Einstein and Landau: Scientific geniuses as well as ... anti-capitalists and anti-Stalinists!

31 August by Yorgos Mitralias


Almost everyone knows the name of Einstein, [1] but that of Lev Landau [2] is familiar only to a few followers of the exact sciences. And yet, both of them share several common features: They occupy first-rank positions in the short list of the greatest geniuses of the past century. They distinguished themselves by their freedom of thought and the non-conformity of their lives. And above all, they shared political positions usually treated, and rather correctly, as “extremist”, revolutionary and subversive of any established order! Positions of which “naturally”, nobody has ever spoken to you...

 Landau: “Comrades, the great cause of the October Revolution has been ignobly betrayed”

This is why we will speak today of Einstein and Landau not in their capacity of exceptional scientists who marked the modern era, but in their capacity – mostly unknown as it was thoroughly buried—of anti-bureaucrat socialists and anti-Stalinist communists! Of Einstein who in the middle of the Cold War, as we will see in more detail later, proposes as the only solution to the existential problems of humanity the socialization of the means of production and the planning of the economy, while at the same time warning that “a planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual” if we don’t manage to prevent the bureaucracy from “becoming all-powerful and overweening”! And of Landau who, eleven years earlier, in 1938, in the midst of the Great Stalinist Terror, dared the unthinkable: Co-write the following manifesto, which calls on the workers to overthrow Stalin “and his clique” in the name of the October Revolution that was so “ignobly betrayed” by them! And that with the intention to distribute it on May 1st, 1938 in the Red Square of Moscow(!), in front of Stalin and the elite of his regime:

[ “Proletarians of all countries, unite.

Comrades!

The great cause of the October Revolution has been ignobly betrayed. The country is flooded with streams of blood and dirt. Millions of innocent people are being thrown into prison, and no one knows when their turn will come. The economy is falling apart. Hunger is spreading. It is clear, comrades, that the Stalinist clique has committed a fascist coup. Socialism exists only on the pages of newspapers filled with lies. In his furious hatred of true socialism, Stalin is like Hitler and Mussolini. Destroying the country to preserve his power, Stalin is making it an easy prey for brutal German fascism. The only way out for the working class in our country is a determined fight against the fascism of Stalin and Hitler, to fight for socialism.

Comrades, get organized! Don’t be afraid of the NKVD executioners. The only thing they can do is to beat defenceless prisoners, arrest innocent people, plunder the country’s wealth and invent ridiculous trials against non-existent plots.

Comrades, join the Antifascist Workers’ Party. Get in touch with its Moscow Committee. Organize AWP cells in your workplace. Use clandestine techniques. Prepare through agitation and propaganda the mass movement for socialism.

Stalinist fascism exists because we are disorganized. The proletariat of our country, which overthrew the power of the tsar and the capitalists, will know how to overthrow the fascist dictator and his clique.

Long live May Day—the day of struggle for socialism!

Moscow Committee of the Antifascist Workers’ Party]

This leaflet was never distributed. Two days before May Day, on April 28, 1938, the NKVD raided the Landau Institute and arrested him, as well as his very close friend and collaborator Moisei Korets (who was not released until 20 years later, in 1958), together with whom he had written and mimeographed the tract. What followed was not surprising: interrogations and torture in the Moscow prison of Butyrka, and finally a sentence of 10 years in prison on the incredible charge of... “spying for Nazi Germany”. However, Landau was now known worldwide and the international scientific community mobilized to have him released. The famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr and the president of the Institute of Physics of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Piotr Kapitsa, even wrote to Stalin and Molotov asking for Landau’s release. And miracle of miracles, after one year of imprisonment, Landau was released!

Landau in prison 1938-1939 (NKVD archives)

As one might expect, there was no miracle for Landau’s friends and collaborators at the Physical-Technical Institute of Kharkov, already world-famous at the time, of which he was the inspirer, the leader and the driving force. Soviet researchers, but also foreigners (Germans, Austrians, Poles, Romanians, Dutchmen,...), most of whom marked the progress of physics in the last century, were also arrested in 1937-1938, and were executed or “disappeared” without the date and place of their death being known. In short, they shared the same fate as millions of Soviet citizens...

Like Landau, who was described as an “ardent communist” by his colleagues at Oxford, which he visited in the early 1930s, the foreign scientists at the Kharkov Institute were communists and members of the Communist parties of their countries. They came to Kharkov in the Ukraine not only to escape the Nazis—being Communists and Jews—but also to “contribute to the construction of socialism” in the USSR. This is how the Kharkov Physical and Technical Institute, better known as Fiztech, came to welcome the best of the young European scientists and drew the sustained interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. of the international scientific community. Scientific celebrities often visited it - at least before the Stalinist regime forbade all contact with the outside world.

