Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Thinking Project: Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein



Whenever I come across a gem I make a mental note to share it. An essay by Albert Einstein, legendary ladies man, thinker on the race problem, and genius numero uno, seemed quite fitting given the political moment of the last few weeks.

In the aftermath of the Right's continued assault on organized labor and the American Middle Class as manifest by Governor Scott Walker's skulduggery in Wisconsin, I have been wondering if we have finally reached "the crisis moment" (as legendary political philosophers Michel Foucault and Slavoj Zizek would describe it). Or stated differently: is this time of rising corporate profits and record unemployment, an inflated stock market, and the continued gutting of the social contract, one in which the New Right knuckledraggers of the Tea Party brigades and the detritus of the Reagan Democrats will come to see that they are in fact with "us" and not "them?"

Ultimately, pragmatists (of which I count myself), moderates, progressives, liberals, and reasoned conservatives need to wake up and realize that the Tea Party GOP assault on collective bargaining, efforts to silence dissenting voices at NPR and PBS, and the Right-wing's big lies of "liberal racism," "birtherism," and "White oppression" are all tied together. The Tea Party GOP is playing a long, deep game. The other side is left in the dust, hand-ringing and confused, as they try to take the moral high road to no where. As I have long said, it is time to put on the brass knuckles and fight back. But alas, it may be too late as the battle is in its denouement.

Thus, Albert Einstein's brilliant explication of his own political beliefs seemed quite appropriate. Here are some select excerpts from his classic essay Why Socialism?

Please share, consider, and reflect, as Einstein's words speak eloquently to our troubled times.

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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...

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.

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...

6 comments:

Thrasher said...

Sorry but I am not feeling Einstein he is out of his element and theory simply is not reality..

My barber is a supreme philosopher who has the ability to be the finest surgeon alive with regards to marriage, hoops and hair but I would not trust him nnear a frying pan or a lawnmover ..Einstein is no different and of course he is dead ..So for me I don't pay much attention to the advice of people who can't swim while I am in the pool..

Nostradamus chatter is another template I ignore as well...Just sayin.. I do listen to my gramps for some things of course...lol,lol,lol

Oh Crap said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oh Crap said...

I wish white progressives would get a new schtick. It's a terrible thing to think, let alone utter in print, but Chris Hedges' looks freak me out. He seems to be to be trying to channel Niemoller, famous for those few lines about "first they came for". But dude just ends up looking like something straight out of Himmler's cabinet.

As for "the Obama brand", he uses the phrase in a propagandistic way, even as he decries branding (and by extension propaganda.) Other white progs like Mike Malloy do the exact same thing. Hedges is one of the main reasons I do not trust white progressives as far as I can throw them. Not because I disagree so much with their critiques, but because, even as they clamor for the president to become the new FDR, they remind me of the anti-FDR left, which also got us nowhere, historically.

It took him 600 pages, but Ralph Ellison described the phenomenon the best.

chaunceydevega said...

@Thrasher. The barbershop allusion is funny. But dude was more than an atom smasher. Check out his writings on race and civil rights.

@Oh Crap. What do you think of the argument regarding inverted totalitarianism thought? Hedges is trying to ride Wolin's pony, but check out the original text. One of my faves of the last few years along with Kevin Phillip's book on American Empire, oil, and religion.

Thrasher said...

CD,

There are better people who muse about race and civil rights is my point...Just because you are an expert does not mean you are an expert...lol,lol,lol

zimzimma said...

Great post. Einstein was definitely more than just the a-bomb inventor. Some of his opinions are surprisingly (surprised me anyway) very emotional.

A lot of points in this essay seem to ring true even in present times, but I seriously just read something yesterday similar to: "Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all." Last week an article in the NYtimes echoed a very similar statement but went further to say that technology (and jobs) that doesn't serve to help humanity cripples society in a number of ways (you'd think we would have figured this out by now...). The first vision that popped into my head was the Ipad, the Iphone, youtube, facebook, etc. We have many popular and successful technologies but, nonetheless, with very limited capabilities in improving lifestyle for greater society (other than being a symbols of status). But since people are making a killing off these things- and related accessories/apps/marketing- you know there's only going to be more like it around the corner. If inventing technologies or ways to actually help people, and not distract them 24/7, ever became profitable could you imagine what geniuses would come up with? I'll keep dreamin...