The Critique of the Gotha Programme

The Gotha programme was drawn up to unite the two sections of the German working class movement. One party, the General Association of German Workers, was founded by Lassalle, hence called the Lassalleans—the other party was the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, led by William Liebknecht and Bebel, and was known as the Eisenachers. They combined to form the Socialist Workers* Party of Germany at the Gotha Congress in 1875.

The “Critique of the Gotha Programme” consisted of marginal, comments made by Marx on the draft of this party programme.

To-day the “Critique” is popular among Communist Party sympathisers because in certain passages Marx has referred to a transitional period between Capitalism and Communism during which there will be an exchange economy. Of course, the Communists claim that Russia at present is passing through this transitional period.

Undue importance is placed on these passages. As Marx has pointed out in the above mentioned work just after dealing with the transitional period:—

  “I have dealt more at length with the ‘undiminished proceeds of labour’ on the one hand, and ‘equal right’ and ‘fair distribution’ on the other in order to show what a crime it is to attempt. . . . to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but now have become obsolete verbal rubbish.” (Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx Engels’ Selected Works, p. 23., published Lawrence and Wishart.)

And in the next paragraph he wrote that—

  “It was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it.
“Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal conditions of production, of labour power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of, the means of consumption different from the present one.” (P. 23.)

In Russia, we have millionaires (see “Soviet Millionaires,” by Reg Bishop published for Russia Today Society in 1943) drawing interest on State Loans—“property in capital” while the masses are only owners . . .  of labour power.”

The view that there would be a transitional period between’Capitalism and Communism or Socialism (they are realty interchangeable terms) as envisaged by Marx was understandable 75 years ago, when the machinery of production had not attained the tremendous productive capacity it has to-day and it wasn’t realised that it was absolutely necessary that the majority of the working class must understand what Socialism means. With the present knowledge of the pre-requisites for the establishment of a Socialist society, the “transitional period ” has become “ obsolete verbal rubbish.”

The real value of the “Critique of the Gotha Programme ” lies in the attack Marx makes on the vague loose phraseology of a political party programme seeking to attract a working class ignorant of its real interests.

Communist Party sympathisers should read the “Critique” and ask themselves what Marx would have had to say about a party which talks about “people’s states,” “people’s democracies,” “people’s governments,” and whose aim, to quote from a Communist Party document, is as follows:—

   “To achieve a Socialist Britain in which the social ownership of the means of production and exchange shall replace the existing capitalist system and the exploitation of man by man. By transforming man and creating abundance. Socialism creates the conditions for the ultimate goal of Communism, based on the principle: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.
“Only a Socialist Britain co-operating with all other peoples of the world in close, friendly, free and equal association, will be able so to plan the use of all Britain’s material, productive and scientific resources, that every citizen will be guaranteed security, the right to work and leisure, a steadily rising standard of living, liberty and equal opportunity to enjoy a full and happy life”— (Draft Rules of the Party, 22nd National Congress, issued by .Communist Party.)

They might then agree that Engels’ words to Bebel when writing about the Gotha Programme would be most apt. He wrote, “Almost every word in this programme . . .  could be criticised. It is such a character that if adopted Marx and I can never give adherence to the new party established on this basis.” (Engels to Bebel, March 18-28, 1875, Marx Engels’ Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 39.)

Read the “Critique” for yourself and see. It is published by Lawrence and Wishart and can be bought for half-a-crown or you can buy Marx and Engels’ Selected Works. It is included in volume two. The two volumes are priced at six shillings and sixpence each.

Jim Thorburn