# Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”

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I was always baffled by this slogan. Wikipedia informs:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs) is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. The phrase summarizes the idea that, under a communist system, every person shall produce to the best of their ability in accordance with their talent, and each person shall receive the fruits of this production in accordance with their need, irrespective of what they have produced. In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist society will produce; the idea is that there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.”

I have several objections on these explanatory statements.

Human needs can be either basic needs ( food, shelter, sex, etc ) or cultural needs ( education, entertainment, fashion clothes, etc ).

First of all, society could provide food, shelter for everybody but not sex. Sex depends of the ability of someone finding a sexual partner willing to engage in sexual relationship. If someone was unable to find a consenting sexual partner, the state could not designate someone at random and force him/her to have sex with the needy person.

So to start with, not all basic needs can be always satisfied by the state without resorting to weird measures.

Secondly, even in relation to food, people have preferences. Some people are content with very cheap and simple food but others demand very sophisticated and expensive food. How the state would satisfy such variety of needs without creating privileges ?

Education. Some people are content with mediocre education but others demand very high standards of education. Again, how the state would satisfy everybody without creating privileged individuals or classes?

Thirdly, if the state rewarded equally, both, the lazy and the laborious then most people would be inclined to be idle and society would degenerate.

Furthermore, men need to compete with each other in order to ascend in the social hierarchy and impress women.

And they do it by obtaining more resources ( money, possessions, etc ) and power.

How, communism could realistically curb this strong biological impulse without causing social pathology ?

Of course, I have far more objections but I will stop here for now.

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everything is always about "Sex" with you isnt it.

ya know, sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar

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everything is always about "Sex" with you isnt it.

Not really, probably I talk far more about anything else.

But even if it was the case, what is the problem ?

Since living beings’ ultimate “purpose” is reproduction and even survival instincts aim to protect and prepare them better for reproduction and protection of their offspring why be surprised that humans, as living beings, would be significantly interested on sex ?

Actually it would be a serious concern if everybody suddenly became totally disinterested on sex.

This would mean the end of our species.

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O.k. Marxism never wanted to provide for needs that basically just provide for themselves. The point was on the survival needs, which for most people are basically the same: food, shelter, sanitation etcetera.

Screw people's culinary preferences, Marx wanted to make sure that everyone could eat, not that everyone could eat what they wanted.

Your thirdly seems to ignore the first clause of the motto.

And no, believe it or not, it is perfectly possible to be in a relationship with a hot woman without there being a social hierarchy.

Also YT, no, a cigar is never just a cigar.

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O.k. Marxism never wanted to provide for needs that basically just provide for themselves. The point was on the survival needs, which for most people are basically the same: food, shelter, sanitation etcetera.

Screw people's culinary preferences, Marx wanted to make sure that everyone could eat, not that everyone could eat what they wanted.

These details cannot be derived directly from the motto. This is your personal interpretation of the motto which probably also incorporates information from other sources about marxism.

But I will accept your interpretation. I hate hair-splitting type of discussions so I would not object this opinion so far.

Your thirdly seems to ignore the first clause of the motto.

How so, could you clarify ?

And no, believe it or not, it is perfectly possible to be in a relationship with a hot woman without there being a social hierarchy.

I know that. I got laid a lot of times with attractive women in the past despite being a penniless student at that time.

But you have to concede that guys like us are minority. The majority have to fight for money and status.

And you are missing an important factor. Women do not measure men only directly through their money and possessions. They also can indirectly measure the man’s potential to acquire them by detecting his talents, intelligence, persuasive power, self-confidence, etc and of course physical fitness and physical attractiveness.

So even if you are penniless now, they can reasonably anticipate what you would be capable to obtain in the future.

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I was always baffled by this slogan. Wikipedia informs:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs) is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. The phrase summarizes the idea that, under a communist system, every person shall produce to the best of their ability in accordance with their talent, and each person shall receive the fruits of this production in accordance with their need, irrespective of what they have produced. In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist society will produce; the idea is that there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.”

I have several objections on these explanatory statements.

Human needs can be either basic needs ( food, shelter, sex, etc ) or cultural needs ( education, entertainment, fashion clothes, etc ).

