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A review of Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program

Lars T. Lih

Platypus Review 157 | June 2023

Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, trans. Kevin B. Anderson and Karel Ludenhoff (Oakland: PM Press, 2023).


A FEW YEARS AGO, at the book fair of a Left-wing convention, I picked up an edition of Marx’s so-called Critique of the Gotha Program, recently reprinted by International Publishers.[1] This edition was originally published in 1938 by a longtime member of the British Communist Party, C. P. Dutt. Although barely over a hundred pages, the International Publishers edition provides the basic supplementary material needed for a genuine historical understanding of Marx’s text: a translation of the draft to which Marx was directly responding, crucial correspondence by Engels, and Lenin’s famous discussion in State and Revolution (1917). In particular, the endnotes detailed the substantial changes made to the draft before the program was officially adopted by the Unity Congress at Gotha in 1875 that created a united German socialist worker party.

This edition by Dutt is not my ideal of a full scholarly treatment. (I would like to have seen what the leaders in Germany were writing back to Marx and Engels.) Nevertheless, it can still be recommended as a solid introduction to historical and interpretational issues. The same cannot be said for the new publication issued by PM Press. Contained in this volume are a new translation of the draft program, Marx’s critique and his cover letter: no other supplementary material is provided. We also find an introductory essay by Peter Hudis and an afterword by Peter Linebaugh. Unfortunately, these essays are chock full of factual errors and condescending blanket dismissals of everybody but the infallible Marx. All told, this new publication sets back historical understanding of Marx’s text and should be scrupulously avoided.

Who is responsible for issuing this new book in this form, that is, without supplementary material or other useful background information? This turns out to be rather hard to answer. Here is what we can glean from the title page:

Critique of the Gotha Program

Karl Marx

With a new introduction by Peter Hudis

Translated and annotated by Kevin B. Anderson and Karel Ludenhoff

We learn from the acknowledgments that these two items (Hudis introduction and new translation) are also in some sense a product of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization. But note that the title page and the acknowledgments allot responsibility only for these two items, but not to the book as we have it. In particular, we do not know if Hudis, et al. take any responsibility for inserting Linebaugh’s Afterword; there is certainly next to no cross-reference between the Afterword and the rest of the book. The copyright for the book is assigned to PM Press. For all these various reasons, I feel reluctant to refer to the new publication as an edition of Marx’s classic text: an edition requires an editor (individual or collective) to take responsibility for what is presented to the reader.

To be fair, the aim of the present publication is not really to advance understanding of Marx’s “Critique” either as a whole or in its historical context, but rather to respond to what Hudis feels is a crisis facing the anti-capitalist Left today: “defective conceptions of an alternative to capitalism” (2). The present publication is essentially a manifesto of the Marxist-Humanist group about how this defect can be rectified. The overall argument is of a type that is, I am sure, very familiar to readers of this review. It can be paraphrased as follows. Lassalle — no good. Liebknecht — no good. Bebel — no good. Kautsky — no good. The Gotha Program — no good. The Erfurt Program — no good. The German SPD[2] — no good. Lenin — no good. Stalin — no good. Rosa Luxemburg — not bad, but even she is dinged for being “a Lassallean when it came to organizational matters” (21). No one understands Marx but me and thee, comrade, and I’m not so sure about thee. But now, since a few of us do finally understand his message, we can have our socialist revolution without any fear that the outcome will once again be “the dead ends and halfway houses that have afflicted Marxists and other revolutionaries over the past 150 years” (35).

I make no comment on the thesis advanced by Hudis that a correct understanding of Marx’s concept of “the law of value” is vital to the success of today’s anti-capitalist Left.[3] The Marxist-Humanist group is of course free to make their case on this point. Unfortunately, Hudis feels it necessary to strengthen his argument by wrapping himself in the cloak of a classic Marxist text. This decision accounts for the very odd insistence that one of the most familiar, most quoted, and most anthologized Marx writings is “forgotten,” “neglected,” etc. What he evidently means to say is that the “Critique”has been (by his lights) persistently misunderstood.

