The FBI’s secret war against the most famous scientist on earth failed to stop Einstein from supporting social justice at the height of the Red Scare.
Most people living in the United States know little about Albert Einstein. What people do know of Einstein is usually confined to his many achievements in the realm of science. Fred Jerome’s updated version of The Einstein File: The FBI’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist analyzes the enormous FBI file compiled on the world-renowned scientist. The book, originally published in 2002, has been updated to include contributions from fellow Black Agenda Report editor Ajamu Baraka and scientist David Suzuki as well as additional analysis on the implications of Einstein’s file for the current political situation. Jerome’s update provides readers with a glimpse into Einstein’s political life and an overview of a period of history characterized by the emergence of US hegemony, fascism, and worldwide socialist struggle.
The update of the book couldn’t come at a more pertinent time. The FBI and its intelligence partners are attempting a public relations revival under the Trump Administration. Like the first Cold War, Russia is the US intelligence apparatus’ object of scorn. Anti-Russian sentiment has justified the never-ending intelligence “investigation” into alleged political meddling by Russia in the 2016 election. The investigation has been directed mainly at alternative political ideologies and governments that the US seeks to suppress and overthrow. However, unlike the first Cold War, to be Russian is no longer synonymous with communism. Rather than subsuming all leftist forces such as Einstein under the banner of communism, these days the FBI, CIA, and its intelligence partners prefer terms such as “Russian hacker.”
Since the end of the Cold War, the ruling class has been further weaponizing the US intelligence apparatus with the largest surveillance state in human history to suppress the movements and interests of downtrodden and oppressed people everywhere. The War on Terror enhanced the weapons at the disposal of the intelligence apparatus to greater and more commanding heights, leading to endless US-led wars on “rogue” nations and the collection of private data on every American citizen. Russiagate is an outgrowth of War on Terror’s failure to maintain popular support. Russia’s economic and political policies toward independent development and the rise in popularity of terms such as “socialism” in the US have given rise to fears of impending doom for the rulers of the US imperial project. This fear reflects the decline of US imperial influence abroad and the waning domestic popularity of both major parties. A new enemy was required to mitigate these crises, and the rulers have once again settled on Russia.
The Einstein File reminds us that the FBI has always been an enemy of all the people and a tool of the oligarchs that rule the country. It also reminds us that the War on Terror and Russiagate ultimately share a common historical lineage with the “Red Scare” of the 20thcentury. The FBI used the “Red Scare” as justification to harass, murder, infiltrate, detain, and deport “dissidents” that the organization deemed agents of “Communist Russia.” Jerome’s review of Einstein’s file reveals the extent to which the famous scientist was caught in the FBI’s war on dissent. The Hoover-led FBI collected nearly 2,000 pages worth of intelligence on Albert Einstein over two decades of his life, most of which pertained to his affiliations with progressive organizations.
Einstein’s FBI file uncovers the enormous scope of repression experienced not only by Einstein but also a range of political activists and organizations of the period. In fact, much of the file contains fabrications and exaggerations related to Einstein’s activities with what Hoover and the FBI considered “communist front groups.” Some of these groups included the Board of Guardians of Basque Children, formed during the Spanish war against fascism, and the American Crusade to End Lynching, inspired by Paul Robeson in 1946. Einstein’s file proves that for decades leading up to the official “Red Scare” of the 1950s, the FBI kept tabs on Einstein and others affiliated with socialist, anti-racist, and anti-fascist organizations. More than this, progressive and radical activists were often direct targets of laws such as Truman’s “loyalty oath” for federal employees or the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. These laws required public sector workers and union members to denounce any affiliation with the Communist Party.
The Einstein File beautifully recovers this history from the grips of an establishment narrative that has all but erased it from popular memory. Too many Americans remember the first half of the 20thcentury as a “rags to riches” story of recovery from the ruins of the Great Depression and the Second World War. By 1946, the US had become the dominant capitalist economy and military power in the world. The standard of living for millions of US, mainly white workers, were raised by the fruits of a war economy and a wave of domestic labor insurgency. Yet the FBI’s file on Einstein details his deep commitment to social justice throughout the so called “Golden Age” of US capitalism. We learn from the FBI that Einstein spoke out in opposition to racism, whether through his speeches at the historically Black Lincoln University or his organizing against the lynching of Black Americans. We also learn that Einstein was a tireless advocate for peace who never hesitated to fight Nazism and militarism wherever they arose.
The Einstein File further shows that the world’s most famous scientist was a social democrat whose specific experience with anti-Semitism in Germany and anti-communism in the US greatly influenced his political strivings. Einstein vocally rejected communism but that didn’t matter to the FBI. Einstein never leaked nuclear secrets to the Soviets not only because he disagreed with Soviet policy but also because it was the US intelligence apparatus itself that prevented Einstein from participating in the Manhattan Project (and he certainly opposed the use of the atomic bomb after witnessing the horrors inflicted on Japan). Einstein declined an invitation to the Soviet Union when many other leftists in the US visited the country. Yet by the end of his life, Einstein was the target of charges of espionage and efforts on the part of the INS to deport him from the country for his alleged ties to communism.
Einstein faced such an assault from the FBI precisely because of his strong adherence to the principle of solidarity. One of the primary historical tasks of US intelligence agencies has been to discourage solidarity between oppressed people in the United States and the downtrodden around the world. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the FBI was so obsessed with Einstein’s relationship with Paul Robeson, his opposition to white lynch mob violence against Black Americans, and his firm position against global warfare and fascism. While the FBI never took time to explain what truly motivated Einstein’s political activity in his file, we can conclude that the agency’s interest in Einstein was motivated by the larger goal of breaking the spirit of revolutionary fervor against global capital spreading across the planet at the time.
The Einstein File helps readers understand the FBI’s historic role in suppressing the efforts of communists, socialists, and progressives while ignoring or actively aiding fascists and the Klan. Jerome masterfully tells the story of Einstein’s political development through the information gathered in his FBI file. That Einstein’s anti-racist, anti-fascist, and pro-peace politics so threatened the agency gives us an idea of what and whose interests the FBI serves. In a period where the FBI and other intelligence agencies are posing as a bulwark against “Russian aggression” and “interference” in the US’ “democracy,” Jerome’s analysis reminds us that the FBI is an instrument of an oppressor class that actively works not for democracy but for war, fascism, and racial oppression. His book exposes why the FBI is an enemy of all the people and does so by documenting the dynamic political conditions of the early to mid-20thcentury that produced Einstein’s progressivism and the lessons they provide today.
Top Photo | A drawing of Albert Einstein is seen on a protest banner during a demonstration organized by striking school teachers, in central Athens, Oct. 25, 2006. Petros Giannakouris | AP
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the forthcoming book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of Wall Street, White Supremacy, and the US War Machine (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at email@example.com
Source | Black Agenda Report