“All of Khrushchev’s errors flowed from this mistake. Marx raised this question, and Lenin confirmed it in his essay State and Revolution. I know it well. There he wrote that at the final stage of communism the principle will be: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” The later formulation has only part of this phrase, but the second part, “to each according to his needs,” was replaced by “to each according to his work.” Our press follows this line like a law, but it’s not correct from a Marxist perspective.
Why? First, Marx wrote that only at the final stage of communism could the principle be fulfilled. Why? You can’t demand the best from the common laborer under our conditions. But the constitution was written in 1936, when it was impossible to take “from each according to his ability.” They didn’t even have housing. Only at a higher stage could you talk about it. Could one demand this of a collective farmer? After all, we have established that he must work a certain minimum number of labor-days. But he is paid only a pittance for these labor-days. If he does not fulfill his quota of labor-days, the kolkhoz has the right to exclude him from membership. So what kind of “according to his ability” is that? It’s nothing but window dressing. But window dressing is intolerable in Marxism. Marxism is an objective science; it views things soberly. It calls bad things bad and good things good. It demands genuine, uncompromising struggle for good.
Marx argued, and Lenin confirmed, that the rights of man cannot exceed his economic potential. You can demand that a communist work “according to his ability,” and it doesn’t matter what his working conditions are. But you can’t demand this from the people. How can we have the same demands under socialism as under communism? Do we create some kind of fiction about something that does not exist?… Revolutionaries must destroy what is bad and sacrifice themselves if necessary. Workers scape by and receive their crusts of bread—what more can we demand of them? Meet your quota! That’s it. God grant that everyone conscientiously fulfill his norm. We would lead a much richer life. Better yet—exceed one’s norm. This applies all the more to communists; a communist must work better. This means that contrary to “from each according to his ability” we must inscribe: fulfillment of the norms established by society. Fulfill what is demanded of you by the state, by society; conscientiously fulfill the norms prescribed by the factory, the workshop, the kolkhoz. This applies especially to white-collar workers. They are so many idlers. As they gossip and smoke in corridors, do you believe they are actually working “according to their ability”?
Second, “to each according to his work.” This is especially popular. All of our books go on about it. Some people interpret it as follows: If I work in a factory, I am paid according to my work. But if you are a boss, you have no work-norm to fulfill. In a word, you can take all kinds of liberties…
Marx and Engels said, to each according to his work, but in a economy that has abolished money-commodity relations… Our 1961 program states [the opposite]: money-commodity relations are to be retained throughout socialism. It has things turned around… In Lenin’s State and Revolution, the words “commodity” and “money” are not even mentioned. Why? Everything was already based on them. But these are vestiges of capitalism.”
— Molotov Remembers, pages 202-204