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Was Albert Einstein a Socialist?
By Albert Einstein
From Monthly Review, New York, May, 1949.
[Re-printed in Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein]
Transcribed by Lenny Gray
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.
The Political & Spiritual Purpose of the
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|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
But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really
Second, socialism is directed toward a social-ethical end. Science, however,
|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 beings 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.
In so far 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 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.