Proposed Roads to Freedom (Bertrand Russel, 1920)

The great majority of men and women, in ordinary times, pass through life without ever contemplating
or criticising, as a whole, either their own conditions or those of the world at large. They find
themselves born into a certain place in society, and they accept what each day brings forth, without any
effort of thought beyond what the immediate present requires. Almost as instinctively as the beasts of
the field, they seek the satisfaction of the needs of the moment, without much forethought, and without
considering that by sufficient effort the whole conditions of their lives could be changed. A certain
percentage, guided by personal ambition, make the effort of thought and will which is necessary to place
themselves among the more fortunate members of the community; but very few among these are seriously
concerned to secure for all the advantages which they seek for themselves. It is only a few rare and exceptional
men who have that kind of love toward mankind at large that makes them unable to endure
patiently the general mass of evil and suffering, regardless of any relation it may have to their own
lives. These few, driven by sympathetic pain, will seek, first in thought and then in action, for some
way of escape, some new system of society by which life may become richer, more full of joy and less
full of preventable evils than it is at present. But in the past such men have, as a rule, failed to interest
the very victims of the injustices which they wished to remedy. The more unfortunate sections of the
population have been ignorant, apathetic from excess of toil and weariness, timorous through the imminent
danger of immediate punishment by the holders of power, and morally unreliable owing to the loss of
self-respect resulting from their degradation. To create among such classes any conscious, deliberate effort after general amelioration might have seemed a hopeless task, and indeed in the past it has  generally proved so. But the modern world, by the increase of education and the rise in the standard of  comfort among wage-earners, has produced new conditions, more favorable than ever before to the demand for radical reconstruction. (p.5)

 

The
proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent
movement of the immense majority, in the
interest of the immense majority. The proletariat,
the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot
stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole super-
incumbent strata of official society being sprung
into the air.”

The Communists, says Marx, stand for the proletariat
as a whole. They are international. “The
Communists are further reproached with desiring
to abolish countries and nationality. The working
men have no country. We cannot take from them
what they have not got.”  (p.18)

 

THE MAIN OBJECTS which should be served by international
relations may be taken to be two: First,
the avoidance of wars, and, second, the prevention
of the oppression of weak nations by strong ones. These two
objects do not by any means necessarily lead in the same direction,
since one of the easiest ways of securing the world’s
peace would be by a combination of the most powerful States
for the exploitation and oppression of the remainder. This
method, however, is not one which the lover of liberty can
favor.  p.92

 

 

It is undeniable that the rule of a
majority may be almost as hostile to freedom as the
rule of a minority: the divine right of majorities is a
dogma as little possessed of absolute truth as any
other. A strong democratic State may easily be led
into oppression of its best citizens, namely, those
those independence of mind would make them a force
for progress. Experience of democratic parliamentary
government has shown that it falls very far
short of what was expected of it by early Socialists,
and the Anarchist revolt against it is not surprising.
But in the form of pure Anarchism, this revolt has
remained weak and sporadic.  (p.40)

It should be clearly understood that this constant pressure
94
Proposed Roads to Freedom
to extend the area of markets is not a necessary implication of
all forms of organized industry. If competition was displaced
by combinations of a genuinely cooperative character in which
the whole gain of improved economies passed, either to the
workers in wages, or to large bodies of investors in dividends,
the expansion of demand in the home markets would be so
great as to give full employment to the productive powers of
concentrated capital, and there would be no self-accumulating
masses of profit expressing themselves in new credit and
demanding external employment. It is the “monopoly” profits
of trusts and combines, taken either in construction, financial
operation, or industrial working, that form a gathering
fund of self-accumulating credit whose possession by the
financial class implies a contracted demand for commodities
and a correspondingly restricted employment for capital in
American industries.  (p.93-94)

A higher rate of interest is obtainable on enterprises in an undeveloped country than in a developed one, provided the risks connected with an unsettled government can be minimized. To minimize these
risks the financiers call in the assistance of the military and naval forces of the country which they are momentarily asserting to be theirs. In order to have the support of public opinion in this demand they have recourse to the power of the Press.

The Press is the second great factor to which critics of capitalism point when they wish to prove that capitalism is the source of modern war. Since the running of a big newspaper requires a large capital, the proprietors of important organs necessarily belong to the capitalist class, and it will be a rare and exceptional event if they do not sympathize with their own class in opinion and outlook. They are able to decide what news the great mass of newspaper readers shall be allowed to have. They can actually falsify the news, or, without
going so far as that, they can carefully select it, giving such items as will stimulate the passions which they desire to stimulate, and suppressing such items as would provide the antidote.
In this way the picture of the world in the mind of the average newspaper reader is made to be not a true picture, but in the main that which suits the interests of capitalists. This is true in many directions, but above all in what concerns the relations between nations.

The mass of the population of a country can be led to love or hate any other country at the
will of the newspaper proprietors, which is often, directly or indirectly, influenced by the will of the great financiers. So long as enmity between England and Russia was desired, our newspapers were full of the cruel treatment meted out to Russian political prisoners, the oppression of Finland and
Russian Poland, and other such topics. As soon as our foreign policy changed, these items disappeared from the more important newspapers, and we heard instead of the misdeeds of Germany.

Most men are not sufficiently critical to be on their guard against such influences, and until they are, the power of the Press will remain.

Besides these two influences of capitalism in promoting war, there is another, much less emphasized by the critics of capitalism, but by no means less important: I mean the pugnacity which tends to be developed in men who have the habit of command. So long as capitalist society persists, an undue measure of power will be in the hands of those who have acquired wealth and influence through a great position in industry or finance. Such men are in the habit, in private life, of finding their will seldom questioned; they are surrounded by obsequious satellites and are not infrequently engaged in conflicts with Trade Unions. Among their friends and acquaintances
are included those who hold high positions in government or administration, and these men equally are liable to
become autocratic through the habit of giving orders.

It used to be customary to speak of the “governing classes,” but nominal democracy has caused this phrase to go out of fashion. Nevertheless, it still retains much truth; there are still in any capitalist community those who command and those who as a rule obey.

The outlook of these two classes is very different, though in a modern society there is a continuous gradation
from the extreme of the one to the extreme of the other. The man who is accustomed to find submission to his will becomes indignant on the occasions when he finds opposition.
Instinctively he is convinced that opposition is wicked and must be crushed. He is therefore much more willing than the average citizen to resort to war against his rivals. Accordingly we find, though, of course, with very notable exceptions, that in the main those who have most power are most warlike, and those who have least power are least disposed to hatred of foreign nations.

This is one of the evils inseparable from the concentration of power. It will only be cured by the abolition of capitalism if the new system is one which allows very much less power to single individuals. It will not be cured by a system which substitutes the power of Ministers or officials for the power of capitalists This is one reason, additional to those mentioned in the preceding chapter, for desiring to see a diminution in the authority of the State.

 

Not only does the concentration of power tend to cause wars, but, equally, wars and the fear of them bring about the necessity for the concentration of power.

So long as the community is exposed to sudden dangers, the possibility of quick decision is absolutely necessary to self-preservation.

The cumbrous machinery of deliberative decisions by the people is impossible in a crisis, and therefore so long as crises are likely to occur, it is impossible to abolish the almost autocratic power of governments.

In this case, as in most others, each of two correlative evils tends to perpetuate the other. The existence of men with the habit of power increases the risk of war, and the risk of war makes it impossible to establish a system where no man possesses great power.  (p. 95-97)

 


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