima would never have been bombed.” Jerome notes that the interview was immediately added to Einstein’s growing FBI file.
The early postwar years were marked by a manipulated anticommunist frenzy in government and business circles to support U.S. international and domestic goals. Manhattan Project scientists, who had earlier debated the use of the bomb in the months between Germany’s defeat in May 1945 and the Hiroshima bombing in August, were well versed in the issues the bomb raised. Many feared a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. To lobby against that prospect, they founded the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), which Einstein agreed to chair. In that role, Einstein sought first to try to meet with Secretary of State George C. Marshall to discuss what he saw as the militarist expansion of U.S. power. He was rebuffed, but in an interview with a mid-level Atomic Energy Commission official he described Truman’s foreign policy as anti-Soviet expansionism—Pax Americana were the words he used to describe what he saw as U.S. imperial ambition. There was a substantial public response to ECAS’s antinuclear message, but, in the end, the group was unable to reach its goal of removing atomic development from the military and placing it under international control.
Another major political concern of Einstein in the 1940s was the persistence of racism, segregation, lynching, and other manifestations of white supremacy in the United States. During the war, the country had been mobilized to support the war effort, both on the battlefield and the home front with the promise of equality. In fact, however, the official message on racial justice was, at best, mixed. FDR set up a Fair Employment Practices Committee, an entity with much promise but with little power to affect discrimination in the work place. And the eleven million member-strong military remained segregated. In the aftermath of the war, economic dislocations, job shifts, and housing shortages were all dealt with in the usual Jim Crow manner: in the words of Leadbelly’s song “if you’re black, get back, get back, get back.”
The town of Princeton, New Jersey, where Einstein lived (and for that matter, its university), though only a short drive from New York, might well have been in the old southern Confederacy. Paul Robeson, who was born in Princeton, called it a “Georgia plantation town.” Access to housing, jobs, and the university itself (once led by the segregationist Woodrow Wilson) were routinely denied to African Americans; protest or defiance were often met with police violence. Einstein, who had witnessed similar scenes in Germany and who, in any event was a longtime anti-racism militant, reacted against every outrage. In 1937, when the contralto Marion Anderson gave a critically acclaimed concert in Princeton but was denied lodging at the segregated Nassau Inn, Einstein, who had attended the performance, instantly invited her to stay at his house. She did so, and continued to be his guest whenever she sang in New Jersey, even after the hotel was integrated.
In 1946, in the face of a major nationwide wave of lynching, Paul Robeson invited Einstein to join him as co-chair of the American Crusade to End Lynching. The group, which also included W. E. B. Du Bois and others in the civil rights movement, held a rally in Washington at which Einstein was scheduled to speak. Illness prevented that, but he wrote a letter to President Truman calling for prosecution of lynchers, passage of a federal anti-lynching law, and the ouster of racist Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo. The letter was delivered by Robeson, but the meeting was cut short when he told Truman that if the government would not protect blacks they would have to do so themselves. An uproar followed, but Einstein, in his letter, agreed with Robeson, writing, “There is always a way to overcome legal obstacles whenever there is an inflexible will at work in the service of a just cause.”
Einstein was willing to use his fame on behalf of social justice, but steadfastly refused to accept honors his celebrity might have brought his way. There was one exception, however. In May 1946, Horace Mann Bond, president of Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania, awarded the scientist an honorary degree. Einstein, accepted, spending the day lecturing to undergraduates and talking, even playing, with faculty children. One of them was Julian Bond, then the young son of the university’s president, who later went on to be a leader in the civil rights movement and is now chair of the NAACP. The press ignored the event, but, in his address Einstein said, “The social outlook of Americans…their sense of equality and human dignity is limited to men of white skins. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape complicity in it only by speaking out.”