But in order to turn Marx’s private marginal notes on a draft program into a repository of hidden wisdom, Hudis has to set the “Critique” into the framework of a melodramatic story: Marx realizes that this entire message has been misunderstood with disastrous consequences and he heroically tries to stave off the collapse of any hope for socialist revolution by uttering profound truths previously overlooked. In other words, Hudis presents what was in fact “a compromise having no particular significance” as “the cardinal principles of the program.” (At the end of this review, I will reveal from whence I derived these “other words.”)

In order to make his story plausible, Hudis has to turn the German socialists — very much including those who had worked most closely with Marx and who had spent years propagating his message — into fools who can only be called “revolutionary” with the help of sneer quotes. (And not only the German socialists! Blurber Paul Mason calls the “Critique” “Marx’s famous hatchet job” — his term, not mine! — “on the nineteenth-century left.”) This contemptuous dismissal of people struggling to found an independent socialist worker party in the inhospitable environment of Bismarck’s Germany is what causes me personally to react to the present publication, not just with sorrow over a collapse of scholarly standards, but with anger and indignation. These feelings are directed in the first place toward the Introduction by Hudis and the Afterword by Peter Linebaugh. Before turning our attention to these essays, however, we must discuss the other component of the present publication, namely, the proposed new translation of Marx’s “Critique.”

Overhyped translation

The present publication comes equipped with a paratext of six blurbs in its opening pages, signed by various writers, punctiliously identified with full academic credentials. Judging from these blurbs, the selling point of the present publication is the new translation. Martin Hägglund (Birgit Baldwin Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities, Yale University) asserts that “this new translation is both timely and important.” A writer I much respect, Esther Leslie (professor of political aesthetics, Birkbeck College, University of London), tells us that “to re-translate is not only to re-animate old questions in the body of new words, but is also to propel writing towards contemporary exigencies.” Far be it from the present reviewer to downplay the potential clarity provided by improved translation choices! And it must be said at the outset that the translation and notes offered by Anderson and Ludenhoff are at a higher scholarly level than the surrounding essays by Hudis and Linebaugh. Nevertheless, the new translation is overhyped by the blurbers for the following reasons.

First, a small point. The translators tell us that “to our knowledge, this is the first English translation of the version of the Gotha Program to which Marx was responding” (74). (Not a ‘version’ but a draft: see discussion below.) Their knowledge is in this case insufficient: as noted above, the C. P. Dutt edition from 1938 has priority.

Furthermore, the translation under review is far from radically “new.” As far as I can see, it is essentially the standard translation with some expressions updated for stylistic reasons, plus a few alternate renderings of abstract terms. The text of Marx’s “Critique” found in Robert Tucker’s classic anthology The Marx-Engels Reader[4] uses the English translation “in editions published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House or Progress Publishers in Moscow.” The opening paragraph of Marx’s “Critique”provides a representative comparison between the text found in Tucker and the one found in the present publication.[5] I have italicized all the changes found in the Anderson-Ludenhoff version.

Tucker Anthology Text

Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists!) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power. The above phrase is to be found in all children’s primers and is correct insofar as it is implied that labor is performed with the appurtenant subjects and instruments. But a socialist program[1]  cannot allow such bourgeois phrases to pass over in silence the conditions that alone give them meaning. And in so far as man from the beginning behaves toward nature, the primary source of all instruments [Arbeitsmittel] and subjects of labor[2] , as an owner, treats her as belonging to him, his labor becomes the source of use values, therefore also of wealth. The bourgeois have very good grounds for falsely ascribing supernatural creative power to labor; since precisely from the fact that labor depends on nature it follows that the man who possesses no other property than his labor power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labor. He can only work with their permission, hence live only with their permission.

