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.

What is the relevance of philosophy for ordinary people?

I really know of only a few famous philosophers who dealt with this question. One was Bertrand Russell; another was Mortimer J. Adler.

Adler made an impression on me with the slogan: philosophy is everyone’s business, and with the book “How to Read a Book.” However, he had a particular religious and ethico-political agenda which — in my estimate — was wrong. But I think he was on the right track in espousing Aquinas’s (and Aristotle’s) dialectical method, in which actual and possible objections are raised and answered.

But, it is the views and topics of Bertrand Russell which have impressed me more — mainly because of their secular perspective. [They are not bogged down with a religious or pseudo-religious background.]

In the following essay, Russell distinguishes the problems of technical or academic philosophy, from the practical problems which everyone has, and whose solution calls for wisdom.

Read the second essay “Philosophy for Laymen” in Unpopular Essays, 1921.