Sunday, February 11, 2024

Nikola Tesla on the USSR: “The Russians are lucky — they have socialism and Stalin”

By Nikos Mottas

Nikola Tesla, the famous Serbian mechanical and electrical engineer, who became a naturalized U.S citizen, is rightfully considered one of the greatest inventors and scientists of the 20th century.  

There is very limited knowledge of his political ideas, except from his idealistic - pretty much ingenuous - envision of a world of peace and understanding. 

After all, Tesla (1856-1943) lived in times of worldwide wars and significant geopolitical rearrangements, when capitalism was reaching its highest, imperialist stage. He lived through the First World War and died in the midst of the Second World War, having seen his own country torn apart, as a consequence of fierce imperialist competitions. Among others, he lived to see the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution, the first important capitalist crisis (Great Depression, 1929-1933), the rise of Nazism in Europe, the gradual fall of the British Empire and the rise of the United States of America.

Under the Freedom Information Act, FBI declassified approximately 250 pages of documents related to Tesla in 2016, followed by two additional releases up to 2018 (1). The majority of the Federal Bureau's documents focus on whether or not the Serbian-American scientist had invented a particle-beam weapon (known as “Death Ray”) that could possibly fall in the hands of Washington's enemies, primarily the Soviet Union

There is nothing in the FBI declassified documents to suggest any ties of Nikola Tesla with the socialist camp, other than his nephew, Sava Kosanovic, who at the time of Tesla's death (1943) was the Yugoslav Ambassador to the U.S. and the man who inherited his estate. Furthermore, the archives have revealed a memo indicating that a man by the name of "Nicola Tesla" (with a "c", not "k"), made a speech at the Orange Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, on 4 June 1922, under the auspices of the Friends of Soviet Russia organization. Was he Nikola Tesla the inventor, or someone with a similar name?

The fact is that there is no substantial proof that the Serbian inventor had any ideological or political affiliation with socialism-communism. However, a book published in 2017 in Russia, under the title “I Can Explain a Lot” (Дневники. Я могу объяснить многое, Москва, 2017) provides us a glimpse of Tesla's positive attitude towards the socialist construction in the Soviet Union.

Before going to the relevant abstract, it's necessary to point out that the book, which is a memoir, was edited by journalist and distant cousin of Tesla, named Stevan Jovanovic. Jovanovic, allegedly a maternal cousin of Josip Tito's wife, Jovanka Budisavljević, claims that he managed to obtain access to FBI's archives thus retrieving valuable information.

That being said, it cannot be guaranteed that the memoirs included in the book are authentic – nonetheless, they undoubtedly possess special historical interest that stimulates further research.

Here are some selected abstracts from the book (2):

I often regret that at that time I chose the United States instead of Russia (3). There was no difference then. In the meantime, with the appearance of the USSR, everything has changed radically, it is now significantly different from the rest of the world. The newspapers pour shit on it, but those who come from there say incredible things. I was most intrigued by the Soviet system of science. Their scientists are provided with a salary and necessary working conditions. They are freed from daily duties, concentrating exclusively on science. They don't have to think about who will finance them. When the state, a socialist state, is behind you and not a rich man who can change his mind at any moment - that is reliable. I often think about how I would go to the USSR, if only I was 15-20 years younger. I had the opportunity to go to Moscow, I still have it now, but I am too old for such a big step. In addition, I cannot leave the work I have started, which could become one of my greatest discoveries...”.

“I am following the situation in Russia carefully. I try to get testimonies from eyewitnesses, not from newspapers that lie non-stop. I approve of the Russian revolution because it proclaimed the principle of honesty on one-sixth of the earth's surface. The Soviet Union faces incredible trials, but the country is ready to overcome them. The Russians are lucky - they have socialism and Stalin. A happy people with a wise leader. I envy the Russians and feel sorry for my compatriots who are ruled by three random people...”

“If I could go back half a century, I wouldn't think for a second, I would go to Moscow, and send Batchelor (4) and Edison to hell. In my small library, I keep in a prominent place a collection of texts on the October Revolution that Skvirsky (5) gave me as a gift. I often return to the collection and think with sympathy about the country that I cannot visit. Old age has many advantages, but also two disadvantages - weak health and thinking in the spirit: "I will never succeed in this". If I had children or grandchildren, I would probably, for the sake of their happiness, decide to go to the USSR”.

“I do not regret anything if it benefits the Soviet people. On the other hand, I categorically rejected all proposals for cooperation that came from the Germans. I was amazed by their persistence, which stems not from strength of character but from stubbornness. I know very well what modern Germany represents. It is enough to listen to Albert Einstein and his motives for emigration. We can disagree on matters of science, but not on politics. The German-Japanese pact against the USSR causes concern. However, I am convinced that no power in this world can defeat the Soviet Union. If they couldn't overthrow the new regime in Moscow immediately after the Revolution, they won't be able to now either”.

