The Meaning of From Each According to His Abilities: What It Is and How To Use It

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What does the term from each according to his abilities mean?

The term “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is used in many different languages. In French, “De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins.” In German, “Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen.” According to Gutenberg, this slogan was first used by Louis Blanc, but was popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. This principle refers to free access and distribution of goods and services. To a Marxist, a communist system will make possible an abundance of goods and services; enough to satisfy everyone’s needs, with the full development of socialism. Marx stated the below in his Critique of the Gotha Program:

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; 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!”

According to Fee, this phrase has become associated with the socialist movement as well as famous socialist and communist figures like Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Marx. The socialists and communists believe that all proceeds should be communal, which would cause harmony for the good of society. Everyone should make a sufficient contribution with what they can do according to their particular talents – no one gets a free-ride, and everyone helps.  It is interesting to see how many people in a modern Christian community rebel against these ideals when they originated in the Bible. 

What is the history of the term from each according to his abilities?

The history of socialism is long and storied. According to The Conversation, the term that is associated with the socialist society and communist society, “from each according to his abilities” was popularised by Karl Marx in the 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, however, the origin of this phrasing is actually in France. This was first used in the 1945 edition of philosopher Étienne Cabet’s novel Voyage en Icarie, in the phrase “First Right: To Live – To each according to his needs – First Duty: To Work – from each according to his abilities.” He stated the below in his Code of Nature, in the section describing sacred and fundamental laws that would “tear out the roots of vice and of all the evils of a society.”

I. Nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.

II. Every citizen will be a public man, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.

III. Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws

This was later popularized by soliast politician Louis Blanc in his 1848 speeches. It can be traced back even further to political theorist Henri de Saint-Simon, who coined a similar phrase: “To each according to ability, to each according to works.” This occurred in their journal L’Organisateur in 1829. Joseph Stalin later paired the phrases in the Constitution of the USSR in the 1936 Soviet Constitution in Moscow.

Many of these philosophers were committed Christians and borrowed these phrases from the translations in the French Bible. “To each according to his needs” is from the French bible translations in the Book of Acts, in which believers had all things in common, lived together, and shared their belongings with people in the community who were needy. This inspired Cabet’s ideas of Icarian communities. “From each according to his abilities” was also found in the biblical passages Book of Acts in the New Testament, in which people were urged to send relief to the needy according to their abilities. These philosophers interpreted this as a Christian call for servitude, and for society to be more of a cooperative venture. “To each according to ability” is also present in the Gospel of Matthew in the bible passage about the parable of the talents. These phrases have been used for a long time, and continue to be relevant to conversations and political debates today by socialists, communists and others. The origin of the phrase stems from biblical sources, but was popularized in Paris before making its way to Moscow and the world.

Overall, the phrase from each according to his abilities is a phrase associated with socialist and communist ethics. They believe that each person contributing different amounts of money according to his abilities will eliminate greed and corruption. Individual possession will not exist, and there will be more creative activity. This famous Cabet-Blanc-Marx slogan is considered a basic principle of communism in the development of early socialist thought. This Marxist view was first popularized by the earlier Saint-Simon, and relates to the theories of Karl Marx, the interpretation of the socialist principle of distribution, the principle of solidarity, and the development of socialist slogans. 


  1. ‘From each according to ability; to each according to need’ – tracing the biblical roots of socialism’s enduring slogan | The Conversation 
  2. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need | Gutenberg 
  3. From Each According to His Abilities . . . | Fee