Friday, June 19, 2015

Reading :: Critique of the Gotha Programme

The link above, like some of the other Marx and Engels books I'll be reviewing soon, goes to the Kindle book Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Collection of 26 Works with analysis and historical background. It's cheap ($1.99), but you can read the Critique even more cheaply at if you like. As with my other recent reviews, I'll be copying and pasting quotes from that source.

It's a short read. I picked it up because Solzhenitsyn quotes it in his critique of the Marxist view of labor:
Engels discovered that the human being had arisen not through the perception of a moral idea and not through the process of thought, but out of happenstance and meaningless work (an ape picked up a stone—and with this everything began. Marx, concerning himself with a less remote time ('Critique of the Gotha Program'), declared with equal conviction that the one and only means of correcting offenders ... was not solitary contemplation, not moral soul-searching, nor repentance, and not languishing (for all that was superstructure!)—but productive labor. (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago p.215) 
Solzhenitsyn cites this claim as the rationale for the work camps of the Gulag. Since I'm interested in the Marxist view of labor and the implied work ethic, I had to read the source itself.

The 1875 Critique, according to the (unsigned) background section, critiques "the draft programme of the United Workers' Party in Germany." As a critique, it quotes specific sentences from the draft programme, followed by Marx's extensive commentary. Essentially, it's a fisking of the programme.

Part 1 begins by critiquing how the programme characterizes labor and how this characterization implies rights. He argues that the programme still accepts a bourgeoise definition of rights:
 The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.
Since individuals vary in their ability, and since some individuals have greater needs than others (for instance, some are married and support families while others are not and do not), this definition leads to inequality:
To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal. 
But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. 
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 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!
For our purposes, note that the last paragraph implies the eventual dissolution of the division of labor (cf. Lenin, Ilyenkov); the "all-around development of the individual" (cf. Vygotsky's New Soviet Man); and the eventual emergence of a new order in which the socialist ethic can work (cf. again Lenin, Ilyenkov, Stalin). Marx continues this future vision in Part 4. He first critiques the programme for not orienting to the future:
The German Workers' party — at least if it adopts the program — shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases.
Then he contrasts the programme, which attempts to work within the current framework, with the future state of affairs to which it should be oriented:
In this sense, it is possible to speak of the "present-day state" in contrast with the future, in which its present root, bourgeois society, will have died off. 
The question then arises: What transformation will the state undergo in communist society? In other words, what social functions will remain in existence there that are analogous to present state functions? This question can only be answered scientifically, and one does not get a flea-hop nearer to the problem by a thousand-fold combination of the word 'people' with the word 'state'. 
Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat
Now the program does not deal with this nor with the future state of communist society.
Instead, he says, it describes present-day states. That's inadequate:
all those pretty little gewgaws rest on the recognition of the so-called sovereignty of the people and hence are appropriate only in a democratic republic.
He argues that in the programme, "by the word 'state' is meant the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor": the programme doesn't look forward to the future abolition of the division of labor.

Here we see the seeds that Lenin cultivated in The State and Revolution: the dictatorship of the proletariat, leading to the ideal future state in which the division of labor is abolished. Stalin later developed (and prolonged) the dictatorship of the proletariat, arguing strenuously for an epoch in which a division of labor had to exist, one that sounded lot like "the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor" that Marx critiqued.

In all, a short read, and an illuminating one when put in conversation with later Soviets.

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