Study Questions for “Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program as New Foundation for Organization”

MHI has begun an international Skype class on “Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program as New Foundation for Organization.” A description of the class is here.

The class is full, but additional people have expressed interest in studying along with us, so we have decided to publish the study questions on which the class sessions are based. Lists of the readings on which the questions are based are contained in the article with the original description. As always, discussion is welcome.

[Recordings of the class discussions are now published here.]

                                                                                 Study Questions

Class 1.  Overview: Philosophy, Economics, Organization

1. In his covering letter to Bracke, Marx criticizes (1) the principles contained in the GP, (2) the program itself, and (3) the mistakes the Eisenachers made in practice by going along with it. Give a few examples of each of these from the CGP text and the letter.

2. Why does Marx lambast seemingly benign distortions of truth in the GP, such as “labor is the source of all wealth” and “the proceeds of labor belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society”?  What can we discern about his view of the relation of theory to organization from the Critique and letter? Is Dunayevskaya’s conclusion about their relation (bottom of p. 155 of RLWL) justified?

3.  Near the end of Section 3 of CGP is a vision of communism that everyone loves, in the paragraph about the “higher phase of communist society” that ends, “from each according to her ability, to each according to her needs.” But there has been a lot of debate over his description, earlier in the section, of the prerequisite lower phase of communism “as it emerges from capitalist society.” We’ll go into this more deeply in future classes, but let’s get a handle now on whether he considers communist society as it emerges from capitalist society to constitute a complete break from capitalism, or whether the lower phase is just a little bit communist. Discuss.

4. From early in Section 4: “And what of the riotous misuse which the programme makes of the words ‘present-day state,’ ‘present-day society,’ and of the still more riotous misconception it creates in regard to the state to which it addresses its demands?” Why was this riotous? Would Marx think it is still riotous in modern-day democracies, or does CGP allow us to believe he might think we can modify capitalism so as to change whom or what the state serves?

5. Dunayevskaya argues that all post-Marx Marxists, including Luxemburg, extolled Lassalle as the organizational expert because he built a relatively large German party, even though Marx had founded and played a huge part in several international organizations. Why does she say this elevation of Lassalle over Marx on organization happened (see all of page 157)? Has the left’s organizational emphasis on numbers rather than philosophy changed a lot since that time?

6. On the basis of the CGP, what does Marx seem to mean, in the letter to Bracke, by “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes”?

Class 2.  Production and Distribution

1. Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, by David Ricardo, begins with distribution among classes: The produce of the earth … is divided among three classes of the community; namely, the proprietor of the land, the owner of the stock or capital …, and the labourers ….” Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, by Marx, ends with distribution and classes. Is this difference significant? Why or why not? (Hint: see the start of Marx’s essay on “Alienated Labor,” e.g. .)

2. How does the “customary view” of distribution differ from the “more developed and critical awareness” (1st two pages of chap. 51 of Capital, vol. 3)? What are Marx’s criticisms of the latter?

3. In chap. 51, and in the CGP, Marx distinguishes between two senses of “distribution.” What are they and how do they differ?

4. In the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx discusses the “general conclusion” that “became the guiding principle of [his] studies.” (How) does the distinction between relations of production and relations of distribution tie into this? His “general conclusion” has been criticized for being “economic determinist.” What kind(s) of politics underlie and/or flow from that criticism and the “more developed and critical awareness” of the relation between production and distribution discussed above?

5. What argument (if any) does Marx make in support of his contention that “present-day distribution is … the only ‘fair’ distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production”? (CGP, Part I, section 3)

6. Dunayevskaya writes that Marxists keep quoting “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” but “never bother to study … what would be required to make that real” (RLWL, pp. 156–7).

(a) Exactly what is the principle of distribution here?

(b) Why didn’t Marx think it is a realistic or “fair” principle in the lower phase of communism? What is?

(c) According to Marx, what aspect(s) of the higher-phase-of-communism’s mode of production would enable the principle to become real and “fair” in that phase?

7. Bonus Question from Marx: “Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) 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?” (CGP, Part I, section 3). Your answer should include discussion of the role of organization.

Class 3.  The State  [added Nov. 13, 2014]

 1. In Anti-Duhring, Engels writes that “the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. …” … How, then, can he also write “The proletariat … turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But, in doing this, it … abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state”? Could he have plausibly meant that these things are abolished simply by virtue of the fact that different people (“the proletariat”) are the agents of transformation? If not, refer to the surrounding text to explain what he did mean.

2. Engels writes, “As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection … a state[ ] is no longer necessary. … It dies out.” In the CGP, Marx writes that “Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” Assuming that the two quotations above can be put together, what do they jointly imply regarding the (non-)existence of social classes, and of the state, (i) during the period between capitalism and communism, and (ii) during the lower phase of communism?

