Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Einstein in Sweezy's Mag

Albert Einstein had an article in the inaugural issue of Monthly Review. I don't know if there is a story here. Did Paul Sweezy, the publisher of the magazine ask Einstein for this article? Did Einstein merely answer a call for papers?

When I first found out about existence of this article, I expected Einstein to merely put forward comments about how we should all try to get along. (I'm never quite sure if I understand the word "Bien-pensant". I know enough French to translate it, but I think I've stumbled on the concept here.) But when I read Einstein's article I found out that he accepts Marx as having made scientific claims:
"The owner of the means 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." -- Albert Einstein (1949) "Why Socialism?", Monthly Review (May), as reprinted in Out of My Later Years


Gabriel M said...

One can find more about Einstein's socialism in his "How I See the World" book. I found it banal, the sort of tragic optimism regarding centralized planning that characterized polite, intellectual company in the '30s and '40s.

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert,

You can get some background on the piece here:

"Some among Wallace’s supporters chafed at his party’s failure to move beyond New Deal liberalism. They thought the party should have taken explicitly socialist positions on questions like public ownership of basic industries, for example. Among those who held such views were Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, founders of this magazine as a venue for ongoing comprehensive analysis and commentary from a socialist and Marxist perspective. Einstein applauded the founding of Monthly Review, and, at the request of Huberman’s friend Otto Nathan, wrote his essay, Why Socialism?, for the first issue in May 1949. Together with Einstein’s celebrity, the article’s clear statement of the case for socialism in logical, moral, and political terms drew attention to the birth of this small left-wing magazine. In the hostile political climate of that time, the article surely provided necessary encouragement both to the authority and the circulation of this magazine."

Anonymous said...

Well, Einstein does not actually mention Marx at all in his essay.

The notion that there is a difference between the wages paid to a worker and what they produce for their employee was highlighted by Proudhon in 1840 (What is Property?). This was why Proudhon supported co-operatives to replace wage-labour, for example. And I'm sure that the early socialist writers in Britain in the 1820s and 1830s also made this point. And they also supported co-operatives.

So Marx was not the first to pin-point the source of exploitation in the workplace, in the hierarchical relations between worker and boss. Many other socialists had done so already.

True, Marx built upon and deepened their insights, but still, to think that exploitation takes place in the workplace is not specifically Marxist or purely associated with Marx. It is a general socialist position, agreed to by anarchists and Marxists.

As for Einstein's essay, it is hardly banal and it is not that blindly optimistic about central planning. As he points out:

"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."

And capitalism is riddled with planning. Companies and corporations plan all the time -- and due to the hierarchies within it, somewhat inefficiently. So it is more a question of who plans what and how under any social system. Einstein seemed aware of the problems with centralisation, so perhaps he would have supported a more decentralised version of socialism -- but, sadly, he does not go into specifics.

Part of the problem with Leninism is its vision of "socialism" as the world being "one single workplace" (as per "State and Revolution"). Given Engels' infamously terrible "On Authority", then it is hardly surprising that Leninism simply replaced capitalism with state capitalism.

And so anarchist predictions were proven right. One big boss (the party-state) ruling over one big workplace... Not a positive vision at all.

An Anarchist FAQ

Robert Vienneau said...

Mike, thanks for the link to an informative piece. Iain, I believe that you are correct about this notion of exploitation pre-dating Marx. You'll probably have occasion to remind again and again.

Comments on my post about Coase worried me. But now that Gabriel's back on the other side, the world's back to normal.