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.