That impulse to political commitment led Einstein to take action on both the domestic crisis in race relations and the simultaneous Cold War-fostered nuclear menace. It also led him to support the new Progressive Party along with his old compatriot Thomas Mann and his friend and neighbor Ben Shahn—famed for his paintings on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, among many others with political themes. The party, formed by the left wing of Roosevelt’s old New Deal coalition, including radicals, socialists, and communists, was established as a vehicle to run former vice president Henry A. Wallace for president in 1948. Einstein especially admired the party’s stand against Jim Crow and lent it his prestige and endorsement, being photographed with Wallace and fellow third party supporter Paul Robeson. The latter two campaigning in the South, despite violent attacks on them, refused to appear before segregated audiences or stay in Jim Crow hotels. With Einstein’s support, Wallace also called for the international control and outlawing of nuclear weapons. In the end, however, a mix of anti-Soviet jingoism and Truman’s belated promises of liberal, New Deal-type social programs caused the collapse of the Wallace movement. Truman’s surprise reelection removed whatever barriers to the accelerating Cold War and the ideological repression that accompanied it.
Some among Wallace’s supporters chafed at his party’s failure to move beyond New Deal liberalism. They thought the party should have taken explicitly socialist positions on questions like public ownership of basic industries, for example. Among those who held such views were Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, founders of this magazine as a venue for ongoing comprehensive analysis and commentary from a socialist and Marxist perspective. Einstein applauded the founding of Monthly Review, and, at the request of Huberman’s friend Otto Nathan, wrote his essay, Why Socialism?, for the first issue in May 1949. Together with Einstein’s celebrity, the article’s clear statement of the case for socialism in logical, moral, and political terms drew attention to the birth of this small left-wing magazine.* In the hostile political climate of that time, the article surely provided necessary encouragement both to the authority and the circulation of this magazine.
At the end of the Second World War Einstein was also drawn to the crisis of European Jewry following the Nazi genocide. Self-identified as a secular Jew, at least since his first encounters with anti-Semitism as a child, he was an intimate observer and intermittent victim of this ultra-nationalist disease and reacted to it as he did to other hate crimes. As early as 1921, when he made his first trip to the United States to raise funds for the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine, he sought solutions to the impending catastrophe confronting Europe’s Jewish community. He resisted growing legal and extra-legal restrictions on Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, supported (with little success) Jewish migration to the Americas, and advocated for the creation of what he and others called a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. As such he was identified with Zionism, a label that does not precisely fit but that he did not actively avoid. Nonetheless, he separated himself from Zionist jingoists and bigots including Vladimir Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, and often from mainstream Zionists like Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion. In 1930, Einstein wrote, “Oppressive nationalism must be conquered…I can see a future for Palestine only on the basis of peaceful cooperation between the two peoples who are at home in the country…come together they must in spite of all.” He went on to support a binational Jewish and Palestinian state both before and after the war.
In 1946, with hundreds of thousands of European Jews still “displaced” and with the victorious allies unwilling to absorb even a portion of the refugee population, Einstein appeared before an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, calling for a “Jewish homeland.” The Zionist establishment seemed to have intentionally misread this as a call for Jewish sovereignty, so with help from his friend Rabbi Stephen Wise, he clarified his position. Jews, he said, should be able to migrate freely within the limits of the economic absorptive possibilities of Palestine, which in turn should have a government that made sure there was no “‘Majorisation’ of one group by the other.” Resisting Wise’s demands for a more forceful statement, Einstein replied that a “rigid demand for a Jewish State will have only undesirable results for us.” Radical journalist I. F. Stone praised him for rising above “ethnic limitations.” (Einstein later became a charter subscriber to I. F. Stone’s Weekly.)
Nevertheless, like many Jewish radicals—including many socialists and communists—Einstein had difficulty overcoming his emotional ambivalence about the Zionist project and ultimately applauded Israel’s establishment. Given the often inconsistent response of some radicals to Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians after the 1967 war, it is difficult to guess how he would have responded. But he was clearly concerned with the implications of Jewish settlement on indigenous Palestinians; it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that he would have been appalled by the four decades of oppression of the latter by Israel.
