“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

An Articles Selection from G.I.C. – Authors, 1926 – 1938

Bibliographical data: ‘Group of International Communists. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!’ Translator and editor: Hermann Lueer. First edition: Red & Black Books, Hamburg, June 2021. Pocket, 105 pages, ISBN-13: 978-3-9822065-7-8. (ca. €8.07). Kindle e-Book, ISBN-10: 398220657X. (ca. €4.21). Also available in the German (source) language: ‘Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten. Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!’ (ISBN-13: 978-3-9822065-8-5). Both editions can be ordered for postal delivery via Amazon-Germany.

Foreword by the Editor

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (1)

This certainly most famous quotation of Karl Marx became the epitome of the communist society, in which Marxists and anarchists can unite until today. At the same time, the greatest misunderstanding, or rather the most fundamental revision of Marx’s critique of political economy, is connected with this guiding principle.

Marx never distinguished between a socialist transitional phase and communism. For Marx, communism was realized with the successful social revolution, with the abolition of exploitative relations. Marx showed with his analysis of the economic relations that wherever one part of society owns the monopoly of the means of production, the worker, free or unfree, must provide a portion of his labor time to produce luxuries for the owner of the means of production. Only the form in which this additional labor is extorted from the immediate producer distinguishes the economic formations of society. (2)

As simple as the basis of the domination of the working class is, as simple was for Marx the derivation of the abolition of capitalist wage labor. This abolition can only happen if the separation between worker and labor product is abolished if the right of disposal over the product of labor and thus over the means of production again belongs to the workers. In the association of free people, in which work with the means of production is done in common, in which the labor power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor power of the community, the communally exercised disposition of the results of production by the free producers is the essential determination of communist society. (3)

For this, contrary to the opinion of most of the Marxists who refer to Marx, there is no need for a long and complicated path under the leadership of the party to reach, as Lenin put it, even the lowest stage of communism. On the contrary, “state communism” lacks from the outset the economic foundation on which to realize its ideal of the withering away of the state. With the nationalization of the means of production in the name of the people, wage labor is not abolished. Socialization of the means of production which does not at the same time abolish the separation between worker and labor product misses the goal since it maintains the exploitative relationship associated with wage labor. It lacks the fundamental economic basis of communist society, which enables the members of society to determine for themselves their working time and consumption – that is, what they want to have and how they want to work according to their individual weighing of effort and return.

Marx and Engels were not idealistic Utopians who imagined a better world beyond the economic preconditions. They knew that the realm of freedom begins only where the work determined by necessity and external expediency ends; it lies, therefore, by its very nature beyond the sphere of actual material production. For Marx and Engels, however, communism was also not a project on the distant horizon of human history, when the productive forces have developed to such an extent that the realm of necessity has largely been overcome. For them, therefore rules on which all social labor must be based were indispensable for the planning of communist production following the social revolution. People cannot live in a community based on the division of labor and be free from it at the same time. Free producers, therefore, “cannot arbitrarily dispose of the means of production as do the “free producers” under capitalism (the factory owners or leaders). If the disposition is arbitrary, then there can be no question of communal disposition.” (4)

Fifty years before Ludwig von Mieses had to enlighten the majority of Marxists that the abolition of the money measure without replacement is tantamount to the abolition of rationality in the economy, Marx and Engels already knew that with the help of the labor-time calculation the individual desire to consume and the individual willingness to work can be brought into the social planning process.

The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labor required for their production, will, in the end, determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted ‘value’.” (5) Only on this basis can the collectively exercised disposition of the means of production by the free producers be transformed from phrase to reality. That is, everyone can determine his own working time and consumption. In terms of content, the working time calculation is nothing other than the factual reconciliation of the division of labor carried out in the common planning.

With the labor-time calculation the bourgeois legal horizon – in principle – is inevitably connected, since “the right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.” (6) This bothers many Marxists and anarchists, like the devil the holy water. However, the intellectual-philosophical dispute as to whether the labor-time calculation is only a transitional form to complete community and free use of social resources, and thus whether the narrow bourgeois legal horizon can be completely transcended, is not relevant to the decision of the majority of people.

Based on the labor time calculation, the majority of the world population would have already won in comparison to the capitalist production relations, despite the “inevitable bourgeois legal horizon”. The same right is here still – in principle – the bourgeois right, but with fundamentally different content. The regulation of production and consumption through the calculation of working time no longer permits class distinctions, and whether individual labor is socially recognized is no longer determined behind the backs of the members of society in the competition on the market but is already determined with the common planning.

After the productive forces have increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly, 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, only then – when the realm of necessity has been overcome – the narrow bourgeois legal horizon can be completely transcended and everyone can simply do what he wants.

“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. … Vulgar socialism has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?” (7)

The fundamental principles of communist production and distribution derived from Marx and Engels’ Critique of Political Economy were already presented in detail in 1930 by the Group of International Communists under the corresponding title. In addition, numerous articles were published by members of the group from the mid1920s to the end of the 1930s, which have lost none of their topicality to this day. They provide a fundamental critique of the various currents based on Marxism, anarchism or, more generally, socialism – all to encourage workers to “take over the management and administration of production and distribution themselves, in accordance with generally adopted social rules to realize the Association of Free and Equal Producers. The GIC sees the essential progress of the workers’ movement in the development of workers’ self-consciousness. Therefore, it confronts the leadership politics of the parliamentary parties and the trade union movement with the slogan:

All power to the workers’ councils.
Production in the hands of the enterprise

Hermann Lueer (Editor), Spring 2021.

Publication Date: June 10, 2021.

Source references are mainly to marxists.org, resp. to the Lawrence & Wishart edition of Marx/Engels Collected Works.

→Back-cover text & Table of Contents on page 2.


1 Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Part I.

2 Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, p. 164 / 153.

3 Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, p. 51.

4 Group of International Communists, Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution, Red & Black Books, 2020, p. 25.

5 F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, Part III: Socialism, IV. Distribution.

6 Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Part I.

7 Ibidem.

8 GIC, ‘Fundamental Principles’, p. 5.

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