“To each according to his needs” for Spaceship Earth

By Gideon Polya
July 23, 2007

Karl Marx’s most famous saying is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. This phrase occurs in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, published after his death. [1] The essential message survives even in right-wing capitalist societies today, albeit with significant neo-conservative perversion. It turns out that it does not cost too much to keep human beings alive and so within democratic Western societies “to each according to his needs” is applied to ensure that people are not dying in the streets and that most people can comfortably support either of typically two major opposing – but very similar – political parties. Lying by omission and commission by generally dishonest Mainstream media ensures that domestic loose ends (e.g. homelessness and socio-economically-determined excess or avoidable deaths) are tidied up and sanitized for the masses. Elections every 4 years or so ensure an ostensible change of government when the loose ends cannot be tidied up behind the Media Wall of Silence.

Thus in market-driven, highly conservative Australia the notion of basic, State-funded education continues so that the very brightest children of the poor have a “sporting chance” of realizing their abilities through higher education (although they will find it much harder than the rich to get into Law School or Medical School). Further, a societal safety net in Australia ensures that basic needs are provided and that people get basic food, shelter, education and medical care – although shocking living conditions for Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians means an annual avoidable death rate of 1.8% corresponding to 9,000 avoidable deaths annually out of a total Aboriginal population of 0.5 million. [2] However, lying, racist Mainstream media simply will not report such devastating realities, although a small number of citizens can discover the truth through the Indigenous media and Alternative Media.

Of course the huge excess deaths (avoidable deaths, deaths that did not have to happen) due to criminal actions of the US, US-allied Western countries or US surrogates in currently violently foreign-occupied countries (Haiti, Somalia, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan) are generally not reported by Western Mainstream media. Thus the post-invasion excess deaths in the Occupied Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan Territories now (mid-2007) total 0.3 million, 1.0 million and 2.4 million, respectively, these appalling figures being consonant with post-invasion under-5 infant deaths totalling 0.2 million, 0.5 million and 1.9 million, respectively [3] – horrific statistics from UN and medical literature sources but which can generally only be accessed (apart from the primary sources) via non-Mainstream sources. [4]

In short, “to each according to his needs” has been readily solved domestically in the prosperous West and domestic shortfalls and overseas atrocities are well-hidden by lying, racist Mainstream media. Brilliant Indian writer Arundhati Roy has cogently summarized this reality in The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile: “The ultimate privilege of the élite is not just their deluxe lifestyles, but deluxe lifestyles with a clear conscience.” [5]

Australia-derived Princeton bioethicist Professor Peter Singer, much lauded as the world’s most influential living philosopher (this popularity being mainly through his book Animal Liberation [6]), has published a critique of Marxism called A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation. [7] His core argument is that you cannot overcome the powerful human instinct for selfish personal betterment and that socialist ideals will inevitably crumble under the imperatives of greed. This is realized in a qualified sense today in modern, pluralist, Communist China where there is a social safety net (vastly more effective than in democratic India) but there are also huge differences in personal wealth. The success of a dogmatic philosophy of “to each according to his needs” in China (2005 population 1,322 million) is revealed in a 1950-2005 excess mortality of 158 million as compared to that for India (2005 population 1,097 million) of 352 million. Indeed, even in the pluralist New Communist China this philosophy still applies: the annual avoidable mortality in Communist China (2003) is 0 (zero) as compared to an appalling 3.7 million for democratic India. [8]

The post-1950 China-India comparison brings us to the most urgent need for application of the Marxian dictum “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, specifically to the Third World part of Spaceship Earth. China and India obtained their independence at roughly the same time from violent colonial overlords. The Japanese occupation of China (1937-1945) had cost 35 million lives; famine and war associated with the Tai Ping rebellion (a consequence of European impositions) had killed 20-100 million Chinese in the mid-19th century. The British rule in India was associated with an estimated 1.5 billion deaths over 2 centuries of brutal, racist rule that kept hundreds of millions of Indians on the edge of starvation. As Winston Churchill confessed quite openly in a speech to the House of Commons in 1935:

