The Critique of the Golgotha Program

Robert Waldmann

on Karl Marx, Arthur Laffer and Simon Peter.

Which one here is not like the others, because he was a lunatic extremist egalitarian not an ambitious sophist ?

Marx famously declared “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This is quite probably the grossest distortion of a quote by removal of context in human history. The words are (a translation from German) of two prepositional phrases from a sentence from The Critique of the Gotha program (the absence of a verb is a hint that maybe some relevant context may have been removed). The grossest possible distortion based on removal of context is removal of the word “not” and, lo and behold, it appears in the (English translation of the sentence). A more accurate but still partial quotation (of a translation) is

“not … inscribe on our banner “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs”)”. I mean there ought to be an absolute rule that, while many words can be decently elided we can all agree that “not” is not one of them (or to repeat with a minor edit “while many words can be decently elided, we can all agree that not is … one of them).

more antiquarian exegesis and atheist theology after the jump.

The full (translation of) the quote is IIRC “It is not until work ceases to be a burden on life and becomes it’s chief joy and purpose that we can inscribe on our banner “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Which I, quite honestly, interpret as meaning “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs from the first of never and not before.”

Marx believed that “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” to the same extent that he was an anarchist — that he wanted to eliminate the state, that is, rather less than not at all. IIRC Marx wished for the state to seize ownership and control of the means of production, rather a huge expansion of the power of the state than an elimination of same.

To make an analogy, I think that Marx considered it a good proposal to eliminate the state *and* give to each according to his abilities to exactly the same extent that Arthur Laffer aims to increase the amount of money the federal government has to spend. Marx said expand the power of the state and it will disappear, Laffer said cut taxes and revenues will increase. I think Marx was devoted to the reduction of the power of the state to exactly the same extent that Arthur Laffer is devoted to expanding the federal budget.

Over at the first international, Marx had a problem called Bakunin. The guy promised people no capitalists, no private property and no state. Marx claimed that you could get everything Bakunin was promising from Marx, because in the long long long run the state would wither away. So,. sure it looks like communism implies a huge expansion of the power of the state but nope that’s just socialism which will lead to the communist utopia of now bosses neither capitalists nor bureaucrats — just trust me.

Later Marx had this problem that his few German followers (the Eisenachers) decided to join with the Social Democrats who had the inexcusable fault of being led by Ferdinand Lassale not Karl Marx. Hence the Gotha program and its only lasting fruit “The critique of the Gotha program.” The phrase was torn from the context of the proposal that all workers be paid the same equal wage. Marx said that was nonsense. He made an argument which was a bit ahead of his time asking if this mean all workers get the same wage so single workers are rich and large families supporterd by one worker are poor ? Makes no sense (he actually didn’t even mention compensating differentials so he was ahead of his time but behind Smith who was way ahead of his time and, come to think of it, ours). So he was arguing *against* equal wages. He said no way so long as we need wages to convince people to work. Only when (not if — when) people just work out of public spirit and joy in labor can we even think about demanding perfect equality (and then we will have to find someone whose love of labor is extreme insane and humanly impossible enough that he or she will calculate equivalence scales without being paid to do so).

Please please please follow this rule “Do not elide the word ‘not'” that is “Do … elide the word ‘not.'”

I don’t believe Marx’s promises about the withering away of the state and the joy of work (comparing our work efforts one can at least understand how Karl and I have very different views about work). I therefore interpret the Critique of the Gotha Program as implying, in practice,
“from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, starting on the first of never.”

OK so what about those apostles. Fact is that The Gotha Program is extreme but that Marx is deliberately conflating it with a much much more egalitarian and extreme program as a rhetorical trick (so if he were to complain as I do about the elision of “Not” one might reply that what goes around comes around and chi lo fa l’aspetta). Basically the man was trying to insult the united Social Democrats and Eisenachers by conflating them with a bunch of lunatic extremists — the Christians.

update: Chapter and verse references added plus when looking for chapter and verse for “to each according to his need” I found “from each according to his ability too.”

The phrases which can be translated (from Greek not German) as “from each according to his ability” and “to each according to his need” and fairly quoted without distortion due to removal of context comes neither from “The Critique of the Gotha Program” nor from “The Gotha Program” (as quoted in the critique) but from the Bible and, in particular from “The Acts of the Apostles” which, quite frankly, makes “The Communist Manifesto” look like the McCain platform (with all due respect for McCain, Marx and the Apostles).

The Bible, New King James Version

Acts Chapter 4 Verse 35
“…; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.”

Acts Chapter 11 verse 29
“Then the apostles, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.”

OK so history is a prankster and karma is a bitch. Driven by envy and ambition, Marx decided to claim that, when it came to wages, Ferdinand Lasale was an impractical impossiblist extremist just like Simon Peter. As a result, many people have decided that Karl Marx was an impractical impossiblist extremist egalitarian just like Simon Peter. This is crazy. Not quite as crazy as the idea that one can be both a Christian and a crusader or both a Christian and a Republican, but crazy.

In closing, I note that I am both an atheist and a reasonable moderate, so I agree with Karl Marx and, like Marx, reject the impractical dreams of St Peter (at least for the foreseeable future).