Summary: A look at what Marx’s ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ has to offer in terms of dialectically working through philosophical/organizational matters today. Based on a report given to the International Marxist-Humanist Convention, July 2022 – Editors
We live in a time of severe retrogression as fascism and chauvinistic nationalism are once again on the rise in many nations. Political attacks and violence have been directed toward minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ people. A pandemic has caused havoc and millions of deaths throughout the world due to attacks on basic scientific principles in many nations as well as a largely uncoordinated response. The virus continues its assault. In this context, we need to think through what an alternative to capitalism might look like.
Without such an alternative to guide and inspire Leftists, the situation is bleak. Clearly, capitalism is not sustainable as it destroys the planet and dehumanizes workers and all that fall under its sway. As a result of the pandemic, alienating work conditions, and the continuing tragic murders of Black men by police, there is a growing recognition among many of the inhuman nature of the current system. This is clearly seen in the BLM movement, the “Great Resignation” of workers and a growing union movement in the US in the dispersed and hard to organize service sector. After the difficult experience of the pandemic, either with work from home, layoffs, or a continuation of work in less than safe conditions, many workers said “no” to the conditions of labor they had previously endured in silence. Workers were suddenly willing to view the flexibility of their employer as significantly as their employers demanded flexibility from them. While it is unclear what the end result will be to this growing worker activism, it brings to the fore a number of important issues for our organization to further theorize.
Particularly relevant to today’s world is our publication of a new translation of the Critique of the Gotha Program with an excellent introduction written by Peter Hudis. Discussion of this important work will be essential to creating a vision of an alternative to capitalism. In this text, Marx provides us with an important example of how to think about both organizational issues and how to theorize an alternative to capitalism.
Importance of the CGP
The publication of our new translation by Karel Ludenhoff and Kevin B. Anderson of The Critique of the Gotha Program with a new introduction by Peter Hudis is an important organizational achievement. First, it fulfills an organizational commitment that we made several years back to do just this. Second, it offers us a starting point for myriad discussions on alternatives to capitalistic organization of society both within and outside of the organization. Particularly important will be projecting our ideas outside of the organization as much of the world is facing rising right-wing forces seeking to, among other things, turn the clock back on basic democratic rights and enforce strict gender codes within and outside of the family. The need for a concrete theory of what comes after capitalism has never been so significant.
There are a number of important elements of Marx’s critique. Here, two will be discussed. The first relates to the issue of the intersections of philosophy and organization. The primary basis for Marx making this scathing critique of this program was that it compromised too much philosophically. As Marx writes in his cover letter to Bracke:
Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs. If, therefore, it was not possible—and the circumstances of the time precluded this—to go beyond the Eisenach program, one should simply have concluded an agreement for action against the common enemy. But by drawing up a program of principles (instead of postponing this until it had been prepared for by a considerable period of common activity) one sets up before the whole world guideposts by which to measure the party’s level of progress.
Like statements that he made in 1848 after the failed revolutions and after the counter-revolution had set in, Marx notes the need to sometimes engage in coalition politics when there is agreement on shared goals, and to otherwise avoid coalitions when they would conflict with important philosophical principles. Marx also notes the importance of staying in step with the most progressive elements of the movement, and that philosophy was the guiding principle of the movement—perhaps even the only element of the “party” in certain circumstances where proper agreement on principles was impossible. The working out of philosophical principles, especially those related to a post-capitalist society, should inform all aspects of our organization and be the source of our unity.
A second point of importance of the CGP to our organizational and theoretical growth is the section on labor in the first phase of Communism. Here, Marx provides a detailed discussion of the transitional form of remuneration of labor, one that at least tacitly takes into account gendered labor and family life. There is much of use in this passage that can be further concretized for today’s world. Here I will take up a brief outline of two central points of interest: the role of gender and the family in the new society and the related point of how capitalistic notions of time interfere with our efforts to build a more inclusive organization.
Marx writes on the proceeds of labor in the first phase of communism, that right will unavoidably be unequal because it will necessarily be a transition phase out of the bourgeois conceptions of right. Here workers will be remunerated based on the time that they work and nothing else: “Hence, equal right here is still in principle bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.” There is a 1-to-1 relationship between the labor time that an individual contributes and how they are remunerated. All will be workers, and will be subject to the concrete measure of labor time rather than the exploitative socially necessary labor time that pits workers against each other and forces, among other things, physically or mentally harmful labor practices. The market and its distortions are no longer applicable as it no longer exists. The worker will be able to choose how much work they do and at what speed (at least within reasonable limits).
