— Commemorating the centenary of the writing of “Critique of the Gotha Programme”
by Lu Ming
[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #13, March 28, 1975, pp. 10-15.]
IT is exactly a century this year since the great teacher Marx wrote in 1875 his brilliant work Critique of the Gotha Programme in his tit-for-tat struggle against Lassalle’s opportunism. In the period of some 15 years between completion of this work in 1875 and its first publication in 1891, there were serious struggles against opportunists. Applying in this work the most thorough, complete and comprehensive theory of development which is richest in content, that is, materialist dialectics, Marx examined the question of the imminent collapse of capitalism and the question of the future development of communism, expounded the differences between the lower and higher stages of communist society and unfolded the splendid prospects of the higher stage of communist society.
Marx emphatically pointed out that in the transformation from capitalist society to communist society there must be a political transition period, in which the state can be nothing but the dictatorship of the proletariat. For a century this programmatic work of scientific communism has always led and inspired the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and hundreds of millions of people all over the world.
Earth-shaking changes have taken place throughout the world in the last 100 years. Forty-two years after the Critique of the Gotha Programme was written, the Russian proletariat, under the leadership of the great Lenin, won victory in the October Socialist Revolution through armed uprising and ushered in the new era of proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the world. Thirty-two years after the October Revolution, the Chinese people, under the leadership of our great leader Chairman Mao and after protracted revolutionary war, overthrew the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism, founded the People’s Republic of China and established the dictatorship of the proletariat in China. Today the revolutionary struggles of the proletariat and the oppressed nations and people throughout the world are surging forward, shaking the entire moribund capitalist world and continuously winning new victories. Although the revolutionary road is tortuous and capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union, the homeland of the October Revolution, because the Khrushchov and Brezhnev renegade clique has usurped supreme power in the Party and state, this is but a brief interlude in the whole course of historical development. The world is progressing, the future is bright and no one can change this general trend of history. (Mao Tsetung: On the Chungking Negotiations.) More than once the practice of the international communist movement in the last 100 years has proved that the theories of proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat expounded in the Critique of the Gotha Programme are irrefutable truths. Having gone through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, we have gained a deeper understanding of this point after restudying this work in the light of reality.
Brilliant Record of Struggle Against OpportunismIn the history of the international communist movement, the Critique of the Gotha Programme is a brilliant record of the struggle waged by Marxism against revisionism. In the 1870s the centre of the international workers’ movement moved from France to Germany and the German workers’ movement was developing vigorously. After the struggle against Lassalleanism and directly educated and helped by Marx and Engels, the German proletariat at that time founded its independent political party—the German Social-Democratic Workers’ Party or the Eisenachers. Although the programme of this party did not completely discard the influence of Lassalle’s opportunism, it kept, generally speaking, the spirit required in the general rules of the First International and basically followed Marx’s revolutionary line. It was therefore supported by a growing number of workers. The Lassalleans, who were opposed to the Eisenachers and had once been very powerful, carried out an opportunist line and went all the way to meet the needs of the landlord and capitalist classes; they therefore steadily lost the support of the masses and ended up in extreme isolation. Under these circumstances the Lassalleans in 1874 reversed their previous stand of refusing to become allied with the Eisenachers and eagerly sought a merger with them in a vain attempt to save their own tottering status.
Faced with this situation, Marx and Engels who always set great store by the solidarity and unity in the German workers’ movement considered that there could be an alliance, but they repeatedly warned the leaders of the Eisenachers that there should be no bargaining about principles on the question of organizational unity. In a letter in March 1875 to August Bebel, Engels specially emphasized that there should be absolutely no concession to the Lassalleans in the theoretical sphere, which is of decisive importance for the programme, and that “the first condition of union was that they should cease to be sectarians, Lassalleans.” But Liebknecht and others who were passionately seeking the merger ignored the advice of Marx and Engels and went their own way. They sacrificed principles and joined the Lassalleans in concocting a draft programme which deviated from the theories of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat and was permeated with Lassalle’s opportunist viewpoints. This draft was known as the Gotha Programme when it was later adopted at the congress that united the two groups. To express his attitude in principle towards this programme and prevent it from exerting a bad influence on the international workers’ movcment, Marx severely criticized the draft programme, article by article and sentence by sentence, before the unity congress and wrote Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party, that is, the Critique of the Gotha Programme.
