From: Betrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays, 1935

It is said by many in the present day that Communism and Fascism are the only practical alternatives in politics, and that whoever does not support the one in effect supports the other. I find myself in opposition to both, and I can no more accept either alternative than, if I had lived in the sixteenth century, I could have been either a Protestant or a Catholic. I will set forth, as briefly as I can, my objections, first to Communism, then to Fascism, and then to what both have in common.

When I speak of a “Communist,” I mean a person who accepts the doctrines of the Third International. In a sense, the early Christians were Communists, and so were many mediaeval sects; but this sense is now obsolete. I will set forth my reasons for not being a Communist seriatim.

1. I cannot assent to Marx’s philosophy, still less to that of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. I am not a materialist, though I am even further removed from idealism. I do not believe that there is any dialectical necessity in historical change; this belief was taken over by Marx from Hegel, without its only logical basis, namely, the primacy of the Idea. Marx believed that the next stage in human development must be in some sense a progress; I see no reason for this belief.

2. I cannot accept Marx’s theory of value, nor yet, in his form, the theory of surplus value. The theory that the exchange value of a commodity is proportional to the labour involved in its production, which Marx took over from Ricardo, is shown to be false by Ricardo’s theory of rent, and has long been abandoned by all non-Marxian economists. The theory of surplus value rests upon Malthus’s theory of population, which Marx elsewhere rejects. Marx’s economics do not form a logically coherent whole, but are built up by the alternate acceptance and rejection of older doctrines, as may suit his convenience in making out a case against the capitalists.

3. It is dangerous to regard any one man as infallible; the consequence is necessarily an over- simplification. The tradition of the verbal inspiration of the Bible has made men too ready to look for a Sacred Book. But this worship of authority is contrary to the scientific spirit.

4. Communism is not democratic. What it calls the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is in fact the dictatorship of a small minority, who become an oligarchic governing class. All history shows that government is always conducted in the interests of the governing class, except in so far as it is influenced by fear of losing its power. This is the teaching, not only of history, but of Marx. The governing class in a Communist State has even more power than the capitalist class in a “democratic” State. So long as it retains the loyalty of the armed forces, it can use its power to obtain for itself advantages quite as harmful as those of capitalists. To suppose that it will always act for the general good is mere foolish idealism, and is contrary to Marxian political psychology.

5. Communism restricts liberty, particularly intellectual liberty, more than any other system except Fascism. The complete unification of both economic and political power produces a terrifying engine of oppression, in which there are no loopholes for exceptions. Under such a system progress would soon become impossible, since it is the nature of bureaucrats to object to all change except increase in their own power. All serious innovation is only rendered possible by some accident enabling unpopular persons to survive. Kepler lived by astrology, Darwin by inherited wealth, Marx by Engels’s “exploitation” of the proletariat of Manchester. Such opportunities of surviving in spite of unpopularity would be impossible under Communism.

6. There is in Marx, and in current Communist thought, an undue glorification of manual as against brain workers. The result has been to antagonize many brain workers who might otherwise have seen the necessity of Socialism, and without whose help the organization of a Socialist State is scarcely possible. The division of classes is put by Marxians, in practice even more than in theory, too low in the social scale.

7. The preaching of the class-war is likely to cause it to break out at a moment when the opposing forces are more or less evenly balanced, or even when the preponderance is on the side of the capitalists. If the capitalist forces preponderate, the result is an era of reaction. If the forces on both sides are roughly equal, the result, given modern methods of warfare, is likely to be the destruction of civilization, involving the disappearance of both capitalism and Communism. I think that, where democracy exists, Socialists should rely upon persuasion, and should only use force to repel an illegal use of force by their opponents. By this method it will be possible for Socialists to acquire so great a preponderance that the final war may be brief, and not sufficiently serious to destroy civilization.

