Sahir Ludhianvi – Communist and a Poet

By Saswat Pattanayak

It was more than a coincidence that Sahir Ludhianvi was born on an International Women’s Day. His concern and respect for women was as much personal as it was political. For him, no one – and nothing – was more important than his mother Sardar Begum. Resenting her husband’s feudal properties, his mother had left that household and raised Sahir on her own. And Sahir grew up as an organic revolutionary against landlords and burgeoning capitalism of that era. And more importantly, as a progressive poet deeply aware of the capitalistic exploitations of women and the working class.

An avid reader of Marx, Sahir early on was influenced by Faiz and Josh – prominent communist poets of that era. His early compositions included “Jahaan Mazdoor Rehte Hai” [Where Workers Reside]. In 1937, Sahir joined All India Students Federation (AISF), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) – committed to anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. He was expelled from both the colleges (in Ludhiana and Lahore) that he attended, due to his political activisms. Sajjad Zaheer’s Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM) would subsequently provide Sahir his cultural platform, to express himself as a socialist poet rejecting ‘art for the sake of art’.

As a revolutionary poet, Sahir wrote “Kuchh Baatein” [Some Issues]:
“Des ke adbaar ki baatein karey
Ajnabi sarkar ki baatein karey
Agli duniya ke fasaaney chhoddkar
Is jahannumzaar ki baatein karey”

[Let us talk of the nation’s tribulations
Talk of the colonial power impositions
Why bother with heaven’s splendors
Let us talk of the hell we possess]

As a communist poet, Sahir wrote the poignant verses “Aurat ne janam diya mardoen ko, mardone ne use bazaar diya” [Women gave birth to men; men made them commodities]. His analysis of feudalism/capitalism manifested itself in the splendid tribute to Taj Mahal, full of scorn borne out of a materialistic outlook that defined his work.

He wrote,
“Anginat logoen ne duniya mein mohabbat ki hai
Kaun kehta hai ke saadiq na tha un ke jazbe
Lekin un ke liye tasahir ka samaan nahin
Kyon ki woh log bhi apni hi tarah muflis the”

[Countless peoples in our world have showered love in abundance
Who can claim their heartfelt love ever lacked sincere affections
But they lacked the means of advertisement, of crude exhibitions
After all, they were like you and I: submitted by birth to cruel situations]

Sahir’s secular credentials were unmatched. An avowed atheist, he rejected the organized religions as impediments on the path to attaining a sense of humanity. Addressing an abandoned child without a social identity, Sahir wrote:

“Accha hai abhi tak tera kuchh naam nahni hai
Tujh ko kisi mazhab se koi kaam nahni hai
Jis ilm ne insaan ko taqseem kiya hai
Is ilm ka tujh par koi ilzam nahni hai”

[A bundle of joy you are, sans a given name
Disconnected from religions, that’s your gain
Religious texts have only divided humanity
My child! So far they couldn’t attack your sanity]

As a communist poet, he was not just dedicated to women’s empowerment and secular values, he also was a peacenik who refused to believe in sanctities of geographical borders that justify militarism. He wrote –

“Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho
Nasl-e-adam ka khoon hai aakhir
Jung mashriq mein ho ki magrib mein
Amn-e-alam ka khoon hai aakhir
Bomb gharoen par giren ya sarhad par
Rooh-e-ta’amir jakhm khaati hai
Khet apne jalein ki auroen ke
Jis’t faakoen se tilmilaati hai”

[Shed our blood, or theirs
Lives lost are of human race
War on the East or against the West
Casualty is troubled peace
Bomb our land, or across the borders
Afflicted are souls under construction
Homeless our people, or theirs
Suppressed is oppressed expression]

It was his internationalism that was recognized in the Soviet Union and his commitment to humanist values remain unchanged till the end of his life. In 1961, when Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by CIA, Sahir would protest and leave behind a haunting masterpiece, like none other –

“Zulm ki baat hi kya, zulm ki aukaat hi kya
Zulm bas zulm hai aagaz se anjaam talak
Khoon phir khoon hai, sau shakl badal sakta hai
Aisi shakley ki mitao toh mitaaye na baney
Aise sholey, ki bujhao toh bujhaaye na baney
Aisey naarey ki dabaao toh dabaaye na baney”

[Injustice can only do so much
Capable of nothing much
But the blood can take many shape
Shapes that are permanent
Inextinguishable Embers
And indomitable slogans]

Sahir’s dream coincided with that of a revolutionary who is capable of imagining not just a world without borders, but also a world without prison cells – a song that is so relevant today in light of sedition charges routinely applied to silence independent thinkers of the society Sahir once had sought to liberate.

He wrote –
“Jis subah ke khaatir jug jug se hum sab mar mar kar jeete hai
Jis subah ke amrut ki dhuun mein hum zahar ke pyaale peete hai
In bhookhi pyaasi ruhoen par ek din to karam pharmayegi
woh subah kabhi toh aayegi…

Manhoos samaaji dhaancho mein jab julm na paale jaayenge
Jab haath na kaate jaayenge jab sar na uchhale jaayenge
Jailoen ke bina jab duniya ki sarkaar chalaayi jaayegi
Woh subah hum hi se aayegi”

[For the dawn, that for ages, we nurtured with sacrifices
For that morning of nectars, have we not consumed poisons
These impoverished souls will finally be rewarded
And such a dawn, shall one day be ushered in…

As crimes cease to be structural givens of societies
Justice no longer served with torture, death penalties
A new world needs no oppressive prison
We shall usher in such a new dawn!]
——

As a communist poet, like Neruda, Sahir was close to the women of his life. Since none of his relationship could be formalized, and he died shortly after his mother’s demise whom he loved endlessly, he remained much misunderstood in his personal life. Many criticized him as an egotist megalomaniac seeking attention. But Sahir remained indifferent to both adulation and brickbats.

In 1971, when he was awarded with the prestigious Padma Shri, he told his close friend and fellow progressive poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, “Yaar Jan Nisar, ab sarkar ko tumhe bhi Padma Shri se nawaazna chahiye” [Jan Nisar, the government should now honor you with a Padma Shri as well].
Jan Nisar, amused, asked Sahir, why [“Bhala aisa kyoun”]?
Sahir wryly replied, “Ab yeh zillat mujh akele se bardaasht nahni hoti.” [I cannot bear this embarrassment alone.]

———

[All translations by Saswat Pattanayak]

More translation of Sahir’s poetry –

Fellow Decent Humans

Taj Mahal

Radical Child

Giving Back

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Comrade A B Bardhan, Lal Salam!

By Saswat Pattanayak

Comrade A B Bardhan (1924-2016) was not just the foremost communist mass leader of India who raised working class consciousness among millions through his oratory and organizational persistence, he was also the Marxist historian who accounted peoples’ struggles like no one else had quite done.