Gotha Programme’s Essential Parts — Liquidating
Marx pointed out that the Gotha Programme was a “thoroughly
objectionable programme that demoralizes the Party.” Its essential parts were the acceptance of
the Lassalleans’ view of realizing socialism by relying on “state aid” and liquidation of proletarian
revolution, as well as the acceptance of the Lassalleans’ stand of founding a “free state” through
efforts to win universal suffrage and liquidation of the proletarian dictatorship.
Proletarian Revolution and Proletarian Dictatorship
The Gotha Programme came out soon after the Paris Commune revolution in 1871. At that time Marx and Engels already had summed up the experience of the Paris Commune and put forward to the proletariat the world over the task of smashing and breaking the existing state machinery of the bourgeoisie and establishing proletarian state power after the Paris Commune. However, ignoring this important experience, Liebknecht and others even retreated to Lassalleanism by “accepting all the essential Lassallean economic phrases and demands” and Lassalle’s nonsensical opinions. “The Eisenachers actually became Lassalleans,” at least according to the programme.
The Lassalleans were pseudo-socialists and essentially bourgeois socialists. They intended, under the pretext of reorganizing society, to preserve the foundations of existing society and hence the society. (Engels: Principles of Communism.) This is clearly revealed by Lassalle’s dogmas stuffed into the Gotha Programme.
From the very beginning the programme avoided mentioning ownership of the means of production and babbled about labour being the source of all wealth. This was one of Lassalle’s dogmas. Marx pointed out: Labour is not the source of all wealth and nature is just as much the source of wealth as labour. This is because the production of material wealth not only needs human labour but also subjects and instruments of labour. The popular saying that “labour creates the world” precisely takes these conditions as its prerequisite. Labour does not have supernatural creative power. Only in so far as a worker “from the beginning behaves towards nature, the primary source of all instruments and subjects of labour, as an owner” can he create wealth. In capitalist society, why must the workers sell their labour power to the capitalists and become the latter’s wage-slaves? This is precisely because the means of production are in the hands of the capitalists and the working class has nothing but its own labour power. The programme engaged in empty talk about “labour,” but avoided mentioning a point of basic importance—to whom did the means of production belong—and thereby covered up the relations of exploitation under capitalism and the root cause of exploitation and oppression suffered by the proletariat. Such a fallacy is out-and-out bourgeois stuff. After Khrushchov and Brezhnev came to power, socialist ownership by the whole people in the Soviet Union has degenerated into ownership by the bureaucrat-monopoly capitalist class. Picking up Lassalle’s long bankrupt fallacy, Brezhnev and his like also shout that “labour is the source of wealth” and demand that the Soviet people “work, work and work again.” Their aim is nothing but to cover up the fact of capitalist restoration and the relations of capitalist exploitation, so as to squeeze more profits from the workers. This straw, however, cannot save the capitalist system and the Soviet revisionist renegade clique from their fate of destruction.
