Marx on Distributive Justice: From Each According to His Ability, to Each According to His Needs



This article examines Karl Marx’s distributive justice principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” contained in the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875). It argues that Marx advocates for “unequal equality,” since the end result of his principle is unequal contribution (due to the contributors’ different abilities) and unequal distribution (due to recipients’ different needs); that Marx’s principle avoids many pitfalls of contemporary desert theories; that while Marx is critical of formal, abstract right (Recht), he maintains that right will be enhanced in the future communist society; that Marx’s attitude toward work is contradictory, since for him work is both “life’s prime want” and a hindrance to the intellectual and social flourishing possible only in leisure time; that the widespread interpretation of the communist society as one of abundance where all needs can be satisfied has scant textual basis; and that Marx’s principle continues to inspire theories of distributive justice and efforts to expand welfare and social services, and endeavors to establish a classless, cooperative society.