Well before publishing “People’s History” had become a worldwide trend, Comrade Bardhan had reflected upon the critical role of working class in India’s freedom struggle with these words –
“Official histories are apt to pass over in silence the role of the working class in India’s freedom struggle. They depict the freedom struggle as a series of events determined and influenced by individuals from the upper strata of society, who reacted against the humiliation and oppression of foreign rule, and moved the masses in their wake.
As to the workers and working people, they were considered either too weak or ignorant to play any role in this struggle, or concerned themselves with the more immediate problems of mitigating exploitation and improving their lot.
Nothing could be more one sided and false than this picture. In fact, with the growth of the working class in India and the rise of the labor movement commences the impact on India’s struggle against foreign domination.”

Well before social justice movements demanded reservations as part of parliamentary political norm, Comrade Bardhan had gone beyond the traditional proposals and recognizing the imminent pervasiveness of private capital, he had called for reservations in private sector as well –
“As Communists, we take note of the problems of the deprived communities in our society and pay special attention to them. These are for instance the dalits, the adivasis and the minorities, especially the Muslims. We shall actively support the demand that reservation should be extended to the private sector, especially when moves for privatization are afoot.

Well before the caste discourse in public policies had gained momentum and denouncing Hindutva politics had become mainstream, and intolerance debate had gained a foothold in India to prompt celebrities in joining the chorus, Comrade Bardhan had urged the people to reject communal casteist elements from the political sphere, in these words –

“Neither Gandhi or Nehru nor the hundreds of martyrs who climbed the gallows for independence – none of them gave their lives for a Hindu nation.
Never forget that!

We who uphold the red flag – we respect all religions. For the identity and ego of one religion, you cannot attack and break the identity and faith of another religion.
Always remember this.

In Hinduism, there is both tolerance as well as intolerance. There is humanity, but there is also a caste system. That is why for years saints and enlightened ones have tried to bring in reforms. They raised their voices against casteism, but even today caste remains. Today a new effort is being made to share power with those who were always kept out of Government, those who were considered only fit to be servants. Today an effort is being made that they too get a chance to help run the country. But the very forces who wish to preserve Hindu fundamentalism and unfurl their flags over destroyed mosques, these very forces swear by the caste system.
Recognize them and understand their mentality.”

Comrade Bardhan had confidence in fellow Indians that they shall reject communal, Hindutva politics and usher in a new age that will put the working class in charge of its own priorities. And armed with his inspiring words and following the exemplary life he led, his dreams shall certainly be realized.

Pete Seeger: UnAmerican, Communist, and a People’s Songster

By Saswat Pattanayak

 Pete Seeger was not the “American conscience”, as he is being now crowned by the corporate media after his demise. In reality, he was the UnAmerican conscience. And to understand this, it is important to underscore the extent of his internationalism, his commitment towards humanity, his selfless unpatriotic journey as a fervent communist, his lifelong quest against American militarism, adventurism and exceptionalism. Most importantly, to use history as a weapon in the class struggle, as Pete used music as his tool, it is pivotal to not let go of the “unAmerican” label that was imposed upon him by the American power, because he was perceived to be a communist, when in August 1955, he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and he refused to testify against his comrades or to pass on any information regarding the Communist Party that could help implicate any office-bearer of the party.

Saswat Pattanayak with Pete Seeger (Photo: Amrita Misra) Saswat Pattanayak with Pete Seeger (Photo: Amrita Misra)

Unlike many entertainers and intellectuals who gave in to the peer pressures or social benefits, Seeger always stood by his old comrades. Disregarding his own health and limitations, when he arrived at the Tamiment Library of New York University on October 28, 2006 to express his appreciations for African-American civil rights activists James and Esther Jackson at a symposium titled, “James and Esther Jackson, the American Left and the Origins of the Modern Civil Rights Movement”, I had my first privileged opportunity to meet him. What struck me instantly was how humble and accessible a public personality he indeed was, when  he took time out for an exclusive chat with Amrita, where he showered praises on India. What also struck me from his outward appearance was that he not only sang for the working class, he also belonged to the masses. There was not a whiff of elitism about him, not a remote chance of him being perceived as a celebrity. For the few more times that I got to see him after that day, I always noticed him wearing the same shirt, or something quite similar. Nothing fancy about his outfits at all. The only other constant was the way he made sure to engage the audience in the songs he sang. Even a stage appearance for him was an occasion for revolutionary potential. He was a legendary musician, possibly the greatest in his genre; and yet he was not surrounded by bodyguards. Difficult to imagine such a public personality in our contemporary celebrity culture. Maybe because, he never lived a pretentious life boasting extraordinary lifestyles that most celebrities possess today.

Saswat Pattanayak with Pete Seeger (Photo: Amrita Misra) Saswat Pattanayak with Pete Seeger (Photo: Amrita Misra)

The last time I got to see Seeger was at a solidarity event for the imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier, on December 14, 2012. It was a sobering occasion, and Seeger dedicated profound emotions for Peltier. Not only was he used to stand up for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed people of color, he also always expressed his desire for greater racial diversity. In recommending the same for the US Flag, he once wrote:

“My blue is good, the color of the sky.

The stars are good for ideals, oh, so high.

Seven stripes of red are strong to meet all danger;

But those white stripes: they, they need some changing.

I need also some stripes of deep, rich brown,

And some of tan and black, then all around.”

Pete Seeger in support of Leonard Peltier (Photo: Saswat Pattanayak) Pete Seeger in support of Leonard Peltier (Photo: Saswat Pattanayak)

Seeger’s refusal to cooperate with the American ruling class was not one of his own design. He always recognized his stake in being identified as an American.  He never denied the privileges he enjoyed as a white male in America whose “light-skinned ancestors participated fully in the decisions, good and bad, which formed this nation.” And yet, he also acknowledged that it was the stench emanating from American pride that was repulsive to him. He wrote in 1969:

“At midnight in a flaming angry town

I saw my country’s flag lying torn upon the ground.

I ran in and dodged among the crowd,

And scooped it up, and scampered out to safety…

And then I took this striped old piece of cloth

And tried my best to wash the garbage off.

But I found it had been used to wrapping lies.

It smelled and stank and attracted all the flies.”

The lies and deceptions characterizing American hegemony had formed the impetus for revolutionary music that went back to search for answers in the folk traditions. As a key figure in the movement, Pete Seeger relentlessly championed the causes of the oppressed through his emphasis on proletarian music. During the 1930s and 1940s, whereas the political struggles of the Communists suffered owing to sectarianism from within the movement and repression from outside, their cultural journey – firmly founded by the likes of “Joe Hill” and “Hammer Song”, never really subsided. It merely transformed itself into even more radical positions. As a result, 1946-1949 marked the period of People’s Songs, Inc., which provided the crucial glimpse into the potential of cultural workers in American communism. With Paul Robeson in its Board of Sponsors, People’s Songs had clear goals of pursuing the path of socialist realism. In March 1946, People’s Songs elected a national board of directors which included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax, Bess Hawes, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Walter Lowenfels, Felix Landau, Earl Robinson, Benjamin Botkin, Tom Glazer, Waldemar Hille, among others. For all the three years until People’s Songs dissolved, Pete Seeger remained its national director. People’s Songs was followed by People’s Artists and the Weavers – both communist folk collectives, and they continued the tradition of the Old Left through the sixties.

Seeger’s songs were far from merely “protest music”. They were radical communist verses, calling for uncompromising class wars, infused with boundless optimism for a new progressive era that the working class must usher in. Along with Lee Hays, Seeger wrote in 1949:

“O, comrades, come and travel on with me,

We’ll go to our new year of liberty.

Come, walk upright, along the people’s way,

From darkness, unto the people’s day.

From dark, to sunlit day.

Tomorrow is a highway broad and fair

And hate and greed shall never travel there

But only they who’ve learned the peaceful way

Of brotherhood, to greet the coming day.

We hail the coming day.”

What the People’s Songs under Seeger had achieved was remarkable and unique in the context of American history. They strove to collect and preserve American folk materials with the aim of disseminating progressive values. This vision was made possible upon their visits to Soviet Union where American artists witnessed first-hand how the socialist state was providing institutional supports to sustain and nurture cultural roots. Pete Seeger himself had been to Soviet Union to verify the fruits of revolution, first hand. In his recollections at a later stage, he once wrote, “What I saw in the Asian republics of the USSR was a great satisfaction to me. I think it proves that Kipling was wrong when he said East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. He was wrong, it’s not true, they can meet. And let’s hope that in the world to come they’ll be meeting more and more…. I was surprised by the bright-colored clothing that Soviet people wore. In America I was often told that Russia is a drab country, that everybody dresses in browns and blacks because they’re scared of wearing anything bright. Walking down the average Soviet street, you see the brightest colors you ever saw: reds, yellows, greens, blues, purples, pinks, sometimes all on top of each other. We saw a young man in the Frunze airport with a green hat, a purple jacket, and a red suitcase – bright, all of them, bright….Now it’s perfectly true that the average Soviet citizen can’t, as yet, afford the many luxuries the average American can. The average food on their table is not as fancy. So I was happy to note that even though Russia doesn’t have the stores overflowing with different commodities that American cities have, neither does it have the slums. This is important to me because, while I love my own country, I must confess that there’s not a city I can go to where, in parts of the town, the streets are not littered with trash, the houses are unpainted and dilapidated, and the people live with a sense of demoralization and lack of hope because they think there’s no chance for them ever to get ahead.”

Progressive American artists upon returns from the USSR had helped create the Federal Arts Project which found governmental support in the US not only in archiving and enriching historical materials, but also for the first time, in ensuring that American artists too, like their Soviet counterparts, received compensations for their works which was to be recognized as necessary contributions to society. The WPA Arts Project helped in distribution of folk music, and the group comprised Charles Seeger, Earl Robinson and Herbert Haufrecht. Charles Seeger was the father of Pete Seeger.

Charles Seeger was the founding member of the communist cultural group of the 1930s: Composers Collective, which was an offshoot of Pierre Degeyter Club of New York City – named after the French composer of “Internationale”. Composers Collective was just about as radical as it could get. Their foreword proclaimed:

“Music Penetrates Everywhere

It Carries Words With It

It Fixes Them In the Mind

It Graves Them In the Heart

Music is a Weapon in the Class Struggle.”

Music was indeed a weapon in the hands of Composers Collective – an unpolished, unsophisticated group that was musically catering to the masses, and therefore revolutionary in every sense. According to Charles Seeger, “proletarian music was defined by its militance in text and tune and by its association with the working class.” The collective drew inspiration from a German revolutionary composer Hanns Eisler whose songs were sung by untrained workers on mass marches. The only reason the Composers Collective could embrace specific m
usical legacies, especially of folk, was because of their reliance on the “Mighty Five” Russian composers –  Mussorgsky, Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov. The communists were Americans, and the Americans the communists in the Composers Collective, which gave way to later radical formations, Almanac Singers and People’s Songs. And Charles Seeger’s son Pete Seeger was to carry the burden forward to enlighten, agitate and entertain. He wrote:

“If a revolution comes to my country

Let me remember now

Old dollar bill, you won’t mean much

I better learn right now

What in life has true value

And, oh, if we’d only learn to share

There’d be no more need for revolution

Oh, hear the thunder. . .”

Ably aiding Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger was Alan Lomax who was serving as director of the Archive of American Folks Songs in the Library of Congress. Lomax helped Guthrie, Seeger, Josh White, Burl Ives, and Leadbelly perform across cities and to bring folk music back to the folks, in a progressive, emancipatory  package. Lawrence Gellert’s “Negro Songs of Protest” also helped chronicle the specific plights of black workers in a labor movement that was complicated by race relations. The slogan of the Popular Front during FDR’s time, “Communism is twentieth century Americanism” was inspired by Stalin’s prescription for Soviet Union where nationalism and communism intersected in useful ways. Socialist realism informed American folk musical traditions to the extent that Charles Seeger set standards to judge music: “The main question, should not be ‘is it good music?’ but ‘what is the music good for’?”

Being Charles Seeger’s son, Pete Seeger was not only introduced to the rich traditions of folk music that informed American history, but also to the immense radical possibilities that communism had to offer. Seeger joined the Young Communist League at Harvard in 1937 and decided against becoming a journalist since he refused to make compromises on political fronts. His association with Popular Front during Earl Browder’s leadership of CPUSA remained unflinching. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie supported the Communist Party’s decisions all the way, including at the most controversial of times, when FDR was addressing American Youth Congress to favor aid for Finland to fight the Soviet Union. Guthrie ridiculed FDR with “Why do you stand there in the rain?” Both of them, along with Lee Hays, Millard Lampell and John Peter Hawes, were part of the Almanac Singers. As unrepentant communists, they vociferously attacked Roosevelt when the communists adopted an anti-war position, and urged him later on to extend support to Soviet Union as an important ally. Here is a stanza that describes FDR as a warmonger prior to Germany’s attack on Soviet Union:

“Oh Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt

We damned near believed what he said

He said, “I hate war — and so does Eleanor,

But we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead.”

Comparing FDR to bankers and militarists, Seeger further wrote,

“Franklin D., listen to me

You ain’t gonna send me ‘cross the sea.

‘Cross the sea, ‘cross the sea

You ain’t gonna send me ‘cross the sea.

You may say it’s for defense

But that kinda talk that I’m against.

I’m against, I’m against,

That kinda talk ain’t got no sense.

Wendell Wilkie and Franklin D.,

Seems to me they both agree,

Both agree, both agree,

Both agree on killin’ me.”

After Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the communists needed wartime organizing, and the Almanacs supported the war efforts in no uncertain terms:

“The butcher, the baker, the tinker and the tailor

Will all work behind the soldier and the sailor —

We’re working in the cities, we’re working in the woods

And we’ll all work together, to deliver the goods.”

Seeger was never to mince words and he never did, regardless of shifting political positions –

“Now Mr. President, we haven’t always agreed in the past, I know,

But that ain’t at all important, now,

What is important is what we got to do,

We got to lick Mr. Hitler, and when we’re through,

Let no one else ever take his place,

To trample down the human race.

So what I want is you to give me a gun,

So we can hurry up and get the job done.”

Pete Seeger in support of Leonard Peltier (Photo: Saswat Pattanayak) Pete Seeger in support of Leonard Peltier (Photo: Saswat Pattanayak)

It is important to note that Seeger was not driven by pacifism or any spiritual notion of universal peace. For him, peace was an active process needing persistent political efforts towards combating fascism in every creative way possible; and therefore to institute peace, if there was a requirement to turn his music into a weapon, he never hesitated to sing pro-war anthems. With Guthrie’s guitar machine “killing the Fascists”, Seeger joined him and Lampell in expressing their collective hatred towards Hitler in this telling stanza of 1941:

“I wish I had a bushel,

I wish I had a peck,

I wish I had a rope to tie

Around old Hitler’s neck.

Hitler went to Russia

In search of Russian oil,

But the only oil he’ll find there

Is a pot in which he’ll boil.”

Because the American press worked overtime to expose the contradictions in CPUSA stands, and since raid-baiting was a stark reality, Seeger wrote “Talking Unions” to clarify Almanacs’ position –

“Now, you have come to the hardest time;

The boss will try to bust your pocket line.

He’ll call out the police, the National Guard;

They’ll tell you it’s a crime to have a union card.

They’ll raid your meeting, hit you on the head.

Call every one of you a goddamn Red –

Unpatriotic – Moscow agents –

Bomb throwers, even the kids.

But out in Detroit here’s what they found,

And out in Frisco here’s what they found,

And out in Pittsburgh here’s what they found,

And down in Bethlehem here’s what they found,

That if you don’t let Red-baiting break you up,

If you don’t let stool pigeons break you up,

If you don’t let vigilantes break you up,

And if you don’t let race hatred break you up –

You’ll win.”

The House Un-American Activities Committee reported on the Almanac Singers in 1944 and they were viciously attacked in the press as Communist entertainers. No respite followed even after Almanac Singers gave way to People’s Songs and the Weavers. When for the first time, HUAC heard testimony against them in July 1947, they were denounced as “subversive organization”, and a “vital Communist front because of its emphasis on appeal to youth and because of its organization and technique to provide entertainment for organizations and groups as a smooth opening wedge for Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist propaganda.” Against the overwhelming climate of red-baiting, of various left (Trotskyist) oppositions towards the communists and the McCarthy era looming large, Seeger remained defiant, and along with Guthrie, he supported and rallied around Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, as per CPUSA line. And Seeger wrote the iconic “Hammer Song” to celebrate the communist symbol:

“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning,

I’d hammer in the evening — all over this land.

I’d hammer out danger! I’d hammer out a warning!

I’d hammer out love between my brothers & my sisters —

All over this land.”

Seeger’s antiwar sentiments have been much written about. What is less mentioned is that his opposition to war was principled and decisively progressive. His protests against Vietnam War was indeed against American hooliganism and militarism. His call to bring the American troops home was at the same time, an open support for Vietnam’s right to self-determination. He wrote:

“I may be right, I may be wrong,

But I got a right to sing this song,

Bring them home, bring them home.

There’s one thing I must confess,

I’m not really a pacifist,

Bring them home, bring them home.

If an army invaded this land of mine,

You’d find me out on the firing line,

Bring them home, bring them home.

The world needs teachers, books and schools,

And learning a few universal rules,

Bring them home, bring them home.

So if you love your Uncle Same,

Support our boys in Vietnam,

Bring them home, bring them home.”

Seeger did not quite stop there. In a glowing tribute to Ho Chi Minh, he wrote:

“I’ll have to say in my own way,

The only way I know,

That we learned power to the people and the power to know

From Teacher Uncle Ho!”

Seeger always took his communism seriously and he wrote about capitalistic contradictions, but carefully employing a language that was truly accessible to the workers, to the “bottom” uneducated and semi-literate section of society who he remained connected with, all his life. If it was Teacher Uncle Ho at times, it was Karl the Marx at other times that he introduced in his songs. In a poem later in his career, he wrote about the class society in America and resented how the working class was being stigmatized:

“Some say the trouble’s in the Pentagon

Some say the trouble’s in the street

Some say the president’s a paragon

Where’s the trouble at the bottom?…

Some say the trouble’s with the system

Some say the trouble’s in the class

Karl said the trouble is the upper one,

That is the upper, not the bottom.”

Like Robeson, Seeger
had chosen his side in the class war that was, and continues to be, waged. He was deeply affected by the imperialistic aggressions and social unrests afflicting the world. And yet, he was hopeful of resolutions and positive outcomes, and like fellow communist poets Victor Jara and Nazim Hikmet whose songs he also used to adapt post-translations, he too remained at heart a romantic, an untiring lover of humanity. When he dabbled with imaginations for a better world that he, the weaver, could weave, he wrote:

“Oh, had I a golden Thread / And needle so fine

I’d weave a magic strand / Of rainbow design

In it I’d weave the bravery / Of women giving birth,

In it I would weave the innocence / Of children over all the earth,

Far over the waters / I’d reach my magic band

Through foreign cities / To every single land,

Show my brothers and sisters / My rainbow design,

Bind up this sorry world / With hand and heart and mind,

Far over the waters / I’d reach my magic band

To every human being / So they would understand.”

Seeger was always resolute and optimistic. He possibly could not afford to be otherwise. For someone with the burden of carrying the legacies of several generations of radical songsters, he had to convince the world that he was going to be there every step of the way. And he knew more than any of us, that the march towards a Soviet America was a long and tiring one. But it had to begin with changing the hearts of the people, with expanding the scopes for their imaginations. It was going to be a long process, step by step. In his words, therefore:

“Step by step, the longest march can be won, can be won

Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none

And in union what we will, can be accomplished still

Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.”