The mid-century “red scare” occupied much of Einstein’s last years. He wrote, “The German calamity of years ago repeats itself.” Watching Americans lose themselves in the suburbia- and Korean War-driven affluence of the early 1950s, Einstein deplored the fact that “honest people [in the United States] constitute a hopeless minority.” But determined to fight back he looked for a forum—and found one in a reply to a 1953 letter from a New York City school teacher who had been fired for his refusal to discuss his politics and name names before a Senate investigating committee. Einstein wrote to William Frauenglass, an innovative teacher who prepared intercultural lessons for his English classes as a way of overcoming prejudicial stereotypes. Einstein exhorted “Every intellectual who is called before the committees ought to refuse to testify…If enough people are ready to take this grave step, they will be successful. If not, then the intellectuals deserve nothing better than the slavery which is intended for them.” The letter was national front-page news and had its desired effect. The movement to resist the witch hunt grew stronger. Einstein was supported by voices as distant as that of philosopher Bertrand Russell, who wrote to the New York Times from London when they published an editorial disagreeing with Einstein, “Do you condemn the Christian Martyrs who refuse to sacrifice to the Emperor? Do you condemn John Brown?”
Shortly after the Frauenglass affair, another unfriendly witness, Al Shadowitz, told Senator McCarthy that he was refusing to testify saying “I take my advice from Doctor Einstein.” McCarthy went ballistic, but, ultimately, the contagion spread both to the Supreme Court, which in 1957 put the brakes on the red hunters (one of the cases involved MR founder Paul Sweezy) and to young New Left students who, beginning in 1960, began to literally break up committee hearings, often with caustic satire and ridicule. It was only ten years after Einstein’s letter that Martin Luther King Jr. also employed civil disobedience to fuel the modern civil rights movement.
In 1954, in response to the denial of security clearance to his colleague, the wartime leader of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other violations of the freedom of scientific inquiry, Einstein wrote, with typical humor, that if he were young again, “I would not try to be a scientist or scholar or teacher, I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler, in the hope of finding that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.”
Einstein also undertook other, more difficult and potentially more dangerous political acts.
Perhaps none attracted as much international attention as his effort to intervene in the case against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In 1953, Einstein wrote to trial Judge Irving Kauffman pointing out that the trial record did not establish the defendants’ guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He also noted that the scientific evidence against them, even if accurate, did not reveal any vital secret. When he received no response, he wrote to the president with his views. Truman also did not respond, so Einstein released the text of his letter to the media and later wrote to the New York Times asking for executive clemency. Tragically, in this circumstance, Einstein’s celebrity was to no avail. The Rosenbergs died in Sing Sing’s electric chair on June 19.
Two years earlier, in 1951, when his friend W. E. B. Du Bois was indicted for his pro-peace activities on the trumped up charge of being a “Soviet agent,” Einstein, along with Robeson and civil rights heroine Mary McLeod Bethune, sponsored a dinner and rally to raise funds for Du Bois’s defense. Du Bois’s lawyer, the fiery radical ex-Congressman Vito Marcantonio, managed to reduce the trial to a shambles even before the prosecution had finished its case. But had the trial continued, Marcantonio planned to call Einstein as the first defense witness.
Perhaps no one had been more pilloried or isolated during the “red scare” than Einstein’s great ally from the struggle against lynching, Paul Robeson. Attacked as much for his militant stands against white supremacy as for his radicalism and his call for pan-African independence, Robeson had become a virtual non-person in his own country, denied an income, venues for concerts, and the right to travel. In 1952, in a very public act to break the curtain of silence around Robeson, Einstein invited him and his accompanist Lloyd Brown to lunch. The three spent a long afternoon discussing science, music, and politics, all subjects of mutual interest. At one point, when Robeson left the room, Brown remarked about what an honor it was to be in the presence of such a great man. To which Einstein replied, “but it is you who have brought the great man.”
Einstein’s last years were taken up with both private and public acts of resistance. He used his still considerable network of acquaintance and influence to try to find jobs for those, who, like Frauenglass and others, who had been fired for non-cooperation with investigating committees. And in 1954 he permitted the celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday to be the occasion for a conference on civil liberties fight-back by the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC). The committee had been formed in response to the failure of the American Civil Liberties Union to defend Communists and to take on civil liberties questions raised by the Rosenberg case. The conference, with speakers including I. F. Stone, astronomer and activist Harlow Shapley, sociologists E. Franklin Frazier and Henry Pratt Fairchild, and political scientist H. H. Wilson, launched ECLC on a forty-six-year trajectory defending freedom of expression, the rights of labor, and multifaceted campaigns for civil rights.
