From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!) is a slogan popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.[1] In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist society will produce; the idea is that, with the full development of socialism and unfettered productive forces, there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.[2][3]

Origin of the phrase

The complete paragraphs containing Marx's statement of the creed in the 'Critique of the Gotha Program' is as follows:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs![1][2][3]

Although Marx is popularly thought of as the originator of the phrase, the slogan was common to the socialist movement and was first used by Louis Blanc in 1839, in "The organization of work".[4] The origin of this phrasing has also been attributed to the French utopian Morelly,[5] who proposed in his 1755 Code of Nature "Sacred and Fundamental Laws that would tear out the roots of vice and of all the evils of a society" including

I. Nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.
II. Every citizen will be a public man, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.
III. Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws.[6]

Some scholars trace the origin of the phrase to the New Testament.[7][8] In Acts of the Apostles the lifestyle of the community of believers in Jerusalem is described as communal (without individual possession), and uses the phrase "distribution was made unto every man according as he had need":

Matthew 25:14-30: And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to each according to his ability. And he went abroad at once.
Acts 4:32: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Debates on the idea

Marx delineated the specific conditions under which such a creed would be applicable—a society where technology and social organization had substantially eliminated the need for physical labor in the production of things, where "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want".[9] Marx explained his belief that, in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society despite the absence of a social mechanism compelling them to work, because work would have become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, "from each according to his ability" to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as they can, but that each person should best develop their particular talents.

Claiming themselves to be at a "lower stage of communism" (i.e. "socialism", in line with Marx's terminology),[10] the Soviet Union adapted the formula as: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work (labour investment)".[11]

While "Liberation Theology" has sought to interpret the Christian call for justice in a way that is in harmony with this Marxist dictum, some Christians have noted that Jesus' teaching in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) gives only half an affirmation to the dictum: to the first half.

References in popular culture

According to a survey conducted by the Museum of the American Revolution, "more than 50 percent of Americans wrongly attributed the quote 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” to either George Washington, Thomas Paine, or Barack Obama,' while noting that "those from the West Coast were slightly more likely to answer the question correctly."[12]

In the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, the slogan is used by anti-capitalist factions. Rand spends time refuting the idea behind the slogan, and it was Rand's belief that the phrase was actually an expression of sadism. In Part II Chapter 10 of the novel, a tramp who had once worked for the Twentieth Century Motor Company explains to Dagny Taggart that Ivy Starnes, the leader of the Starnes family which owned the TCMC...

...had pale eyes that looked fishy, cold and dead. And if you ever want to see pure evil you should see the way her eyes glinted when she watched some man who'd talked back to her once and who'd just heard his name on the list of those getting nothing above basic pittance. And when you saw it, you saw the real motive of any person who's ever preached 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."[13]

See also

Politics portal
Communism portal
Philosophy portal
Society portal

References

External links

  • Critique of the Gotha Program (includes Marx's original use of the slogan)
  • Marxism and Ethics
  • What Does the Bible Say About Communism & Socialism?
  • Encountering Communism: the theories of Karl Marx
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