Amiri Baraka: Angry Black Communist, the Soul of the Sun

 

“Who invaded Grenada

Who made money from apartheid
Who keep the Irish a colony
Who overthrow Chile and Nicaragua later

Who killed David Sibeko, Chris Hani,
the same ones who killed Biko, Cabral,
Neruda, Allende, Che Guevara, Sandino,

Who killed Kabila, the ones who wasted Lumumba, Mondlane , Betty Shabazz, Princess Margaret, Ralph Featherstone, Little Bobby

Who locked up Mandela, Dhoruba, Geronimo,
Assata, Mumia,Garvey, Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hutton

Who killed Huey Newton, Fred Hampton,
MedgarEvers, Mikey Smith, Walter Rodney,
Was it the ones who tried to poison Fidel
Who tried to keep the Vietnamese Oppressed

Who put a price on Lenin’s head?”
(Amiri Baraka)

Amiri Baraka (Photographed by Saswat Pattanayak)

Who says Amiri Baraka is no more?
He is alive as long as there exists humanity. He shall remain relevant as long as critical questions continue to be posed. When Baraka wrote the poem “Somebody Blew Up America”, he was accused of anti-semitism, he was stripped of the poet laureate rank of New Jersey and many prominent political leaders and activists ridiculed him for having taken such a radical stand at a time when the country was mourning 9/11, as jingoism was the only poetic license a poet could afford to retain in America then. And yet, Amiri Baraka did not give in to the patriotic flavor of the day. He instead spoke the truth. Awards and recognitions were not going to influence him. He relinquished the honorary positions. He adopted what a true radical does: he remained unafraid of truth.

This truth however became the contentious issue for a hypocritical world order that soon termed him as controversial. What was controversial about furthering the cause of peace as an active oppositional stand against militarism and racism? Upon his demise, New York Times called him the “polarizing poet”. Polarizing? What was polarizing about the poet who dreamt of unifying the world while challenging the artificial geographical borders conveniently set by colonial masters?

Amiri Baraka was neither controversial nor polarizing. He was a poet, a historian, a progressive, romantic, revolutionary communist. And he was always unafraid of truth. The truth to him was revolution. A revolution to him was beyond a certain group of people, certain race of people, or people of a certain nationality. Like Paul Robeson before him, he strove for the revolution through his art. He shunned social divisions imposed by the ruling class. And if to acquire this truth, he had to struggle to reach there, he remained unafraid of that. He was not ashamed of transforming himself as a political being if by doing so he could further the progressive causes of the world. He wrote:

“I see art as a weapon of revolution. I define revolution in Marxist terms. Once I defined revolution in Nationalist terms. But I came to my Marxist view as a result of having struggled as a Nationalist and found certain dead ends theoretically and ideologically, as far as Nationalism was concerned and had to reach out for the communist ideology.”

When I met Amiri Baraka for the first time in Summer of 2011 at his house, he was 77. I had expected to see an old man, a retired poet, a tired revolutionary, or maybe a combination of all three. What I found in him instead was a young man deeply curious to know about international affairs, a passionate researcher sharing his new findings, and an enthusiastic radical radiating hope for the future. I had promised to be back to his place for another meeting, perhaps to conduct a more formal interview. But then I also knew that formal interviews are not conducted with lovers of revolution. Or, maybe I was quick to abandon any professional project in the midst of the hearty welcome, fine homemade foods and introductions with his entire family; the warmth and love that they bestowed upon my father (journalist Subhas Chandra Pattanayak) and I, when we visited him along with my dearest friend Dr. Todd S Burroughs, and beloved Professor and freedom fighter Dr. Les Edmond.

Todd S Burroughs, Amiri Baraka, Subhas Chandra Pattanayak, Les Edmond Todd S Burroughs, Amiri Baraka, Subhas Chandra Pattanayak, Les Edmond

I saw Mr. Baraka two more times – once in Brooklyn during an evening of revolutionary recitals, and the last time was at a Left Forum event. On both the occasions, he kindly asked about my father and reminded me that we needed to have that interview we have been planning for. Well, the interview could never finally take place. But I have no regrets at all. The fact that I did get to see him in person a few times was itself such a precious experience. The fact that he and his remarkable wife, revolutionary poetess Amina Baraka posed for my lens will always remain the high point of my artistic career.

Amina Baraka & Amiri Baraka Amina Baraka & Amiri Baraka

Personal is political and that is how I was drawn towards him early on. And that is the philosophy which was embodied in Baraka’s works throughout. His poems inspired me and empowered me. Baraka to me was Langston Hughes of our times. A poet of his people, a poet for all people. Like Hughes, his songs carried messages not of hope, but of revolution. Not of charities and feel good rhetorics, of sweet talks or inner peace bullshits. But of raw emotions, critical posers and call for actions.

Hughes had written:
“Goodbye
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,
Beat it on away from here now.
Make way for a new guy with no religion at all-
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME-
I said, ME!”

Baraka, too wrote:
“We’ll worship Jesus
When Jesus do
Somethin
When jesus blow up
the white house…
we’ll worship jesus when
he get bad enough to at least scare
somebody – cops not afraid
of jesus
pushers not afraid
of jesus, capitalists racists
imperialists not afraid
of jesus shit they makin money off jesus
we’ll worship jesus when Mao
do, when tour does
when the cross replaces Nkrumah’s star
Jesus need to hurt some a our
enemies, then we’ll check him out…
we ain’t gon worship jesus
not till he do something
not till he help us
not till the world get changed
and he ain’t, jesus ain’t, he can’t change the world
we can change the world
we can struggle against the forces of backwardness,
we can struggle against our selves, our slowness, our connection
with the oppressor, the very cultural aggression which binds us to our enemies
as their slaves.
we can change the world
we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus don’t exist
except in slum stained tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the history
of the oppression of the human mind
xxxxx
we worship the strength in us
we worship our selves….
throw jesus out your mind
build the new world out of reality, and new vision
we come to find out what there is of the world
to understand what there is here in the world!
to visualize change, and force it.
we worship revolution.”

Todd S Burroughs, Amiri Baraka & Saswat Pattanayak Todd S Burroughs, Amiri Baraka & Saswat Pattanayak

This is the Baraka I have known. The “real guy” Hughes wanted us to remember, emulate and while worshipping the revolution, to worship the revolutionary. It is not the gods who are immortal. It is Baraka and the revolutionaries like him who shall always live in our midst.

Immortality is radicalism. Going to the roots and to find that all of us never really perished. We are all connected with each other, in our life form and without, in our present and our collective history. This is again what Baraka used to characterize as “Digging”, the name of the outstanding work of his that traces the evolution of Afro-American art. About that book, he had written, “This book is a microscope, a telescope, and being Black, a periscope. All to dig what is deeply serious…The sun is what keeps this planet alive, including the Music, like we say, the Soul of which is Black.”

Baraka’s black-is-beautiful was a legendary call for international unity for the people of the third world. It was a call for communism in a country that was the most anti-communist in the planet. Baraka never faltered, never feared and always remained the fighter, against conventional wisdom. In “Reggae or Not!”, he outlined who he was as a black man in America:

“Self Determination
Revolution
Socialism Socialism Socialism
DEATH TO ALLIGATOR EATING CAPITALISM
DEATH TO BIG TEETH BLOOD DRIPPING IMPERIALISM
I be black angry communist
I be part of rising black nation
I be together with all fighters who fight imperialism
I be together in a party with warmakers for the people
I be black and african and still contemporary marxist warrior
I be connected to people by blood and history and pain and struggle
We be together a party as one fist and voice
We be I be We, We, We, the whole fist and invincible flame
We be a party soon, we know our comrade for struggle…
Only Socialism will save
the Black Nation
Only Socialism will save
America
Only Socialism will save
the world!”

