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This essay was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review

                      Why Socialism?

                      by Albert Einstein
                      (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
                      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

                      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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