8. There is so much of hate in Marx and in Communism that Communists can hardly be expected, when victorious, to establish a regime affording no outlet for malevolence. The arguments in favour of oppression are therefore likely to seem to the victors stronger than they are, especially if the victory has resulted from a fierce and doubtful war. After such a war the victorious party are not likely to be in the mood for sane reconstruction. Marxists are too apt to forget that war has its own psychology, which is the result of fear, and is independent of the original cause of contention.

The view that the only practically possible choice is between Communism and Fascism seems to me definitely untrue in America, England, and France, and probably also in Italy and Germany. England had a period of Fascism under Cromwell, France under Napoleon, but in neither case was this a bar to subsequent democracy. Politically immature nations are not the best guides as to the political future.

My objections to Fascism are simpler than my objections to Communism, and in a sense more fundamental. The purpose of the Communists is one with which, on the whole, I am in agreement; my disagreement is as to means rather than ends. But in the case of the Fascists I dislike the end as much as the means.

Fascism is a complex movement; its German and Italian forms differ widely, and in other countries, if it spreads, it may assume still other shapes. It has, however, certain essentials, without which it would cease to be Fascism. It is anti-democratic, it is nationalistic, it is capitalistic, and it appeals to those sections of the middle class which suffer through modern developments and expect to suffer still more if Socialism or Communism becomes established. Communism, also, is anti-democratic, but only for a time, at least so far as its theoretical statements can be accepted as giving its real policy; moreover, it aims at serving the interests of wage-earners, who are a majority in advanced countries, and are intended by Communists to become the whole population. Fascism is anti-democratic in a more fundamental sense. It does not accept the greatest happiness of the greatest number as the right principle in statesmanship, but selects certain individuals, nations, and classes as “the best,” and as alone worthy of consideration. The remainder are to be compelled by force to serve the interests of the elect.

While Fascism is engaged in the struggle to acquire power, it has to make an appeal to a considerable section of the population. Both in Germany and in Italy, it arose out of Socialism, by rejecting whatever was anti-nationalistic in the orthodox programme. It took over from Socialism the idea of economic planning and of an increase in the power of the State, but the planning, instead of being for the benefit of the whole world, was to be in the interests of the upper and middle class in one country. And these interests it seeks to secure, not so much by increased efficiency, as by increased oppression, both of wage-earners and of unpopular sections of the middle-class itself. In relation to the classes which lie outside the scope of its benevolence, it may, at best, achieve the kind of success to be found in a well-run prison; more than this it does not even wish to do.

The root objection to Fascism is its selection of a portion of mankind as alone important. The holders of power have, no doubt, made such a selection, in practice, ever since government was first instituted ; but Christianity, in theory, has always recognized each human soul as an end in itself, and not a mere means to the glory of others. Modern democracy has derived strength from the moral ideals of Christianity, and has done much to divert Governments from exclusive preoccupation with the interests of the rich and powerful. Fascism is, in this respect, a return to what was worst in ancient paganism.

If Fascism could succeed, it would not do anything to cure the evils of capitalism; on the contrary, it would make them worse. The manual work would come to be performed by forced labour at subsistence level; the men engaged in it would have no political rights, no freedom as to where they lived or worked, and probably not even a permanent family life; they would, in fact, be slaves. All this may already be seen beginning in the German method of dealing with unemployment; it is, indeed, an inevitable result of capitalism freed from the control of democracy, and the similar conditions of forced labour in Russia suggest that it is an inevitable result of any dictatorship. In the past, absolutism has always been accompanied by some form of slavery or serfdom.

All this would result if Fascism were to succeed, but it is hardly possible that it should permanently succeed, because it cannot solve the problem of economic nationalism. The most powerful force on the side of the Nazis has been heavy industry, especially steel and chemicals. Heavy industry, organized nationally, is the greatest influence making for war in the present day. If every civilized country had a Government subservient to the interests of heavy industry — as is, to a considerable extent, already the case — war, before long, would be unavoidable. Each fresh victory of Fascism brings war nearer; and war, when it comes, is likely to sweep away Fascism along with most of what will have been in existence at its outbreak.

