The question is simple. In the following sentence, can I replace "capitalistic enterprise" with "capitalism" without any change in meaning?

Capitalistic enterprise involves a ruthless belief in the importance of increasing material production to the utmost possible extent now and in the immediate future.

Definitions of "enterprise" in Concise Oxford English Dictionary are:

  1. a project or undertaking, especially a bold one. ▶bold resourcefulness.

  2. a business or company

Which meaning is used in the above sentence?

  • 1
    meaning #2 is more appropriate when talking about capitalism – Mitch Dec 14 '17 at 22:46
  • This quotation is from an essay by Bertrand Russell published 100 years ago. notable-quotes.com/c/capitalism_and_the_wage_system.html Sources should be given for direct quotations. – Xanne Dec 15 '17 at 1:42
  • @Mitch, could I know if, to you, "enterprise" means commercial activity or a commercial organization in this context? – apadana Dec 15 '17 at 9:01
  • @Arham in the context of business, yes, I take 'enterprise' to be something commercial. – Mitch Dec 15 '17 at 13:48

'Capitalism' is a more passive word - meaning 'the entirety of the world that is involved in enterprise, commerce, or business'.

'Capitalistic enterprise' refers to the actions taken by enterprises, to generate money. This phrase works better with what the author is saying in this sentence - because he goes on to explain what that action actually is.

If you put purely 'Capitalism' - which is a general concept, not necessarily an activity at that moment - then the sentence becomes rather pallid and somewhat loses its meaning and drive.

So yes - it does make a difference, and a negative one.

  • So you think here "enterprise" means the activity done by companies not the companies themselves? – apadana Dec 15 '17 at 9:09
  • 1
    Yes, because it's not A Capitalistic enterprise. If it were referring to the companies themselves, it would say 'Capitalistic enterprises' and then it would have to say 'are involved in...' not 'involves'.. It is talking about 'the enterprise (business activities of) Capitalism. Or, enterprise (business activities) that are done in a capitalistic way. – Jelila Dec 15 '17 at 9:17

"... can I replace "capitalistic enterprise" with "capitalism" without any change in meaning?" No.

The intention of the author is to distinguish between the organization's type and its nature. The adjective capitalistic refers to the mindset/ belief/ approach rather than the corporate structure. The use of capitalistic here is intentional.


Capitalism could be substituted in this quotation for "capitalistic enterprise." Note, however, that Bertrand Russell's definition of capitalism is from 1917; and most capitalistic enterprises today are services rather than manufacturing enterprises.

A comment mentions that "all capitalistic enterprises aspire to be monopolies", which is pure speculation about the intent of those who form them. Capitalism is defined by the English Oxford Living Dictionaries as:

An economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled y private owners for profit, rather than by the state. ‘an era of free-market capitalism’ ‘private ownership is a key feature of capitalism’

The reference to OPEC in comments is a red herring, as OPEC is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which are about as far as you can get from private enterprises.


In your statement, with the term Capitalist enterprise, you're specifically referring to the intending process of 'increasing material production'. Capitalism denotes not just the process at play, but the subsequent results that have stemmed, will stem, or are stemming, from its undertaking.

  • Agreed. Profit comes into play here. If there are no customers for that "increased material production" then the cost of increasing that production will not be recovered. We call that going bust. Consider OPEC. All capitalistic enterprises aspire to be monopolies and OPEC is trying to constrain production so as to keep prices (and profits) from sliding further down. – MikeJRamsey56 Dec 14 '17 at 22:42

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