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From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs) is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.[1] The phrase summarizes the principles that, under a communist system, every person should contribute to society to the best of his or her ability and consume from society in proportion to his or her needs. 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 there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.[2][3]


Origin of the phrase

The complete paragraph 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 1840, in "The organization of work", as a revision of a quote by the utopian socialist Henri de Saint Simon, who claimed that each should be rewarded according to how much he works.[citation needed] The origin of this phrasing has also been attributed to the French communist Morelly,[4] 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.[5]

The phrase may also find an earlier origin in the New Testament. In Acts 4:32-35, the Apostles lifestyle is described as communal (without individual possession), and uses the phrase "distribution was made unto every man according as he had need"[6]:

32. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35. And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Debates on the phrase

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." 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 ("socialism") in line with Marx's arguments, the Soviet Union adapted the formula as: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work (labour investment)".

Real-world examples


In 'primitive' societies

Marxists have asserted that most hunter-gatherer and primitive agricultural societies were characterized by a communal economic system.[citation needed] In Marxism this is called primitive communism.


There have been a number of attempts to practice the principle in small groups, in the midst of societies based on other economic systems. These attempts have not necessarily been directly inspired by Marx or Marxism. For example see:

More broadly

Most communists and socialists and some anarchists (Anarchist Communism) could be said to believe in a society whose economy would be based around the principle.

In addition there are a number of streams of thought which hold to a similar principle in a limited form. For example, Catholic social teaching holds that everyone has the right to a basic standard of living. Thus, for example, the able-bodied are bound to help the less fortunate.[citation needed] The idea of the welfare state is based on a similar idea, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts a similar "right to social security."[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b Marx, Karl (1875). "Part I". Critique of the Gotha Program. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  2. ^ a b Schaff, Kory (2001). Philosophy and the problems of work: a reader. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 224. ISBN 0-7425-0795-5. 
  3. ^ a b Walicki, Andrzej (1995). Marxism and the leap to the kingdom of freedom: the rise and fall of the Communist utopia. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0-8047-2384-2. 
  4. ^ Norman E. Bowie, Towards a new theory of distributive justice (1971, p. 82.
  5. ^ Gregory Titelman, Random House dictionary of popular proverbs & sayings (1996), p. 108.
  6. ^;
  7. ^ United Nations General Assembly. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Retrieved 2008-07-10. "Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security…" 
  • Cohen, G. A. (1995). "Self-ownership, communism, and equality: against the Marxist technological fix". Self-ownership, freedom, and equality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47751-4. 

External links


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