Fascism is not an ordered set of beliefs, like laisser-faire or Socialism or Communism; it is essentially an emotional protest, partly of those members of the middle-class (such as small shop- keepers) who suffer from modern economic developments, partly of anarchic industrial magnates whose love of power has grown into megalomania. It is irrational, in the sense that it cannot achieve what its supporters desire; there is no philosophy of Fascism, but only a psycho-analysis. If it could succeed, the result would be widespread misery; but its inability to find a solution for the problem of war makes it impossible that it should succeed for more than a brief moment.

I do not think that England and America are likely to adopt Fascism, because the tradition of representative government is too strong in both countries to permit such a development. The ordinary citizen has a feeling that public affairs concern him, and would not wish to lose the right of expressing his political opinions. General Elections and Presidential Elections are sporting events, like the Derby, and life would seem duller without them. Of France it is impossible to feel quite so confident. But I shall be surprised if France adopts Fascism, except perhaps temporarily during a war.

There are some objections — and these, to my mind, the most conclusive — which apply to Communism and Fascism equally. Both are attempts by a minority to mould a population forcibly in accordance with a preconceived pattern. They regard a population as a man regards the materials out of which he intends to construct a machine: the materials undergo much alteration, but in accordance with his purposes, not with any law of development inherent in them. Where living beings are concerned, and most of all in the case of human beings, spontaneous growth tends to produce certain results, and others can only be produced by means of a certain stress and strain. Embryologists may produce beasts with two heads, or with a nose where a toe should be; but such monstrosities do not find life very pleasant. Similarly Fascists and Communists, having in their minds a picture of society as a whole, distort individuals so as to make them fit into a pattern; those who cannot be adequately distorted are killed or placed in concentration camps. I do not think an outlook of this sort, which totally ignores the spontaneous impulses of the individual, is ethically justifiable, or can, in the long run, be politically successful. It is possible to cut shrubs into the shape of peacocks, and by a similar violence a similar distortion can be inflicted upon human beings. But the shrub remains passive, while the man, whatever the dictator may desire, remains active, if not in one sphere then in another. The shrub cannot pass on the lesson in the use of the shears which the gardener has been teaching, but the distorted human being can always find humbler human beings upon whom he can wield smaller shears. The inevitable effects of artificial moulding upon the individual are to produce either cruelty or listlessness, perhaps both in alternation. And from a population with these characteristics no good thing is to be expected.

The moral effect upon the Dictator is another matter to which both Communists and Fascists give insufficient consideration. If he is, to begin with, a man with little human sympathy, he will, from the first, be unduly ruthless, and will shrink from no cruelty in pursuit of his impersonal ends. If, initially, he suffers sympathetically from the misery which theory obliges him to inflict, he will either have to give way to a successor made of sterner stuff, or will have to stifle his humanitarian feelings, in which case he is likely to become even more sadistic than the man who has undergone no such struggle. In either case, government will be in the hands of ruthless men, in whom love of power will be camouflaged as desire for a certain type of society. By the inevitable logic of despotism, whatever of good may have existed in the original purposes of the dictatorship will gradually fade out of sight, and the preservation of the Dictator’s power will emerge more and more as the naked purpose of the State machine.

Preoccupation with machines has produced what may be called the manipulator’s fallacy, which consists in treating individuals and societies as if they were inanimate, and manipulators as if they were divine beings. Human beings change under treatment, and the operators themselves change as a result of the effect which the operations have upon them. Social dynamics is therefore a very difficult science, about which less is known than is necessary to warrant a dictatorship. In the typical manipulator, all feeling for natural growth in his patient is atrophied; the result is not, as he hopes, passive adaptation to a place in the preconceived pattern, but morbid and distorted growth, leading to a pattern which is grotesque and macabre. The ultimate psychological argument for democracy and for patience is that an element of free growth, of go-as-you-please and untrained natural living, is essential if men are not to become misshapen monsters. In any case, believing, as I do, that Communist and Fascist dictatorships are alike undesirable, I deplore the tendency to view them as the only alternatives, and to treat democracy as obsolete. If men think them the only alternatives, they will become so; if men think otherwise, they will not.

