One of the biggest ironies of history is that many of the scientists hired by the State to build the atomic bomb were communists, socialists and pacifists – people who rejected the first world war as an inter-imperialist massacre of workers. Many of the individuals that solved the equations of nuclear scattering in their day jobs, read Karl Marx at night. The House Un-American Activities Committee summoned many names immortalized in physics textbooks: Oppenheimer, that loathsome snitch that outed his communist friends to the Feds just to save his career; David Bohn, a Communist Party fellow traveller that self-exiled to Brazil after any possibility of a career in America was destroyed because he refused to tattle his comrades to Hoover’s dogs. Across the sea, in the gulag, the brilliant mind of Lev Landau clicked with theorems about liquid helium and neutron stars, condemned to prison because he denounced Stalin as a fascist traitor to communist principles. After his colleague pleaded to Beria for Landau’s freedom, Landau was released, turned into a “learned slave” that solved the mathematics of nuclear destruction.
Yet, the biggest socialist name behind the atomic bomb was Einstein. Einstein had shown that a tiny morcel of matter could turn into immense amounts of kinetic and thermal energy through his theory of relativity. Relativity applied to the heavens revealed that the Sun was not powered by coal or gravitational contraction – but by the fusion of hydrogen into heavier elements. Yet, the second world war forced Einstein to consider the laws that regulate the starry night to the science of human massacre. According to relativity, the fissioning of an Uranium-235 nucleus would release large amounts of kinetic energy through high energy particles and heat. The human body, which to zeroth order approximation is water, could be boiled into instantaneous evaporation by the electrons, neutrons, and gamma rays ejected from nuclear fission. The same man that had a thousand page FBI file for his left-wing and pacifist sympathies, called for a socialist world government, and broke bread with spanish anarchist-communists, was now an acolyte of the cult of nuclear death.
The atomic bomb had domesticated the brightest minds of the world into becoming the mercenaries and slaves of presidents and politburos. The world had turned the rebel scientist that had hurled Diderot’s encyclopedia against popes and kings, into the priest of the new epoch unfolding: technocratically managed capitalism in the west, and bureaucratic centralism in the eastern stalinist states. Thomas Kuhn, the physicist turned into a philosopher of science, argued that the Manhattan Project was a turning point, a phase transition of the scientific community – the State, now became the largest financier and organizer of science, as generals, secretaries, and presidents discovered that they could incorporate relativity and quantum mechanics into the science of war. The scientist was transformed from a casual and diffuse intellectual that survived from the generous patronage of some rich person or king, into another cog or spring of the State. As the material means of scientific self-reproduction became increasingly tied to a racist, war-mongering State, the scientist became more conservative. The scientific imagination that once dreamed of utopian communism in Mars, became chained in its left side by liberalism and in its right side by fascism. The only caveat was that the aparachnik must have the scientist’s ear – the opaque empire of class stratification, technology and information was satisfactory only if it ran in a scientific and efficient manner.
Today, the ideological putrefaction of the scientist is revealed in the imminent danger of climate change. The old covenant that required the scientist to have the aparachnik’s ear was broken by anti-scientific barbarians like Trump. Yet, as the ideology of “apolitical” technocracy and management chipped away the political consciousness of scientists, they are only able to see all solutions to the problem of Earth as simply a question of the presidential “great man” , the modern version of a monarch, taking scientific council seriously. Those who are pro-science simply have to back the right politician – such as Obama or Macron, that will hopefully apply the right scientific formula that will phase carbon fuels out of the market, and develop enough solar panels, nuclear power pants, and wind turbines.
However, the technocratic dimension of the problem is simply a flimsy wrapper around a corrupt core. We live in a world-system fractured into competing nation-states, each side compelled by economic survival into cheap resource extraction and hyper-exploitation of human beings. The imperialist countries (e.g. USA, France, the Netherlands, etc,) will simply transfer ecological damages into the third world, where lack of regulations allows the destruction of human bodies and the earth through overwork, cheap resource extraction, and pollution. The imperialist states will bring the profit squeezed from the periphery into the “regulated” global north, in order to build bike lanes, solar panels, and nuclear power plants. Although climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, the people that will experience massive casualties are the world’s poor in the global south, because the infrastructure of the imperialist countries can partly sustain the abrupt change. The developing countries such as India, Mexico, etc are also forced to exploit their own natural resources and pollute their atmosphere to squeeze a profit margin that makes them stay afloat in the merciless world market. Capitalist competition will always drive firms to wear and tear the Earth and human beings; to disengage in this ecological and human destruction is to become uncompetitive against the agents that actually choose to play this rigged game. A couple of “progressive” presidents scattered in various nation-states, having the responsibility to remain competitive in order to generate profits that lead to more jobs, roads and social programs, are toothless before the blind, idiot god of capital. Symbolic supra-natural organizations such as the United Nations and the Paris Agreement, which lack executive and legislative powers, cannot turn the tide.
After scientists turned into mercenaries and slaves of the State, many Leftists have grown suspicious – hence the modern phenomenon of Luddism, “small and local”, and Primitivism. But, unless the world faces a horrible cataclysm that renders most of humanity into bands of hunter-gatherers, a post-capitalist world will be a technological civilization that shall require planning and scientific expertise. If scientists want to save the world from ecological catastrophe, then their imagination has to transcend the current rules of the game – rules bounded by presidentialism, capitalism and technocratism. Instead, scientists need to find inside their hearts that Einstein that penned “Why Socialism?” and called for a world, democratic government. Einstein referred to current class society as “predatory human phase”, and therefore considered the economic rules that regulated capitalism to be void when imagining a world without gods and masters. Perhaps, because we are living in a dark age of reaction, scientists haven’t awaken the Einstein inside them. Yet as crisis summons socialism into the minds of humans again, a new Einstein may emerge from the world-spirit, that will not only bring a new social revolution, but a scientific revolution that shall upend our notions of reality, space and time.
Edit: Some readers have pointed out that Einstein wasn’t directly involved in the Manhattan Project. This is true to the extent that he wasn’t working in a lab, or scribbling equations for it, but he wrote the letter that was decisive in prompting Roosevelt into developing the Manhattan Project. In that sense, he is arguably one of the most responsible, perhaps even more than many of the people directly employed, in the development of the atomic bomb. In fact, Einstein regretted writing that letter. I also edited the wording of the article a little bit to reflect the fact that nuclear fission isn’t the same as relativity, given the comments of the readers. Relativity is “agnostic” to nuclear physics – although relativity predicts that conversion of mass to kinetic energy is possible, it doesn’t explain by itself the mechanisms (e.g. nuclear fusion, fission) of the conversion. However, the theory of relativity was still crucial in the development of the atomic bomb (and much of nuclear physics in general), because it’s through energy-mass equivalence that we can predict the kinetic energies and masses of the particles emitted in a nuclear reactions.