To search not for Landau the scientist, but for Landau the revolutionary is not at all easy. The international left completely ignores him and there is not a single text about him by any left-wing writer! The only works—otherwise politically perceptive and honest—on the “other” Landau, the political Landau, are due to two Americans and a Russian, not historians but mathematicians and physicists, who quite recently “discovered” the anti-Stalinist communist Lev Landau while preparing studies on his scientific work! Taking advantage of the very short period at the beginning of the nineties when the archives of the NKVD (as well as the GPU before it and of the KGB which succeeded it) were timidly opened, these amateur historians discovered the hitherto totally unknown Landau-Korets leaflet /manifesto, but also Landau’s personal file containing detailed accounts of his successive interrogations in the cellar of the NKVD!

It was as if an unknown dark and gloomy side of world’s history, perhaps the greatest of its tragedies, emerged from the darkness. And inevitably, the “discovery” of Landau the revolutionary brought to light the equally unknown and skilfully hidden tragedies of his friends and collaborators at the Kharkov Institute. As even the mere mention of their names is an act of elementary justice and restoration of historical truth, here are some of them: Lev Shubnikov (1901-1937), Lev Rozenkevich (1905-1937), Vadim Gorsky (1905-1937), Valentin Fomin (1909-1937), Konrad Weisselberg (1905-1937), as well as Matvei Bronstein (1906-1938), who is considered to be perhaps the greatest scientific genius of the Soviet inter-war period. Let us hope that all of them will find their historian in the person of one of our young politically sensitive scientists...

And what about the other collaborators of Lev Landau? To better illustrate their sad fate, we have chosen two whose personal stories are emblematic of the tragedy of that terrible era for which humanity continues to pay dearly. The German Fritz Houtermans and the Polish-Austrian Alexander Weissberg, both members of the Communist parties of their countries, after being arrested and tortured, were in 1940 finally handed over to the Gestapo of the Nazi regime that they had fled to find asylum in the USSR! This despicable act took place within the framework of the close collaboration between the NKVD and the Gestapo, which began even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in 1939. Thus, 80 German anti-fascists and communists were handed over to the Gestapo before 1939, and over 200 after 1939...

The scientists of the Kharkov Institute. In the center, dressed in white, Lev Landau, on his left Niels Bohr

Taking the opportunity to tell in a few words one of the incredible personal stories of the communist scientists of the Kharkov Institute, we chose that of the odyssey of Alexander Weissberg, which continued after he was handed over to his Nazi captors. After being imprisoned in several prisons in Germany and in occupied Poland, Weissberg ended up in the Krakow ghetto. When he learned that he was going to be executed the next day, he escaped and took refuge in other Jewish ghettos in Poland, from where he escaped only shortly before the start of the campaign to exterminate their population. He managed to get to the “Aryan part” of Warsaw, where he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to several prisons and concentration camps in Poland. He again escaped and took part, gun in hand, in the heroic Warsaw Uprising. He was arrested and sent to a concentration camp from where, with the help of a German anti-fascist, he again escaped. He went underground until the end of the war, and fearing to be caught again by the NKVD, which was active in post-war Poland, he finally went to Sweden in 1946 and then to France...

 Einstein, the anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucrat!

Much better known than the completely unknown anti-Stalinist communist Lev Landau, the anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucratic Albert Einstein is still ignored by leftists of all stripes who refuse to invoke him, even when their “socialism” is treated nowadays as the archaic ideology of a few backward people who are still trapped in the 19th century. Of course, the systematic concealment of the Marxist and socialist positions of Einstein and Landau is not a surprise coming from the bourgeoisie and the various media that are its faithful servants. Besides, the falsification of history has always been a favorite pastime of the right-wing and its offshoots around the world...

But what about the left, which does almost the same, although – logically—it should have every interest in invoking the anti-capitalist testimony of two of the “greatest geniuses” of the modern era, in order to respond to the daily anti-communist and anti-socialist propaganda of its opponents on the right and the far-right? The answer is not difficult: Social Democracy, which abandoned Marxism long ago and decided to co-manage the capitalist system, abhors—or even hates—the radically anti-capitalist positions of both Landau and Einstein. So, it is almost “normal” and predictable that it collaborates with the right to “bury” forever the subversives Einstein and Landau!

There remains, however, the other, the non-Social Democratic left, which continues to wave the flag of socialism. It should – logically speaking—have every interest in responding to the propaganda of the right and also of Social Democracy by systematically invoking the testimony of the two great scientists of modern times. And yet, it has not done so. Why not? Because the Stalinist and meta-Stalinist left cannot tolerate—or rather, hates profoundly—the clear anti-Stalinism of Landau and Einstein. And so we come to the sad conclusion that -at least- for the last seventy years a heterogeneous but very effective conspiracy of silence is fully active, whose sole aim is to strangle the subversive political discourse of Einstein and Landau!

