Einstein’s view on Socialism (w/90 sec modern preamble; unspoken)


“Why Socialism?” by Albert Einstein This article was originally printed in
the May 1949 first issue of monthly review. Is it advisable for one who is
not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject
of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is. Innumerable voices
have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a
crisis that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic
of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward
the group small or large to which they belong. Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment during his development, by the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society – that it is impossible to think or to understand him, outside the framework of society. The dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished, the social pattern and interrelationships are very variable and susceptible to change. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part. Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable; including natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. The biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. The time – is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption. I have now reached the point where I may indicate what to me constitutes the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives progressively deteriorate. All human beings are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the simple enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society. The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see a huge community of producers which are increasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor – not by force, but with legally established rules. It is important to realize the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods -may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals. For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. What the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product. Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of
smaller ones …the result is an Oligarchy which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights. The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. There is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. Production is carried on for profit, there is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than an easing of the burden for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for instability which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals. This crippling of individuals I consider the worst of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting innate abilities, would attempt to develop a sense of responsibility in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. It is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured? Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance under present circumstances; the unhindered discussion of these problems has become …a taboo.

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