Anderson-Ludenhoff Text

Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists?[3] ) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power. The above phrase is to be found in all children's primers and is correct insofar as it is implied that labor is performed with the pertinent objects and instruments. But a socialist program cannot allow such bourgeois phrases to pass over in silence the circumstances that alone give them meaning. Only insofar as man from the beginning behaves toward nature, the primary source of all objects and instruments of labor [Arbeitsmittel], as an owner, treats her as belonging to him, his labor becomes the source of use values, therefore also of wealth. The bourgeois have very good grounds for falsely ascribing supernatural creative power to labor, since it follows precisely from labor’s dependence on nature that workers [Mensch] with no other property than their labor power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other human beings [Menschen] who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labor. He can only work with their permission, hence only live with their permission.[6]

If the reader will indulge me, I will take a close look at another, fairly minor, claim to originality. In both of the above texts, Arbeitsmittel is translated as “instruments of labor.” Another possible translation is “means of labor.” Anderson and Ludenhoff opt for “instruments,” but then, oddly enough, they tell us that their rendering of Arbeitsmittel as “instruments of labor” is “at variance with most other translations” of the “Critique” (75). Intrigued by this assertion, I made a survey of Arbeitsmittel in five distinct English translations of the “Critique” (if there are any others, I would be glad to know):

  • Original Soviet translation: “instruments”
  • C. P. Dutt, 1938: “instruments”
  • Marx-Engels Collected Works (English language edition): “instruments” in the opening paragraph, “means” for a later occurrence of Arbeitsmittel
  • Terrell Carver, 1996: “means”
  • Anderson-Ludenhoff: “instruments”

As we see, “instruments” is in fact the majority reading, at least in renditions of the first paragraph. To sum up the family tree of these five translations: the first one is basic, while three others make no more than fairly small adjustments. In 1996, Terrell Carver issued a genuinely new translation.[7] Anderson and Ludenhoff, evidently unaware of the earlier translations found in the Tucker anthology and C. P. Dutt (and overlooking MECW’s variable translation choices), unwittingly believe they have made an innovation when in actuality they have only returned to the original English rendering.

No doubt these are small matters. The most important question is whether the new translation helps us understand Marx’s text any better. Rather surprisingly, neither the translators nor Hudis and Linebaugh ever make any specific argument that even those renderings that are somewhat new will lead to any new insight or interpretation. Does it make any difference to our understanding of Marx’s “Critique” if Arbeitsmittel is translated “instruments of labor” rather than “means of labor”? No argument or guidance at all is provided by the present publication.

Another example of a novelty is the term Staatswesen as used by Marx. Anderson and Ludenhoff give us their rationale: Marx’s word “refers to something far less definite, to the ‘body politic’ (the political body of society) . . . it is something less definite or specific than ‘state.’” No further implication of this new rendering is vouchsafed us.[8] Personally, I feel this particular innovation is unsuccessful: “body politic” is too indefinite. Furthermore, in the passage where we find this term, Marx is making a verbal link between Staatswesen and Staatsfunktionen. The earlier translations bring out this essential verbal and conceptual echo; the present translators mention it in an endnote, so why does their proposed new translation suppress it? (See, for example, Linebaugh’s citation of this passage on 87.)

The best thing that can be said for the new translation is that some outdated idioms and turns-of-phrase have been dropped, making for smoother reading. I’m afraid, however, that it does not live up to the hype of “an exciting new translation” (David McNally, Cullen Distinguished Professor of History, University of Houston) that allows new insight into a classic text.

A draft, not a program

What Marx called “marginal notes” was later given the title (not by him!) of “Critique of the Gotha Program.” But in point of fact, Marx is not critiquing the official party program adopted at the Unity Congress held in Gotha, Germany, in May 1875, but an earlier draft. For most discussions of Marx’s remarks, this confusion, although unfortunate, is not vital, since these discussions are aimed at making sense of Marx’s text taken by itself. But Hudis wants to turn Marx’s remarks into a full-scale attack on the newly-formed party itself.

