He who does not work, neither shall he eat

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"Who doesn't work doesn't eat" – Uzbek, Tashkent, 1920 (Mardjani Foundation)

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

New Testament[edit]

The aphorism is found in the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle (with Silvanus and Timothy) to the Thessalonians (3:10), in which Paul writes:

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] which may confuse readers unaccustomed to this use of the verb "will" in the archaic sense of "want to, desire to".


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.[4]

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 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,[5][6] 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.[7]

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 would then, at least theoretically, provide a basic level of social security.[8]

The principle was enunciated in the Russian Constitution of 1918.

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."[9][10] The context of this statement was a criticism of the Stalinist regime that Trotsky opposed, not a prescription for society.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV
  2. ^ King James Bible
  3. ^ American Standard Bible
  4. ^ John Thompson, The Journals of Captain John Smith: A Jamestown Biography, ISBN 1426200552, 2007, p. 139
  5. ^ Vladimir Lenin. "How to Organise Competition?". Collected Works. 26. Progress Publishers. pp. 404–15.
  6. ^ Vladimir Lenin (22 May 1918). "Letter to the Petrograd Soviet". On The Famine.
  7. ^ Richard D. Wolff and Stephen Resnick (2002). Class Theory and History. New York: Routledge.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ "Social Security in the Soviet Union". country-data.com.
  9. ^ Somin, Ilya (5 November 2009). "The Evil of Leon Trotsky Revisited". The Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  10. ^ Leon Trotsky (1936) The Revolution Betrayed Chapter 11: Whither the Soviet Union?

External links[edit]