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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

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
less 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 the 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 by 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 being 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; in scientific and
engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it
happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his
own conduct, and that 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 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 of 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 man may ground their
hopes human beings are not condemned, because of their biological
constitution, to annihilate each other or to be 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 consumption.

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 society 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 that 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 by private capitalists
who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate 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 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. Of course,
there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In
particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter
political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved
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
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 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 of power
and success in our present society.

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