And so he persistently refers to the draft criticized by Marx as “the Gotha Program.” Why is this usage impermissible? First of all, the new party can be held responsible only for language that it officially adopted. Second — although many, including Hudis, deny it — there are substantial differences between the draft and the actual program (an example is discussed below). Let me try to explain to Hudis why his procedure is unwarranted. We learn from the Acknowledgments that “the final versions [sic] of Peter Hudis’s introduction [are] the result of several years of discussion in which numerous members and friends of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization participated” (xi). What if I were to publish an early draft of Hudis’s essay and sneer at various imperfections that were later excised as a result of discussion and reflection? Naturally, Hudis would be justly indignant, just as Wilhelm Liebknecht would be indignant if confronted with Hudis’s use of an early draft to launch a sarcastic polemic against Liebknecht’s party.

Marx’s main problem with the draft was that it contained various slogans and shibboleths associated with Ferdinand Lasalle and his followers (as discussed in more detail below). As Marx says in the “Critique,”these slogans are signs “by which the true believers recognize one another” (64). Marx felt that these slogans were really dumb and he did not want to be associated with them. In his remarks, Marx tried to show how stupid these Lassallean clichés were by making what he considered to be obvious objections. He was not responding to existential threats to the socialist revolution due to profound misunderstandings on the part of his own deluded followers.

Here is a concrete example for illustrative purposes. In the draft program, we find the Lassallean phrase “the proceeds of labor belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society.” Hudis calls this phrase a “declaration” of the Gotha Program itself. Marx took issue with it, Hudis continues, because he “finds it absurd to promise producers that they will receive the full fruits of their labor. The program does so because it conflates wealth with value.” For Hudis, however, any such conflation of wealth and value is a fatal error, an error that accounts for “the failed approach of all social democratic, Stalinist, and market socialist variants of distributive economics.” As a result, “humanism, at least in Marx’s sense of the word, vanishes from view” (10–11).

In Hudis’s telling, then, Marx’s message can be paraphrased thusly: You fools! You have failed to understand Das Kapital “just when a new and revised French edition of Capital came off the press in 1875” (Hudis’s words, 6). You have sabotaged the revolution! Allow me to expand on this profound insight of cardinal importance.

But, from Marx’s point of view, all he wanted to do was show that the Lassallean slogan about the distribution of the undiminished [unverkürzten] proceeds of labor did not stand up to some obvious objections. Marx’s rhetorical strategy can be more accurately paraphrased thusly: how stupid is Lassalle’s formula about undiminished proceeds? It’s so stupid it overlooks the obvious consideration that some of the proceeds, even in socialist society, will not be distributed directly to individual laborers! (Of course, as Marx himself says, this objection is somewhat undercut when we realize that “what the producer is deprived of in his capacity as a private individual benefits him directly or indirectly in his capacity as a member of society.”)

Marx’s polemic is thus aimed at Lassalle’s verbal formula: “Undiminished proceeds of labor” — ha! Hello, Herr Lassalle! What about schools and health services, etc. and etc.? Such is Marx’s polemic, written for a very specific and limited purpose. He had not the slightest intention of ever publishing these notes and he would be shocked at the reverential attitude now displayed toward his allegedly profound insights.

We note in conclusion that Hudis is factually incorrect when he says (as quoted above) that the Gotha Program contains a “declaration” about the “undiminished” proceeds of labor: the official Gotha Program — the only document that can accurately be called “the Gotha Program” — contains no such word. Evidently due to Marx’s mockery or perhaps to some other consideration, the offending word “undiminished” found in the draft is missing in the Program itself. When we realize all this, however, what remains of Hudis’s melodramatic presentation of socialism’s fatal misstep!


Hudis does not simply misrepresent the actual Gotha Program, he also misrepresents and slanders the new party. We shall illustrate with the key issue of internationalism. Marx writes in his marginal notes that the draft contained “Not a word . . . about the international functions of the German working class!” According to Hudis, this statement shows that Marx was deeply troubled about the Gotha Program’s “capitulation to nationalism.” Hudis cites with horror “the Gotha Program’s statement, ‘the working class strives for its emancipation first of all within framework of the present-day national state.’ This was not the first (or the last!) time that such nationalist verbiage found its way into the program of a “revolutionary” party.”[9] Then, for the first and only time, he acknowledges that Marx was critiquing a draft, and not the official Program:

The Gotha Program was slightly revised by Bebel and Liebknecht after Marx sent them (in private correspondence) his Critique of the Gotha Program, and the phrase the “present-day national state” was removed; but that hardly meant that the attitude that produced the error was stamped out. While it may be a stretch to suggest a direct line between the Gotha Program of 1875 and the “Great Betrayal” of 1914, when the SPD voted to approve of World War I, the seeds were clearly planted that far back (11–12).

