Advocates of capitalism like to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.”
Bertrand Russell in ”Sceptical Essays” (1928)
My own ideas on some of the issues raised by the quote:
I must hasten to point out that Bertrand Russell never did advocate the Soviet model of communism or the end of private ownership. He was always a keen follower of western, democratic form of social reform. His aim was to mend capitalism so that more and more people could find their lives tolerable.
Bertrand Russell was from a stoutly aristocratic lineage. However, in a very early stage of his life he found out that open greed of capitalism must be restrained. His aim was reform capitalism so that the fruits of labor would not benefit only selected few, not to overthrow it.
Happily, the western democratic socialist movement were in very many countries successful in their fight for more just division of the fruits of capitalism. The western societies did with time become much more livable and safer for also the paid employees.
However, there is a major new threat emerging in the form of the ultra-capitalist ideologies. They are made even more dangerous by the sad situation where many people fail to understand that ultra-capitalist ideas like Randian “philosophy” or Libertarianism are just theories like communism is.
Many people do not see that what is presented as a 'scientific economic theory' can be part of an ideology. These ideologies have been created to protect the interests of the owning class and most of all to give moral justification to open greed.
There are many academics who forward these ideas, as well there are very many Christian academics forwarding Christian ideology. These builders of ultra-capitalist ideology have in common the habit of denying the central role of labor and socialist movements in building up the western standard of living. In fact, they often seem to be not interested in general standard of living at all, but just about creating maximally benevolent environment for capitalism.
For ideological reasons, they always absolutely deny the central role of the labor movement in the modern economy. They commonly also deny that without labor movement the rise of productivity would not have necessarily risen living standards of the workers, but only for the owners. They can for example, deny that the rise in cost of labor has been a central factor reason in the rise of productivity also. This did happen because the rise in the cost of labor has made it more worthwhile to invest in new work-saving machines.
I well know that very many people think that economic theories would be somehow free of ideology. This has happened mainly because creating this illusion has been a major aim of the academic builders of these ideas. There is nothing wrong in having an ideology. However, I see a problem in denying its existence and claiming that it is ‘science’. This is a very similar method that was used by the communists also when they claimed that Marxism-Leninism was a ‘science’.
A very central problem with all ultra-capitalist ideologies is that they take just one aspect of production and make the whole society serve that end. This happens even if it will benefit just one part of the society or the owning class and its immediate high-salaried employees.
When you take the interests and needs of the whole society as your aim, all ultra-capitalist ideologies do fall flat on their face. Such an ideology can never aid the lot of the sick, the weak, the retired or the mentally disabled. It is an ideology for the strong, the able, but also for people with inherited wealth, even if they are unable to do anything real by themselves.
(This piece was refurbished on 1st of January, 2012)
Bertrand Russell is in Facebook at:
"Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic."