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Opening

From each according to ability, to each according to need.

Thank you, Professor. I think that the organizers of this meeting have to be congratulated on their brio, and also on their timing. We are met today as witnesses of the decomposition of a political regime in this capital city which uses the language of capitalism and of free enterprise, employs the ideology of selfishness and self-interest, and stresses the rhetoric of laissez-faire, while bloating and expanding the role of the state, debauching the treasury and the currency, and relying upon a state within a state for the secret conduct of most policy. There may, and I think there will not be any convergence of ideas between socialist and capitalist schools this evening, but this need not prevent us from seeing that a regime may combine the basest features of statism and collectivism with the basest elements of utilitarianism and libertarianism too, and I think if we recognize that, we may have ground for debate.

What is it? Uh, I better get on with it. To be a socialist, necessary conditions, in my submission, rather than sufficient ones, must include the following:

  1. It is necessary to hold firstly that all divisions of class, nation, race, and sex are in the last resort man-made and can be man-unmade, are in no sense part of a divine or natural ordinance, and that we are members, like it or not, of one race, the human race. That civilization is in fact, second, a cooperative enterprise, whether the cooperation is coerced as it was in most of recorded history or voluntary as has been occasionally found and can still be found in our century, but that it is a cooperative enterprise cannot be denied. There is no other means, that’s to say, of civilization.
  2. The limits of creative endeavor are set by the limits of nature, and very few human actions can therefore be said, in the last instance, to be entirely private. The earth is, in point of fact, a common treasury, as the English levelers used to say in the Puritan Revolution, hoping that it was so. It is, in fact, the case, and again, whether we like it or not, whether we care to treat it as such or not.
  3. There is no God and no supernatural, and that this recognition obliges us morally to maximize the felicity of the one life that we are permitted.
  4. The principle of “from each according to his ability, or her ability, and to each according to his or her need” is an easily realizable one, pre-figured already in human society by the working principles of the bourgeois family, that unique engine of thrift enterprise. The transmission of morality operates precisely on the principle of “from each according to his or her ability, and to each according to his or her need.” There is, in fact, no other way that a family could decently or possibly be run. I make no moral judgment as between the decency and the possibility. Such a distinction would be otiose.

Marxists described freedom as the recognition of necessity and only then proceed to say that the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all, a stipulation that obviously implies its corollary that the educator must be educated. That’s why I stress the above as necessary conditions rather than sufficient ones. We do not ask for these things to be true. We might even prefer them not to be.

But we must recognize them as given and as such sufficient conditions. I think the center of the question is class. Marxists recognize that history is indeed the contest of competing social forces, and that so is the present. Such a competition. All attempts to describe society as merely organic and harmonious, or as a free competition or race between individuals with differing attainments and endowments, fail because they ignore this simple and obvious fact, which again, we do not preach. We simply recognize, insist upon, and make as a point of departure.

Let me, if I may, quote you from Marx and Engels’ preface to The German Ideology in 1845, where they say that they and their supporters, and I’m quoting now, “do not preach morality at all. They do not put to people the moral demand ‘love one another,’ ‘do not be egotists,’ etc. On the contrary, they are very well aware that egoism, just as much as selflessness, is, under indefinite circumstances, a necessary form of the self-assertion of individuals.” I think this shows clearly enough that Marxists understand what Randians term as if they discovered it, the virtue of selfishness. But as Marx and Engels also wrote in the same period in their Holy Family, they saw the need for selfishness to be transcended. Uh, I’m quoting again directly from The Holy Family, 1845: “Also, if enlightened self-interest is the principle of all morality, man’s private interest must be made to coincide with the interest of humanity. If man is shaped by environment, his environment must be made human. It is on this apparent paradox that we take our stand.” And against the neocanteans, the early Marxists argue that morality could not be derived from abstract first principles of right or wrong, but had to correspond to the real conditions of society.

Nowadays, I think this argument seems quaint in its intensity, and further, because evolution itself and specifically the evolution of modern capitalism into a new symbiosis with the state has borne upon the dullest nine, the recognition that if humanity does not yet think in terms of a common destiny, it has at least had to think in terms of a common fate. To put it at its most vulgar materialist level, we are all collectivized by the same ozone layer. The thermonuclear world is a great leveler, and just as there can be no purely moral conscientious objection in a thermonuclear conflict, nor can there be any merely ethical or self-interested collaboration with it.