Let us inquire into this matter. The party led by Liebknecht and Bebel was known as “the Internationalists,” due to its proud association with Marx’s First International (on its last legs by 1875). In 1871–72, these two leaders denounced Bismarck’s annexationist war against France and gave full-throated support for the Paris Commune. For their pains, they were eventually jailed as traitors to the fatherland. In fact, in March 1875, Engels held off sending his own letter on the draft program because Bebel was only released from jail on 1 April! Although Engels also criticized the language of the draft program on this issue, he put his remarks into the proper context by praising the internationalism of the Bebel-Liebknecht Eisenacher party: they “have upheld this principle [of internationalism] in the most glorious way for five years and under the most difficult conditions. The German workers’ position at the head of the European movement is essentially based on their genuinely international attitude during the [Franco-Prussian] war; no other proletariat would have behaved so well.”[10]

All of this, of course, is of no interest to Hudis. Let us now turn to the actual language of the draft program. I have italicized the language ignored by Hudis in his Introduction: “The working class strives for its emancipation first of all within the framework of the present-day national states, conscious that the necessary result of its efforts, which are common to the workers of all civilized countries, will be the international brotherhood of peoples.

Not great, perhaps, but certainly there is no disavowal of internationalism. What Marx and Engels felt was missing in this language was an acknowledgment of the concrete functions and obligations imposed by internationalism and exemplified by the German socialists’ heroic opposition to the war.  Here is the language on this topic suggested by Engels in his above-mentioned letter:

Although the German Worker Party is operating for the time being within the state boundaries laid down for it (it has no right to speak in the name of the European proletariat and especially no right to say something false), it is conscious of its solidarity with the workers of all countries and will always be ready in the future, as it has been hitherto, to fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by this solidarity.[11]

Engels then lists (as Marx does not) the concrete “obligations” that both of them had in mind, including this one: “agitation against the threat or the outbreak of Cabinet-made war, behavior during such wars similar to that carried out in model fashion in 1870 and 1871.” If we compare Engels’s suggested prose with the one and only official Gotha Program proclaimed by the Unity Congress of May 1875, we will see how greatly he influenced the end result: “The socialist worker party of Germany, though acting first of all within a national framework,[12] is conscious of the international character of the labor movement, and resolved to fulfil all the duties which this imposes on the workers, in order to realize the universal brotherhood of men.” What do we learn from these various comparisons? First, the paragraph on this topic was not “slightly revised” but completely rewritten. Second, the final version clearly derives from Engels’s suggested language and responds to his (and Marx’s) basic complaint about overlooking “functions” and “obligations.”

Hudis also asserts that the language found in the (draft!) Gotha Program — “the framework of the national state” — was not the first time such “nationalist verbiage” can be found in revolutionary programs. True that! The Communist Manifesto (1848) makes perfectly clear that taking over the national state is a necessary and crucial step in the world revolution. Marx famously writes: “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeois is at first a national one. The proletariat of each country must naturally first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.” He carefully points out that programmatic demands put forth by radical and socialist parties will be different in different countries, and, in the final section of the Manifesto, he goes country by country to give advice to national parties.

The “seeds” of the SPD’s support of the German wartime government are not to be found in any programmatic language but in the objective tension created when an internationalist party is forced to make its way in a particular national environment. Hudis’s contemptuous and error-filled attack on the (draft!) Gotha Program is a severe trivialization of the issue.