This is not the final answer to the question of labor, work, and individual need, however:
In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly encumbered by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in measurement that is made with an equal standard, labor. But one person is superior to another physically or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity of the workers, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. A right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal criterion, grasped only in terms of a specific aspect, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Moreover, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with equal labor productivity, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, etc. To avoid all these defects, rights would have to be unequal rather than equal.
Equal right remains at an abstract level as all are “regarded only as workers” for the purposes of remuneration. Like in capitalism, no account is made of partners, children, or other dependents, in terms of individual remuneration for labor. However, unlike what happens in capitalism, the social fund would be available to provide for non-workers in any of the above categories. This is the beginning of a transition from the bourgeois right of formal equality toward viewing others not for simply what they can do, but instead who they are as a totality.
In this transitional form, the work of one individual is remunerated in exactly the same amount as any other. This is an improvement from capital’s premises. First, and most importantly, the law of value is no longer operating. Production for the sake of production is gone, as would be any measures that would treat any worker differently than another. Marx points to class and ability here, but just as significant would be the efforts to remove gender and racial distinctions from labor. With all workers being remunerated equally based on labor time and society working toward the equal social validation of traditionally women’s work, caring labor would be more equally shared by all groups in society. Read along with his earlier comments on a reserve fund for things like health care and those unable to work, this passage seems to point in the direction of more societal support for families rather than leaving this up to individuals to care for only their own children.
Here, the bourgeois idea of the abstract worker is seen for the contradiction that it is. Workers are individuals with very different talents and are, in reality, quite unequal. Because of the metrics used under capitalism, what is in fact formal equality turns quickly into inequality because no worker is concretely equal to another. Communal institutions in the new society could not be based on the abstractions of capitalism but would have to be very concrete in terms of thinking through uses of things like the communal social fund. For labor remuneration itself, the concrete notion of actual labor time would be the metric used to begin with. The communal fund could then begin to deal with the inequalities that result from this.
Second, particularly important in today’s world, where abortion rights are on the chopping block in the US and fascistic forces seek to take back any and all wins of the women’s rights and LGBTQ+ movements, Marx seems to point to choice as a major aspect of families: “one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another…” While Marx was likely writing with more Victorian ideas about gender and sexuality, we need not follow him and instead point to the possibilities under communism for choice on when and if individuals want to start or grow a family and what that family would look like. Marx continues this point when he writes toward the end of his critique that: “Everyone should be able to attend his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in.” This is extremely relevant today as the US Supreme Court has now paved the way for draconian anti-abortion laws and Thomas’s concurring opinion points to the possibility of overturning other legal arguments that have relied on a constitutional protection of privacy including the right to contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut), the right to privacy in intimate relationships (Lawrence v. Texas), and same sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges). Certainly, the issue of control over one’s body is also being fought for by the LGBTQ+ community on grounds of Transgender rights and the right to express oneself in the gendered or non-gendered way of their choosing against the Right which seeks to police the most intimate areas of people’s lives.
In the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx takes up in an extremely brief and abstract way, the progression of gender relations and how it illustrates progress toward the fully developed human being:
The immediate, natural and necessary relation of human being to human being is also the relation of man [Mann] to woman [Weib]. In this natural species relationship man’s [Mensch] relation to nature is directly his relation to man [Mensch], and his relation to man [Mensch] is directly his relation to nature, to his own natural function. Thus, in this relation is sensuously revealed, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which human nature has become nature for him. From this relationship man’s [Mensch] whole level of development can be assessed. It follows from the character of this relationship how far man [Mensch] has become, and has understood himself as, a species-being, a human being. The relation of man [Mann] to woman [Weib] is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It indicates, therefore, how far man’s [Mensch] natural behavior has become human, and how far his human essence has become a natural essence for him, how far his human nature has become nature for him. It also shows how far man’s [Mensch] needs have become human needs, and consequently how far the other person [Mensch], as a person, has become one of his needs, and to what extent he is in his individual existence at the same time a social being.
Of particular note here is how Marx moves from the abstract universal— the unmediated, “natural” human understanding of species being where survival and thus reproduction is the primary link between individuals to the concrete universal where every human being regardless of gender (and today we could add sexuality) are both beings for themselves and for others—i.e., the individual is valued both in terms of who they are and what they can become as well as being a representative of the species being for others. As reproduction loses some of its importance in human relations—it becomes one of a much larger set of essential human relationships—the need for conforming to societal expectations of gender consequently also loses much of its importance. The full and free release of individuality where nothing interferes with the universal becomes possible at this point.