Of course, there are those—few in number—who do not belong to any of the above categories, and who might have every interest in invoking both Einstein’s anti-capitalism and anti-Stalinism - Landau’s political positions and activities being unknown until about 20 years ago. What is surprising is not that they never refer to Einstein’s socialist and anti-bureaucratic ideas. It is especially that when they publish—very rarely- his historical text “Why Socialism?”, they do not give any comment or analysis that could show a basic understanding of the enormous value and significance of this text. Not because it was written by “the great Einstein”, but because this text regenerates the Marxist discourse, going directly to the root of the disasters of capitalism, as these are manifested and experienced in the destruction of humanity and individual human beings. And not only those of 1949, but also those of 2021! And the text does this not with the mince words and the well-known garbled sentences of a certain Marxian discourse, but in simple, clear and understandable language.

To be sure, Landau knew that he was risking his life by writing the May Day leaflet/manifesto, and his full awareness of the mortal danger he found himself in makes his act even more heroic and admirable. But, although Einstein was already famous, it also took a lot of courage for him to write and publish a text like this “Why Socialism?” in 1949, while the Cold War was raging and when the witch-hunt against the left-wing that would soon be generalized by the infamous Senator McCarthy, was already under way. And yet, Einstein chose to go against the current and to strike the system at its root, by proposing as the only solution to the problems of humanity, and thus of the United States where he lived and worked, socialism, the socialization of the means of production and the planning of the economy! Without a doubt, it took a lot of courage to publish such a text at this exact moment in history and in the metropolis of the world capitalist system…

However, it took at least as much courage to go against the current of the time, and to make the ruthless criticism of Stalinist bureaucracy and of its regime that appears in the penultimate paragraph of his text. Indeed, it is not only that the cult of Stalin’s personality reached its zenith in 1949, and that whoever dared to challenge it by revealing the horrible Soviet reality, was called a “sell-out” and an “agent” of the enemy that needed to disappear. It is that in this penultimate paragraph, Einstein goes far beyond the simple harsh criticism of the Stalinist regime by drawing more general lessons which leads him to designate the bureaucratic degeneration as a mortal danger which threatens any attempt to overthrow the capitalist system. And all this while making observations totally heretical for the “official” left of that time, as for example that “a planned economy is not yet socialism” or that such an economy “may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual”. And most of all, he concludes by asking the left 2-3 questions of great importance for its own battered credibility, questions which remain unanswered: “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?”

Presenting a long excerpt from “Why Socialism?” in 2015, we wrote these few words by way of introduction: “No better way to know the other Einstein than to listen to him speak to us in his own words about the question more current than ever...”Why socialism?“ And as we wrote exactly 10 years ago, when we published these long excerpts, ”However, beware: it would be a mistake to treat this text as if it were a ’curiosity’, a proof of the multiple facets of Einstein’s genius, of a scientist who dares not to stick to his last. In reality, it is a text which, intended for the first issue of the left-wing magazine Monthly Review, reveals an Einstein who is not only a profound and intensely topical thinker of the present problems of humanity, but also a fighting anti-bureaucrat, i.e. an anti-Stalinist communist. It is up to the attentive reader to draw his conclusions... "

 Why socialism?

By Albert Einstein

(…) 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 Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. 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 behaviour. 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.”

(…)

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 Asset Something belonging to an individual or a business that has value or the power to earn money (FT). The opposite of assets are liabilities, that is the part of the balance sheet reflecting a company’s resources (the capital contributed by the partners, provisions for contingencies and charges, as well as the outstanding debts). , 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 Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. , 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.




Footnotes

[1“Albert Einstein (/ˈaɪnstaɪn/ EYEN-styne; German: [ˈalbɛʁt ˈʔaɪnʃtaɪn] ( About this sound listen); 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time. Einstein is known for developing the theory of relativity, but he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics. Relativity and quantum mechanics are together the two pillars of modern physics. His mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which arises from relativity theory, has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”. His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”, a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. His intellectual achievements and originality resulted in “Einstein” becoming synonymous with “genius”.(Wikipedia)

[2“Lev Davidovich Landau (Russian: Лев Дави́дович Ланда́у; 22 January 1908 – 1 April 1968) was a Soviet physicist who made fundamental contributions to many areas of theoretical physics. His accomplishments include the independent co-discovery of the density matrix method in quantum mechanics (alongside John von Neumann), the quantum mechanical theory of diamagnetism, the theory of superfluidity, the theory of second-order phase transitions, the Ginzburg–Landau theory of superconductivity, the theory of Fermi liquids, the explanation of Landau damping in plasma physics, the Landau pole in quantum electrodynamics, the two-component theory of neutrinos, and Landau’s equations for S matrix singularities. He received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of a mathematical theory of superfluidity that accounts for the properties of liquid helium II at a temperature below 2.17 K (−270.98 °C) (Wikipedia)

Yorgos Mitralias

Journalist, Giorgos Mitralias is one of the founders and leaders of the Greek Committee Against the Debt, a member of the international CADTM network.

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