First of all, society could provide food, shelter for everybody but not sex. Sex depends of the ability of someone finding a sexual partner willing to engage in sexual relationship. If someone was unable to find a consenting sexual partner, the state could not designate someone at random and force him/her to have sex with the needy person.

So to start with, not all basic needs can be always satisfied by the state without resorting to weird measures.

Secondly, even in relation to food, people have preferences. Some people are content with very cheap and simple food but others demand very sophisticated and expensive food. How the state would satisfy such variety of needs without creating privileges ?

Education. Some people are content with mediocre education but others demand very high standards of education. Again, how the state would satisfy everybody without creating privileged individuals or classes?

Thirdly, if the state rewarded equally, both, the lazy and the laborious then most people would be inclined to be idle and society would degenerate.

Furthermore, men need to compete with each other in order to ascend in the social hierarchy and impress women.

And they do it by obtaining more resources ( money, possessions, etc ) and power.

How, communism could realistically curb this strong biological impulse without causing social pathology ?

Of course, I have far more objections but I will stop here for now.

There is no way Marx had some perfect objective understanding of the human being, as a result there is no way his system could have ever been a utopia. That being said it does not mean it couldn’t work, I think the same could be said of any organized human social group or setting. That basically humans can persist even in the midst of ignorance. I personally cant stand anything that deals with socialism or communism, and of course if anyone wants to experience such truly in real life all you have to do is join the military!

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I think Kennedy said something similar:

"Ask not what America can do for you, but what you can do for America"

Something like that anyway...

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There is no way Marx had some perfect objective understanding of the human being, as a result there is no way his system could have ever been a utopia.

I agree. Actually, we, humans, are still studying our true nature. We still have huge gaps of lack of knowledge about ourselves.

And worst, some people, want to remain in ignorance of themselves and pretend that they are some kind of simplistic, idealized and “ethereal” creatures.

That being said it does not mean it couldn’t work,

No political system can work properly, successfully and endure if it fails to understand substantially human nature ( our evolutionary adaptations ).

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These details cannot be derived directly from the motto.
Well yeh, it is just a motto. I have no idea where to find a copy of the manifesto in this house, but I certainly remember it being longer than a dozen words. There's no point deconstructing a motto on it's own, that'd be like critising an entire marketing campaign based on just the repeated tagline on the adverts.
Your thirdly seems to ignore the first clause of the motto.
How so, could you clarify ?
From each according to his ability[/b'], to each according to his need
The from each part is equally important, one doesn't work without the other. Marx was working on the assumption that when everyone went "yay! communism!" that everyone would be contributing and no-one would be lazy, he never suggested that it was a good system without workers who urm, worked.
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The from each part is equally important, one doesn't work without the other. Marx was working on the assumption that when everyone went "yay! communism!" that everyone would be contributing and no-one would be lazy, he never suggested that it was a good system without workers who urm, worked.

Yes, I'd agree. Humans are still to 'selfish' for communism to really work today. However, there's nothing wrong in having high hopes! I also think it should be noted that Marx never intended for communism to be rolled out now. He merely said that it was a stage that humans would eventually reach once we had got through capitalism, followed by socialism.

Trouble is, he didn't predict ecological destruction getting in the way!

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and of course if anyone wants to experience such truly in real life all you have to do is join the military!

Whaddya mean? They were the best years of my life!

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Humans are still to 'selfish' for communism to really work today. However, there's nothing wrong in having high hopes! I also think it should be noted that Marx never intended for communism to be rolled out now. He merely said that it was a stage that humans would eventually reach once we had got through capitalism, followed by socialism.

Hoping that our human selfish nature would change through ideological conversion and/or by cultural altruistic education is a big delusion.

Individual behavioural selfishness instructed by genes exist in all animal species. To make things worst, humans have also innate tribal selfishness. This is the cause of endless wars.

Humans also vary enormously in mental and physical capabilities, personality, prevalent emotions,etc.

Other additional factor that causes conflicts are cultural and religious differences.

You cannot change deeply rooted evolutionary adaptations with mere cultural influence.

Humankind could only live a true communism by radically changing their biological nature.

This would be only possible when genetic engineering technology reaches almost perfection and the complex functionalities of our set of genes become totally understood in the future.

Humankind has even a more urgent reason for changing their biologic nature. I am quite convinced that if we do not change our obsolete genetic predispositions wisely we will end up destroying ourselves in less than one century and our species will become extinct.

