By Christopher Chase
Nov 20, 2016
The following are excerpts from Albert Einstein’s essay “Why Socialism?” published in the May 1949 issue of the Monthly Review. In this article Einstein describes the systemic problems with capitalism. How as wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few the elites form an oligarchy, gaining control of the media and able to sway politicians to make laws in their favor. In this way democracy is subverted…
“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 organised 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…
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.. 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.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by 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 in our age of transition…”
Monthly Review (May 1949)