Karl Marx Would Be Offended

WFTV reporter Barbara West’s question to Joe Biden – “You may recognize this famous quote. From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs. That’s from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?” – would have upset Karl Marx even more than it upset Joe Biden.


The phrase “From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” was the ideal and slogan of nineteenth century democratic  socialism. 

But it was not a slogan of Marx or a principle of communism.

On the contrary, Marx used the phrase only once, when he was criticizing the democratic socialists for what Marx believed was their naive or “utopian” hope for fundamental social change without violence or dictatorship.

In his Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) and elsewhere, Marx argued that radical change would require a “dictatorship of the proletariant” before the socialists’ ideal could be realized.  What was necessary, Marx argued, was a society based on the principle of “”from each according to his ability, and to each according to his labor power” – that is, according to their actual contribution to (the new) society.

For Marx, no one was entitled to anything based solely on their “need.”

Marx would be offended — and probably heartbroken — that more than a hundred years after his death, people are still confusing him with democrats.


2 responses to “Karl Marx Would Be Offended

  1. I thought Joe Biden’s initial response was great! Is that a joke? Are you serious? Watching from a distance (South Africa) I didn’t see the interview, except a snippet on CNN, but West sounded like an idiot!

  2. I love that you actually cited Marx. How many people throwing the terms ‘Marxism’ and ‘Socialism’ have actually read Marx? I had a pile of Marx, Engles, and Trotsky assigned over the years.

    I couldn’t honestly call myself anti-communist without having actually read the stuff. For me, the turning point was reading Engles’ “Private Property, The Family, and the State”. And noting just how much of Book I from Smith’s Wealth of Nations was cribbed without attribution in forming Marx’s ideas for Capital.

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