Everybody, after all, in this auditorium is a uniformed conscript. You cannot conscientiously object to the nuclear conscription that has made each of you soldiers and put you on the front line, while the real soldiers are in the bunker. This recognition of reality enforces a sense of collective humanity upon us. Again, we do not preach this; we recognize it. Socialism, said Oscar Wilde, would free us from the distressing necessity of living for others. The feelings of compassion, solidarity, and responsibility, after all, are no less instinctive in our species than those of self-interest. It’s precisely because these instincts of solidarity and compassion represent a human need – a need to be of help to others, a point very well made by Professor Richard Titmuss in his famous book ‘The Gift Relationship’. Because they are a need, there is no need to make the sentimental presumption of altruism or to wrestle with the tautology that altruism represents. Marx and Engels, I’ll close on this, in the preface to the ‘Communist Manifesto’ made capitalism a series of almost lyrical compliments. And in fact, few proponents of the capitalist system have ever summarized its virtues – those of creativity, innovation, the bursting of feudal and antique tribal fetters – as well as Marx did. But Marx and Engels also saw what has since become obvious – that capitalism is not the last word, that in freeing mankind from ancient obligations, it made him a prisoner of market forces, which also developed their own mythology, ideology, and bondage. Like comedy, Judas, I also believe that capitalism is the harbinger of socialism, that it’s necessary not merely to contest or negate its ethical claims, but to transcend them, to build upon them. And from this, if I may call any phrase dialectic, I think we might get a truly human and unillusioned morality that was free from superstition or religion. On that realizable aspiration, I rest my case. Thank you, thank you. [Applause]

Rebuttal

Fascism was not synonymous with capitalism, but capitalism can coexist with any system.

I regret that what I say will be a little more fragmentary than my opening presentation because there are a number of challenges that have been offered to our side which I mustn’t let pass. But I could only deal with one at a time. First, I specifically did not state that the principle of “from each, etc.” – as I think we can agree to call it – as embodied in the Bourgeois family, was a principle of altruism. It was simply a principle of necessity. There is no other way that a family could be run, and therefore, this principle prefigures the extension of such a principle to society itself. We can see it, as it were, in the womb of the old, as Engels would have said, and was, in fact, overly fond of saying.

Now there’s a very great and unrecognized, I think in their own minds, confusion in our two opponents here about capitalism and our liberty, private property, and the relationship between them. The history of capitalism, and even more so, this should be said of the history of capitalism in its imperialist phase, its heroic period, is the history of expropriation. It is the history of the robbery of private property for millions and millions of people. Marx, observing this process in The Communist Manifesto, remarks on the tremendous advances in productivity and technique and innovation that were thereby enabled. But he does point to the fact that many people who hitherto had owned land, property, and so on were expropriated, collectivized, and made into the modern proletariat. He thought the price was worth paying. He thought capitalism was an advance over what had gone before. But let nobody tell you that capitalism cannot coexist with the expropriation of private property. It can and does.

This, I think, would assist us to answer an even more intriguing question, which is why capitalism has only ever evolved successfully in a very few countries. I think this is very probably because, I have to be condensed here, because its evolution ab initio was based on the robbery of other countries’ wealth and productivity. Let me again remind you of what Marx said about India: a tremendous expropriation by British imperialism of the resources of capital accumulation from India – an enormous input to the British Industrial Revolution – still the heartland of the evolution of capitalism, but a fantastic desolation of private property in India. Again, Marx thought it was probably, in the long run, justifiable because India would, in the end, succeed in coming together as a state and overcoming the feudal ties imposed by the Mughal Emperors that had been sundered by the imperialist invasion.

But don’t let anybody suggest to you, for instance, that capitalism does not regard people as means, probably more than any other system in history. It has made a virtue of that ability, of the ability to conscript, to expropriate, and to dispossess in order to become an engine of wealth. And that is why finally, the responsibility for the overweening power of certain states is that historically speaking, of capitalism. Because in the countries where capitalism either did not, or because of imperialism, could not take root, capital accumulation had to be done another way. You cannot not have capital, after all, though you can not have capitalism. And capital can be accumulated one where it.

You can’t not have capital after all, though you can not have capitalism, and capital can be accumulated one where it can be accumulated. The other, in the Oriental despotisms of the East and the modern versions of those, capitalism had to be substituted for by the state. But that is because of the failure of capitalism. It’s intimately related to it. Let me say, I can’t blame them for everything. Thus, it’s perfectly simplistic to say that capitalism represents freedom from state power because, both in the countries of its success and in the countries of its failure, the relationship with the modern state, the giant state, the state that can regard the citizen as its property for large numbers of practical purposes, is very close indeed.

And I think this what I have said should be enough in itself to rebut the ridiculous accusation that only socialists are interested in violence. I could start, or need it for the vindication of their program, I could… I really could stand here all night and read the list of names of people who’ve been murdered by capitalist regimes when the interests of illicit private property and governments based on it are felt to be threatened. There is no length to which capital will not go in those contingencies.

Fascism was capitalism. The structure of the capitalist state in Germany survived and coexisted to survive, and in Italy and in Spain survived, survived, and coexisted with the fascist period throughout. I don’t mean to say that capitalism is fascism, but it’s the capitalism can coexist with any system, and its attitude to liberty is as instrumental and contingent as its attitude to equality. I see I have no more time, but I’m prepared to defend anything I’ve said at greater length in the subsequent period. Thank you. [Applause]

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