One “outrageous stop backwards” in the Gotha Programme was to impose Lassalle’s “iron law of wages” on the German party and attribute the fight against capitalism to the “abolition of the wage system together with the iron law of wages.” The so-called “iron law of wages” is garbage Lassalle picked up from the bourgeois economists and all it says is that wages can only remain at the lowest level of living needed by the workers to maintain their existence and propagate offspring. If wages remain higher than this level for a long time and the workers’ living is improved, this will stimulate population growth and supply will exceed demand in the labour market. Consequently, wages will be forced to fall to the original level. That is to say, the poverty of the working class is determined by the natural law of population growth and any revolution waged by the working class cannot, help improve this state of affairs. This kind of bourgeois theory has been thoroughly refuted in Marx’s Capital. The root cause of the exploitation and enslavement of the working class, Marx pointed out, is the wage-labour system based on capitalist private ownership. The working class can extricate itself from poverty and enslavement only through violent revolution and thorough abolition of the wage-labour system. Once the wage-labour system is abolished, its law will naturally cease to exist. Precisely as Marx pointed out: “If I abolish wage labour, then naturally I abolish its laws also, whether they are of ‘iron’ or sponge.” However, the draft programme evaded mention of the abolition of the wage-labour system but went round and round this so-called “iron law.” This is tantamount to asking the working class to give up revolution and wait for “state aid” to realize the Lassalle-type of socialism. The “iron law of wages” is based on the notorious Malthusian theory of population. With this reactionary viewpoint as the basis, one can only reach the conclusion of abolishing all revolutions. The reason is that “if this theory is correct, then again I cannot abolish the law even if I abolish wage labour a hundred times over, because the law then governs not only the system of wage labour but every social system.”
The Gotha Programme also trumpeted so-called “fair distribution,” “equal right,” “undiminished proceeds of labour” and other Lassalle’s dogmas, and repeated the theory that “distribution decides production” in bourgeois economics. Marxism holds that the mode of distribution is decided by the mode of production. Only by abolishing capitalist private ownership can the capitalist relations of distribution be changed. The elimination of the private ownership of the means of production “can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” (Manifesto of the Communist Party.) Lenin stressed that the bourgeois state “cannot he superseded by the proletarian state (the dictatorship of the proletariat) through the process of ‘withering away,’ but, as a general rule, only through a violent revolution.” (The State and Revolution.) Chairman Mao has summed up this basic principle in a simple formula, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” (Problems of War and Strategy.) Historical experience has proved that this is a truth and the only road for the proletariat to gain liberation. From Lassalle’s “state aid” to “peaceful transition” advocated by old and new revisionists, they all betray this principle. Their fallacies are nothing but spiritual weapons for upholding the capitalist system and opposing proletarian revolution.
Striving for a “free state,” as the Gotha Programme called for, is the political programme of Lassalle’s opportunism. Marxism considers that the state is the product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms and the instrument by which one class oppresses another. After seizing political power, the proletariat will establish a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which aims not at bringing about “freedom” above classes but suppressing the resistance of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes. Flaunting the banner of “free state,” Lassalle and his followers put forward a series of such bourgeois democratic demands as striving for universal suffrage. Their aim was to uphold the combined dictatorship of the big landlord and big capitalist classes.
Socialism Can Be Nothing but the Revolutionary Dictatorship of the ProletariatIn criticizing the reactionary essence of Lassalle’s “free state,” Marx also pointed out: “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.” This scientific conclusion by Marx was an important development of the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat after the publication of the Manifesto of the Communist Party.
From capitalist to communist society there must be a period of revolutionary transformation, and this is decided by the special features,and historical tasks of the proletarian revolution. This revolution is the most deep-goiiag and thorough revolution in human history and is fundamentally different from previous revolutions. For instance, the bourgeois revolution involves the replacement of one private ownership by another and of one kind of relations of exploitation by another, and capitalist relations of production may emerge within feudal society and develop over a long period of time. But this is not the case with the proletarian revolution, for socialist relations of production cannot possibly emerge within capitalist society. Only after the proletariat has seized political power through violent revolution can it establish socialist ownership of the means of production. Moreover, after the basic completion of the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production, it is still necessary to carry out continuously a thorough socialist revolution on the economic front and particularly on the political and ideological fronts. Therefore, the seizure of political power by the proletariat is only the beginning of the socialist revolution.