Goodbye, angry black communist. See you again in the morning, the soul of the sun.

Saswat Pattanayak || Saswat.com

On Einstein’s Acceptance of Communist Russia and Rejection of Zionist Israel

by Saswat Pattanayak

With the “God Letter” recently auctioned for over $3 million, the world has started taking a renewed interest in Albert Einstein’s core philosophies. In the most conservative estimate, he has been described as the father of modern physics; and by most liberal counts, the most intelligent human being in history. But despite tremendous biographical sketches, Einstein has remained largely unknown as an activist, or terribly misunderstood as a statesman. Many dimensions of his life have been deliberately suppressed, some grossly exaggerated, and quite a few entirely concocted with blatant lies. This is quite natural considering the ruling class elites have a stake in appropriation of his legacies – the United States which granted him residency has needed to use him for its Cold War propaganda, while Israel and the Jewish Diaspora have needed to tout him – the most famous Jew in history – as their torchbearer. The spiritual thinkers have cited him as irreverently religious, while the progressives have owned him up for his idealistic socialism.

But this auctioned letter, handwritten by Einstein shortly before his death, almost disturbed many such long-held conventional conclusions, shattered many a comfortable myths and certainly exposed to the world how little we knew about this man, most of us thought we always have known. If Einstein could compose such an unsweetened critique of God and religion as the letter suggests what else about him do we not know? Who has been suppressing the lesser-known dimensions about someone we define the word genius by? Why has there been a need to distort the truths about the good scientist to begin with?

The answers lie in the argumentative clarity and the sheer brilliance that epitomized Einstein all his life – the naked truths our convoluted and opportunistic world has never been prepared to brace itself for. After all, it has always been more convenient to hero-worship a critical thinker than delve into his/her necessary prescriptions. As Phil Ochs once wrote about Woody Guthrie, “Oh why sing the songs and forget about the aim; He wrote them for a reason, why not sing them for the same?”

Like Guthrie, Einstein’s own songs for life were always unconventional and strenuous. His successes and his fame were mere footnotes and yet they were falsely projected to represent him in entirety. And although he remained among the most well-known in history, he stated toward the end of his life, how little value that held for him, “Though everybody knows me, there are very few people who really know me.” Whether there is a historical necessity to really know Einstein is an important question, increasing in relevance, as more of the world is getting engaged in religious warfare, vocally supporting Israeli terrorism, and has been actively embracing tenets of capitalism. Irrespective of our intents, Albert Einstein, the celebrated global citizen who most informedly analyzed international relations, more than anyone else, still possesses the rigorously tenable solutions to each of these crisis.

To seek the answers, let’s begin with the three million dollar letter, and then proceed to locate his roots and evolution. In the “God Letter” (1954), Einstein wrote, “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Such outright rejections of God, Judaism and Israel in this letter have raised many eyebrows, especially in a world that has been systematically tutored so far to treat Einstein as per the ‘decent’ norms of our day. Despite the worldwide attention to the content of this letter, the truth is, it is far from sensational, and the opinions therein are not exceptionally subversive, by Einstein’s standards. It is important to shatter the myths about Einstein’s feel-good pacifist humanism in favor of his true radicalized communist activism, so that Einstein’s worthwhile contributions are made commonplace and they inspire revolutionaries world over as originally intended, instead of merely enticing secret bidders on auction websites.

Einstein’s Zionism: For a Cultural Center, not a Political State

Einstein never disowned his association with Zionism, although it is important to note his definition of Zionism largely varied from the ones commonly held during his own time, and now. He could easily have succumbed to a reactionary (nationalist) variant of Zionism considering he was constantly victimized as a Jew, regardless of his celebrity. But he consciously did not choose that path. In 1920, a group of German scientists, led by Nobel Prize winner Philipp Lenard, denounced the theory of relativity as a “Jewish perversion”. Lenard would go on to serve as Hitler’s chief scientist, and the man to fund this campaign to discredit Einstein’s contributions would be later unraveled as the American industrialist Henry Ford, a Nazi collaborator. Remaining unprovoked however, Einstein declared the same year: “I do not believe in anything that might be described as ‘Jewish faith’. But I am a Jew and am glad to belong to the Jewish people, though I do not regard it in any way as chosen…”

Cognizant of the anti-semitism impacting Einstein’s career and legacies, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in 1921 asked Kurt Blumenfeld, a top Zionist recruiter to “stir up Einstein”. Blumenfeld sent back Weizmann a warning – “Einstein, as you know, is no Zionist, and I ask you not to try to make him a Zionist or to try to attach him to our organization…Einstein, who leans to socialism, feels very involved with the cause of Jewish labor and Jewish workers… I heard…that you expect Einstein to give speeches. Please be quite careful with that. Einstein…often says things out of naïveté which are unwelcome by us.”

Einstein required no stirring up, as he had already chosen the side of the oppressed and without any hesitation accepted Weizmann’s invitation to travel to England and America, but duly noted, “In several places, a high-tensioned Jewish nationalism shows itself that threatens to degenerate into intolerance and bigotry; but hopefully this is only an infantile disorder.” Besides, Blumenfeld was clearly wrong, for Einstein was no naive. He knew from his experiences that “anti-Semitism is frequently a question of political calculation”. During his stay in Switzerland, he was not aware of his Jewishness and he wrote, “There was nothing in my life that would have stirred my Jewish sensibility and stimulated it. This changed as soon as I took up residence in Berlin. There I saw the plight of many young Jews, especially of East European Jews. They are made the scapegoats for the malaise in present-day German economic life…Meetings, conferences, newspapers press for their quick removal or internment.” When the German government contemplated measures against East European Jews, Einstein protested and exposed the “inhumanity and irrationality of these measures” in the Berliner Tageblatt.

Einstein distinguished early on between the West European Jews and the prevailing anti-Semitism targeting East European Jews. His support for Soviet Union was strengthened based on how Stalin’s policies welcomed East European Jews into Soviet Union. And at the same time, between the First World War and the Second, Einstein witnessed how the racist Germany was treating the East European Jewish refugees, and the barbarity of it all would awaken his sense of belonging with the oppressed race of the time. Although he could afford to, Einstein refused to remain indifferent, and he refused to separate his profession from his politics. Together with a few colleagues – both Jews and non-Jews, he held university courses especially to benefit the East European Jews in the summer of 1921 and he declared that “such experiences have awakened my Jewish-national feelings. I am not a Jew in the sense that I call for the preservation of the Jewish or any other nationality as an end in itself…I consider raising Jewish self-esteem essential, also in the interest of a natural coexistence with non-Jews. This was my major motive for joining the Zionist movement…But my Zionism does not preclude cosmopolitan views.” His envisioning of a “free Jewish community in Palestine” was not so much a demand for a militarist sovereign country as it was about the need to recognize that the East European Jews are not treated as wretched refugees in the racist European powers. Jewish Diaspora would never have aimed for a separate land if the Jews were treated humanely in the various European countries they lived in, Einstein cited early on.

German Jewry, for one, lived in abysmal conditions. Einstein described its history in details: “Our ancestors lived in the ghetto. They were poor, politically disenfranchised, separated from non-Jews by a wall of religious traditions, daily lifestyle, and legal restraints. In their intellectual development they were limited to their own literature, and only faintly influenced by the tremendous revival that European intellectual life experienced during the Renaissance.” In 1925, Einstein would express his support for Zionism as it was “in the process of creating in Palestine a center of Jewish intellectual life…The moral homeland will, I hope, succeed in bringing more vitality to a people that does not deserve to die.”

But wary he would always remain of the Zionists at the same time. One of them was Isaac Don Levine who tried early on to persuade Einstein against the Bolsheviks by making false claims about how Jews were being colonized by Stalin’s Russia. On April 9, 1926, Einstein rubbished such claims by Levine and wrote to him that he was supporting Russia and that the “efforts being made to colonize Jews in Russia must not be opposed because they aim at assisting thousands of Jews whom Palestine cannot immediately absorb.” Einstein had duly acknowledged how Stalin was the only international leader to have been supportive of the Jewish cause, so much so that Soviet Union was the first country to develop an autonomous territory for the Jewish people, a concept that Einstein had dreamt to see realized in Palestine, upon British promise. But reactionary Zionism was intolerant towards the communists and was refusing to credit the Soviet Union for their initiatives. As history would prove it later, and Einstein would attest, the British ended up deceiving the Jews, while Soviet Union continued to save millions of them.

Einstein was deeply committed to the welfare of Jewish people, but for that he also needed to be politically alert. His activism did not spare even Blumenfeld whom Einstein wrote demanding to peruse through the financial details of the Zionist Organization and started expressing doubts over the viabilities of Zionism. In the March 1926 letter to Blumenfeld, he wrote, “I appreciate the educational achievements of Zionism. However, as an enterprise, I don’t know it well enough to support it with good conscience.” Even as Einstein’s conscience would continue to haunt him, he was still optimistic about the forthcoming “Jewish center” of morality and intellectualism. He never got the “impression that the Arab problem might threaten the development of the Palestine project.” He said, “I believe rather that, among the working classes especially, Jew and Arab on the whole get on excellently together.” (1927)

Next year, in 1928, contrary to political wisdom, the British proposed a parliament for Palestine in a rushed manner that mandated equal representations from Jewish and Arab (and some British appointees) – a move that would result in the first major “riots” claiming hundreds of lives on each side. By the Jewish migrations in 1930, the British census report would declare almost 17 percent of the population in the Arab land to be Jews. Mass agitations among the Arabs would be “tackled” by the British in 1936 when for the first time the colonizers would station more troops in Palestine than in the entire Indian subcontinent. In 1937, the proposed mandate would be declared a failure because common grounds between the Arabs and Jews would not be allegedly found and the British conveniently would then “partition” Palestine, much to the chagrin of the Arabs (and, Einstein).

Before the proposed “Partition” could materialize, Zionist Weizmann demanded that all Arabs be deported to Jordan, an idea that was opposed by Einstein and resulted in further differences between the two of them. Describing Jewish nationalism as guided by militarism and conservatism, Einstein even compared it with Prussia in a letter to Weizmann: “Without honest cooperation with the Arabs there is no peace and no security. This is for the long range politics and not for the present times. In the last analysis, even if we were not practically defenseless, it would not be worthy of us to want to maintain a nationalism a la Prussienne.”

Einstein became bitterly opposed not just towards Weizmann (who went on to become the first President of Israel), but also towards the more liberal Zionists such as Selig Brodetsky, whom Einstein characterized as a “Mussolini”. Brodetsky defended himself as a socialist and as an “outspoken opponent of any form of chauvinism and militarism in connection with the Zionist movement”, but Einstein saw through the motives of such Zionists and criticized Brodetsky vociferously: “What I have against your talk is less what you have done but more what you have left unsaid. What’s missing is an analysis of the cause of the reaction of the Arab world against us – without which the question, in my conviction, cannot be solved.” Brodetsky was known for inciting caution against the allegedly growing power of Arabs and of their increasing population in Palestine – a jingoistic assertion that was attacked by Einstein thus: “I’m happy that we have no power. If national pigheadedness proves strong enough, then we will knock our brains out as we deserve.”

It was not any political power that Einstein wanted to see instituted in the Arab land. Refusing to be deluded by the Zionist propaganda, he was increasingly becoming concerned about the safety of the Arab people in Palestine. In a letter to Bernard Lecache in May 1930, Einstein wrote, “With regard to the question of Palestine, my most eager wish would be that, by policies preserving the legitimate interests of the Arabs, the Jews might succeed in proving that the Jewish people has managed to learn something from its own past, long ordeal.” In the same year, he wrote to Hugo Bergmann, “Only direct cooperation with the Arabs can create a dignified and safe life. If the Jews don’t comprehend this, the whole Jewish position in the complex of Arab countries will become step by step untenable.”

Although immigration of Jewish people to the Arab land was becoming legally inevitable, Einstein proposed there should be a limit to that. In a letter to Edward Freed, he wrote in 1932, “I am not a nationalist and I do not wish any discrimination of the Arabs in Palestine. The Jewish immigration to Palestine in the framework of ‘suitable limits’ can’t do harm to anyone.” The ‘limits’ were opposed by many Zionists of the time, principally by the anticommunist and Jewish nationalist Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Einstein attacked them as Fascists and in a letter to the Zionist Beinish Epstein, he accused them of “borrowing from the Fascists…methods that I abhor deeply, and use them to serve the interests of those who, relying on their ownership of the means of production, disfranchise and exploit the nonowners.” (1935)

Einstein’s communistic analysis irked many, and surprised many more. So disgusted were some Zionists that one of them, Elias Ginsburg threatened legal actions against Einstein. But the scientist remained persistent in objectively laying out the verifiable truths. In 1938, he declared his priorities based on that: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state…” These sentiments are more relevant today as the Gaza wars continue to oppress the Arabs in the name of defending the state of Israel. Back then, Einstein had warned the Jewish people not to fall into the trap of nationalism, and the following excerpt of his commentary sums it up: “The essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power..I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state. A return to a nation in the political sense of the word would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization of our community…”

However, Einstein’s plan was not laying the foundation for the future; British colonialism’s declarations were. As the Second World War unfolded, between 1939 and 1944, the British allowed for a limited number (75,000) of Jews to be settled in Palestine. In the meantime, Nazi Germany’s onslaughts made possible somewhat of a unity among the Arabs and Jews – Palestinian Communist Party (which supported the Soviet Union) as well as Jewish Communists and left-leaning Zionists Hashomer Hatzair worked towards forging alliances between antifascists from each side. At the same time, to counter the influence of the communists, the rightwing Zionists also grew in leaps and bounds (some of them assassinated Lord Moyne, British Minister of State in 1944). Next year, they demanded immediate admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees to Eretz Israel, Einstein sharply attacked these Jewish militants and said “I regard them as a disaster. I’m not willing to see anybody associated with those misled and criminal people”, in an interview with I.Z. David.