But, currently probably most people would freak out even with the prospect of small genetic changes.

If the same mentality persists until this future situation I doubt that most people would accept a genetically reengineered humanity. Unless the jealousy triggered by observing rich people increasing enormously the longevity and mental and physical capabilities of their children cause them to radically change their mind.

But then it could be too late. The upper classes might want to keep the technologic power of human genetic engineering exclusively for themselves.

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The ideal communist state is shown by a termite nest. Of course, it helps that termites got no brains!

We don't even need to speculate on this subject. Enough places have actually tried to set up such a society. It failes every time.

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actually there are a number of places where its succeeded (not on the country scale), there are a number of communes around the world where people live according to marxist beliefs, its just that everyone there decided that they wanted to live like that, there is no dissent on the subject, as everyone chose to be there and live by those ideals. While many of these failed, there are a number that have been going strong for 30 years or more. So you can't say that the system doesn' work entirely.

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Hoping that our human selfish nature would change through ideological conversion and/or by cultural altruistic education is a big delusion.

This is to miss the historical context of Marx' philosophy.

At the end of the nineteenth century in England, after the age of enlightenment and at - apparently - the height of civilisation it was generally supposed that humans, or at least strong-willed white, male, european imperialists had already reached the point of enlightened altruism.

Science seemed to be well on the way to explaining everything, including society. Through the enlightened altruism of the treatment of the obviously inferior natives of Africa and the Americas, through the obvious comfort and prosperity of all Englishmen (well, all the ones that mattered) it seemed that the old heirarchical systems were holding us back from a next utopian step.

The poor and dispossessed should have been the happiest with the new order as they gain the most. Once they see it working, they will also see the enlightenment and be happy to support it. For the better off, who might have more to lose, their intelligence would be advanced enough for them to see that whilst they lose relative position, they nevertheless gain in absolute terms through living in peace and harmony.

Blue_crystals original post demonstrates with eponymous clarity that the last point was just plain wrong. Even allegedly intelligent people find reasons to want life to be a zero-sum game;

As Attilla the Hun may have actually said,.. "It is not enough that I succeed, others must fail!"

Furthermore, they are correct.

The problem is that the logic behind the mutually altruistic philosophy is that "what goes around, comes around."; - if you break the rules, eventually you will get your comeupance. But, eventually could be a long time coming and we are all mortal. It is quite likely that if we break only a few rules and only occasionally then we will be safely in our graves before the we push our luck too far. This, then is the best strategy to adopt, though everyone has their own judgement about where the risk/reward line is drawn.

It may be that you drive too fast sometimes, or drive whilst intoxicated once or twice. The chances are that you won't kill anyone and lose out big, or even get caught and fined. Alternatively you may knock over post offices for a living, if you consider the risk vs. reward to be in your favour (which it may if the alternatives are a life of drudgery and poverty vs. a life of excitement and respect and wealth, if you dont get caught.)

In either case, eventually you will be caught and the punishment meted out, whether by nature or by society and this, theoratically, negates any accumulated advantages from your successes. But, you can hope that you will never be caught - quite likely if you are looking to avoid killing yourself or someone else whilst driving dangerously, less likely if you are a bank-robber, but the rewards are greater.

And as for sex; primary almost the beliefs in the new, enlightened humanity is the notion that we can finally remove this vile, divisive and inhuman drive to compete for mates in the visceral, animalistic way of our ancestors. Instead, we would overcome our base desires by using our minds and deciding when, how and who should have sexual relations - the decisions need not be clinical or based only on efficient procreation, but merely on pairing up in such a way as to allow the maximum satisfaction for the maximum number.

To many this last probably sounds ridiculously naive, even unpleasant. You are too vested in the present system and too controlled by your genes. The victorians certainly had a rosier picture of the power of the human mind to take control of its host body (and a lack of input from females, in whom these relationships are vastly more complex than the male passions.) It is quite possible, though. After all, we (mostly) don't rape, even if we could get away with it. You (mostly) all lie and cheat to get mates (cosmetics, buying flowers, 'chat-up' lines etc.) and don't think that that it lying at all. You also knowingly lie and cheat (feigning interest, exaggerating the importance of your work etc.) but excuse it as good manners and 'white' lies. Not to have good manners, in the zero-sum world, means you are ill-mannered; thus truth is a bad thing. If only the entire population could simultaneously come to this conclusion and act upon it then your date would know he is being dull and stop - without being insulted - and either find a more interesting topic or a more receptive date. Marriages would not crumble after a few years as the partners finally find out what they are really like, when there is no big house in the suburbs and she looks terrible with short hair and no make-up.

