The Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the Origins of Pugwash
Eric Fawcett Memorial Lecture to Canadian Pugwash and Science for Peace,
Dr. Andrew Bone, Bertrand Russell Research Centre, McMaster University
It is a great honour for me to be able to speak to Science for Peace and
the Canadian Pugwash group about the Russell-Einstein manifesto-in its
fiftieth anniversary year-and about the origins of the Pugwash movement.
Before examining the, alas, all-too-brief partnership between Russell and
Einstein that developed in the last months of Einstein's life I want
briefly to sketch the philosophical basis of and historical background to
that collaboration. There was a personal aspect to it as well: in 1944,
Russell's last few months of wartime exile in the United States had been
spent at Princeton, where he became well-acquainted with Einstein through
the weekly discussions of science and philosophy that they usually held
with Kurt Gödel and Wolfgang Pauli.
Both Einstein and Russell adhered to a philosophy of war and peace that
Russell labelled "relative political pacifism" in a 1943 essay explaining
his own movement away from quiescence in the face of fascist aggression in
the 1930s to wholehearted support of the Allied war effort against the
Axis powers. "Relative" because this form of pacifism did not rule out the
resort to armed force in all circumstances (although the exceptions were
very few); and "political" because of the emphasis on influencing the
actions of states rather than on the personal witness for peace. Neither
Russell nor Einstein's outlook was grounded in transcendent moral
considerations but rather, as my colleague David Blitz has argued, in a
"combination of rationalism and empiricism, of strongly held principles
and flexible applications to changing circumstances … " (Blitz 2000-01,
Sometimes Einstein's analysis of a particular set of circumstances would
converge with Russell's (or vice versa); sometimes not. The two men were
both vigorously opposed to the First World War, for example. One of
Einstein's earliest and most courageous public stands was as a signatory
of the "Manifesto to Europeans", an internationalist riposte to the
fervently nationalist and militarist "Manifesto to the Civilized World",
signed by a much larger number of prominent German intellectuals shortly
after the outbreak of the First World War. On account of his anti-war
stand in the same conflict, Russell was twice prosecuted under Britain's
Defence of the Realm Act and dismissed from a lectureship held at his
beloved Trinity College, Cambridge.
Both men also voiced their dissatisfaction with the post-war settlement,
believing that it contained the seeds of future conflict, and that the
League of Nations as constituted was an inadequate vehicle for preventing
war. Peace might still be preserved, however, by international disarmament
agreements and, ultimately, by individual and organized resistance to the
state's call to arms. Indeed, Einstein and Russell's names appeared on the
same international anti-militarist resolution on two separate occasions in
Almost immediately after Hitler's rise to power in January 1933, however,
Einstein invoked an exception to his pacifist rule, arguing forcefully
that military preparedness was the only appropriate response to Nazi
aggression. Russell eventually arrived at the same conclusion but, like so
many on the anti-war Left, extremely late in the day. He had no illusions
about the odiousness of Hitler's regime, but his pacifist convictions grew
stronger as the likelihood of war increased-to the point of him advocating
passive resistance in the face of an invading German Army. Only when
Britain was directly threatened by such an invasion in the summer of 1940
did Russell hesitantly resolve that another world war, rather than Nazi
hegemony over Europe, was the lesser of two evils.
Very soon after the Second World War, Einstein reverted back to his more
customary anti-militarist posture, dedicating himself to the struggle
against nuclear weapons, whose development he had urged in a famous letter
to President Roosevelt in 1939. He even attempted to enlist Russell's
support for an organization which had been established to pursue this
objective-the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. But this overture
was rebuffed by Russell, although he agreed wholeheartedly with
Einstein-and had done so for more than two decades-that the real basis for
a stable peace was a system of international governance more inclusive and
more binding than that offered either by the United Nations or its
predecessor, the League of Nations.
In the early Cold War, however, Russell also adhered to the view that
Soviet possession of nuclear weapons would inevitably lead to a third
world war. Therefore, to preempt such a scenario, the Soviet Union must be
coerced into accepting international control of atomic energy while the
United States still enjoyed its monopoly of nuclear force. Threats of war
would probably suffice to bring this about, Russell predicted, but if not,
a preventive war might have to be waged by the West. He justified such a
departure from his basic rule of opposition to war in much the same way
that Einstein had in the early-1930s. Whereas for Einstein it was a
militaristic and ultimately genocidal Nazi regime which posed the ultimate
challenge to humanity and civilization, for Russell it was the prospect of
Stalin's Russia in possession of a nuclear arsenal.