“. . . every assertion made is to be sufficiently clear and precise to be capable of being definitely disproved if false.” Curt Ducasse

“. . . condition of any progress in philosophical discussions, which is, that every assertion made be definite enough to be definitely refuted if erroneous, rather than vague enough to leave a loophole if attacked.” Curt Ducasse, Causation and the Types of Necessity, 1924, 1969

“It tends to be the fate of lucid writers that their mistakes, being obvious, are impressive; while the contents of their insights, being rendered obvious by clarity of exposition, appear trivial.” Curt Ducasse

Can one escape from bullshit?

It was while I was teaching introductory courses in logic and philosophy at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, that I got the idea that the core of philosophy has always been escaping from bullshit. Of course, philosophers almost never used the word “bullshit” — though they used something like its cognates: absurd, nonsense, ridiculous, invalid, fallacious, moonshine, etc.

Socrates — to go to the beginning of philosophy — would simply assist his companions in dialogue to note that their hypotheses led to contradictions; which meant, of course, that their hypotheses were wrong, or, in other words . . .

Now I have always been careful not to claim that one can actually escape from bullshit. I deliberately use the word “escaping,” which means that one is trying to escape — only to the extent of having plans which may or may not be realizable.

But to evaluate something as being bullshit, one has to have a knowledge of the criteria of evaluation: one has to have some facility in clarity of language (i.e., as Stuart Chase put it: to be wary of the tyranny of words), general knowledge of the state of the world (i.e., an informed Weltanschuung), and an ability — as Susan Stebbing, in step with Robert H. Thouless, said — to spot twisted and crooked thinking.

What is extremely difficult to change are bullshit political and economic institutions. The greatest immediate danger is the ecological one. The ice caps are melting and the Brazilian rainforest is burning. The UN recognizes these dangers, and is calling for a Summit, September 23, 2019, in New York.

Now, our ecological problems are directly linked to the fact of human overpopulation. More people; the need for more resources and products. The more production, the greater pollution. However, nothing is really done about this — or even discussed.

And why not? Because the world is run by capitalism which controls governments and most of the mass media, and whose only interest is profit.

So, the situation is like this. If you were a slave, how could you escape? If you were a serf, how could you escape? And if you are a proletarian, how do you escape?

Individual escape is possible, but how does one change the institutions for the benefit of all?

Bertrand Russell’s Dilemma

Bertrand Russell calls himself a socialist. But whether he is or is not an anarchist may be a semantic issue.

It is a semantic issue depending on one’s understanding of the concepts of State and government. Anarchists say that a community is to be governed by rules which have been agreed to. Well, whatever these rules are, they can be considered to be the government. Now whether there are or are not selected officials for executive and judicial functions is another matter. What anarchists object to is a centralized, representative government elected by mass democracy, whereby thousands and millions vote for office holders.

However, this matter of whether Russell is or is not an anarchist is not what I mean by the Russell’s dilemma. What I have in mind is the following seeming contradiction in his writings.

In his Proposed Roads to Freedom [1918], he advocated a position in which everyone — whether he works or not — is to receive, what he called a “vagabond’s wage.” He wrote:

“The other possibility would be that the necessaries of life should be free, as Anarchists desire, to all equally, regardless of whether they work or not. Under this plan, every man could live without work: there would be what might be called a “vagabond’s wage,” sufficient for existence but not for luxury.”

We can call it, instead, a “subsistence wage” or “minimal welfare.” A vagabond is someone who roams without a permanent home. But I don’t think that Russell had that implication in mind. I think he really had in mind providing people with the means of survival, whether they wanted to roam or not.

However, in the essay “The Case for Socialism,” Russel writes:

“Work — to the extent that may be socially necessary — should be legally obligatory for all healthy adults, but their income should depend only upon their willingness to work, and should not cease when, for some reason, their services are temporarily unnecessary.”

These two positions seem to be incompatible. Are they?