The worst problem is that the current system is evolutionarily stable. Those of us whose predilection is for enlightenment are less likely to mate as the likeminded are few and far between, so they only become fewer as the generations progresss. Similarly, ideas like those of Marx blossomed briefly in the nineteenth century and perhaps even almost gained 'critical mass' (Marx, apparently, believed that Britain or Germany were the most likely countries to convert to the communism way of life - they were the most cultured and educated places.) Nowadays, society is bulwarked against any fundemental change and speaking out in favour of such a change lessens your credibility with others such that further gesticulations are more likely to be ignored.

Fortunately, the internet does allow those who want to hear this sort of rhetoric to band together and the rest of the world is, for the moment, happy to allow small groups to exchange radical ideas without becoming outsiders. The Pilgrim Fathers had to flee to the Americas for the same freedom.

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Have you ever read any of Ian Bank's 'culture' novels?

That is a future society which is truely communist. They have AIs as an integral part of their society and are technologically advanced enough to be able to have whatever goods they want. The AIs do all the administrative work. In such a society capitalism doesn't work, because you can have whatever you want and there is no need for money. Their only problem is boredom (which is actually quite central to the books). (And with regards to sex, their society is very open and sex is something that they do at the drop of a hat - even often changing their sex for pleasure.)

So, in some ways, communism is the ultimate goal of society.

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Based in the current biologic variability of humans, I anticipate a lot of problems in a communist society.

For instance, an electronic engineer might accept receiving the same salary of a microbiologist but how many would accept a windows cleaner earning as much ?

Additionally, there are differences even between people of the same profession. Some are more talented and efficient than others. Would all agree to be rewarded equally ?

Furthermore, if salary was not really equal but, at the same time, would not be determined by market forces, what or who would determine each person's salary ?

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Have you ever read any of Ian Bank's 'culture' novels?

That is a future society which is truely communist. They have AIs as an integral part of their society and are technologically advanced enough to be able to have whatever goods they want. The AIs do all the administrative work. In such a society capitalism doesn't work, because you can have whatever you want and there is no need for money. Their only problem is boredom (which is actually quite central to the books). (And with regards to sex, their society is very open and sex is something that they do at the drop of a hat - even often changing their sex for pleasure.)

So, in some ways, communism is the ultimate goal of society.

Yup, you have hit the nail on the head. Once scarcity is abolished money/income/wealth become meaningless. So if you like cleaning windows you would be no worse off than a brain surgeon.

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Yup, you have hit the nail on the head. Once scarcity is abolished money/income/wealth become meaningless. So if you like cleaning windows you would be no worse off than a brain surgeon.

But, where's the incentive of being a brain surgeon, when you can wash windows?

Maybe they can be allowed to work less hours, or something. But how each job's hours determined?

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But, where's the incentive of being a brain surgeon, when you can wash windows?

Maybe they can be allowed to work less hours, or something. But how each job's hours determined?

Do you genuinely find washing windows all day interesting? I certainly wouldn't...

That's not to say some people don't. I used to work part time in a Petrol station for a few years, the people were nice enough and the hours suited me but from my perspective the job was so mind numbingly boring that if I were to do it full time I imagine I would kill myself. My mother on the other hand, worked there for years before that (she is recovering from operations on her leg currently) and loved it as she could talk to the customers and enjoyed the atmosphere.

I am not suggesting that people aren't inherently selfish animals, just that personal gain can be as simple as job/life satisfaction, there is a thrill for some people in a job well done or in doing something you feel is useful for society. Why do academics work at universities for less than they could earn in industry (excluding more extreme cases)?

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Based in the current biologic variability of humans, I anticipate a lot of problems in a communist society.

For instance, an electronic engineer might accept receiving the same salary of a microbiologist but how many would accept a windows cleaner earning as much ?

Additionally, there are differences even between people of the same profession. Some are more talented and efficient than others. Would all agree to be rewarded equally ?

