Friday, 26 May 2017

Einstein the Marxist.


Life Magazine, April 5, 1949 (source)
My post "Scientific Socialism: a Primer" (April 22nd) earned me a little off-line ear pull.

I wrote then that Albert Einstein's essay "Why Socialism?", published originally in the first issue of the Marxist journal "Monthly Review" was a good primer on Marxism. In my opinion, the fact that Einstein's article appeared in 1949 -- during the opening stages of McCarthyism -- together with its content and Einstein's support for the new publication revealed his civic courage and also justified considering him a Marxist, regardless of whether he ever used that adjective to describe himself.

My critic and friend (who shall remain anonymous) had no problem with any of that. His point -- and a very good point it was -- was that whether Einstein ever openly used the adjective Marxist to describe himself or not, his anti-Communist contemporaries had no qualms describing him as such. It turns out, he argued, Einstein had a lengthy FBI dossier (eventually reaching between 1.4 and 1.8 thousand pages).

I didn't know that. As my friend pointed out, a few years back Fred Jerome's "The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist" (2002) created some sensation.

The main charge the FBI and mainstream media levelled against Einstein? That he was a Marxist/anarchist. Here are the links to the FBI vault and to Jerome's website.

The first allegations against Einstein came long before "Why Socialism?" was published. Part 1 of the FBI release contains a long letter from one Harriet A. Frothingham (signing as Mrs. Randolph Frothingham), president of The Woman Patriot Corporation. Frothingham requests Einstein be denied an entry visa to the US and it was received by the FBI on December 1st, 1932, weeks before Hitler was appointed chancellor.

The letter contains many eccentric claims. One of the most bizarre is that Einstein supposedly was at the same time a German agent covering up for German militarism, and a Moscow agent. (For the scientifically-minded among my readers, I'll leave another for last).

To make a long story short and leaving out the kookier bits, according to the letter, Einstein was a peace and anti-fascist activist (which he certainly was, together with an anti-racist), who may have associated himself with individuals/organisations accused of Marxism. While hopefully modern readers would demand more and better evidence before condemning a man, to infer from that Einstein's Marxism is less absurd than it sounds: pacifism and anti-fascism (to say nothing of anti-racism) are causes Marxists share.

An altogether separate question is whether anyone should be ashamed of embracing those causes.

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Apparently, Frothingham considered herself a qualified theoretical physicist:
"Neither is Albert Einstein subject to exclusion by reason of his frequently revised theory of 'relativity' which, even if true, is of no more practical importance than the answer to the old academic riddle, 'how many angels can stand on the point of a needle if angels do not occupy space'."
And the thing is, that bit wasn't enough to discredit her before the FBI.

Paraphrasing that fictional FBI Special Agent: "They want to believe". Isn't it true, Prof. Little?

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