Critique of the Gotha Program

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Critique of the Gotha Program


On the basis of his economic studies in Das Kapital Marx describes in this work the main features of the two phases of communist society: socialism, the initial, or lower, phase and full communism, the higher phase. In communist society, founded on the social ownership of the means of production, wrote Marx, “the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor expended on the production of the products appear here as the value of these products, a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor exists not indirectly but directly as a part of the total labor” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19, p. 18). Moreover, in the first phase of communism, when society emerges from the womb of capitalist society and thus preserves economically, morally, and intellectually the “birthmarks” of capitalist society, there prevails the principle of distribution according to labor, that is, essentially the same principle that regulates the exchange of commodities, the principle of the exchange of equivalents: “each producer receives from society, after the deductions have been made, exactly what he gives it” (K. Marx and F. Engels, ibid.). Socialism guarantees the equality of people with respect to the means of production, since private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of man by man are abolished.

Next, Marx describes the higher phase of communist society, when the enslaving subordination of man to the division of labor has disappeared, along with the antithesis between mental and physical labor, “when labor has ceased to be merely a means of sustaining life and has become the prime necessity of life; when, together with the all-round development of the individual, the productive forces have also increased, and all the springs of social wealth flow abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois law be fully overcome and society inscribe on its banner: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (ibid., p. 20).

Referring to the theory of reproduction developed in Das Kapital and proceeding from the view that the distribution of consumer goods is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of social production, Marx formulates the essential features of the distribution of the total social product in communist society: replacement of outworn means of production, expansion of production, a reserve fund, costs of administration, communal satisfaction of needs, funds for those unable to work, and individual consumption. Marx criticizes the notions typical of petit bourgeois socialism about the equalizing nature of distribution in communist society.

Recapitulating his theory of the state, based on the study of preceding revolutions and the class struggle in bourgeois society, Marx in this work for the first time establishes the historical inevitability of the special stage of transition from capitalism to communism, with its corresponding form of state, and emphasizes the necessity of proletarian dictatorship as a most important prerequisite for the revolutionary socialist transformation of society. “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. This period is accompanied by a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (K. Marx and F. Engels, ibid., p. 27).

In the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx developed important questions regarding the tactics of the proletariat’s class struggle. He strongly opposed the inclusion in the program of the provision asserting that all the other classes form “but a single reactionary mass” with respect to the working class and showed that this provision denies the alliance of proletariat and peasantry. Marx also exposed the reactionary essence of Lassalle’s “iron law of wages,” which perpetuates the poverty of the proletariat. The Critique ranks among Marx’ most important and fundamental works.

Directly related to this work is Engels’ letter to A. Bebel of Mar. 18–28, 1875, concerning the same draft program. After criticizing the thesis that the state transcends class, Engels emphasizes that the proletariat needs the state above all in order to suppress its opponents. Marx’ and Engels’ thoughts on the question of communist society and on the state were further developed in the works of V. I. Lenin, particularly in his State and Revolution.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(1.) Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, part 1 (1875),
Specific chapters explore the transcendence of alienation in his earlier writing, the conception of a post-capitalist society in drafts and published editions of Capital, and Marx's speculations about a post-capitalist society in his response to the Paris Commune and in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. An appendix offers a translation of Marx's notes on "Absolute Spirit" in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.
Critique of the Gotha Programme or Marginal Notes on the Programme of the German Workers' Party (1875).