Furthermore, if salary was not really equal but, at the same time, would not be determined by market forces, what or who would determine each person's salary ?

If you like to read anything in anthropology, I know I do, you might know about the cultural primitive. Supposedly it does not exist though on my own I look at infants as such really. Anyways it was basically put forward that the cultural primitive would express more our bare nature not so much diluted or altered by culture. Simply put no culture like that existed on earth as such people or really one guy found out.

From the molecular, to organs, to whole organisms not much is truly known about a great deal of life. Not to say we don’t know a lot, but a person could spend a lifetime studying insects and still not know everything, and I think I can say this even in the context of a specie. When it comes to humans its the same thing. Now some people might say lets just reprogram our specie, and I would simply say I truly doubt we are in any position to do that overall.

Simple day to day competition being what it is, just going out driving lets you see this, or watching television or what not, but the actual separation of what’s purely nature from any possible facets it could have in nurture is or nature vs. nurture is an age old question and debate. I think simply being able to answer that to a point in which you could explain it to a child would be a far better path to take then simply and ultimately blindly attempting to change our gene poop or genome would ever offer currently, and would probably have to be fully answered before any such endeavor could be done successfully. I truly doubt that a specific culture is the product of a specific gene or even a grouping of proteins for that matter alone. TO make it more simple think tanks of scientists from all kinds of different professions have rather difficult time using modern technology even mapping out how more "simple" form of life achieve and control motility.

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Even if I wasn't paid at all, I would rather be a brain surgeon than a window washer.

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For instance, an electronic engineer might accept receiving the same salary of a microbiologist but how many would accept a windows cleaner earning as much ?

I wouldn't be surprised it window cleaners currently make more than microbiologists. People seem to accept that sort of thing just fine. They may be sarcastic about it, but they aren't seriously complaining. I think the reason is that they had a choice in the matter of careers. THIS is the key to why socialism doesn't work, not Bombus's "humans aren't ready for it" (i.e. people won't do what they're supposed to do) complaint. Choice.

Why socialism is seen as "left" when "left" is also seen as a protector of personal freedom has never made any sense to me.

Furthermore, if salary was not really equal but, at the same time, would not be determined by market forces, what or who would determine each person's salary ?

Exactly. I've no problem with removing the factor of human corruption from a theoretical discussion about socialism, but every real experiment has always had to deal with it. So I agree with you and Bombus in this regard, and I can understand why some folks lament not ever having seen socialism given an honest chance to work. But what I think those folks miss is that that human corruption isn't just a passing fad. It's a permanent part of the human makeup.

A successful polity will always be one that takes human corruptibility into account. From now to eternity.

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A successful polity will always be one that takes human corruptibility into account. From now to eternity.

Indeed. Deception and stealing are some hardwired ( or partially hardwired since humans combine creativity to it ) strategies ( determined genetically ) within a wide set of survival strategies in a lot of animal species including humans ( we actually excel on them ).

Unless we eliminate or decrease them through genetic engineering in the future, all politic system models have to include these factors in their calculation.

However, eliminating them might be dangerous to our species.

Deception ( white lies ) is a useful survival strategy for smoothing human social relationships ( can you imagine if you tell always the truth about other people in their faces ? ) and also in wars. And even if we eliminate wars between humans that does not eliminate the possibility ( however far fetched and “sci-fi” it might appear ) of a confrontation with possible alien invaders in a remote future.

We also should not forget that we are in permanent war against pathologic microbes. Some of the medicinal strategies of combating them include chemical and biochemical trickery ( which is a form of deception ).

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• 2 years later...
Have you ever read any of Ian Bank's 'culture' novels?

That is a future society which is truely communist. They have AIs as an integral part of their society and are technologically advanced enough to be able to have whatever goods they want. The AIs do all the administrative work. In such a society capitalism doesn't work, because you can have whatever you want and there is no need for money. Their only problem is boredom (which is actually quite central to the books). (And with regards to sex, their society is very open and sex is something that they do at the drop of a hat - even often changing their sex for pleasure.)

So, in some ways, communism is the ultimate goal of society.

You can spin that around and say if everyone has a nano-assembler then capitalism and Mutualism is the ultimate goal for society. Could every be self sustaining?

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