“A compromise of no particular significance”

I have discussed the “internationalism” issue at length as a central example of the way Hudis distorts the issues. I could therefore pass by the rest of his discussion, but one assertion requires a further comment. I will try to be brief. Hudis writes: “At first [Marx] threatened to cut off all relations with the new party; though he decided not to, within a few years he concluded it would be better if the united organization (now widely heralded as ‘Marxist’) ceased to exist” (1). Hudis backs up the ridiculous assertion that Marx wanted the new party to stop existing with a reference to a letter from 1877 that says no such thing. But let us try to give a serious answer to why Marx and Engels did not follow through on their threat to disavow the Program. This question is easy to answer because they tell us themselves. The Gotha Congress in May 1875 was a unity congress and as such faced the typical problem of writing a program that was mutually acceptable. Wilhelm Liebknecht, leader of the Eisenach party, was in the thick of the unity negotiations and he concluded that the party founded by Ferdinand Lasalle would not go through with the merger unless some of the familiar Lassallean shibboleths (for example, “state aid to cooperatives”) were included. He also decided that inserting such language was not too high a price to pay, since the Lassalle “catchwords” (as Marx called them) were relics of the past that would soon fade away.

Marx and Engels did not seriously believe that the Eisenachers (long associated with Marx and Engels) had suddenly adapted Lassalle’s nostrum about state aid, since “almost all, if not all, our [sic] party speakers have been obliged to come out against this state aid in fighting the Lassalleans” (as Engels put it in his letter to Bebel).[13] Nevertheless, they thought that the price of including Lassalle’s language was in fact too high, because, they prophesied, the outside world would associate them, Marx and Engels, with the despised Lassallean slogans. As Engels put it when complaining about the draft: “A new program is after all a banner publicly raised, and the outside world judges the party from it . . . Our party will have lost its political virginity and will never again be able to come out whole-heartedly against the Lassallean phrases which it will have inscribed for a time on its own banner.”[14]

But, as Engels stated in a letter sent several months later, the outside world did not judge the party in the predicted way. On the contrary, “both workers and bourgeois and petty bourgeois read into [the program] what ought properly to be in it but is not in it . . . This has made it possible for us to keep silent on this program.”[15] Furthermore, Liebknecht’s calculation about the decay of Lassalle’s concrete proposals (even while Lassalle himself remained a heroic icon) seems to have been borne out. For example, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, one Bancroft Davis, stated in an official report in 1877 that “in 1875 the union was completed. The Socialists [= Lassalleans] practically surrendered to the Internationalists [= Eisenachers], retaining just enough of their peculiar doctrine to be able to say that they had not yielded everything. It is this united party which fought the great fight in the recent elections.”[16]

But we don’t have to take Davis’s word for it. In Marx’s extremely revealing interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1879, the Ambassador’s report is discussed at length. (This interview can be found in volume 24 of the English-language Marx-Engels Collected Works, and I heartily recommend it.)[17] Marx’s remarks are nothing less than a de facto endorsement of the Gotha Program four years on. Basing himself on Davis’s report, Marx’s interviewer expressed his opinion that the Gotha platform was “the clearest and most concise expression of Socialism that I had seen.” Marx did not demur and in fact offered a corrected translation of the eleven basic demands found in the Program. But one demand found in the platform was pointedly not endorsed by Marx: Lassalle’s nostrum about state aid to cooperatives. Marx patiently explained to his interviewer:

When the reunion took place at Gotha, in 1875, there existed a division among the Social Democrats. The one wing were partisans of Lassalle; the others, those who had accepted in general the program of the International organization, and were called the Eisenach party. That twelfth point [state aid to cooperatives] was not placed on the platform [that is, the eleven basic demands listed by Marx], but placed in the general introduction by way of concession to the Lassallians. Afterwards it was never spoken of. Mr. Davis does not say that it was placed in the program as a compromise having no particular significance, but gravely puts it in as one of the cardinal principles of the program . . . The party of Lassalle does not exist. Of course there are some believers in our ranks, but the number is small [my emphasis].

Marx’s dismissal of Ambassador Davis can be applied without change to Peter Hudis.

