Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Socialism?

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

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

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

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.

koko sejarawan


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