Anti-Israel: “The war is won, but the peace is not.” (Einstein, 1945)

While he rejoiced the defeat of Hitler and Nazism, Einstein continued to oppose the idea of a Jewish state. In January 1946, testifying before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine (AACIP), Einstein argued against the idea of Israel. He wrote to Rabbi Wise, “I’m firmly convinced that a rigid demand for a ‘Jewish State’ will have only undesirable results for us.” American radical journalist I. F. Stone, himself a fellow ‘cultural Zionist’ declared his support for Einstein saying that “to have the greatest Jewish figure of the period oppose a Jewish state as unfair to the Arabs is a very noble thing.”

When Menachem Begin (who would later become the sixth Prime Minister of Israel and win Nobel Prize for Peace in 1973) visited the US, Einstein denounced him and the right-wing Zionism as “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” Not only was he bitterly critical of the reactionary Zionists, Einstein was equally forthright in his support for the Soviet Union. At the annual Nobel Prize anniversary dinner at New York, he said, “We do not forget the humane attitude of the Soviet Union who was the only one among the big powers to open her doors to hundreds of thousands of Jews when Nazi armies were advancing on Poland.” Later that year, he released another statement revealing his support for Stalin in a time when most of his peers were distancing themselves, “We must not forget that in those years of atrocious persecution of the Jewish people, Soviet Russia has been the only great nation who has saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives. The enterprise to settle 30,000 more Jewish war orphans in Birobidjan and secure for them in this way a satisfying and happy future is new proof for the humane attitude of Russia towards our Jewish people.” Not only that, Einstein also gladly accepted the offer to become honorary president of the most prominent committee setup to coordinate Jewish settlements in Birobidjan (which was established within the Soviet Union under Stalin in the late 1920s as the first autonomous Jewish region in the world).

By the end of Second World War, Einstein had already made his political commitments clear. Testifying before AACIP, he attacked the British as the root cause of the instabilities in the lives of Arabs and Jews. “Difficulties between the Jews and Arabs are artificially created, and are created by the English,” he thundered. Opposing a separate Jewish state, Einstein noted that Palestine could still rule with one government, but without British interventions, because in his impression, “Palestine is a kind of small model of India. There is an attempt, with the help of a few officials, to dominate the people of Palestine and it seems to me that the English rule it.” Attacking the British colonial rule as one that exploits the native while collaborating with landowners, Einstein laid bare a vicious critique of Western interests in the proposed partitions. In addition, Einstein denounced the idea of a new state while replying to a question by Judge Hutcheson: “The state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and a narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.”

In short, Einstein was opposed to a separate Jewish state, opposed to a partition of Palestine, opposed even to an establishment of a Jewish government-in-exile, considered the Jewish underground movement a “disaster” and supported a bi-national self-government in Palestine with both Arabs and the Jews ruled with the consent of the Arabs.

On matters of Palestine, Einstein detested the Americans as having “inherited the inflatedness and arrogance of the Germans.” He accused the American administration of “taking on the role England has played up to now.” He predicted quite accurately that the English “old-fashion methods of suppressing the masses by using indigenous unscrupulous elements from the economic upper class will soon cost them their whole empire.” In a 1948 letter to a friend, Einstein deplored the Western world for preparing a war against Russia, “By now, it is not only the English, but also the Americans who have sold and betrayed us politically for a song. In Washington, they are conspiring for a preventive war against Russia, a fact that is also related to the villainy in Palestine. We Jews are not safe in America where anti-Semitism has increased very much…The psychological situation of the Jews over here is quite similar to the one in Germany before Hitler. The rich and the successful try to cloak their Jewish descent and act out as super patriots…”

In response to Shepard Rifkin, Einstein reiterated that, “when a real and final catastrophe should befall us in Palestine the first responsible for it would be the British and the second responsible for it the Terrorist organizations built up from our own ranks. I am not willing to see anybody associated with those misled and criminal people.”

With such criminal people, Einstein never made peace, not even after Israel was established despite his lifelong struggles against its formation. In 1952, when Weizmann died and to fill that vacuum a great name was sought to become President of Israel, Ben Gurion unashamedly approached Einstein. Not only did Einstein refuse to accept that position, he also stated it would be “a difficult situation that would create a conflict with my conscience.” Although Gurion’s offer is a well-known historical episode, Einstein’s response is rarely mentioned because that would then brand the most honored Jewish person as the biggest anti-Semite in the political terms employed today.

Likewise, a day after Einstein’s death, the New York Times, on April 19, 1955 deliberately misconstrued history in its characteristic style by printing, “Israel, whose establishment as a state, Einstein had championed…” As Einstein’s chronicler Fred Jerome noted, it was “a description of Einstein the media had never used while he was alive.” However, the conspiracies to cleanse Einstein of his “dirty past” had started long ago with FBI employing anti-Stalinist agents to discredit him, while suppressing such facts from the public knowledge. Thanks to Jerome’s investigations (“The Einstein File”), it is now revealed that Louis Gibarti, who was expelled from the Communist Party by Stalin, soon became an informant for the FBI (interviewed by Democratic Party Senator Pat McCarran). McCarran, submitted the reports of allegations against Einstein’s international communist contacts, and his Republican counterpart Senator McCarthy ended up denouncing Einstein as an “enemy of America”.

Einstein’s deeply rooted friendship with Paul Robeson and his unconditional support for W.E.B. DuBois were also deliberately kept under wraps for decades – despite them possibly being the biggest influences in Einstein’s radical saga. Just as the facts – that he was the fiercest critic of British colonialism, a profoundly radical voice against American imperialism, a strong advocate for Stalin’s Russia, a steadfast supporter of the black communists, and a studied commentator against the reactionary Zionism upon which Israel has been founded – have been carefully concealed. For if the real Einstein were to inspire the world today, that would not just disturb the comfortable imperialists, more importantly, it would awaken and radicalize all the oppressed people of the world to stand up against injustice, as Einstein, not the marketable genius – but the collective conscience for a progressive world, once did.

(An abridged version of this piece has appeared on Kindle Magazine)