3. How does the Conspectus clarify the meaning of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat,” called there “the proletariat organized as the ruling class”? According to the Conspectus, exactly how long will that state exist?

4. In the Poverty of Philosophy, Marx writes, “Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No. … The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class ….” Assuming that this statement can be put together with the one from the CGP quoted in Question 2, what do they jointly imply regarding (a) when the “old society” has fallen, and (b) when the working class has emancipated itself? (Choices are: (i) during the period between capitalism and communism, (ii) during the lower phase of communism, and (iii) during the higher phase of communism.)

5. Dunayevskaya writes that the CGP “contains a theory of the state and, more importantly, of the non-state-to-be … a commune form of nonstate” (RLWL, p. 156). Do you agree? If not, why not? If you do, what is the CGP’s theory of the state?

6. Many of Marx’s works (including the CGP and Capital) have “critique” in the title or subtitle. The CGP in particular castigates what he regarded as distortions and misunderstandings of his ideas. Why? What light might his emphasis on critique and his rejection of the Gotha unification shed on his conceptions of the revolutionary process, the role of ideas within it, and the proper tasks for revolutionaries? (How) is this related to Dunayevskaya’s claim that “[w]hat must tower above all struggles against exploitation, nationally and internationally, is the perspective of a totally classless society” and her jamming together of the CGP and “Marx’s Theory of Permanent Revolution” (RLWL, p. 156, p. 158)?

7. (a) Marx begins section III of The Civil War in France (CWF) by hailing the March 18, 1871 spontaneous outburst that seized governmental power, but he immediately says, “But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” Why not (according to Marx)?
(b) Throughout this section, Marx praises the innovations that the Commune began to implement:  name the ones he gives.
(c) He says (a few pages in), “…this new Commune, which breaks the modern State power, has been mistaken for a reproduction of the mediaeval Communes…” What happened to the old ones?  How does this one differ?
(d) What was the Commune’s message to, and relationship to, the peasantry?

8. Marx writes in CWF, “The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence.”
(a)  What does this mean?
(b) Explicate his statement in CWF that the Commune was “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of Labour” (at the end of the paragraph beginning “The multiplicity of interpretations to which the Commune has been subjected….”).
(c) How did the Commune differ from the Lassallean cooperatives that Marx criticizes in section III of CGP? Include in your discussion Marx’s references to “the iron law of wages” and “democracy.” (If time is running short during the class, skip this question and cover it in a later class.)

9. Does the Paris Commune appear to have influenced Marx’s views of
(a) post-capitalist society as expressed in CGP, either or both the lower and higher phases of Communism? Where do you see its influence, if you do?
(b) (political) organizations as expressed in GCP? Discuss what he says about his own organization, the International Workingmen’s Association, and why. Why do you think Dunayevskaya uses that quote as the frontispiece for Chapter 11?

Class 4. Capitalist vs. Communist Modes of Production [added Nov. 17, 2014]

1. What is indirectly social labor? [See CGP paragraph beginning with “Within the co-operative society based on common ownership”.] How is an understanding of indirectly social labor relevant to Gray’s proposed monetary reform (Critique of Pol. Econ.)?

2. Why is money a necessary part of the organization of the capitalist mode of production? How is money different than other commodities? What would happen if a society was to attempt to carry out Gray’s scheme? How does the critique of Gray relate to Marx’s comments about ‘vulgar socialism’ toward the end of the 3rd section of the CGP?

3. Marx’s critique of Gray is relevant to understanding his critique of Proudhon. Is it relevant to any contemporary issues/thinkers?

4. Is Marx’s discussion of the lower stage of communism different from Gray’s plan for a labor-money system?

5.  Marx accuses bourgeois thinkers of idealizing individual exchange, not recognizing that the mode of distribution of products comes from the mode of production. (See end of Poverty of Philosophy Chapt 2). Considering Marx’s description of the lower phase of communism in the CGP, what are the distinctive features of a communist mode of production and what form of distribution of the products of labor flows from it?  How does Marx’s distinction between the ‘exchange of labor’ and the ‘exchange of products of labor’ relate to this question?

6.     A. Why does Marx say that the fluctuation of supply and demand is crucial for the determination of value by labor time? [“If M. Proudhon admits that the value of products is determined by labor time, he should equally admit that it is the fluctuating movement alone that in society founded on individual exchanges make labor the measure of value.”(Poverty of Philosophy)]
B. How is the determination of value by labor time turned into a “law of disproportion”?
C. In his discussion of the lower phase of communism in CGP Marx says, “But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form. Hence, equal right here is still in principle — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.” How does the lower phase allow for the distribution of equivalents ‘in the individual case’? How is this different than the determination of value through the movement of supply and demand? Can the products of the lower phase be said to have ‘values’?

