From the January 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
Professor Einstein has submitted to be interviewed by the "New Leader." In their usual extravagance of style, they speak of him as "the maker of an universe"; quoting Bernard Shaw they say “he is one of the eight greatest men in the world, the men who were makers of universes.” Is this the modern method of creating new gods? Are we to blame Einstein and the other seven for all the rottenness in the universe of to-day? After all language should express truth, and there is a wide difference between making a universe and explaining aspects of it.
On the other hand, Einstein cannot be held responsible for the pompous exaggeration of the "New Leader.” Possibly he sees the fraudulent nature of their propaganda, but is unwilling to commit himself to a scientifically reasoned socialism which would shock a ruling class that is daily according him high honours. Charles Darwin found himself similarly placed when his biological theory of evolution made the Adam and Eve story look silly. His concern was the acquirement of knowledge for the human race, and when freethinkers and Christians engaged in an embittered controversy, he covered himself by remarking that the Christian could accept the new explanation of the world and still keep his god, who breathed into a dead world the spirit of evolution that works without further interference on his part.
The parallel between Einstein and Darwin is not quite perfect. In Darwin’s day practically the whole ruling-class was ranged on the side of the clergy and against the freethinkers. If Darwin had expressed sympathy with their outlook he would have been socially ostracised. To-day a party that sometimes calls itself socialist is actually governing the country and the "New Leader" is a weekly organ of the party whose members are carrying on the business of government in the interest of the ruling-class. Consequently Professor Einstein has nothing to fear as a result of association with the Labour Party.
No one, to-day, is afraid to call himself a socialist, because in the minds of most people the name is associated with a government that is, in the capitalist sense, just as respectable, orthodox and even conservative as any of its predecessors.
Consequently there is nothing remarkable in the fact that Einstein finds himself politically in agreement with the Labour Party and the "New Leader," for the Labour Party is not antagonistic to the capitalist system of society.
Professor Einstein agreed to answer certain questions put by a representative of the "New Leader.” The first question was:
"What in your view is likely to be the influence of scientific discovery on social progress?"
His answer was (“New Leader" 7th Nov.):
"The effect of the progress of science is to liberate human beings from sheer muscular effort and thus to render possible the participation of everyone in the social and intellectual life of the human race." (Our italics.)
Note the cautious phrasing of the portion in italics. Participation is rendered possible, but no suggestion of its becoming a certainty. He did not even tell the "New Leader" that it rests with the working-class to make it a certainty.
The next question, "as to whether or not the influence of scientific discovery would give capitalism a new era of greater stability and power,” failed to draw the Professor, who dexterously intimated “that it was not sufficiently clear what conception of capitalism was in the mind of the questioner."
Evidently the Professor is aware of the confusion that is characteristic of the "New Leader" when it attempts to explain social systems, either present or future. His refusal to be drawn compelled the ”New Leader" to put an alternative question, which reads:
"Whether or not the enormous extension of human power over natural resources is likely to compel the abandonment of concentrated private ownership and control of industrial processes and their substitution by forms of communal ownership and control?"
Einstein’s reply was :
"Science has furnished us with little information on this subject. The experience of history is, however, to the effect that an ever-increasing number of economic organisations have become public property or have been placed under public control. The concentration of large-scale industry which is an economic necessity brings about the imposition of public control."
The “New Leader" heralds this reply as "support for the socialist case for public control of industry,” a glaring example of their confusion over the term socialism. Public control means nationalisation, or collective control by the capitalist class, as we see it in the Post Office. The case for socialism is the case for a system of society where all the means of wealth-production and distribution are owned by the people and controlled democratically by them for their mutual benefit.
The two things socialism and nationalisation are totally different, in complete opposition to each other. To write, therefore, of the socialist case for public control, is like talking of the socialist case for capitalism, which would be just as nonsensical as the administration of capitalist affairs by a socialist government.
It will be seen that Einstein in his reply to the last question confined himself to the economic side of it; concentration is an economic necessity which brings about public control, i.e., a further economic necessity. Capitalism may develop one economic necessity after another indefinitely, but it can never develop socialism which implies a political revolution.
Socialism is unthinkable to the capitalist class, something utterly impracticable and unjustifiable. To a class that has been in possession for generations, the idea of common ownership is abhorrent. To-day they will not even admit the possibility of it. When they are forced to recognise it as an alternative to their own system, they will use all the forces at their disposal to hinder its advance.
Politicians and business men at present prefer, or pretend, to believe with the Labour Party, that socialism means the same thing as nationalisation. But nationalisation is a purely capitalist reform. Its chief object is to equalise the conditions of exploitation for capitalist competitors. Moreover, nationalisation has always been the work of capitalist statesmen and groups. It was not through the demands of the working-class that railways were nationalised in Germany, or the telegraphs and telephones in England, or, in fact, any of the services or industries that are common all over the capitalist world.
The workers gain nothing by nationalisation. Their status is unchanged. The capitalists still control the means of wealth production and guarantee the profits to themselves. They still compel the workers to sell their energy for wages that barely cover the cost of living.
Professor Einstein, in his replies to the "New Leader,” indicated that the tendency was for an ever-increasing number of economic organisations, or industries, to become state controlled. What of it? It does not need to be one of the world’s greatest eight to see actual events or tendencies. Einstein's reputation is very largely built up on the discovery of a theory which neither he nor anyone else has been able to make intelligible to the average man. "The progress of science,” he says, "liberates human beings from sheer muscular effort.” True, but it is liberation from the frying-pan of bewildering competition and endless toil into the flames of a burning desire for a normal life. With the progress of such liberation, instead of "the participation of everyone in the social and intellectual life of the human race,” the numbers tend to become restricted to the parasite class and a group of professional scientists, politicians and other time-servers.
The economic platitudes that Einstein voiced can be left to work themselves out, with or without help from the capitalist class, whom alone they concern. Concentration of industry, huge industrial corporations and nationalisation, while they affect the worker, often adversely, are not his concern. He cannot under capitalism retard or hasten movements that are purely economic. They result from the normal development of the capitalist system.
We say the worker who sells his labour-power continuously is fortunate. He is fortunate compared with the unemployed man. But does the fact of his holding a job make it possible for him to "participate in the social and intellectual life of the human race ”? Not much! He may occasionally wonder what it is like to be free from continuous toil, to have all his wants satisfied and to have the time and means to indulge in the every-day pastimes of the well-to-do. But the sordid nature of his contact with society lies always subconsciously at the back of his mind. Condemned to sell his energy in competition with his fellow workers, seeing himself always as something cheap, one out of millions who are thankful for half a loaf. Society can do without him, there are plenty to take his place. A whim of the overseer, a slump in the market, or a change in the habits of his fellow-workers may turn him into a waster. Capitalist production is carried on for profit, and in the process capitalists care less for the millions of human wasters thrown aside than for the obsolete machinery they are forced to scrap.
Einstein may be the greatest of living scientists. The problem before the working-class may be child's play to him, but he dare not reason out the solution for them. What is more, the "New Leader" did not ask him to do so.