In the standard of life they have nothing to spare. The slightest fall from the present standard of life in India means slow starvation, and the actual squeezing out of life, not only of millions but of scores of millions of people, who have come into the world at your invitation and under the shield and protection of British power. [9]

Critically, the post-colonial Chinese Communist Governments were not ideological children of the former foreign occupiers. They had a Marxist ideological commitment to “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” and were consequently able to successfully attack endemic poverty. Notwithstanding democratic socialist ideals, successive Indian Governments inherited the class-derived flaws of their former masters, complicated by a Soviet rather than a Chinese model for economic advance. Poverty remains endemic and deadly in democratic India, although the current annual death rate (2003) is 0.85% as compared to a genocidal 3.5% under the British in 1947 and 0.4% (what it ideally should be for a demographically equivalent country). [10]

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” needs to be urgently applied internationally in view of the horrendous avoidable mortality in the world. I have recently published a detailed analysis of post-1950 global avoidable mortality entitled Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality since 1950. [11] The post-1950 global avoidable mortality totals about 1.3 billion and the post-1950 Non-European avoidable mortality totals 1.2 billion. These horrendous figures are consonant with independently determined estimates of about 0.9 billion post-1950 under-5 year old infant deaths and of most of these occurring in the non-European world. This carnage has happened on a Spaceship Earth with a selfish and violent First World at the helm on the flight deck. While much of the Third World gained independence by about 1970 these countries continued to be subject to First World hegemony exercised through neo-colonialism, corrupt client régimes, militarization, debt, unfair economic constraints, international wars and First World-enabled civil wars. [12]

Each year 16 million people die avoidably throughout the world i.e. 44,000 DAILY.

The horrendous circumstances of Occupied Iraq illustrate this First World-imposed evil due to Western greed for resources (for a dramatic in context account see the movie ‘A Crude Awakening’ which is about the dependence of the West on Oil and the consequences of this addiction). [13] The post-invasion excess deaths in Occupied Iraq total 1.0 million and the post-invasion under-5 infant deaths total 0.5 million; there are 4 million Iraqi refugees; and the post-1990 excess deaths and under-5 infant deaths total 2.7 million and 1.7 million, respectively. [14] This carnage is not merely a moral outrage it also indicates a gross criminal violation of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and in particular of Articles 38. 55 and 56:

Article 38

With the exception of special measures authorized by the present Convention, in particular by Articles 27 and 41 thereof, the situation of protected persons shall continue to be regulated, in principle, by the provisions concerning aliens in time of peace. In any case, the following rights shall be granted to them:

1. They shall be enabled to receive the individual or collective relief that may be sent to them.

2. They shall, if their state of health so requires, receive medical attention and hospital treatment to the same extent as the nationals of the State concerned.

3. They shall be allowed to practise their religion and to receive spiritual assistance from ministers of their faith.

4. If they reside in an area particularly exposed to the dangers of war, they shall be authorized to move from that area to the same extent as the nationals of the State concerned.

5. Children under fifteen years, pregnant women and mothers of children under seven years shall benefit by any preferential treatment to the same extent as the nationals of the State concerned.

Article 55

To the fullest extent of the means available to it the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.

The Occupying Power may not requisition foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies available in the occupied territory, except for use by the occupation forces and administration personnel, and then only if the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account. Subject to the provisions of other international Conventions, the Occupying Power shall make arrangements to ensure that fair value is paid for any requisitioned goods.

The Protecting Power shall, at any time, be at liberty to verify the state of the food and medical supplies in occupied territories, except where temporary restrictions are made necessary by imperative military requirements.

Article 56

To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics. Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.

If new hospitals are set up in occupied territory and if the competent organs of the occupied State are not operating there, the occupying authorities shall, if necessary, grant them the recognition provided for in Article 18. In similar circumstances, the occupying authorities shall also grant recognition to hospital personnel and transport vehicles under the provisions of Articles 20 and 21.