What brought Einstein and Russell closer together once again was another
change in circumstances, namely, the Soviet Union's breaking of the
American nuclear monopoly in August 1949. This ended Russell's so-called
preventive war phase, although his anti-Soviet rhetoric would retain a
strident edge until Stalin's death over three years later. With both
superpowers now equipped with nuclear weapons, Russell calculated, the
Cold War impasse could not now be broken by force or threats of force.
This consideration became even more germane after the Soviets and
Americans achieved critical breakthroughs in thermonuclear weapons
Contact between Russell and Einstein had been re-established over the
ostensibly quite different question of McCarthyism, when in June 1953
Russell publicly applauded Einstein's call for academics to refuse to
testify before such inquisitorial committees as that chaired by Senator
McCarthy. The matter of American domestic politics was not quite so remote
from the broader international concerns that were causing such
consternation to both Russell and Einstein. Ever since the outbreak of the
Korean War, if not before, Russell had regarded the reactionary effects of
Cold War anti-Communism on American political and intellectual life not
only as intrinsically bad, but also as magnifying the nuclear threat which
he was now trying to reduce.
For all that Russell and Einstein's political views had diverged in the
1930s and again after the Second World War, their differences were
incidental not fundamental. Their thinking about war and peace was
grounded in the same general principles of relative political pacifism
that caused them to respond to the circumstances of the 1950s-i.e. of
rival superpowers armed with sufficient nuclear weaponry to destroy world
civilization-in much the same way.
Russell knew that Einstein shared his apprehensions about the future of
humanity and perhaps expected a favourable response when he put this
request to him in a letter of 11 February 1955: "Do you think it would be
possible to get, say, six men of the very highest scientific repute,
headed by yourself, to make a very solemn statement about the imperative
necessity of avoiding war?" (Russell 2001, 488).
This overture to Einstein was connected with Russell's re-emergence as a
dissenting public figure and also with a groundswell of like-minded
anti-nuclear opinion elsewhere in the scientific community. It was the
extraordinary impact of a radio broadcast called "Man's Peril" that
propelled Russell back towards public protest in earnest. Like much of his
political writing over the previous twelve months or so, this talk,
delivered on 23 December 1954, depicted the havoc that would be wreaked by
nuclear war. Yet, he also spoke in a more optimistic vein about how this
nightmare scenario could be averted. As a modest first step he broached
the idea that he put to Einstein in a somewhat different form a couple of
months later, namely that a group of scientists should draft an
authoritative, factual statement about the effects of nuclear war.
As initially conceived by Russell, the plan was for a full-scale
scientific inquiry to be undertaken by one of the neutral states,
preferably India, rather than a short declaration by distinguished
scientists from different countries. To this end, Russell managed to
secure an audience with Nehru during the Conference of Commonwealth Prime
Ministers in London early in 1955. Nehru remained non-committal about
Russell's proposal, but the appearance in New Delhi in 1956 of an official
publication Nuclear Explosions and Their Effects was regarded by Russell
as "pretty much what we asked Nehru to do" (Collected Papers of Bertrand
Russell [hereafter CPBR] 28: 76).
By this later date, however, Russell had long since determined that
international scientific opinion, rather than a neutral démarche, was the
more suitable vehicle for his political initiative. Among the avalanche of
sympathetic letters he had received after the broadcast of "Man's Peril"
were two from the French and German Nobel laureates, Frédéric Joliot-Curie
and Max Born. For many years both men had been trying to enlist scientists
in the cause of world peace, although they approached this problem from
radically different political standpoints-as we shall see in a moment.
Speaking of the scientific community more generally, ever since the end of
the Second World War-indeed, even before then if one thinks of the
confidential Franck Report, prepared in June 1945 by Manhattan Project
scientists opposed to the atom bombing of Japan-scientists from different
countries had organized to denounce the bomb or, more modestly, to promote
an informed understanding of nuclear weapons, radioactive fallout and the
peaceful uses of atomic energy. Such organizations as the Federation of
American Scientists or Britain's Atomic Scientists' Association had
achieved a modicum of influence in the early post-war years, although more
with their peers than over governments or the wider public. They had been
placed on the defensive in the early-1950s, however, as fear of Communism
trumped unease about the bomb, causing their political ambitions to be
scaled back by Cold War pressures. Instead of seeking purchase over vital
areas of public-policy making, American scientists in particular were
forced to defend the independence and integrity of their profession
against the intrusive ethos of "loyalty-security"
But Russell was confident that scientists could be quite easily and
effectively mobilized against nuclear weapons. He believed that they not
only had a singular responsibility to perform such a role but a special
aptitude for it as well. He was not thinking so much of the detailed
technical expertise of the nuclear physicists, but in more general terms
of the capacity for objectivity which he associated with the scientific
outlook. At the same time, though, Russell was not naively optimistic. The
dangerous gulf between scientific skill and political wisdom had been a
recurrent theme of his writings on science since the 1920s, and the
central importance of science and technology to the Cold War arms race
caused him to view this rift with even greater consternation.
