By Peter Burrows, - 4/1/20

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” I bet some of you progressives are thinking, “Old Burro is showing his Evangelical roots, quoting some Biblical parable to justify Trump’s latest effort to take food stamps away from millions of able-bodied Democrats who can’t find dignified, living wage jobs with the government.”

No, I didn’t find that little cautionary aphorism in the Bible. Take another guess.

“Hmmm. Sounds like something from the Republican Party National Platform. Just what you’d expect from Republicans. No compassion for the poor! They’d let people starve in the streets. One more reason we need Bernie! Food justice, baby, food justice! Food is a right! FREE food is a right!”

Sorry, wrong again. The line is from the 1936 Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. From Article 12: “In the U.S.S.R. work is a duty and a matter of honour for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat.’”

It should come as no surprise that in the Workers’ Paradise “work is a duty and a matter of honour.” What is surprising is that part about “neither shall he eat.” That doesn’t seem to jibe with what Karl Marx famously said would be the denouement of Communism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

I think we can all agree that there is no more basic “need” than the need to eat. In fairness to Marx, this utopian state would occur only when the basic goodness and generosity of people were freed from bourgeois selfishness. Here’s what Marx wrote:

“ ---after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

In essence, after Communism has abolished private property, nobody will work for exploiting capitalists. Everyone will work for themselves and people will WANT to work more than anything else in life. The result will be an abundance of production, the “cooperative wealth” which will flow to those who need it.

Marx thought that eventually no government would be needed to enforce this emergent “from-to” benevolence of humanity. Some of you may think that’s obviously absurd, that Marx had no inkling about human nature.

It was worse than that. Marx thought human nature could be changed, indeed, would change, if only people were ruled by the right kind of government. Of course, people would need lots of reeducation, lots of RULING before they were perfected.

While this was going on, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would determine the real “needs” of people as opposed to what people thought were their “needs.” After all, is there anything more subjective than “needs”?

More ominously, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would also determine what abilities people had. For example, a commissar would immediately see that a talentless soul such as myself has the ability to dig ditches, pick up garbage, whatever, even though I may not have known I had such abilities.

And if I didn’t work as ordered? In theory, that’s where “neither shall he eat” kicks in. In practice, workers who went on strike in the Workers’ Paradise of the U.S.S.R. were simply shot. That’s a lot quicker than starvation, although millions of people also starved to death in Russia, something happening now in Venezuela.

I wonder if Bernie Sanders, who honeymooned in Russia in 1988, would stick to Marx’s utopian ideal or if Bernie would agree with the practical change that Stalin made to socialist doctrine. If old Bernie goes with Uncle Joe, we should expect some changes, or at least some qualifications, to calls for more food stamps, higher minimum wages or demands for a “living wage” law.

Here is the rest of Article 12 from the 1936 Constitution of the U.S.S.R quoted above. Observant readers will note the slight change Stalin made to Marx’s glorious nonsense:

“The principle applied in the U.S.S.R. is that of socialism: From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”