As society transitions to regard individuals less and less on the basis of a quid pro quo relationship, it would move toward appreciating individuals in all their concreteness:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime desire and necessity [erste Lebensbedürfniss]; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly, only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be completely transcended [überschritten] and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!
No doubt there are many possible bumps in the road to get to this point. Thus, it remains important that we dialectically and critically follow the development of the movements for greater rights for women and the LGBTQ+ communities as well as movements for greater rights for BIPOC persons and other oppressed groups.
These passages from Marx also point to the difficulty for us as an organization to deal with the pressing need to diversify, especially in terms giving more visibility to the voices of oppressed groups whether inside or outside of the organization. Here, we are up against an important barrier. We have not, nor can we alone transcend value production, which in its current iteration, devalues the voices of many oppressed groups while at the same time overburdening them with work. Much of this is unpaid care work, often alongside paid employment. The groups that we need to hear the most from and can learn the most from are struggling with a lack of time not just for rest and relaxation, but also a lack of time for political work.
Partly as a result of the pressures created by the pandemic and the struggle for many balancing work and care responsibilities, caregiving has again become an important topic of discussion. Certainly, feminist theorists have long noted the “double burden” that many women are forced to endure because they are women. They become largely responsible for care of children, the elderly and others in the family that cannot take care of themselves, even if they are working full time in paid employment.
This is an issue that is spread throughout society and one that we have begun to focus on more directly than in the past. Rehmah Sufi has written incisively on this topic: “It can be argued that caregiving is treated like a disability. You can’t run with us. You can’t sit with us. We can’t slow down for you. We can’t make room for you. If you have someone to care for, we need to leave you behind.” While not intentionally following this logic, at times the result of our decisions, this sort of thing has happened, and not just in the case of women.
While we always try to make an effort to include more than just token representation of women and oppressed minorities, there are times when the need to get a statement out quickly or to put together an event on a developing issue leads to an outcome where that representation is inadequate. While time may not be the only issue involved, it is certainly one that we should think about carefully as an organization.
As Rehmah Sufi points out in her report, speed is a very important metric in capitalism; one that many in society for a variety of reasons cannot keep up with. How can we as an organization slow things down long enough to hear the voices of those who are operating at a different “speed” than that of capitalist society while at the same time responding to real world events in a “timely” manner? If “time becomes the space for human development” as Marx writes, some having more free time than others leads to the possibility and actuality of greater development for some than for others. Certainly, this issue has affected our organization in significant ways. It is not surprising that those that tend to write the most for the website fit in certain categories that allow them more time for development. While this is a reality that we have little control over as it is fundamental to the function of contemporary capitalism, we should not turn necessity into virtue.
There are few answers to this important issue. In a world where instantaneous response is expected on nearly every topic and where an issue that hits the news cycle one day may not be seen as relevant the next, speed can be very important to get our unique perspective out there. However, we need to be cognizant of the tension between speed and greater involvement of our members. Perhaps one option is to work on getting more brief reports on the website on important events. These reports can be just as significant, and perhaps more so in some cases, than longer, more academic works. We should not be only measuring our success on quantity, speed, and high-level intellectual arguments. These measures certainly have their place but limiting ourselves to these puts us firmly within capitalist logic. While we cannot fully overcome this logic, it becomes all the more important to remind comrades that both individual and organizational development of theory and practice, which can come from a variety of different kinds of work, are extremely important. Certainly, the above ideas have been present in our organization, although perhaps they have not been fully internalized.
We have much important work to do to develop organizational perspectives while at the same time, developing ourselves and our practices within the organization. Certainly, given the challenges of the pandemic, we have accomplished a lot just in continuing to meet regularly and engage in discussion amongst ourselves and with those interested in our ideas. The challenge of the next two years will be to take what we have learned over the course of the past few years and develop and internalize these ideas within the organization.
 Marx, Karl. 2022. Critique of the Gotha Program, PM Press. P. 48. Emphasis in the original.
 Ibid, p. 58. Emphasis in the original.
 Ibid, p. 58-59. Emphasis in the original.
 Ibid, p. 72.
 Marx, Karl. 2004.  The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, p. 103 in Erich Fromm,
ed., Marx’s Concept of Man. New York: Continuum. Emphasis in the original.
 Marx, 2022. P. 59.
 MECW. Vol. 32. 2010. International Publishers. P. 493.