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Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (April/May 1875)

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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.

Now the program does not deal with this nor with the future state of communist society.

Its political demands contain nothing beyond the old democratic litany familiar to all: universal suffrage, direct legislation, popular rights, a people’s militia, etc. They are a mere echo of the bourgeois People’s party, of the League of Peace and Freedom. They are all demands which, insofar as they are not exaggerated in fantastic presentation, have already been realized. Only the state to which they belong does not lie within the borders of the German Empire, but in Switzerland, the United States, etc. This sort of “state of the future” is a present-day state, although existing outside the “framework” of the German Empire.

But one thing has been forgotten. Since the German Workers’ party expressly declares that it acts within “the present-day national state,” hence within its own state, the Prusso-German Empire – its demands would indeed be otherwise largely meaningless, since one only demands what one has not got – it should not have forgotten the chief thing, namely, that all those pretty little gewgaws rest on the recognition of the so-called sovereignty of the people and hence are appropriate only in a democratic republic.

Since one has not the courage – and wisely so, for the circumstances demand caution – to demand the democratic republic, as the French workers’ programs under Louis Philippe and under Louis Napoleon did, one should not have resorted, either, to the subterfuge, neither “honest” nor decent, of demanding things which have meaning only in a democratic republic from a state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture, already influenced by the bourgeoisie, and bureaucratically carpentered, and then to assure this state into the bargain that one imagines one will be able to force such things upon it “by legal means.”

Even vulgar democracy, which sees the millennium in the democratic republic, and has no suspicion that it is precisely in this last form of state of bourgeois society that the class struggle has to be fought out to a conclusion – even it towers mountains above this kind of democratism, which keeps within the limits of what is permitted by the police and not permitted by logic.

That, in fact, by the word “state” is meant the government machine, or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labor, is shown by the words “the German Workers’ party demands as the economic basis of the state: a single progressive income tax,” etc. Taxes are the economic basis of the government machinery and of nothing else. In the state of the future, existing in Switzerland, this demand has been pretty well fulfilled. Income tax presupposes various sources of income of the various social classes, and hence capitalist society. It is, therefore, nothing remarkable that the Liverpool financial reformers – bourgeois headed by Gladstone’s brother – are putting forward the same demand as the program.

Source of English translation: Marx-Engels Internet Archive, (accessed May 2, 2006).

Source of original German text: Karl Marx, “Randglossen zum Programme der deutschen Arbeiterpartei, April/Mai 1875” [“Marginal Notes on the Program of the German Workers Party”], in Die Neue Zeit [The New Age] 9 (1890/91), excerpt pp. 572-74; reprinted in Hans Fenske, ed., Im Bismarckschen Reich 1871-1890 [In the Bismarckian Reich 1871-1890]. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1978, pp. 138-40.

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