He who does not work, neither shall he eat

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He who does not work, neither shall he eat is a Biblical aphorism derived from II Thessalonians 3:10[1]. In the 20th century it became popular with socialists.

New Testament[edit]

This concept is derived directly from the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle (with Silvanus and Timothy) to the Thessalonians, in which Paul writes:

εἴ τις οὐ θέλει ἐργάζεσθαι μηδὲ ἐσθιέτω

that is,

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.[2]

The Greek phrase οὐ θέλει ἐργάζεσθαι means “is not willing to work”. Other English translations render this as “would”[3] or “will not work”,[4] which may confuse readers unaccustomed to this use of the verb "will" in the archaic sense of “want to, desire to”.

Jamestown[edit]

In the spring of 1609, John Smith cited the aphorism to the colonists of Jamestown:

Countrymen, the long experience of our late miseries I hope is sufficient to persuade everyone to a present correction of himself, And think not that either my pains nor the adventurers' purses will ever maintain you in idleness and sloth...

...the greater part must be more industrious, or starve...

You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers.[5]

Soviet Union[edit]

According to Lenin, “He who does not work shall not eat” is a necessary principle under socialism, the preliminary phase of the evolution towards communist society. The phrase appears in his 1917 work, The State and Revolution. Through this slogan Lenin explains that in socialist states only productive individuals could be allowed access to the articles of consumption.

The socialist principle, "He who does not work shall not eat", is already realized; the other socialist principle, "An equal amount of products for an equal amount of labor", is also already realized. But this is not yet communism, and it does not yet abolish "bourgeois law", which gives unequal individuals, in return for unequal (really unequal) amounts of labor, equal amounts of products.

This is a “defect”, says Marx, but it is unavoidable in the first phase of communism; for if we are not to indulge in utopianism, we must not think that having overthrown capitalism people will at once learn to work for society without any rules of law. (Chapter 5, Section 3, “The First Phase of Communist Society”)

In accordance with Lenin’s understanding of the socialist state, article twelve of the 1936 Soviet Constitution states:

In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

In Lenin’s writing, this was not so much directed at lazy or unproductive workers,[6][7] but rather the bourgeoisie. (Marxist theory defines the bourgeoisie as the group of those who buy the labor-power of workers and engage it in the process of production, deriving profits from the surplus value thus expropriated. Once communism was realised, that is, after the abolition of property and the law of value, no-one would live off the labor of others.[8])

Neither did the principle apply to those rendered incapable of work by old age or disability. These groups would have a right to society's products because they were not at fault for their condition. The elderly, in particular, had worked during their youth, and so could not be denied life’s basic necessities. The Soviet state accordingly provided a basic level of social security.[9]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ II Thessalonians 3:10, King James Version (Oxford Standard, 1769)
  2. ^ English Standard Version translation
  3. ^ King James Bible
  4. ^ American Standard Bible
  5. ^ John Thompson, The Journals of Captain John Smith: A Jamestown Biography, ISBN 1426200552, 2007, p. 139
  6. ^ Vladimir Lenin. "How to Organise Competition?". Collected Works 26. Progress Publishers. pp. 404–15. 
  7. ^ Vladimir Lenin (22 May 1918). "Letter to the Petrograd Soviet". On The Famine. 
  8. ^ Richard D. Wolff and Stephen Resnick (2002). Class Theory and History. New York: Routledge. 
  9. ^ "Social Security in the Soviet Union". country-data.com.