It is difficult to know how to conclude this brief and necessarily incomplete summary of Einstein’s politics. Not discussed here, for example, are Einstein’s lifelong commitments to pacifism and to some sort of world order, nor his long association with the physicist and Marxist Leopold Infeld. Einstein was also deeply committed, as were a number of other left-wing scientists, to mass education in the sciences as a tool against obscurantism and mystical pseudo-science, often used then—and again today—in aid of political and social reaction.
Days before he died on April 18, 1955, Einstein signed what became known as The Einstein-Russell Manifesto. In it, the theoretical physicist and the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell, go beyond vague moral arguments for pacifism. Instead they posed political choices: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”
Einstein was a radical from his student days until his dying breath. In the last year of his life, ruminating about the political affairs of the day and his world outlook, he told a friend that he remained a “revolutionary,” and was still a “fire-belching Vesuvius.”
Note on Sources and Suggested Further Reading
Fred Jerome, The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist (New York: Saint Martin’s Press/Griffin, 2002); see also Fred Jerome, “The Hidden Half-Life of Albert Einstein: Anti-Racism,” in Socialism and Democracy 18, no. 2 (http://www.sdonline.org/33/fred_jerome.htm).
Jerome’s important work uses the huge FBI-compiled file on Einstein, not only to expose Hoover’s machinations as well as the covert mechanisms and techniques of character assassination, but as a vehicle to introduce readers to the much hidden activist radical and socialist the scientist was. Forthcoming in July is Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor, Einstein On Race And Racism (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press).
Two useful biographies are: Jeremy Bernstein, Einstein (New York: Viking Press, 1973); and Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (New York: Avon Books, 1984), the standard biography, but with almost no mention of Einstein’s politics other than Zionism.
Books by Einstein for the general reader include: Ideas and Opinions (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995); The World As I See It(New York: Citadel Press, 1993); Out of My Later Years (New York: Gramercy Books, 1993); and (with Leopold Infeld) The Evolution of Physics (New York: Free Press, 1967), still the most accessible and the best description of the progression from Newtonian to modern quantum mechanics and relativity.
* This narrative makes extensive use of research and insights found in Jerome’s book (its full title is The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist [New York: Saint Martin’s Press/Griffin, 2002]), for which this writer is grateful.
* This article has been frequently reprinted in Monthly Review over the last half-century and can be found on the MR website at http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.php.
The Man Who Wouldn’t Die November 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in History, Labor, Uncategorized.
Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, dick meister, history, industrial unions, Industrial workers, iww, joe hill, labor, labor activism, labor history, labor strikes, labour, labour history, labour rights, roger hollander, socialism, trade unions, union activism, union organizing, unions, wobblies, workers, working class
Today marks the 94th anniversary of labor hero Joe Hill’s death by firing squad. (Photo: david_axe / flickr)
Thursday 19 November 2009
by: Dick Meister, t r u t h o u t | Report
It’s November 19, 1915, in a courtyard of the Utah State Penitentiary in Salt Lake City. Five riflemen take careful aim at a condemned organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Joe Hill, who stands before them straight and stiff and proud.
“Fire!” he shouts defiantly.
The firing squad didn’t miss. But Joe Hill, as the folk ballad says, “ain’t never died.” On this 94th anniversary, he lives on as one of the most enduring and influential of American symbols.
Joe Hill’s story is that of a labor martyr framed for murder by viciously anti-labor employer and government forces, a man who never faltered in fighting for the rights of the oppressed, who never faltered in his attempts to bring them together for the collective action essential if they were to overcome their wealthy and powerful oppressors.
His is the story of a man and an organization destroyed by government opposition, yet immensely successful. As historian Joyce Kornbluh noted, the IWW made “an indelible mark on the American labor movement and American society,” laying the groundwork for mass unionization, inspiring the formation of groups to protect the civil liberties of dissidents, prompting prison and farm labor reforms, and leaving behind “a genuine heritage … industrial democracy.”
Joe Hill’s story is the story of, perhaps, the greatest of all folk poets, whose simple, satirical rhymes set to simple, familiar melodies did so much to focus working people on the common body of ideals needed to forge them into a collective force.
Remember? “You will eat, bye and bye/In that glorious land above the sky/Work and Pray, live on hay/You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”
Ralph Chaplain, the IWW bard who wrote “Solidarity Forever,” found Hill’s songs “as coarse as homespun and as fine as silk; full of laughter and keen-edged satire; full of fine rage and finer tenderness; songs of and for the worker, written in the only language he can understand.”
