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From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

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Title: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need  
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Subject: Communism, Proletarian internationalism, Socialism with Chinese characteristics, Anarchist communism, Eurocommunism
Collection: Communism, Marxism, Political Slogans
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From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (French: De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins; German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen) is a slogan first used by Louis Blanc in 1851[1] (although an earlier version of the saying appeared in Étienne-Gabriel Morelly's The Code of Nature[2]) and popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.[3] The principle refers to free access and distribution of goods and services.[4] In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist system will produce; the idea is that, with the full development of socialism and unfettered productive forces, there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.[5][6]


  • Origin of the phrase 1
  • Debates on the idea 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Origin of the phrase

The complete paragraphs containing Marx's statement of the creed in the 'Critique of the Gotha Program' is as follows:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs![3][5][6]

Although Marx is popularly thought of as the originator of the phrase, the slogan was common to the socialist movement and was first used by Louis Blanc in 1851.[7] The origin of this phrasing has also been attributed to the French utopian Étienne-Gabriel Morelly,[8][2] who proposed in his 1755 Code of Nature "Sacred and Fundamental Laws that would tear out the roots of vice and of all the evils of a society" including

I. Nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.
II. Every citizen will be a public man, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.
III. Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws.[9]

Some scholars trace the origin of the phrase to the New Testament.[10][11] In Acts of the Apostles the lifestyle of the community of believers in Jerusalem is described as communal (without individual possession), and uses the phrase "distribution was made unto every man according as he had need":

Acts 4:32–35: 32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Debates on the idea

Marx delineated the specific conditions under which such a creed would be applicable—a society where technology and social organization had substantially eliminated the need for physical labor in the production of things, where "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want".[12] Marx explained his belief that, in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society despite the absence of a social mechanism compelling them to work, because work would have become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, "from each according to his ability" to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as they can, but that each person should best develop their particular talents.[13][14]

Claiming themselves to be at a "lower stage of communism" (i.e. "socialism", in line with Marx's terminology),[15] the Soviet Union adapted the formula as: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work (labour investment)".[16]

While "liberation theology" has sought to interpret the Christian call for justice in a way that is in harmony with this Marxist dictum, some Christians have noted that Jesus' teaching in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30) gives only half an affirmation to the dictum: to the first half.

See also


  1. ^ Louis Blanc, Plus de Girondins, 1851, p. 92.
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^ a b Marx, Karl (1875). "Part I".  
  4. ^ Busky, Donald F. (July 20, 2000). Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Praeger. p. 4.  
  5. ^ a b Schaff, Kory (2001). Philosophy and the problems of work: a reader. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 224.  
  6. ^ a b Walicki, Andrzej (1995). Marxism and the leap to the kingdom of freedom: the rise and fall of the Communist utopia. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. p. 95.  
  7. ^ The entry "Blanc, Louis" of De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins".
  8. ^ Norman E. Bowie, Towards a new theory of distributive justice (1971), p. 82.
  9. ^ Gregory Titelman, Random House dictionary of popular proverbs & sayings (1996), p. 108.
  10. ^ Joseph Arthur Baird, The Greed Syndrome: An Ethical Sickness in American Capitalism (1989), p. 32.
  11. ^ Marshall Berman, Adventures in Marxism (2000), p. 151.
  12. ^ Part 1, Critique of the Gotha Programme, quoting Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume Three, p. 13-30.
  13. ^ Bli︠a︡khman, Leonid Solomonovich; Shkaratan, Ovseĭ Irmovich (1977). Man at Work: The Scientific and Technological Revolution, the Soviet Working Class and Intelligentsia. Progress. p. 155. Retrieved 2014-06-24. 
  14. ^ Johnson, Hewlett (1968). Searching for light: an autobiography. Joseph. Retrieved 2014-06-24. 
  15. ^ Ken Post; Phil Wright (1989). Socialism and underdevelopment. Routledge. p. 11.  
  16. ^ Geoffrey Jukes (1973). The Soviet Union in Asia. University of California Press. p. 225.  


  • Carens, Joseph. “An Interpretation of the Socialist Principle of Distribution,” Social Philosophy & Policy 20 (2003), 145-77.
  • Gilabert, Pablo. "The Socialist Principle 'From Each According To Their Abilities, To Each According To Their Needs'". Journal of Social Philosophy 46.2 (2015), 197-225.

External links

  • Critique of the Gotha Program (includes Marx's original use of the slogan)
  • Marxism and Ethics
  • What Does the Bible Say About Communism & Socialism?
  • Encountering Communism: the theories of Karl Marx
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