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T. Stamm

Relativity and Pacifism

(September 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 43, 16 September 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

>The New York Times of September 10 quotes Albert Einstein, world famous pacifist, as follows; “If I were a Belgian I would not refuse military service under the present circumstances, but I would, on the contrary, accept it with a clear conscience with the sentiment of a contribution toward securing European civilization.”

The “present circumstances” are Einstein’s fear of a threat of war emanating from Hitler. Einstein thinks that the tide of war will roll westward and that Belgium will fall beneath the Nazi chariot wheels. Hence the gratuitous admonition to Belgian workers to train for the defense of “their” country.

The French Socialists and the British labor skates want to defend European democracy against Fascist and “Soviet dictatorships”. Hitler, too, wants to defend European civilization against “the East”. How many saviors of European civilization there are!

It is difficult to reconcile this latest position of Einstein’s with his endorsement of and services for the Stalinist Amsterdam World Anti-War Congress. This the Stalinists will have to explain away. We warned in time against entrusting the leadership of the fight against imperialist war to well meaning intellectuals and pacifists. For our good advice the Stalinists gave us curses and blows.

This latest advice of Einstein’s stands in contradiction to his former, well known advice to the entire world to refuse to bear arms. He is the formulator of the pacifist idea that if only two percent of a population refuse to bear arms that number will suffice to defeat the war plans of the imperialists.

But if you think you see a contradiction here Einstein does not. He explains this point: “There does not mean I renounce my previous opinions. I desire nothing more than to see the moment come when the refusal of military service will be the means for an efficacious struggle for the progress of humanity.” You see, he merely postpones his idea of refusing military service for a while. And in the meantime he advocates the exact opposite.

Is there a contradiction here? Yes and no. It all depends on how you look at it. Workers should remember that Einstein is the author of the theory of relativity which, despite its positive contributions to science, implies that there is no objective world independent of consciousness and that the world is only the result of the position of the measurer. In other words if you stick your head between your legs and look at the world from that position the Empire State Building grows down from the sky and calling on Belgian workers to enter the military service of the capitalist class to defend the capitalist state is not in contradiction to pacifist ideas.

That is generally the conclusion to which the petty bourgeois, confusionist theories of pacifism lead. We hope that Einstein will forgive us if we see in his playing with serious questions the bankruptcy of pacifism and its objective support of imperialism.

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Last updated: 25 October 2015