Socialist society is the elementary stage of communist society and it just “emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” To eliminate these birth marks of the old society and move to the higher stage of communism needs a considerably long historical period. In socialist society the means of production have been transformed from the private property of individuals into common property. To this extent bourgeois right has disappeared. But it still exists in other aspects. For example, the principle of to each according to his work “is still—in principle—bourgeois right.” Here, everyone who contributes the same amount of social labour may get back the same amount of social products. But because individual labour power may be strong or weak and the number of children one has varies, therefore the degree of well-being differs from person to person. This difference constitutes an inequality. At the same time, the differences left behind from the old society between workers and peasants, between town and country and between mental and manual labour still exist. The exploiting-class ideology and the old force of habit still cannot be eliminated at one swoop. During this period of revolutionary transformation, not only do the over-thrown exploiting classes attempt a restoration and the spontaneous forces of the petty bourgeoisie may engender new bourgeois elements, but as a result of the influence and corruption by the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois spontaneous forces, degenerates and new bourgeois elements—agents of the bourgeoisie—may also emerge from within the ranks of the working class and among personnel of Party and state organs. Chairman Mao recently pointed out: “Lenin said that ‘small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale.’ They are also engendered among a part of the working class and of the Party membership. Both within the ranks of the proletariat and among the personnel of state and other organs there are people who take to the bourgeois style of life.” As long as imperialism and social-imperialism exist in the world, the activities of domestic reactionaries always echo the activities of the international reactionaries to subvert the dictatorship of the proletariat. All this shows that in the whole period of socialism, the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is protracted, tortuous and at times very sharp. In order to smash the resistance of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes, prevent capitalist restoration, eliminate classes, restrict bourgeois right and finally eliminate it after a considerably long period of time and realize communism, there must be a transition period politically in which the dictatorship of the proletariat has to be consistently upheld. Marx pointed out: “This Socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.” (The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850.)
The theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the quintessence of Marxism. Throughout the historical period of socialism, upholding or opposing the proletarian dictatorship is the touchstone for testing genuine or false Marxism. Lenin pointed out that the recognition of class struggle alone is insufficient and only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is also insufficient to recognize alone the overthrow of bourgeois rule, the expropriation of the expropriators and the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. “The essence of Marx’s teaching on the state has been mastered only by those who understand that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from ‘classless society,’ from Communism.” (Lenin: The State and Revolution.) The Gotha Programme said nothing about the dictatorship of the proletariat, but called for striving to build a “free state” by legal means. This fully reveals its essence of opportunism. Inheriting Lassalle’s mantle, the Soviet revisionist renegade clique concocted the fallacy of the “state of the whole people,” shouting that “the dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer necessary before the withering away of the state.” This precisely proves that they are the sworn enemies of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In the struggle against modern revisionism and against opportunism in the Party, our great leader Chairman Mao has comprehensively summed up both the positive and negative historical experience in the international communist movement and developed the Marxist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Chairman Mao has profoundly analysed the law of struggle between the two classes and between the two roads after the basic completion of the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production, put forward the great theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and formulated the Party’s basic line in the whole historical period of socialism. Chairman Mao clearly pointed out: “Socialist society covers a considerably long historical period. In the historical period of socialist, there are still classes, class contradictions and class struggle, there is the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and there is the danger of capitalist restoration. We must recognize the protracted and complex nature of this struggle. We must heighten our vigilance. We must conduct socialist education. We must correctly understand and handle class contradictions and class struggle, distinguish the contradictions between ourselves and the enemy from those among the people and handle them correctly. Otherwise a socialist country like ours will turn into its opposite and degenerate, and a capitalist restoration will take place. From now on we must remind ourselves of this every year, every month and every day so that we can retain a rather sober understanding of this problem and have a Marxist-Leninist line.” The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution personally initiated and led by Chairman Mao has further solved, in theory and practice, the most important current topic of how to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat and prevent capitalist restoration under the conditions of socialism. The movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, which is now developing in a broad, deep-going and persevering way, is a political and ideological struggle in the superstructure in which the proletariat triumphs over the bourgeoisie and socialism over capitalism. This movement also aims at consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat, preventing capitalist restoration and persevering in the continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Recently, Chairman Mao again issued an important instruction on the question of theory. Chairman Mao pointed out: “Why did Lenin speak of exercising dictatorship over the bourgeoisie? It is essential to get this question clear. Lack of clarity on this question will lead to revisionism. This should be made known to the whole nation.” He also pointed out at the same time: “Our country at present practises a commodity system, the wage system is unequal, too, as in the eight-grade wage scale, and so forth. Such things have to be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat. For these reasons if people like Lin Piao come to power, it will be quite easy for them to rig up the capitalist system.” This extremely important instruction of Chairman Mao’s expounds in theory the historical tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat and profoundly analyses the social basis engendering the revisionist line. It is of great practical and far-reaching historical significance to us in further implementing the Party’s basic line, consolidating and strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat, persisting in the continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and doing a good job in the struggle of combating and preventing revisionism.
Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao were both renegades who had betrayed the dictatorship of the proletariat. They denied that the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and between socialism and capitalism is the principal contradiction in socialist society; they also denied that the proletariat must exercise all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie in the superstructure, including all spheres of culture, and that the dictatorship of the proletariat should impose necessary restrictions on the remaining part of bourgeois right. Lin Piao attempted to change fundamentally the Party’s basic line and subvert the dictatorship of the proletariat and restore capitalism, and following in the steps of Confucius, he dished up the reactionary programme of “restraining oneself and returning to the rites.” By attacking Chin Shih Huang, the first emperor of the Chin Dynasty, he made venomous attacks on the dictatorship of the proletariat and clamoured for founding a “genuine socialist” state implementing a “benevolent policy.” His so-called “genuine socialist” state was the same trash as the “free state” of Lassalle, ringleader of the old opportunism, and the “state of the whole people” of the Soviet revisionist renegade clique. What Lin Piao meant in fact was that he wanted the landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements and Rightists and his gang of new bourgeois elements to come to power so that he could found a fascist Lin dynasty.
The focus of contention between the Marxist line and Lassalle’s opportunist line in the German party was whether to uphold the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat or to liquidate them. Our struggle against the two anti-Party cliques of Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao also was waged around the question of adhering to or opposing the Party’s basic line and consolidating or subverting the dictatorship of the proletariat. This kind of struggle will still continue in the future. Therefore, it is a long-term task to earnestly study the basic Marxist theories on class struggle, proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. All opportunists are accustomed to creating confusion in theory. In his demagogic pamphlets, Lassalle mixed the correct things he got from Marx with his own incorrect things so as to confuse people. Swindlers like Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao also used the same trick. Our sight is insufficient to distinguish between true and false, so we must have the aid of the microscope and telescope of Marxism. An important reason leading Liebknecht to commit mistakes on matters of principle was that “he has always been confused theoretically” and was unable to draw a clear line of demarcation between Marxism and Lassalle’s opportunism. This lesson merits our serious consideration. Theory is the basis of line. “There can be no strong socialist party without a revolutionary theory.” (Lenin: Our Programme.) To be a conscious proletarian revolutionary, one must earnestly study works by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and by Chairman Mao, master the Marxist stand, viewpoint and method, and combine study with criticism and temper oneself and raise one’s political level in the struggle of criticizing the bourgeoisie and revisionism. Chairman Mao recently called on us to “do more reading of Marxist-Leninist works.” We must follow Chairman Mao’s instruction, conscientiously study the principal works on the dictatorship of the proletariat by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and by Chairman Mao, raise our consciousness of class struggle and the two-line struggle and of continuing the revolution, more consciously implement the Party’s basic line, do a good job in the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius and strive to strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat and consolidate and develop the socialist economic base.
(A translation of an article in “Hongqi,” No. 3, 1975. Subheads are ours.)