In congratulating Russell on "Man's Peril", Joliot-Curie asked if Russell
might support the convening of an international scientific conference to
prepare the kind of statement about nuclear warfare to which he had
alluded in his broadcast. But Russell's reply to this letter of 31 January
1955 now indicated a preference for "a declaration by a small number of
eminent men" (4 Feb. 1955; CPBR 28: 305). He probably felt that not enough
Western scientists would be drawn to a congress promoted by the World
Federation of Scientific Workers, the pro-Soviet body of which the
Communist Joliot-Curie was president.
Another Nobel laureate, Max Born also wanted to formulate a sombre
declaration against the nuclear threat, similar in spirit to "Man's Peril"
and to be signed by all Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry. Born did
become one of the manifesto's signatories, but with his close friend Otto
Hahn he also proceeded with a parallel initiative, known as the Mainau
statement and released a few days after the Russell-Einstein manifesto.
Although these two declarations were similar in spirit, the political
emphasis behind them was subtly different. Born and especially Hahn, were
staunch anti-Communists, and wanted their initiative to come from "Western
scholars not mixed with those known to be communists" (n.d., April 1955;
quoted in CPBR 28: 449). Thus, two of the Russell-Einstein's manifesto's
signatories, Joliot-Curie and Cecil Powell (the distinguished British
physicist), were not invited to sign the Mainau statement at first,
because (as Born explained to Russell in the same letter) "they are known
all over the Western world to be communists" (ibid., 450). This was not
true in the case of Powell, although he was a longstanding executive
committee member of World Federation of Scientific Workers.
I have digressed, but for an important reason: to highlight a critical
dilemma facing Russell as he embarked upon the struggle which yielded the
Russell-Einstein manifesto and, two years after that, the inaugural
Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs. The drafting of the
manifesto, Russell's efforts to obtain signatures to it, and his
elaboration of the follow-up plan which evolved into Pugwash, all brought
to the fore the question of whether Communists and fellow-travellers
should be embraced or excluded.
Russell seems to have decided that the benefits of cooperation outweighed
the risks of being labelled an apologist for Communism. He came to occupy
the middle ground between those non-aligned peace activists and
organizations who participated willingly in Communist-led ventures and
those who steadfastly opposed such alliances. While regarding ideological
diversity as essential to the success of any scientists' declaration, he
also appreciated that such inclusiveness risked tarnishing his efforts by
association with such pro-Soviet organizations as the World Peace Council
and the World Federation of Scientific Workers. Not surprisingly perhaps,
Otto Hahn was not the only Western scientist who declined to sign the
manifesto explicitly on anti-Communist grounds.
Russell navigated this tricky terrain with considerable skill, although it
should be noted that his predicament was not quite so uncomfortable as it
might have been for, unlike so many intellectuals on the non-Communist
Left, he had no embarrassing past as a fellow-traveller to disavow. His
longstanding record of opposition to the Soviet regime peaked in the
late-1940s, but can be traced back to his authorship of The Practice and
Theory of Bolshevism, a highly critical treatment written after he visited
revolutionary Russia with a British Labour delegation in the spring of
Einstein was of a like mind to Russell on the matter of political balance
and representation. The reaction of scientists behind the Iron Curtain
remained the most imponderable aspect of the whole enterprise. Russell
simply hoped that there was a reservoir of goodwill in the East which he
might somehow be able to tap. He was disappointed, therefore, when the
Soviet physicist Dmitri Skobeltzyn declined to sign the manifesto. But he
was gratified that this prominent Academician had at least expressed
support for its sentiments and that the following month (August 1955) a
Soviet delegation made a surprise appearance at the World Conference of
Scientists in London-a political meeting which debated a virtually
identical agenda to that brought before the participants in the first
In the last months of his life Einstein had assisted the project which
bore both his and Russell's names in a number of small but constructive
ways. He dissuaded the American Society for Social Responsibility in
Science from attempting to draw up and publicize a declaration of their
own. He also attempted to enlist, without success unfortunately, the
support of Niels Bohr for his and Russell's venture. He suggested a number
of other possible signatories and that his erstwhile collaborator, Leopold
Infeld, now of the University of Warsaw, might be a useful point of
contact to the Soviet scientific community.
