Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why socialism?

Albert Einstein's essay entitled Why Socialism?, published in the first issue of the Monthly Review (, is as timely today as it was then. It addresses all of the issues that bedevil us, including the lack of a free press, and the impotence of our efforts:

"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."

Later on he says that the profit motive "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."

Thorstein Veblen, whom Einstein mentions in his essay, actually coined the phrase "Conspicuous Consumption" leading to conspicuous waste in his "Theory of the Leisure Class"(, a writing which analyzes and satirizes the sordid influence of laissez-faire economics and big business on society and culture.

There have been some socialist experiments on our planet that have not fared well; it is, after all, a relatively young theory, and I think its efforts have been mired by the existence of that conspicuous consumption and waste so prevalent in the capitalist world. It is hard not to be swayed by the more and bigger is better siren lure of Madison Avenue. Harder yet to live the simple life, when all around you luxury beckons... And the profit motive has always been an infection that spreads and grows and becomes rabid, as in Walmart and its practices being touted as a 'good' business model throughout the world. "Save money, live better." For the owner-predators, the model consists of carefully controlled employment at the lowest wages and at all stages of production and sale, cut-throat competition, including the wiping out of cottage industries, and an absolute disregard for the laws protecting workers. But they are profitable, and are therefore on the list of 'stock to buy.'

My nightmare for some time now has been that Cuba would be 'opened' to US investment, and that Walmart would desecrate the Habana landscape...

But as for socialism, it's been so painted by that same Madison Avenue, or tarred and feathered would be a better word for what's been done to it, as the ultimate evil, that the sole mention of the word sends people running.

I, proudly, am a socialist.

No comments: