Saturday, April 28, 2007

Martin Gardner on Einstein and Stalin

I have been criticized for calling Einstein "blind" to the realities of Stalinism. Much as I revere Einstein, it must be said that he, like so many other intellectuals of the thirties, made only the feeblest effort to learn the truth about Stalin. Here is a quotation from a letter he wrote to Max Born, and which you will find on page 130 in The Born-Einstein Letters (1971), edited by Born:
By the way, there are increasing signs that the Russian trials are not faked, but that there is a plot among those who look upon Stalin as a stupid reactionary who has betrayed the ideas of the revolution. Though we find it difficult to imagine this kind of internal thing, those who know Russia best are all more or less of the same opinion. I was firmly convinced to begin with that it was a case of a dictator's despotic acts, based on lies and deception, but this was a delusion.
Born's comments are in my opinion just:
The Russian trials were Stalin's purges, with which he attempted to consolidate his power. Like most people in the West, I believed these show trials to be the arbitrary acts of a cruel dictator. Einstein was apparently of a different opinion: he believed that when threatened by Hitler the Russians had no choice but to destroy as many of their enemies within their own camp as possible. I find it hard to reconcile this point of view with Einstein's gentle, humanitarian disposition.
Postscript to "'Bourgeois Idealism' in Soviet Nuclear Physics", in Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, Prometheus Books, New York, 1981

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