He who does not work, neither shall he eat

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"He who doesn't work, doesn't eat" – Soviet poster issued in Uzbekistan, 1920

He who does not work, neither shall he eat is an aphorism from the New Testament traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle, later cited by John Smith in the early 1600s colony of Jamestown, Virginia, and by the communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin during the early 1900s Russian Revolution.

New Testament[edit]

The aphorism is found in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians 3:10, the authorship of which is traditionally assigned to Paul the Apostle (with Silvanus and Timothy), where it reads:

εἴ τις οὐ θέλει ἐργάζεσθαι μηδὲ ἐσθιέτω
eí tis ou thélei ergázesthai mēdè esthiétō

that is,

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.[1]

The Greek phrase οὐ θέλει ἐργᾰ́ζεσθαι (ou thélei ergázesthai) means "is not willing to work". Other English translations render this as "would"[2] or "will not work",[3] using the archaic sense of "want to, desire to" for the verb "will".

This is a sort of a frequently used Jewish proverb,[4] "that if a man would not work, he should not eat". Also:

"he that labours on the evening of the sabbath (or on weekdays), he shall eat on the sabbath day; and he who does not labour on the evening of the sabbath, from whence shall he eat (or what right and authority has he to eat) on the sabbath day?"[5]


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.[6]

Soviet Union[edit]

The motto in a 1920s Soviet poster

According to Vladimir 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" according to 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 Lenin's writing, this was directed at the bourgeoisie, as well as "those who shirk their work".[7][8]

The principle was enunciated in the Russian Constitution of 1918,[9] and also article twelve of the 1936 Soviet Constitution:

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".

Joseph Stalin had quoted Vladimir Lenin during the Soviet famine of 1932–1933 declaring: "He who does not work, neither shall he eat."[10] This perspective is argued by economic professor Michael Ellman to have influenced official policy during the famine, with those deemed to be idlers being disfavored in aid distribution as compared to those deemed "conscientiously working collective farmers";[10] in this vein, Olga Andriewsky states that Soviet archives indicate that aid in Ukraine was primarily distributed to preserve the collective farm system and only the most productive workers were prioritized for receiving it.[11] Criticizing Stalin, Leon Trotsky wrote that: "The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey shall not eat."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV
  2. ^ King James Bible
  3. ^ American Standard Bible
  4. ^ Bereshit Rabba, sect. 14. fol. 13. 1. Echa Rabbati, fol. 48. 4. & Midrash Koholet, fol. 65. 4.
  5. ^ T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 3. 1.
  6. ^ Thompson, John (2007). The Journals of Captain John Smith: A Jamestown Biography. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. p. 139. ISBN 978-1426200557.
  7. ^ Vladimir Lenin. "How to Organise Competition?". Collected Works. Vol. 26. Progress Publishers. pp. 404–15.
  8. ^ Vladimir Lenin (22 May 1918). "Letter to the Petrograd Soviet". On The Famine.
  9. ^ Article 2, Chapter 5, Point 18
  10. ^ a b Ellman, Michael (June 2007). "Stalin and the Soviet famine of 1932–33 Revisited" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies. Routledge. 59 (4): 663–693. doi:10.1080/09668130701291899. S2CID 53655536. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007.
  11. ^ Andreiwsky, Olga (2015). "Towards a Decentred History: The Study of the Holodomor and Ukrainian Historiography". East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. 2 (1): 17. doi:10.21226/T2301N. Finally, new studies have revealed the very selective — indeed, highly politicized — nature of state assistance in Ukraine in 1932–1933. Soviet authorities, as we know, took great pains to guarantee the supply of food to the industrial workforce and to certain other categories of the population — Red Army personnel and their families, for example. As the latest research has shown, however, in the spring of 1933, famine relief itself became an ideological instrument. The aid that was provided in rural Ukraine at the height of the Famine, when much of the population was starving, was directed, first and foremost, to 'conscientious' collective farm workers — those who had worked the highest number of workdays. Rations, as the sources attest, were allocated in connection with spring sowing). The bulk of assistance was delivered in the form of grain seed that was 'lent' to collective farms (from reserves that had been seized in Ukraine) with the stipulation that it would be repaid with interest. State aid, it seems clear, was aimed at trying to salvage the collective farm system and a workforce necessary to maintain it. At the very same time, Party officials announced a campaign to root out 'enemy elements of all kinds who sought to exploit the food problems for their own counter-revolutionary purposes, spreading rumours about the famine and various 'horrors'. Famine relief, in this way, became yet another way to determine who lived and who died.
  12. ^ Leon Trotsky (1936) The Revolution Betrayed Chapter 11: Whither the Soviet Union?

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