23 July 2010

Why Socialism? By Albert Einstein

Why Socialism?

By Albert Einstein

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

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. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.


17 July 2010

"BBC: Choosing the right word makes the difference"

Thanks to Peter Charles over at the Media Lens Message Board, who spotted the fact that the BBC had changed the wording and meaning of one of the questions of the recent Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) survey on "the attitudes of Jews in Britain to Israel":

Here is what Peter wrote:

""A majority of British Jews believe Israel should swap territory for peace, and negotiate with Hamas, a survey suggests"


It doesn't say "swap" - it says "give up"

The BBC make it sound like it is their territory to begin with.

Well spotted Peter!

Here is my e-mail to the BBC:

"Dear Sirs,

In its report of the British JPR Israel Survey, I was incredibly surprised to find that the BBC had changed the wording from the report, using a word that is not even a synonym of the word the JPR used.

In its article the unnamed BBC journalist writes "A majority of British Jews believe Israel should swap territory for peace...a survey suggests."

The actual wording used by the JPR survey was: "“Israel should give up territory in exchange for guarantees of peace with the Palestinians”"

This is incredibly misleading. I am a teacher of English and 'swap' and 'give up' just don't mean the same thing. They're not even close. Please correct this error immediately."

12 July 2010

World Champions!!!!!

Spain totally deserved to win.

10 July 2010

The BBC’s pact with Israel > Global > Redress Information & Analysis

The BBC’s pact with Israel > Global > Redress Information & Analysis

09 July 2010

07 July 2010

BBC misleads yet again on Iran

Last Thursday, the BBC carried what appeared to be an innocuous article on the resignation of Olli Heinonen, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards at the IAEA.

Included in the article were these statements:

"Mr Heinonen's department's five-year investigation drew on Western intelligence to help to build the IAEA's case that Iran was working to develop a nuclear-armed missile.
Tehran says the intelligence is forged and that its atomic work is for civilian purposes only."

 What case, I wondered?

For those who don't know Olli Heinonen, it's important to read Porter's article "IAEA to keep heat on Iran"to understand that, in sinc with the George W. Bush administration, "Heinonen was instrumental in making a collection of intelligence documents showing a purported Iranian nuclear weapons research program the central focus of the IAEA's work on Iran. The result was to shift much of opinion among Western publics to the view that Iran had been pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program... 

Heinonen took over the safeguards department in July 2005 - the same month the George W Bush administration first briefed top IAEA officials on the intelligence collection...

The Bush administration was pushing the IAEA to use the documents to accuse Iran of having had a covert nuclear weapons program. The administration was determined to ensure that the IAEA governing board would support referring Iran to the UN Security Council for action on sanctions, as part of a larger strategy to force Iran to abandon its uranium-enrichment program.

Long-time IAEA director general Mohammed ElBaradei and other officials involved in investigating and reporting on Iran's nuclear program were immediately skeptical about the authenticity of the documents. According to two Israeli authors, Yossi Melman and Meir Javadanfar, several IAEA officials told them in interviews in 2005 and 2006 that senior officials of the agency believed the documents had been "fabricated by a Western intelligence organization".

Heinonen, on the other hand, supported the strategy of exploiting the collection of intelligence documents to put Iran on the defensive. His approach was not to claim that the documents' authenticity had been proven but to shift the burden of proof to Iran, demanding that it provide concrete evidence that it had not carried out the activities portrayed in the documents.

In fact Heinonen was putting into practice the Bush doctrine, the same doctrine that had been so successfully used in the supreme crime against Iraq - that the accused must prove its innocence.  Of course, we all know this is impossible, and the burden of proof must always be with the accusation not the defence.

I quickly rushed off the following complaint to the BBC:

"The anonymous author(s) write(s): "Mr Heinonen's department's five-year investigation drew on Western intelligence to help to build the IAEA's case that Iran was working to develop a nuclear-armed missile. Tehran says the intelligence is forged and that its atomic work is for civilian purposes only."

In fact, contrary to what the BBC writes, the IAEA has never made any such case that "Iran was working to develop a nuclear-armed missile", and it is not only Tehran that says the intelligence is forged, the Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination of the IAEA also has doubts as to whether the 'intelligence' is genuine.

These are part of the so-called "Alleged Studies" claims brought to the attention of the agency by the United States and based on the computer evidence it claims was obtained from a secret source in Iran, and which, according to Julian Borger of the Guardian, has caused a lot of controversy within the IAEA itself regarding authenticity.

As Gareth Porter has written: "Whether those documents are genuine or were fabricated has been the subject of a fierce struggle behind the scenes for many months between two departments of the IAEA (Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination & the Safeguards Department, headed by Olli Heinonen).

Some IAEA officials even began calling for a clear statement by the agency that it could not affirm the documents' authenticity after the agency obtained hard evidence in early 2008 that a key document in the collection had been fraudulently altered

Further, the IAEA has consistently stated that it has no actual evidence to back up the claims.

The draft report of the Safeguards Dept., while saying that the IAEA "assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device" (not a missile) also includes "other passages (that) indicate the authors regard such knowledge only as a possibility, based on suspicions rather than concrete evidence", as Porter puts it.

The draft is full of words such as "has information", "may still be conducting", "From the documents presented by a number of Member States and the Agency‟s own activities, it is possible to assess...", "Iran may have developed...which could be contained...", "Based on the information in the document, the Agency assesses that it is possible that Iran...", "The Agency suspects...",  "“It is believed that Iran has developed...", "The Agency has evidence from which it is possible to assess...", "From the evidence presented to the Agency it is possible to suggest that..."

Finally the leaked draft report also includes this statement: "Overall the Agency does not believe that Iran has yet achieved the means of integrating a nuclear payload into the Shahab 3 missile"

I would kindly ask that the BBC rephrase these statements to reflect the facts of the matter, not opinions within one department at the IAEA. I would also ask the BBC to rewrite the article so that the information I have pointed out be included.

I would also like to know why the article is not authored? Who wrote the article?"

There is a deliberate attempt by the US and it's western NATO poodles to distort information so that they can eventually attack Iran - another act of naked aggression."

I'll post the reply if and when I get one.

03 July 2010

SALVAR EL PALMAR by Coraje New Andalusian Folklore