So, now we have a growing discussion of the Critique of the Gotha Programme, focused on Marx’s famous definition of communist justice, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Robert Waldman, Brad Delong, and James Wimberley have chimed in.
For Waldman, the phrase is a nasty inside joke, a critique of the Lassallean program as an impossible Christian fantasy. DeLong, for his part, adheres to the traditional interpretation, that it refers to a distant “higher phase of communism society.” While Wimberley views it as referring to a “fundamentally self-contradictory” way of conceiving of an optimal allocation of consumer goods and a criterion of efficient production.
I must admit, I am pleasantly surprised (as I have written in previous posts) to see various aspects of Marx’s writings and Marxian theory being discussed and debated these days. Ah, the contradictions of capitalism! But it is also the case that few of these people—certainly not Waldman, DeLong, or Wimberley—ever refer to the wealth of scholarship on these questions.
They certainly haven’t read George DeMartino’s excellent article, “Realizing Class Justice,” published in the January 2003 issue of Rethinking Marxism (vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 1-31).
According to DeMartino, the famous maxim refers to 2 moments of class justice: productive class justice (“fairness in the allocation of the work of
producing the social surplus”) and distributive justice (“fairness in the
processes by which the social surplus is divided among society’s members
(and, perhaps, other people) for their personal use, and in the ultimate
distributive patterns that emerge from these processes”). Together with appropriative class justice (“fairness in the processes by which some
individuals and/or groups in society receive the social surplus produced by
themselves or by others”), they form the Marxian notion of class justice.
Finally, DeMartino argues that “class justice is a legitimate and compelling standard for evaluating policy regimes”—in the here and now, not in some distant future or fantasy.
Cultivating a desire for class justice, then, might be a bit simpler than it appeared a moment ago. It might require making visible what is largely suppressed in hegemonic discourses that refuse the legitimacy of class—and even in Marxian discourses that ignore the prevalence of class diversity in contemporary society—so that people can recognize that they already experience class justice. Not in all their workplaces (though there are many exceptions), perhaps, but in virtually all their civic organizations and churches and families and neighborhoods. And it may require demonstrating that class justice can be affirming, empowering, compassionate, nurturing and indeed enjoyable when compared to the class injustice that obtains in other aspects of their lives. Such a demonstration might go some way toward restoring the normative force of Marxian theory while strengthening local
and global movements for economic justice.