The revelation that Einstein had signed the draft declaration from his
deathbed in what Russell described as "the very last public act of his
life" (CPBR 28: 322) added a dramatic element to the press conference at
which the manifesto was launched on 9 July 1955. Einstein's posthumous
association with the enterprise certainly amplified its immediate impact.
Yet, not all attention garnered by the manifesto was favourable. This was
still the Cold War, after all, and there were sceptical or downright
hostile voices who could not see, or did not wish to see, the "titanic
struggle between Communism and anti-Communism" being surmounted in the
manner suggested in the declaration. The manifesto seems nevertheless to
have struck something of a chord at a particularly dangerous juncture in
the Cold War. Popular fears had been fuelled by American nuclear
brinksmanship during the recent Chinese offshore islands crisis, by
obfuscation from authorities in Britain and the United States about the
hazards of radioactive fallout, and by the wishful thinking of civil
defence planners. At the same time, however, the impending summit of
American, Soviet, British and French heads of state, convened in Geneva
some ten days after the manifesto's appearance, had spread a cautious hope
that the Cold War stalemate could be surmounted somehow.
But how could Russell help to sustain the momentum generated by the
manifesto or by the portents of détente-admittedly fleeting-from the July
1955 summit meeting in Geneva? For a short time he was uncertain about his
own future role. "I hope that the international conference envisaged in
our joint statement will take place", Russell told one of its signatories
and his close political associate Joseph Rotblat, but "it is for others to
organize it" (24 July 1955; CPBR 29: xiv). Before long, though, Russell,
Rotblat, and two other key figures, Cecil Powell and another British
physicist, Eric Burhop, were plotting the next steps in precisely those
directions mapped out by the manifesto.
Yet, another two years elapsed before the first Pugwash Conference on
Science and World Affairs took place at the Nova Scotia retreat of
Canadian-American industrialist and philanthropist, Cyrus Eaton. This long
delay was caused by various organizational and political problems. The
chief organizational difficulties were lack of funds and a suitable venue,
although the latter problem was temporarily resolved after Cecil Powell
had an audience with Nehru and the Indian Government offered to host the
gathering in Delhi in December 1956. Given Russell's emphasis on neutral
states as brokers of détente, this arrangement was most satisfactory to
him. Several potential benefactors were approached, including Eaton, who
was supportive but only interested in funding a gathering at Pugwash. This
offer was eventually taken up, but only after the simultaneous eruption of
the Suez and Hungary crises-with the attendant escalation of Cold War
tensions-persuaded Russell that the Delhi congress should be postponed.
As it had been with the manifesto itself, the most perplexing political
problem facing Russell and his associates was to ensure that any gathering
which took place was politically balanced. Regretful that no Soviet
scientists had signed the manifesto, Russell regarded their participation
in the planned scientific congress as essential. His association with Eric
Burhop, a confidant of Joliot-Curie's and a leading figure in the World
Federation of Scientific Workers, was particularly helpful in this regard.
On 23 November 1955 Burhop reported to Russell that the leader of a
visiting Soviet delegation, the President of the Soviet Academy of
Sciences, A.N. Nesmeyanov, along with three other Academicians, "would
probably accept an invitation to join the Initiating Committee". The
Soviet authorities, however, remained suspicious about promoting contact
between scientists from East and West and deferred a decision on the
matter until October 1956. It was then agreed that a four-man delegation
should indeed travel to India for the conference, but the participation of
the former dissident physicist Pyotr Kapitza alongside the more
politically reliable Academicians who had been chosen was firmly ruled out
by the Science and Education department of the Communist Party's Central
On receiving word that some Soviet scientists would travel to Delhi,
Rotblat expressed concern that the American presence-limited at this stage
to just Linus Pauling, the 1954 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, and Eugene
Rabinowitch, editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists-might be too
small. It seemed, therefore, that the meeting would be politically
imbalanced in the opposite way from what had originally been feared.
When the twenty-two accredited participants of the first Pugwash
Conference eventually did assemble, at the Canadian location from which
the movement took its name, there were seven Americans, three Soviets,
three Japanese, two British, two Canadians and one each from Australia,
Austria, China, France and Poland. Western scientists were definitely in
the majority, but the Communist presence was not a token one. Russell and
his fellow organizers could be satisfied with the extent of the cross-bloc
Yet, the very political diversity which Russell had deemed so essential
carried with it certain risks. The whole enterprise might be dismissed as
a Communist front, especially if the Western contingent had too pronounced
a left-wing bias. Partly for this reason, Russell ensured that the
Communist Burhop was excluded from the list of delegates and that he
attended Pugwash in a technical advisory capacity only. Such tactical
gestures did not prevent the Pugwash movement from being smeared in a
negative way, although its reputation for independence was shored up by
the transparency of Professor Rotblat's determination to deflect the
pressures that were exerted on it from both sides of the Cold War divide.