“While working on a project with Venom, I know very well for what purposes the obtained results will be used. My most significant discoveries were used primarily by the military industry. I never liked it because I am by nature a peaceful person and an opponent of any war. Many years ago, I was forced to hide from being drafted into the Austrian army. I did it out of principle, not fear. The very thought of murder is disgusting to me. Only emergency situations, such as defense of the motherland, could make me pick up a gun and shoot other people. Defending Austria-Hungary, which oppressed us for years, does not occur to me. I am not ashamed to work for the United States Department of Defense. Sooner or later the American military will have to confront Hitler because such a bastard can only be defeated by the joint action of a united world. I am convinced that a new world war will break out soon and that it will be started by the Germans, just like last time. Unhappy twentieth century! We put so much hope in him, and he has brought so much misery to humanity and will continue to bring. The only positive thing in this century is the Russian revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union. I remember the forecasts from 1918 very well. In the beginning, everyone said that the Bolsheviks would not stay in power for more than a few months. Later, months turned into years. Twenty years have passed, and the Bolsheviks are still in power! Twenty years! In the beginning, the whole world turned its back on the revolutionaries, now it recognizes them and cooperates with them. I would be very happy if Stalin visited the United States. I have a great desire to see him, but my health does not allow me to make such a long journey”.

“Maybe the Germans would understand me, but I would never cooperate with them. I always rejected proposals from Berlin without thinking. There is no difference between Austrians and Germans, they equally enjoy oppressing other peoples. The very fact of German scientists and intellectuals being completely subordinated to the will of the insane Hitler speaks volumes about the Germans. I understand them, they were enchanted by the idea of ​​ruling the world propagated by Hitler. In their empire, the Austrians treated each other like people, other peoples were just dust under their feet. While I lived there, they reminded me every day in one way or another that I was a Serb.”

“I have been regularly sending my ideas to Soviet scientists for twenty years. However, apart from letters of thanks I never received a concrete response. It is possible that the leadership of the USSR is busy, among other things, with the current state of war, so there are not enough resources to devote to my documents. It is possible that they are angry because of my doubt about Lenin's electrification plan. At that time, it really seemed impossible that after the world war, and later the civil war, a devastated country like Russia would build 30 powerful hydroelectric power plants in just 10 years. Later I admitted that I had been mistaken and asked Skvirsky to personally deliver my letter of apology to Stalin. He assured me that everything was fine and said, "The plan was so fantastic that even Herbert Wells didn't believe in it." I am ashamed that I did not believe Lenin then. Every time someone doesn't believe in my ideas, I remember Lenin's electrification plan.”

“At the conference in Moscow, Churchill postponed the opening of the Western Front in Europe until the following year. A typically British position, to wait for an opportune moment and then claim the "biggest piece of the cake". This time Churchill's plan will not come true. The USSR has long since proved its greatness to the world and will prove it once again. Harriman was in the background at the conference, which perfectly reflects the current politics of the United States. More and more often I wonder if the United States government is even interested in destroying the Axis Powers or weakening the USSR as much as possible. Damn hypocritical diplomacy. Isn't it clear to everyone - the sooner the united world moves against Hitler and his allies, the sooner they will be destroyed. My compatriots are fighting against the enemy in incredibly difficult conditions, and Churchill is postponing aid to the Russians until next year. It is easy for politicians to sit idly by for months, even years. They are not aware of how many people die in war every minute.”

“Now I'm glad that the United States government ignored my new weapons project. It would probably have been used not against Hitler, but against the Soviet Union. Hitler is only a competitor for world domination. The USSR is something much more. It is another world, a country that proves to humanity with its existence that it is possible to build the world on completely new principles. From the way they treat the communists here, it is clear how much they fear them. Because of contacts with Soviet citizens, I have already had three conversations with the FBI. They can't do anything to me, but they still leave an unpleasant impression. I, a free citizen of a country that presents itself as the pinnacle of freedom, am forced to talk to strangers about things that require no explanation. They talked to me like a spy. 

What can a Serb expect in the United States? Just a misunderstanding. It is difficult to live in a world where the word honor and dignity has been replaced by the word dollar. I spent most of my life in the United States, but I didn't feel "at home". I'm not denying or diminishing the greatness of the United States, I'm just stating that it's not a country I'd want to live in. Now it is too late to change my life that is coming to an end. I'm just stating the fact and I remember with sadness the words of the Batchelor that made me go to America. In my life I made two irreparable mistakes: I decided to be lonely and went to America instead of Russia. I can't change anything, but admit a mistake, it's never too late.”

Notes by N. Mottas

(2) Nikola Tesla. Dnevniki. La Mogu Obiasnit Mnogoe, Jauza, Moscow 2018.
(3) Tesla emmigrated to the U.S. on June 1884
(4) Charles W. Batchelor, inventor and close associated of Thomas Edison.
(5) Boris Skvirsky, Soviet Ambassador to the U.S, 1922-1932.

* Nikos Mottas is the Editor-in-Chief of In Defense of Communism.