Bertrand Russell and Socialism

I found the following article on Bertrand Russell’s views on socialism to be quite reasonable.

Jean Bricmont and Normand Baillargeon, “Bertrand Russell and the Socialism That Wasn’t,” Monthly Review, July 1, 2017.

This article is adapted from the preface to a French-language edition of Bertrand Russell’s The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism [1920], published by Éditions du Croquant in 2014. Translated from the French by Diana Johnstone.

Two questions: (1) What is the best government that money can buy? (2) What kind of government would a bunch of devils choose?

My answer to (1). Place all power in the hands of one person. But don’t give this person power for life, and don’t make it hereditary. And don’t make this power last too long — four to six years maximum. And ensure that once out of power this person will be assured a prosperous future, such as a nice pension. It is better to have such a leader under democracy because people will have to acknowledge that they have elected him. But in reality, he will have been elected by money which has paid for the media and advertisement.

My answer to (2). Have a democracy. But by no means give power to one devil in any capacity. If you do, he will kill off all opposition, and enrich himself to the fullest. Minimally, all powers are to be given to at least two devils, with veto power over each other. And perhaps two more devils should monitor all activities of the two in power. Also, the period of their power should be minimal — let’s say six months.

My answer to (2) was not capricious. It was suggested by the ancient Roman Republican practice of having two consuls with veto power over each other, as well as by the ancient Spartan practice of having two kings with veto power over each other. And the idea of having “monitors” was suggested by the existence of lichtors and ephors. We can view the German Gestapo and the Russian Cheka as an extension of this idea of having such “monitors.”

My Political Frustrations with the governments of the U.S. and Ukraine

I live in Chicago. I was born in Poland, but I am an ethnic Ukrainian. Like Noam Chomsky, whom I admire, I am concerned with the state of the world: with the almost certain ecological collapse, with the possibility of nuclear warfare, and with U.S. economic and military imperial hegemony.

And because the U.S. dominates the world militarily (with nearly a thousand military bases around the world), it is difficult to envision any economic or political changes anywhere without some kind of U.S. acquiescence.

I also believe that the world is overpopulated. But, because population expansion is in the interest of capitalism, there is no policy of population control, as there was in China. The result is widespread world poverty, widespread conflicts, and ecological collapses.

I also believe that capitalism has taken total control of the U.S. political machinery, simply because the U.S. Constitution is structurally built for oligarchic control.

Theoretically, the solution is to have a different U.S. Constitution — perhaps one closer to that of Switzerland. But I do not see any prospects for any such radical change; for two reasons. The first is that amending the U.S. Constitution is very difficult — nearly impossible. The second is that the U.S. Constitution is regarded with the same reverence as any Holy Book — so, criticism is like blasphemy.

So, as regards the U.S. I am pessimistic, if not a cynic.

I have more hope for other countries. I regard Switzerland as the best democracy in the world. And my utopian hope is that Ukraine will emulate Switzerland.

But the prospects of this happening in Ukraine are dismal. Situated on the border with Russia, and having a mixed population of bilingual speakers of Ukrainian and Russian, the recent Presidential and Parliamentary elections have given the Russian-speakers total control of the government.

Let me explain. First, Ukraine unlike the U.S. is neither federated nor decentralized. All power is concentrated in the President. He nominates the Prime Minister, the Prosecutor, the Minister of Internal Security (the police), the Minister of Defense (the military), the Minister of foreign affairs, and he appoints all the Governors of the 25 Oblasts and of Kyiv. Second, recent parliamentary elections have given the President’s party, an overwhelming majority. Only a few votes are needed from other parties to make amendments to the Constitution.

The result is that Ukraine has a democratically elected Dictator, who, prior to being elected, was a very successful Russian-speaking comedian on television. (I use the word “dictator” in the sense in which the ancient Roman republic used it, when power was concentrate in the hands of one person, rather than in the hands of two consuls.) How this concentrated power will be used in Ukraine is a total mystery at this stage — with foreboding apprehensions.