Socialist Worker

Einstein on socialism

To introduce a series on Albert Einstein, we print extracts from his 1949 essay Why Socialism?

Issue No. 1943

The young Einstein

The young Einstein


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.

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.

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.

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 organisations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable. 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.

Human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of fate.

The essence of the crisis of our time 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, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society is the real source of the evil.

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.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands. 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.

Private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education).

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labour, and to the crippling of the social consciousness of individuals.

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 utilised 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.

The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

This is from an article in the US socialist magazine Monthly Review in 1949. Go to www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.htm for the full version.


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