Critique of the Gotha Programme

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The Critique of the Gotha Program (German: Kritik des Gothaer Programms) is a document based on a letter that Karl Marx wrote in early May 1875 to the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (SDAP), with whom Marx and Friedrich Engels were in close association. This would be the last major work of Marx, and is widely considered to be a very high-level text of his. It is further recognized as one of Marx's rare statements on the organization of a future communist society.[1]

Background[edit]

A congress was held in Gotha, Germany, in 1875 to unite two rival German socialist parties, the SDAP and the General German Workers' Association (ADAV), through drawing up a common platform. Neither Marx nor Engels were consulted about this platform, known as the Gotha Programme, and the end result made Marx angry about the many deviations it contained from what he considered to be scientific socialism. In response he wrote a letter which contained a set of critical comments on the platform, and attempted to circulate it among German socialist leaders. During his life the work had almost no influence and the planned unification of the socialist parties went ahead, creating the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany, which was renamed to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1890.

After Marx's death, Engels published the letter along with a foreword written by himself, including with this Marx's letter to Wilhelm Bracke, altogether making up the Critique of the Gotha Programme. This was done in 1891, upon the SPD declaring its intention of adopting a new programme, the draft of which Engels criticized for being opportunist and non-Marxist in its views on the state. Regardless, the new programme went on to materialize as the Erfurt Programme that same year.

Contents[edit]

Offering perhaps Marx's most detailed pronouncement on programmatic matters of revolutionary strategy, the document discusses the "dictatorship of the proletariat", the period of transition from capitalism to communism, proletarian internationalism and the party of the working class. It is notable also for elucidating the principle of "To each according to his contribution" as the basis for a "lower phase" of communist society directly following the transition from capitalism. In describing the lower phase, he states that "the individual receives from society exactly what he gives to it" and advocates remuneration in the form of labour vouchers as opposed to money.

Alongside this and more famously, he also mentions the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" as the basis for a future "higher phase" of communist society. This principle is not original to Marx, and he places little emphasis upon it. He refers to it only in order to criticize those socialists who worry too much about how goods would be distributed in a socialist society. Marx thought it a mistake to bother working out a fair or just principle of distribution. He was even prepared to allow that, given the capitalist mode of production, capitalist distribution was the only one that was "fair". His point was that production was what mattered, and that once "the productive forces have increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly", distribution will look after itself.[2]

Views on labor in communism[edit]

In the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx foresees the end of the "enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour" and a time when labor will become "not only a means of life, but life’s prime want". This is in contrast to what he wrote in Das Kapital, Volume III, which is that freedom begins "only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases", and that it is part of "the very nature of things" that when we are producing to satisfy our needs, we are not free. In this contrasting view, shortening the working day is, therefore, the prerequisite of freedom. This implies that the conflict between freedom and necessity cannot be overcome, and the best that can be done is to reduce the amount of necessary labor to a minimum, thereby increasing the time that we are free.

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References[edit]

  1. Marx: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer, pages 12-13
  2. Marx: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer, page 84