Joe Hill’s story is the story of a man who saw with unusual clarity the unjust effects of the political, social and economic system on working people and whose own widely publicized trial and execution alerted people worldwide to the injustices and spurred them into corrective action.
It’s the story of a man who told his IWW comrades, just before stepping in front of the firing squad: “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize!”
Hill’s comrades aimed at nothing less than organizing all workers into One Big Union regardless of their race, nationality, craft or work skills, calling a general strike and wresting control of the economy from its capitalist masters. The revolutionary message was presented in the simple language of the workplace, in the songs of Hill, Chaplain, and others, in the street corner oratory and in a tremendous outpouring of publications, including a dozen foreign-language newspapers, which were distributed among the many unskilled immigrants from European nations where unions had similar goals.
Workers were told again and again that they all had the same problems, the same needs and faced the same enemy. It was they who did the work, while others got the profit; they were members, all of them, of the working class. To aspire to middle-class status, as the established labor movement advocated, would mean competing against their fellow workers and chaining themselves to a system that enslaved them.
Organized religion also was a tool of enslavement, to keep the worker’s eye on that “pie in the sky” while he was being exploited in this world. Patriotism was a ruse to set the workers of one nation against those of another for the profit of capitalist manipulators.
IWW organizers carried the message to factories, mines, mills and lumber camps throughout the country, and to farms in the Midwest and California.
The cause of radical unionism to which Joe Hill devoted his life was lost a long time ago. The call to revolution is scarcely heard in today’s clamorously capitalist society. Labor organizations seek not to seize control of the means of production, but rather to share in the fruits of an economic system controlled by others. Yet, Joe Hill’s fiery words and fiery deeds, his courage and his sacrifices continue to inspire political, labor, civil rights and civil liberties activists.
They still sing his songs, striking workers, dissident students, and others, on picket lines, in demonstrations, at rallies, on the streets and in auditoriums. They echo his spirit of protest and militancy, his demand for true equality, share his fervent belief in solidarity, even use tactics first employed by Hill and his comrades.
Hill emigrated to the United States from his native Sweden in 1902, changing his name from Joel Haaglund, working as a seaman and as an itinerant wheat harvester, pipe layer, copper miner, and at other jobs as he made his way across the country to San Diego, translating into compelling lyrics the hopes and desires, the frustrations and discontents of his fellow workers.
In San Diego, Hill joined in one of the first of the many “free speech fights” waged by the Industrial Workers of the World against attempts by municipal authorities around the country to silence the street corner oratory that was a key part of the IWW’s organizing strategy.
Not long afterward, Hill hopped a freight for Salt Lake City where he helped lead a successful construction workers’ strike and began helping organize another free speech fight. But within a month, he was arrested on charges of shooting to death a grocer and his son and was immediately branded guilty by the local newspapers and authorities alike. Ultimately, Hill was convicted on only the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence.
Hill had staggered into a doctor’s office within an hour after the shootings, bleeding from a chest wound that he said had stemmed from a quarrel over a woman. The prosecutor argued that the wound was inflicted by the grocer in response to an attack by Hill, although he did not introduce into evidence either the grocer’s gun or the bullet that allegedly was fired from it. He did not introduce the gun that Hill allegedly used and did not call a single witness who could positively identify Hill as the killer. But he easily convinced the jury that the murders were an example of IWW terrorism and that since Hill was an IWW leader and had been arrested and charged with the crime, he was guilty.
As Hill’s futile appeals made their way through the courts, Gov. William Spry of Utah was swamped with thousands of petitions and letters from all over the world asking for a pardon or commutation. But he would not even be swayed by the pleas for mercy from the Swedish ambassador. Not even by the pleas of US President Woodrow Wilson.
The governor paid much greater attention to the views of Utah’s powerful Mormon Church leaders and powerful employer interests, particularly those who controlled the state’s dominant copper mining industry. They insisted that the man they considered one of the most dangerous radicals in the country be put to death.