At the opening session of the conference the delegates set up three
working groups to debate radiation hazards, control of nuclear weapons,
and the social responsibilities of scientists. Headway was made in each
committee. The third, for example, agreed to a statement which became the
basis for the Vienna Declaration, a distillation of the movement's guiding
principles that was promulgated at the third Pugwash Conference in
For Russell the significance of the meeting lay not in the detailed
committee work but in the simple fact that "Eminent men from both sides of
the Iron Curtain and from uncommitted countries met unofficially in a
friendly spirit, not to haggle and bargain, but to attempt to diminish the
dangers which scientific ingenuity had been creating" (Russell 1958, 145).
The conference could easily have degenerated into acrimony or empty
ideological posturing. That this did not occur was attributed by both
Western and Soviet delegates to the fact that it had been a meeting of
Also crucial was the informal character of the proceedings, for which the
host, Cyrus Eaton, deserves much of the credit. It is not unfair to say
that Eaton subsequently became a source of irritation and embarrassment to
Pugwash organizers, as he flaunted his friendship with Nikita Khrushchev
and attempted to influence the agenda of the movement. In the fall of
1959, for example, he urged Pugwash to endorse an appeal for universal
disarmament which the Soviet leader had brought before the United Nations.
Although Pugwash formally severed relations with Eaton shortly afterwards,
he was pivotal to the movement's launch and early growth, not only through
his generosity as a benefactor, but also, for example, by helping to
arrange visas for the delegates from Communist countries, and stubbornly
resisting when the Diefenbaker Government tried to pressure him into
postponing the second Pugwash Conference, at Lac Beauport, Quebec, in the
spring of 1958.
At the beginning of the first Pugwash conference it was unclear whether
this would be the start of something more permanent or simply a one-off
occasion. As the discussions progressed, it soon became apparent that the
meeting was not an end but a beginning. To ensure this, the Pugwash
delegates had picked a Continuing Committee, comprising one of the Soviet
participants, Skobeltzyn, along with Rabinowitch and two of the original
organizers, Rotblat and Powell. Russell accepted the invitation to act as
chairman, and he assumed this role when the Continuing Committee met for
the first time in Rotblat's offices at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical
College, London, in December 1957.
Shortly after the conference, another delegate, Leo Szilard, had
circulated a lengthy memorandum, lamenting that the participants had been
"largely occupied with preparing a public statement" (see CPBR 29: lii).
He wanted future gatherings to remain small, but narrowly focused on
particular problems with a view to shaping official thinking. Two other
organizational possibilities were considered by the Continuing Committee:
first, slightly larger meetings, where the emphasis would be on reaching
the scientific community at large, and second, high-profile occasions
geared towards reaching world opinion through declarations like the
Russell-Einstein manifesto. After much debate, the Continuing Committee
opted for both the small and medium-sized meetings while also making
allowance for the more intermittent convening of the grander public
assemblies that were Russell's preferred option. In fact, the two
occasions on which Russell delivered keynote addresses to Pugwash
gatherings-at Vienna in 1958 and London in 1962-were meetings of the
latter, larger kind.
After the Continuing Committee had established the mode of future Pugwash
activities, Russell remained chairman for another five years but played an
increasingly peripheral role in its emergence as a constructive and
independent voice of reason on nuclear testing, disarmament and related
Cold War issues. The distance which he placed between his other political
activities and Pugwash was not because he lacked sympathy for the
movement, although in his Autobiography he did dismiss one of its signal
political successes-the Partial Test-Ban Treaty of 1963-as a rather
derisory half-loaf. The reasons for Russell's gradual disengagement from
Pugwash were more prosaic; after assuming the presidency of the new
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he wanted to ensure that his political
energies were neither dissipated nor duplicated. For similar reasons,
Rotblat resigned from the executive of the recently formed CND to
concentrate his attention on Pugwash.
The Russell-Einstein manifesto had suggested apocalyptically that the Cold
War and the nuclear arms race boiled down to the following choice, "stark
and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or
shall mankind renounce war". Russell and Einstein and the other
signatories of the document no doubt appreciated that for armed conflict
to be superseded by peaceful means of dispute resolution formidable
obstacles would have to be overcome. As a vital first step, however, the
declaration had urged, in one of its most frequently quoted passages, that
"We must learn to think in a new way". Encouraging such modes of thinking
was not the least important legacy of Russell and Einstein, and the
emergence of the Pugwash movement in the aftermath of their manifesto was
an early and important demonstration of such thinking being transformed
Andrew G. Bone
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