Time's 'Person of the Century' coverup

Jose G. Perez jgperez at SPAMfreepcmail.com
Tue Dec 28 18:37:18 MST 1999

    Time magazine's "Person of the Century" issue gives a great example of
the mendacity of bourgeois journalism.

    Albert Einstein was selected  for the honor as representative of "the
explosion of scientific and technical knowledge," although a reading of the
issue makes clear he won by default; for the real theme of the issue is set
out boldly enough in the lead essay, "who mattered and why," under the
subtitle, "the century of democracy."

    "If you had to describe the century's geopolitics in one sentence," Time
says, "it could be a short one: Freedom won. Free minds and free markets
prevailed over fascism and communism."

    (It probably did not occur to Time's editors that, from the point of
view of the vast majority of the human race, this was the century of the
anticolonial revolution, an unfinished revolution because although the
colonial powers have been driven out, most of these countries remain victims
of imperialism through neo colonial regimes and the world market. But never

    One would have thought, then, that the Person of the Century would have
been some outstanding political representative of capital; in fact, when
Time chose its man of the half century, they picked Winston Churchill, not
Einstein, though by then Einstein had already produced the papers that would
revolutionize science and the most famous result of his theories, the
equivalence between matter and energy, had already been put to practical use
in the atom bomb.

    And (in my opinion) Churchill is without doubt the outstanding
imperialist leader of the century; that fate made him also the last hurrah
of a dying empire and not the leader of a rising power makes his
achievements in being and important player in World War I, the master
imperialist strategist of the winning side in World War II, as well as the
progenitor of the Cold War all the more impressive.

    But for the American chauvinists at Time, the fact that he was English
served to disqualify him; that, and the fact that Churchill was an
undisguised racist, male chauvinist, scab-herder and strike breaker. He was,
as I said, an outstanding representative of his class, but the capitalist
press is nothing if not hypocritical. Time calls him instead "a romantic
refugee from a previous era who ended up on the wrong side of history."

    So Time's preferred political candidate was Franklin Roosevelt. However,
the case for Roosevelt is hard to make. Time recognizes that it was the War
Deal, not the New one, that rescued American capitalism from the depression,
and, as a war leader, suffice it to say he was incapable of mobilizing the
country for a conflict he knew was inevitable until the Japanese devastated
the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

    Time introduces a third century theme with their rejection  of
Churchill, which is that this was "the century of civil rights," by which
they mean "the ability of courageous individuals to resist authority in
order to secure their civil rights." This theme is of course 100% phony. The
20th Century has been marked, among other things, by the struggles of masses
of people against various aspects of capitalist oppression and exploitation.
But it was not AT ALL, despite Time's assertion, the result of "courageous
individuals" like Mahatma Gandhi (their runner up Person of the Century in
this category), Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.

    India and many other colonies won their freedom thanks, not to Gandhi's
tactics, but to masses of people the world over taking advantage of the
complete exhaustion of the British, French, Belgians, etc., in the Second
World War, as is obvious from the fact that Britain lost virtually every one
of her other colonies, too. It was the massive upsurge of people all over
the semicolonial world, and most powerfully in China, that put an end to
direct colonialism.

    Gandhi is rejected, ostensibly because he was quite a weird, eccentric
bird, but mostly, I believe, because Time's editors choked at even such an
indirect and distorted recognition of the power of popular struggles.

    Hence Einstein, as representative of the scientific and technological
revolution, wound up with the nod. And if you had to pick a seminal
scientific figure of this century, certainly Einstein would top most lists,
not only for his own accomplishments, but because his theory of relativity,
as even Time noticed, reflected the spirit of an age that was rejecting
absolute truths and eternal verities.

    But in picking Einstein, the Time editors stumbled across a problem.
Einstein was certainly a champion of "free minds" which is precisely why he
opposed "free markets." He was an enemy of the capitalist witch-hunt,
capitalist racism, the capitalist arms race and of capitalism.

    His 1949 Monthly Review essay, Why Socialism, was not only an act of
tremendous courage in face of the ferocious anticommunist hysteria of those
years. It also reveals someone who has thought deeply about social
questions, and who was profoundly influenced by another German Jewish
professor who also spent his later years in exile, Karl Marx.

    Einstein frontally attacks capitalism not just as an irrational system,
but an anti-human one, a system which pits human beings against their own
creation, society. He lays bare the essence of capitalist exploitation,
which is that the capitalist pays for one thing --human labor power-- but
receives another, the product of human labor, and thus the worker is forever
enriching the capitalist at his own expense.

    In its articles on him, Time is effusive in its praise, calling him "the
century's greatest thinker" a "genius among geniuses" and so on and so
forth. How to deal, then, with this mental Hercules's  thoughts about
society?  Gingerly, of course.

    He is described as a "humanist and internationalist" who advocated
"gentle pacifism," a "political idealist" with a "deep moral sense" and
"humane and democratic instincts" who, towards the end of his life, "was a
soft touch for almost any worthy cause." What Time does not say, of course,
is that Einstein was a socialist.


More information about the Marxism mailing list