Joe Hill’s body was shipped to Chicago, where it was cremated after a hero’s funeral, the ashes divided up and sent to IWW locals for scattering on the winds in every state except Utah. Hill, with typical grim humor, had declared, “I don’t want to be caught dead in Utah.”
Even in death, Hill was not safe from the government. One packet of his ashes, sent belatedly to an IWW organizer in 1917 for scattering in Chicago, was seized by postal inspectors. They acted under the Espionage Act, passed after the United States entered World War I that year, which made it illegal to mail any material that advocated “treason, insurrection. or forcible resistance to any law of the United States.”
The envelope, containing about a tablespoon of Hill’s ashes, was sent to the National Archives in Washington, DC. It remained hidden there until 1988, when it was discovered and turned over in Chicago to the men who presided over what little remained of the Industrial Workers of the World, shrunken to only a few hundred members.
The post office apparently had objected to the caption beneath a photo of Hill on the front of the envelope. “Joe Hill,” it said – “murdered by the capitalist class, November 19, 1915.”
G20 Protesters ‘Will Try to Bring London to Standstill’ March 21, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Economic Crisis.
Tags: anti-capitalism, climate change, Economic Crisis, england, G20, global financial crisis, jerome taylor, london, mark hughes, political protest, protest, revolt, roger hollander, scotland yard, summit, tibet, tibetan activists, world leaders
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Published on Saturday, March 21, 2009 by Independent/UK
Police fear anti-capitalist groups will seek violent confrontation on streets
by By Mark Hughes and Jerome Taylor
But their presence is expected to encourage a large number of protests, with scores of activists from an array of different causes determined to generate publicity from demonstrations around the event.
The majority of protest groups have promised to demonstrate peacefully, but there are fears anarchist and hardcore anti-capitalists from Britain and abroad will try to fight police in pitched battles reminiscent of the anarchist riots of the late 1990s which caused millions of pounds of damage.
Senior officers at Scotland Yard say they are aware of several groups which plan to converge on the City of London financial district to cause blockades, and attempt to get inside major banks including the Bank of England.
One organizer is believed to be a senior lecturer at the University of East London. Some groups are said to be considering filling roads with sand and then sending children to play in it, making it impossible for police officers to forcibly remove them.
An anti-capitalist umbrella group calling itself “G20 – Meltdown in the City” has promised to “storm” banks and target many of the luxury hotels where world leaders will stay.
Climate change campaigners will also concentrate their protests within the Square Mile where they intend to hold one of their ubiquitous Climate Change Camps. Previous camps have been held at Heathrow and outside Kingsnorth power station in Kent, but this time thousands of activists will descend on the City in the week up to the three-day summit.
The Independent has learnt small “commando” groups of environmental activists are planning high profile publicity protests, similar to the Parliament rooftop protests last year.
One climate change activist, who has been arrested on numerous protests, said yesterday: “With so much media attention and so many world leaders coming to town next week I can guarantee there will be all sorts of groups looking to perform an array of exciting direct action stunts.
“I just hope the action won’t take the form of throwing things at the police as that gets us nowhere.”
Tibetan activists from around the world will also use the G20 to protest against the continuing crackdown in Tibet, where scores of people have been killed and arrested by Chinese forces since widespread rioting and protests broke out last year. The G20 meeting takes place at the ExCel center in Docklands, and the Metropolitan Police plan to use a marine unit to prevent attempts by protesters to infiltrate the site by boat.
More than 10,000 officers’ shifts will be used in the operation, which will cost the Met at least £7.2m, although £4.7m of this money would have been spent regardless of where the officers were patrolling.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Scotland Yard Commissioner, said: “G20 is a huge challenge for the Met. Quite clearly the notice for this event is less than one would normally have, but I think we are in extraordinary times and that has led to an extraordinary event.”
Commander Bob Broadhurst is in charge of the security operation – one of the biggest the Met has ever mounted. All police leave has been canceled for the duration of the summit and officers from six forces are working to second guess “innovative” protesters determined to evade traditional security arrangements.
“We have to be flexible and mobile,” he said. “These are innovative people and we must be innovative as well.
“They are very clever people and they understand our tactics and will try to outsmart us. I have encouraged officers to try to think about what these people might try and do and hopefully we will have something to mitigate that. It will be an exciting couple of days to say the least.”