Taboo Socialism

by Curlydock

In 1949, Albert Einstein published an essay in the May issue of Monthly Review entitled “Why Socialism?”. The following is my take on what he said. His essay can be found on the Web at “http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.htm”. I strongly recommend you read it. Your take might not be exactly the same as mine.

Now, as then, the terrible and subversive topic of socialism is “under a powerful taboo”. I agree with Einstein; we need to break this taboo.

He said it is important we express our views even if we are not experts in economics, science, philosophy, etc. I am taking him to heart here and now.

Economics, he said, is such a messy topic that it cannot be studied with rigor like other fields of science. Socialism is more an end than a means. While engineering, math and science might help us find a better way to an end, there is nothing they can really say about whether socialism should be our goal. We each will have to study, think, discuss with each other and come to our conclusions as best we can. As for myself, I have decided to abandon capitalism for socialism and to promote this decision. It is gratifying to know that a mind the caliber of Einstein’s would concur.

Einstein believed we are in a cultural crisis that is ultimately rooted in a self-contradiction in what it means to be a human being. Within each individual are conflicting needs. We need to both stand apart and stand together with others.

Our sense of freedom demands we go our own way. But the reality is that we cannot do without others. Somehow we came to see our individual interests as in conflict with the interests of society. Calm reflection tells us we are all in the same boat, but we still seem to need to assert ourselves over everyone else. How does this come about?

Is this internal conflict natural, from the time of birth, or is it something we learn from growing up in a culture devoted to greed and competition?

Einstein said there are no easy answers but for the sake of inner equilibrium we must try to orchestrate the demands of our contradictory nature. Unless a solution is found, a person cannot contribute significantly to society’s well-being.

In the development of solutions, we must hold faith that “nurture” can trump “nature”. We have memory and communication abilities that allow us to take charge of our development.

Anthropology has shown that cultural patterns are not fixed. We can choose our culture if we only will. Thinking and wanting can help determine what we will become, unlike ants and bees which are fixed in their cultures. This is a job for our imagination.

However, he said, while we may adjust some things to enhance life, some things that used to be possible will never be possible again. Man will never again be able to choose self-sufficiency as an individual or small group. To sustain the population level, we must continue to use the technologies that allowed the population to grow this large. We must continue to use extreme division of labor and large scale production if we are to satisfy our material needs. This must be done even in a socialist culture. Whatever else is possible, a global network of production and consumption must continue.

The root of our problems today, the source of evil, is the economic anarchy of capitalism. Workers are not paid based on the value of what they produce. They are paid only enough to keep them engaged to the process. The difference in value is taken by the owners of the means of production. This makes a parasite of the owner and a slave of the worker. Wealth accumulates to the few and the many are impoverished.

The intense concentration of wealth in a few hands nullifies democracy by corrupting the government, the press and the educational system. Competition, profit motive, and technological advancement keeps too many people unemployed. Selfish use of capital for the short term causes instability in the system which then cycles through periods of overproduction and underproduction; boom and bust.

Einstein said the worst evil of capitalism is the crippling of individuals. This comes early in life by an educational system geared to stress greed and competition above all else.

The only cure Einstein could see is a planned socialist economy and an educational system emphasizing social skills.

He cautioned, however, that a planned economy is not the same as socialism. True socialism is achieved only through the liberation of the individual. He said we must carefully avoid the centralization of power, whether it is based on government or business.

That is my take on Einstein’s essay.

I agree with most of it, but I wonder about the need to keep extreme division of labor, the current level of technology and a world-scale productive network. Our population, even larger now than when Einstein wrote, may already have passed a level that can be sustained even with the continued use of big and complicated production. These techniques have only worked in the short run by cheating in the accounting of all the costs to the environment and non-renewable resources. We may be on the verge of a very hard limit. On this I certainly hope I am wrong.

Dear reader, can you convince me otherwise? Did I make a mistake on my take of Einstein’s essay? Please feel very welcome to comment.

Marxism and Reincarnation

Now in late adulthood, I am finally discovering Marxism.

Until now, I tended to think: avoid extremes. The best socioeconomic solution is a regulated capitalism, I thought, and that our current troubles are due to deregulation and refusal to enforce existing regulations.

That begs the question: why can’t we keep the progress we make? Will we always be going in circles?

But now I find myself leaning toward the tenet of true socialism, that we need to do away with capitalism altogether. No compromises.

Why?

Can I prove we need this? No, I cannot. How do I know it then? I am no expert in economics or Marxism.

Will you laugh when I say: my instinct convinces me?

Perhaps what I call “instinct” are convictions that have grown from a lifetime of experiences. It is not scientific. It is not from deep and thorough philosophic debate. There is no mathematical or logical rigor.

So, what separates me from a cultist? Good question. I can say that my desire to find the truth is sincere. I am not seeking to fatten my wallet, as are the apologists who proclaim “greed is good”.

Instead of calculating “What’s in it for me?”, I listen as my instinct asserts the nobrainer: “We are all in the same boat.” If our destinies are indeed so bound together, why can’t we affirm this truth in our collective behavior? What do we really need competition and capitalism for?

If Marx is right, not only do we not need it, but capitalism is degrading our human nature as well as poisoning the planet. We desperately need to evolve beyond it.

It seems a bit odd, even to me, how I came to Marxism / socialism.

About a year or two ago, I noticed bittersweet twinges deep within, frequently when I was reading something about socialism, communism or the U.S.S.R. There seemed to be a chord striking, resonating from a period in time corresponding to about the first decade of my life: the 1950s. But, this did not make sense to me. Practically all of my life has been spent in Kentucky. I never lived or visited abroad. I only know how to speak English.

Then came to me a drive to construct a time line or history of that period and beyond, both personal and global. Until then, history had always bored me. Now it seems vital.

I have not been able to find a correlation between these early memories and the passages on socialism that stir them. There seems to be no logical or rational connection. The recollections are always deeply personal and emotional, as if they were inspired by an odor instead of a philosophical debate.

I found myself wondering about reincarnation, the universal subconscious, etc., but these musings are not completely formed at present.

Wouldn’t it be a hoot, however, if socialism eventually prevailed over capitalism because socialists are continuously reincarnated while capitalists are not?