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May 2000 (Volume 52, Number 1)

» Notes from the Editors
May 2000 (Volume 52, Number 1)

In this issue, we reprint Albert Einstein’s article “Why Socialism?,” from vol. 1, no. 1 of MR (May 1949). Normally this would require no comment on our part, as it has become something of an MR tradition to run this essay in our May issue. This year, however, there are two special circumstances that require some discussion. The first is Time magazine’s treatment of Einstein’s political views in its December 31, 1999, issue on “Albert Einstein: Person of the Century.” The second is the recent release, on the FBI’s web page, of Einstein’s FBI file to the general public.

In making Einstein its “Person of the Century,” it was, of course, necessary for Time to say something about his political views. This raised a significant problem for the magazine, since (as it was forced to admit) during the McCarthy era, its sister publication Life had listed Einstein, in a photo spread that looked like a series of wanted posters, as one of the fifty most prominent “dupes and fellow travelers” of communism in the country (“Dupes and Fellow Travelers Dress up Communist Fronts,” Life, April 4, 1949). For Time, this virulent attack on its “Person of the Century” by a publication in its own corporate family (representing the view that Time had also expressed during that same period) could be largely explained away by saying that Einstein was “well-meaning but naive” (a more polite way of referring to him as a “dupe”). It went on to close the initial section of its “Person of the Century” feature by saying that Einstein’s “humane and democratic instincts are ‘an ideal political model for the 21st century’ [a quote from Harvard physicist and historian Gerald Holton], embodying the very best of this century as well as our highest hopes for the next. What more could we ask of a man to personify the past 100 years?”

We agree fully with this last statement. Yet, we note that Time neglected altogether to mention what was at the heart of Einstein’s “humane and democratic” vision—namely his advocacy for socialism. And it was, of course, the latter—as well as his resistance to McCarthyism—that led Life to list him as not only a communist “dupe,” but also a “fellow traveler.”

Indeed, what Time scrupulously avoided telling the readers of its “Person of the Century” issue is that the McCarthyite witch-hunt was extended, almost from the outset, to Einstein himself, who came under heightened surveillance by the FBI at the direct order of J. Edgar Hoover, beginning in 1949. Hence, the publication of “Why Socialism?” in MR was of great interest to the FBI. Einstein’s FBI file includes the following entries (available at http://www.foia.fbi.gov/einstein/einstein6a.pdf/): (1) “advised that in April, 1949 a circular was distributed in the Nashua, New Hampshire area, announcing a new magazine entitled ‘Monthly Review,’ ‘an independent Socialist magazine.’ The first issue was dated to come out as the May, 1949 edition. The first issue would contain articles by Albert Einstein—’Why Socialism;’ Paul M. Sweezy—’Recent Development [sic] in American Capitalism;’ Otto Nathan—’Transition to Socialism in Poland;’ Leo Huberman—’Socialism and American Labor.’” (2) “advised the New York Office that the ‘Monthly Review,’ 66 Barrow Street, New York City, self proclaimed ‘an independent Socialist magazine’ made its initial appearance in May of 1949. The first issue contained articles by Albert Einstein and others. This report stated further that a study of the articles contained in a background check of the editors and contributors revealed that this magazine was Communist inspired, and followed the approved Communist Party line. [New York report, dated 1-30-50; Re: Internal Security]”

None of this—neither Einstein’s advocacy of socialism nor the FBI’s increased surveillance of him during the McCarthy era (much less the role of MR)—is discussed in Time’s “Person of the Century” issue. Einstein, we are certain, would not have been in the least surprised by such silences and distortions in the establishment press. “Under existing conditions,” he wrote in “Why Socialism?,” “private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.” It is this, in our view, that makes a magazine like MR so essential today—more than half a century later. We are immensely proud that Einstein chose to conclude “Why Socialism?” with the words: “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.”

We record with sorrow the death of our old friend and longtime MR supporter Hazel Wolf. Hazel was one of the most beloved environmental activists in the United States and wrote “Relief for Unemployed Forest Workers,” for the February 1992 issue of MR. She died on January 19, 2000, at age 101.

Hazel was born on March 10, 1898, in Victoria, British Columbia. As a young woman, she was enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution and joined the Communist Party. During the Depression, Hazel, who had moved to Seattle with her daughter, worked for the Works Progress Administration—from which she was fired for trying to organize a union. Later, during the McCarthy era, she was investigated by the FBI and also by the immigration service, which arrested her as a seditious alien and attempted to deport her. Hazel worked for many years as a legal secretary for a civil-rights lawyer. After retiring in 1965, she joined the Audubon Society and went on a bird-watching expedition across the nation. When she returned home, she began organizing on behalf of Audubon. She co-founded the Seattle Audubon Society, where she worked as a secretary for thirty-seven years, and organized twenty-one of the twenty-six Audubon chapters in the region. In her eighties, she studied Spanish and traveled to Nicaragua to support the Sandinistas. She was sent as an observer to the 1990 Nicaraguan elections. Studs Terkel, who portrayed Hazel in his book Coming of Age (1995), declared that she was one of two things that made Seattle special: “You have the Mariners and you have Hazel Wolf.” In 1996, on her ninety-eighth birthday, Washington State Governor Michael Lowry declared March 10 “Hazel Wolf Day.”

Hazel was disappointed that she was unable, due to a broken hip, to be a part of the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. But she did see one of her life’s ambitions satisfied: living in three centuries. Nine hundred people, including the governor, jammed into the Town Hall on Seattle’s Capitol Hill for the memorial service. Hazel’s advice to a friend on how to save the environment was recalled: “Organize. Organize. Organize.” There is no doubt that what the United States needs now is many, many more Hazel Wolfs. Those wishing to make contributions in Hazel’s memory are urged to send them to her favorite charity: Kids for the Environment. Checks can be mailed in care of the Seattle Audubon Society, 80560 35th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA, 98115.

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