No doubt Engels and Marx retained a low opinion of the wording of the Gotha Program. But, as we see, Engels and Marx later concluded that their 1875 fears about the effect of the Gotha Program were overblown: the Program was not seen as a retreat from revolutionary socialism, while the Lassalle formulae inserted into the Program like flies in amber did fade away. In 1879, Marx had not the slightest problem in strongly associating himself with the German party (as made abundantly clear by the Chicago Tribune interview as a whole). And this is the profound difference in outlook between Marx and Peter Hudis (for whom the German socialists can only be called “revolutionary” with sneer quotes) or Peter Linebaugh (“the hopeless web of error and bad politics found in the Gotha Program”).[18]

In fact, the new socialist worker party created at the Unity Congress in 1875 was a revolutionary party and the Gotha Program was a revolutionary program. In the midst of Bismarckian Germany, the new independent, socialist, worker party called for a radical transformation of society by turning capitalist property into “the cooperative regulation of collective labor.” It also called for “the elimination of all social and political inequality,” and translated this call into a series of concrete demands for expanded democracy, political freedom, and social welfare that are all still directly relevant today. These demands could not have been realized in Germany without a revolution. Indeed, in 1878, the whole party was outlawed in Germany and remained so until 1890. If today’s Marxist Left cannot find it in themselves to express respect and admiration for such a party — if instead they feel compelled to trash the entire Marxist political tradition at every opportunity — then what good are they? Two cheers for the Gotha Program! |P

[1] Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, ed. C. P. Dutt (New York: International Publishers, 1938).

[2] Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party of Germany).

[3] “The distinction between actual labor time and socially necessary labor time as a measure of the individual share of the social product is absolutely crucial . . . This form of organizing time is the cardinal principle of Marx’s concept of communism and serves as the basis of his further outline of a new society in the Critique of the Gotha Program” (15, 9; see also 24–25).

[4] Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program” (1875), in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, second ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978), 525–41.

[5] For our purposes, I have removed Marx’s own emphases. The text found on the MIA seems identical to the one used by Tucker. See <>.

[6] One can only applaud the effort of the present translators to avoid a sexist translation of Mensch, but in the process they lose an important rhetorical effect contrasting the Mensch who has only labor power to the other Menschen who enslave them. (Anderson and Ludenhoff do not clarify this rhetorical effect by printing the German word.) Translating Mensch as “person” seems to solve these problems. Worthy of note: the translators do not remove the sexism introduced by the usual translation of the famous slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!) (Linebaugh silently corrects; see 83.)

[7] Karl Marx, Later Political Writings, ed. Terrell Carver (Cambridge University Press: 1996).

[8] To add to the confusion, Hudis does make an interpretive argument by referring to a “mistranslation” of Staatswesen, but — he then translates Staatswesen as “state functions,” rather than “body politic” (33, see also 13).

[9] Two inexactitudes: a. this declaration is not found in the Gotha Program; b. the program draft did not give emphasis to the words “within the framework of the present-day national state.”

[10] C. P. Dutt cites published writings by Engels that contain similar eulogies of the internationalism of “the socialist German workers” (Dutt’s edition, 106). For a classic discussion, see Vernon Lidtke, The Outlawed Party: Social Democracy in Germany, 1878-1890 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

[11] Dutt’s edition, 29.

[12] Language of draft program: “in Rahmen des heutigen nationalen Staat”; final Gotha Program: “im nationalen Rahmen.”

[13] Dutt’s edition, 30.

[14] Dutt’s edition, 32–33. In March 1875, a Bismarckian newspaper in Germany gleefully responded to the recently published draft by claiming that the socialists were “renouncing the International” (Dutt’s edition, 101). Marx glumly cites this article and it may have colored his reaction to the draft program as a whole. For comparison, see the 1877 remarks of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany as quoted below.

[15] Dutt’s edition, 37.

[16] MEGA, 25:1141–42.

[17] Available online at <>.

[18] Linebaugh seems to think that Lassalle was alive and well and living in Gotha: he calls him the “guiding author” of the draft (85, 87).