7.     A. Marx argues that a stable balance of supply and demand was a feature of older society and that calls to reestablish this equilibrium are reactionary. What production relations are necessary for such a balance? Why does modern industry form the basis of a different relation between supply and demand? [see paragraph in Poverty of Philosophy beginning “What kept production in true, or more or less true, proportions?”]
B. Why does Marx critique calls for “just’ proportions of exchange” as reactionary?
C. How is Marx’s analysis of the lower phase of communism (“and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.”) not just a repetition of these reactionary calls for “just proportions of exchange”?

Classes 5 & 6: Organizational Implications 

(The question numbers are those from their original presentation. They were discussed in the classes in the order below instead, but they are referred to in the recordings by these numbers.)

Class 5: Part I

2. Near the start of her May 13, 1953 letter, Dunayevskaya writes that she is “not concerned with spontaneity versus organization, nor with Stalinism.” (PON, p. 16)
(a) What is she concerned with?
(b) Why?
(c) (How) can it be decoupled from the issue of “spontaneity versus organization”?

3. Near the end of her May 20, 1953 letter, Dunayevskaya deals with the contrast between what Hegel called “the mediation of the notion,” which “has the external form of transition,” and “Mind itself, the new society, [as] ‘the mediating agent in the process.’” (PON, pp. 28-30)
(a) How do these forms of mediation differ? (See also pp. 336-7)

(b)What does Mind mediate?

(c)What, if anything, does any of this have to do with the question of the proper role of a revolutionary organization?

15. What does Dunayevskaya mean when she contends that “the party and forms of organization born from spontaneity … are not absolute opposites” and that “the absolute opposite is philosophy”? (PON, p. 9; cf. her remark on p. 6 about “breaking with the elitist party … politically without doing so philosophically”)  Do you agree?

Class 6: Part II

10. Luxemburg argued that Marx’s “theory … greatly transcends the needs of the working class in the matter of weapons for the daily struggle” (quoted in RLWL, p. 118). Dunayevskaya says that this is “wrong.” Why? What, if anything, does this controversy have to do with the question of the proper role of a revolutionary organization?

11. Dunayevskaya seems to suggest that Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program and the unified party that resulted from it applies as well to the German Social-Democratic Party led by Kautsky.
(a) why does she not accept that “adhere[nce] to Marx’s ‘theories’” makes all the difference?
(b) what is the “totally different basis for the establishment of a Marxist ‘Party’” that the CGP “formulated”? (PON, pp. 258-9)

14. Lenin’s The State and Revolution is rooted in the CGP. So what does Dunayevskaya mean when she writes that no revolutionary studied the CGP as “actual perspective for the whole movement”? (RLWL, p. 157)  Should they have done so?

12. About what in Hegel did Dunayevskaya “part from Lenin”?  (PON, p. 333) What is the significance of this “parting”?

4. According to Dunayevskaya in Chapt. 9 of RLWL, what part does Hegel’s dialectic (in conjunction with the objective situation) play:
(a) in Luxemburg’s thinking? (b) in Lenin’s? (c) in Marx’s?

13. According to Dunayevskaya, what is the relationship between the “dialectic of the party and the “logic of Capital”? What does “logic” mean here? How is this related to her criticism of Lenin’s focus on transition vs. the free release of the Idea? (PON, pp. 22-4)

Additional questions:

1.What is the importance, if any, of the difference between what Dunayevskaya singled out and what Grace Lee (Boggs) singled out about U.S. workers’ reactions to Stalin’s death? (PON, p. 335)

5. If what she says about Marx’s thinking in Chapts. 9 and 11 is valid, (a) does that affect the possibility that Marx was arbitrarily picking and choosing what to disagree with in the GP for sectarian reasons? (b) Does her view leave room for him to have separated his critique of the program and its implications (such as those about communist society) from its organizational context and conclusions?

6. Why does Dunayevskaya embrace the idea that Marx transformed historic narrative into “historic reason,” and (how) is that related to her criticism of Engels’ “clarification” of the Manifesto of the Communist Party? (RLWL, p. 119)

7. Dunayevskaya asks why “the actual concretization of a new unity” was “so sharply critiqued … in the Critique of the Gotha Program.” She says that this is “the whole rub and the urgent problematic of our day which must be worked out.” (PON, p. 4)
(a) Why?

(b) Do you agree that the CGP critiques “the … new unity” rather than “just” points in the Gotha Program?
(c) Do you agree about its significance today?

8. Why do you think Dunayevskaya begins Chapt. 11 of RLWL with that particular quote from CGP? What does the quote imply about how one should approach organizational form and content, and what one should or cannot presuppose about them?

9. Luxemburg contended that Marx’s criticism of Lassalle was valid. However, she also hailed Lassalle’s creation of an “independent class party” as a great deed that becomes increasing important “with the historical perspective from which we view it.” (quoted in RLWL, p. 154) Is it tenable to embrace Marx’s criticism of Lassalle but not his rejection of the new party created on the basis of the Gotha Program?

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