Saturday, May 6, 2017

From the archives: Time's "Person of the Century" Einstein coverup

[Seeing a picture of Albert Einstein featured on the Facebook page of my libertarian friend Jorge El Malo reminded me I've been meaning to repost this. I originally wrote it on December 28, 1999, four days before the end of the last century.]

Time magazine's "Person of the Century" issue gives a great example of the mendacity of bourgeois journalism.

TIME 'forgot' he was a socialist
Albert Einstein was selected for the honor as representative of "the explosion of scientific and technical knowledge," although a reading of the issue makes clear he won by default; for the real theme of the issue is set out boldly enough in the lead essay, "who mattered and why," under the subtitle, "the century of democracy."

"If you had to describe the century's geopolitics in one sentence," Time says, "it could be a short one: Freedom won. Free minds and free markets prevailed over fascism and communism."

(It probably did not occur to Time's editors that, from the point of view of the vast majority of the human race, this was the century of the anticolonial revolution, an unfinished revolution because although the colonial powers have been driven out, most of these countries remain victims of imperialism through neo colonial regimes and the world market. But never mind.)

One would have thought, then, that the Person of the Century would have been some outstanding political representative of capital; in fact, when Time chose its man of the half century, they picked Winston Churchill, not Einstein, though by then Einstein had already produced the papers that would revolutionize science and the most famous result of his theories, the equivalence between matter and energy, had already been put to practical use in the atom bomb.

And (in my opinion) Churchill is without doubt the outstanding imperialist leader of the century; that fate made him also the last hurrah of a dying empire and not the leader of a rising power makes his achievements in being and important player in World War I, the master imperialist strategist of the winning side in World War II, as well as the progenitor of the Cold War all the more impressive.

But for the American chauvinists at Time, the fact that he was English served to disqualify him; that, and the fact that Churchill was an undisguised racist, male chauvinist, scab-herder and strike breaker. He was, as I said, an outstanding representative of his class, but the capitalist press is nothing if not hypocritical. Time calls him instead "a romantic refugee from a previous era who ended up on the wrong side of history."

So Time's preferred political candidate was Franklin Roosevelt. However, the case for Roosevelt is hard to make. Time recognizes that it was the War Deal, not the New one, that rescued American capitalism from the depression, and, as a war leader, suffice it to say he was incapable of mobilizing the country for a conflict he knew was inevitable until the Japanese devastated the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Time introduces a third century theme with their rejection of Churchill, which is that this was "the century of civil rights," by which they mean "the ability of courageous individuals to resist authority in order to secure their civil rights." This theme is of course 100% phony. The 20th Century has been marked, among other things, by the struggles of masses of people against various aspects of capitalist oppression and exploitation. But it was not AT ALL, despite Time's assertion, the result of "courageous individuals" like Mahatma Gandhi (their runner up Person of the Century in this category), Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.

India and many other colonies won their freedom thanks, not to Gandhi's tactics, but to masses of people the world over taking advantage of the complete exhaustion of the British, French, Belgians, etc., in the Second World War, as is obvious from the fact that Britain lost virtually every one of her other colonies, too. It was the massive upsurge of people all over the semicolonial world, and most powerfully in China, that put an end to direct colonialism.

Gandhi is rejected, ostensibly because he was quite a weird, eccentric bird, but mostly, I believe, because Time's editors choked at even such an indirect and distorted recognition of the power of popular struggles.

Hence Einstein, as representative of the scientific and technological revolution, wound up with the nod. And if you had to pick a seminal scientific figure of this century, certainly Einstein would top most lists, not only for his own accomplishments, but because his theory of relativity, as even Time noticed, reflected the spirit of an age that was rejecting absolute truths and eternal verities.

But in picking Einstein, the Time editors stumbled across a problem. Einstein was certainly a champion of "free minds" which is precisely why he opposed "free markets." He was an enemy of the capitalist witch-hunt, capitalist racism, the capitalist arms race and of capitalism.

His 1949 Monthly Review essay, Why Socialism, was not only an act of tremendous courage in face of the ferocious anticommunist hysteria of those years. It also reveals someone who has thought deeply about social questions, and who was profoundly influenced by another German Jewish professor who also spent his later years in exile, Karl Marx.

Einstein frontally attacks capitalism not just as an irrational system, but an anti-human one, a system which pits human beings against their own creation, society. He lays bare the essence of capitalist exploitation, which is that the capitalist pays for one thing --human labor power-- but receives another, the product of human labor, and thus the worker is forever enriching the capitalist at his own expense.

In its articles on him, Time is effusive in its praise, calling him "the century's greatest thinker" a "genius among geniuses" and so on and so forth. How to deal, then, with this mental Hercules's thoughts about society? Gingerly, of course.

He is described as a "humanist and internationalist" who advocated "gentle pacifism," a "political idealist" with a "deep moral sense" and "humane and democratic instincts" who, towards the end of his life, "was a soft touch for almost any worthy cause." What Time does not say, of course, is that Einstein was a socialist.

1 comment:

  1. a small (and pedantic) point: Karl Marx was never a professor, except, perhaps, extra-curricularly.