What follows is an excerpt from Maurice Cornforth’s 1952 Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics.
II. THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF MARXISM-LENINISM
(B) MORE ADVANCED READING
(1) Karl Marx. “Critique of the Gotha Programme.” Karl Marx & Frederick Engels Collected Works, Vol. 24, International Publishers, 1989, pp. 75-99.
Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme deals with fundamental questions of the theory and programme of the working class party. It consists of a series of comments on points contained in the draft programme prepared for a unity conference of the German working class movement held at Gotha in 1875. Marx’s comments were suppressed by the opportunist leadership of the German Social Democratic Party, and were subsequently published by Engels in 1891, against the wishes of the leadership.
The intention of the draft programme—the “Gotha Programme”—was to provide a platform behind which the whole German working class movement could unite But for the sake of “unity” it made a number of concessions on points of principle to the followers of the splinter group led by Ferdinand Lassalle.
What are the principal points clarified in Marx’s critique?
1. He shows that the capitalist mode of production has created the material conditions for advancing to socialism, and deals with the way in winch the social product will be distributed in socialist society. Socialism is only the first phase of communism, and is guided by the principle, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his labour.” It will lead to full communist society, the principle of which is, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”¹
2. He attacks the reformist slogan of “a fair distribution of the products of labour,” and exposes the theoretical confusion behind this slogan. For the distribution of the products of labour, must always be a consequence of the mode of production.² He likewise attacks the reformist slogan of “state aid under democratic control,” and shows that the aim of the working class must be “to revolutionise the present conditions of production.”
3. He attacks the conception that, relatively to the working class, all other classes are only one reactionary mass. It is necessary to examine concretely the actual position of each class at each stage of history, and not lump them all together as “reactionary.” Thus the workers may fight together with sections of the capitalists against feudal survivals, together with the lower middle class for certain democratic demands, and so on.³
4. He affirms the international character of the working class struggle⁴ in opposition to the narrowly national aims of the Gotha Programme.
5. He refutes the conception of an “iron law of wages,” according to which the worker’s real wages can never be raised above a minimum subsistence level.⁵
6. He attacks the reformist slogan of a “free state,” and shows that “between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”⁶
¹ See Lenin, The State and Revolution; Stalin, Speech at Conference of Staknanovites.
² See Engels, Anti-Dühring, Part II; Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Ch. 51.
³ See, for example, The Communist Manifesto, and Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League.
⁴ See The Communist Manifesto.
⁵ See Wages, Price and Profit.
⁶ See Lenin, The State and Revolution. This book by Lenin contains quotations from and commentaries on a number of passages of the Critique of the Gotha Programme.