Episode 10: Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program”

Brendan and Andrew discuss Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, written in 1875 to oppose the merger of two German socialist parties—one of which was supposedly Marxist—and the program of the new united party. The discussion focuses largely on the Critique’s commentary on the nature of a communist society, the transformation from one mode of production to another (and the corresponding political transition period), and the challenges of achieving real equality and freedom within a newly created communist society. Brendan and Andrew also explore the significance of Marx’s critique for revolutionary organization–– especially his opposition to the merger, even though the newly united party had 25,000 members, because he regarded its Gotha Program as a theoretical regression.

In their discussion, the co-hosts refer to two talks by Andrew, “The Transformation of Capitalism into Communism in the ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’” and “The Incoherence of ‘Transitional Society’ as a Marxian Concept.”

Plus: current-events segment on the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump; and the “strange bedfellows” celebration, by the campaign and supporters of Bernie Sanders, of Joe Rogan’s endorsement of their candidate.

Radio Free Humanity is a podcast covering news, politics and philosophy from a Marxist-Humanist perspective. It is co-hosted by Brendan Cooney and Andrew Kliman. We intend to release new episodes every two weeks. Radio Free Humanity is sponsored by MHI, but the views expressed by the co-hosts and guests of Radio Free Humanity are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of MHI.

We welcome and encourage listeners’ comments, posted on this episode’s page.

Please visit MHI’s online print publication, With Sober Senses, for further news, commentary, and analysis.

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February 1, 2020


  1. I support UBI for all the reasons Professor Kliman argues: it will necessarily reveal to the public just how alienating and destructive capitalism is. Moreover, since it’s impossible to implement with success, it may well shake the very foundations of capital.

  2. Question:
    I was wondering if either of you had changed your stance regarding Trump’s impeachment, or Pelosi’s strategy in attempting to impeach him. In an earlier episode I believe her approach was called ‘brilliant’ by Professor Kliman? Or some word of equal praise. While I’m definitely for impeachment, I found her strategy to be at best bizarre, and the results have been absolutely devastating, no?

    • I think the strategy was remarkably successful. It slowed down the cover-up enough to show the public that the Senate process was indeed a cover-up; it forced the Trumpites to allow evidence–which everyone basically concedes proved the case against Trump; it got Romney to split with them; it put toady Senators running in swing states under the spotlight, etc.

      None of that would have happened if the Senate Majority Turtle had been allowed to execute the cover-up the night before Christmas, or whatever.

      Of course, apprehending Trump and subjecting him to enhanced interrogation would have been even MORE successful. But then impeachment wouldn’t be necessary. And the Democrats didn’t have the power to do that.

      One needs to evaluate strategies and their degree of success in relation to other strategies that are actually available, not in a vacuum and not in relation to an ideal outcome.

      • Right, my fear though is that like Obama’s invasion of Libya and its relation to the war powers act, or his kill list, this has established a further authoritarian precedent, where the executive is now more powerful and sovereign than the monarchs of yore.

        Basically my fear is the Democrats have inadvertently made Trump more powerful both de jure and de facto. De facto because his approval ratings bumped pretty high after he was acquited. De jure for the reasons already stated.

  3. Brendan also makes reference to chapter eleven of Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, which is not noted in the episode description.

    Andrew makes the very crucial point that the Gotha Programme called for “fair distribution” and “equal right” without calling for a new society upon whose foundation these goals could be achieved. The primary theoretical point of Marx’s which permeates his critique is that the legal, social, and political relations of a society cannot be higher than the mode of production upon which they operate.

    Andrew mentions that a “big-tent” organization is not defined by what it stands for. It does not carry the banner of a philosophy of revolution. Dunayevskaya sheds light on the collapse of the Second International in chapter nine of Marxism and Freedom, and we see that organization for organization’s sake–building a mass movement, simply isn’t enough by itself. Such an approach, by itself, is not prepared for what happens after the revolution–for the building of a new society. What is needed that is additional is the prefiguring of a new society, both in theoretical work as well as “a movement from practice which is itself a form of theory.”

    Attempts to position spontaneity as the absolute opposite of vanguardism leave the brunt of the work of working out the space for a liberatory alternative on the backs of the masses. We can’t pretend that they’ll have time to think a new society out after the revolution while fending off counter-revolutions waiting in the wings, working to sustain and develop the achievements which they have made, and ensuring that the production of the means of consumption is not seriously interrupted.

    I think that Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme needs to be read with these crucial expansions which Marxist-Humanism provides in mind, i.e. with its developments–upon the foundation laid by Marx–of notions of revolutionary theory and the relation between philosophy and organization.

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