Time Man of the millennium
Source Steve Zeltzer
Date 00/01/02/02:27

Why Socialism?
by Albert Einstein

This essay was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review
(May 1949).

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.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific
knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential
methodological differences between astronomy and economics:
scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general
acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to
make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly
understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological
differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of
economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed
economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are
very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which
has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period
of human history has--as is well known--been largely influenced and
limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in
nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their
existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established
themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the
conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the
land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own
ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of
society into a permanent institution and created a system of values
by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent
unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we
really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase"
of human development. The observable economic facts belong to
that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not
applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is
precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of
human development, economic science in its present state can throw
little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science,
however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human
beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain
certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities
with lofty ethical ideals and--if these ends are not stillborn, but vital
and vigorous--are adopted and carried forward by those many
human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution
of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate
science and scientific methods when it is a question of human
problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones
who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the
organization of society. 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. In order to illustrate my
meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently
discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of
another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the
existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national
organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my
visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply
opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly
made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has
striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or
lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and
isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is
cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with
any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can,
although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and
strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot
be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

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
the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his
development, by the structure of 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 human
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--in his physical,
intellectual, and emotional existence--that it is impossible to think of
him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is
"society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools
of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of
thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the
accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all
hidden behind the small word "society."

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon
society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished--just as in the
case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants
and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary
instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings
are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity
to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have
made possible developments among human being which are not
dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest
themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature;
scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This
how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life
his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting
play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution
which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural
urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition,
during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he
adopts from society 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.
Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative
investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior
human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing
cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in
society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of
may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned,
because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to
at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural
attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as
satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact
that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As
mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical
purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and
demographic developments of the last few centuries have created
conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled
populations with the goods which are indispensable to their
continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a
highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary.
The time--which, looking back, seems so idyllic--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

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to
me constitutes the essence of 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, as an
organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural
rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in
is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being
accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker,
progressively deteriorate. All human beings,
whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of
deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel
insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and
unsophisticated 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 before us a huge
community of producers, the members of which are unceasingly
striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective
labor--not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with
legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize
the means of production--that is to say, 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--although this does not quite correspond to the
customary use of the term. 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 about this
process is the relation between what the worker produces and what
he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor
contract is "free," 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
that even in theory 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 the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy
of private capital, the enormous power of 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
private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the
from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the
people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the
underprivileged sections of the population.
Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably
control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press,
radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most
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. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in
sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long
bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat
form of the "free labor contract" for certain categories of workers. But
taken as a whole, the present day
economy does not differ much from "pure" capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision
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 great hardship is the consequence. Technological
progress frequently results in more
unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all.
The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists,
is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of
capital 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 which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism.
Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated
competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to
worship acquisitive 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 itself 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 his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a
sense of responsibility for his fellow men, in place of the glorification
power and success in our present society.

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