In adopting measures of health and hygiene and in their implementation, the Occupying Power shall take into consideration the moral and ethical susceptibilities of the population of the occupied territory. [15]

Just as “to each according to his needs” has become successfully applied WITHIN Western societies so it should be applied GLOBALLY. The excellent health outcomes of countries such as Cuba, Fiji, the Maldives, Paraguay, Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Syria with annual per capita incomes of about $1,000-$2,400 (2003 figures) instruct that very modest wealth is compatible with excellent low mortality outcomes. Implementation of Greenhouse Gas Credits will encourage energy efficiency and industrial responsibility and hopefully enable control of global warming before it is too late. [16] Similarly, economically highly efficient countries (e.g. Bangladesh with an annual per capita income of only $400 as compared to nearly $40,000 for the US) (2003 figures) should be rewarded by “economic efficiency credits” that, sensibly applied, will enable humane health, welfare, population control and mortality outcomes.

Another way of achieving “to each according to his needs” is through debt relief, aid and fair economic dealing with the Third World. Thus in 2004 the sum of the gross national products (GNPs) of all countries in the world amounted to $55 trillion ($55 thousand billion) which yields an average per capita income for the whole World (2004 population 6 billion) of about $9,200. Using UN data we can calculate for every country the amount needed to be “injected” to bring the annual per capita income (PCI) up to $1,000. The total of this notional sum for the World is $1,400 billion or 2.6% of globally summed GNPs.

These figures simply establish the magnitude of increased wealth required to lift all Third World countries up to the level of the small club of Third World high performers with annual per capita incomes of about roughly $1,000 (Sri Lanka, Paraguay and Cuba). Clearly sustainability arguments indicate that this increased wealth should IDEALLY come from increased indigenous productivity. Further, there have been extraordinarily BAD outcomes for many countries with annual per capita incomes greater than $1,000 (notably in some African countries), this simply demonstrating that for good outcomes the available resources have to be spent sensibly and other things are also required (peace, high adult literacy, adequate sustenance, preventive medicine and good primary health care as obtains, for example, in Cuba). Indeed there are 5 areas of human activity that EACH have a market value of about $1 trillion annually, specifically arms, alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and unhealthy processed food. These 5 thoroughly UNDESIRABLE areas of human activity are associated with huge annual avoidable mortalities, specifically of 0.6 million (through the continuing war in Iraq and Afghanistan alone), 5 million (tobacco smoking-related causes), 1.8 million (alcohol), 0.2 million (illicit drugs), 0.1 million (opiate drugs, overwhelmingly opium-derived heroin) and millions annually through cardiovascular, diabetic and other complications associated with consumption of inappropriate processed foods.

In summary, the Marxist “to each according to his needs” has been successfully applied in capitalist western democracies and can and should be urgently applied to ALL the people of Spaceship Earth.


1. Wikipedia:

2. Chris Graham and Amy McQuire ‘The Awful Truth’, National Indigenous Times, 14 June 2007;
G. M. Polya, ‘Body Count: The Awful Truth’, National Indigenous Times, 14 June, 2007, 18-20;
(Online version: http://www.nit.com.au/news/story.aspx?id=11552)
Polya, Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality since 1950 (Melbourne, 2007).
(Online summary: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ )

3. Polya, ‘Palestinian Genocide: Apartheid Israel Killing Arab Infants’, MWC News, 23 March, 2007;
(See: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/13415/42/)
Polya, ‘The Cost of War: $2.5 trillion – Accrual Cost of Bush War on Women and Children’, MWC News, 9 March, 2007.
(See: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/13099/26/)

4. Polya, Body Count; Polya, ‘Palestinian Genocide’; Polya, ‘The Cost of War’.

5. A. Roy, The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile (London: Harper Perennial, 2004).

6. P. Singer, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals (New York: New York Review Book, 1975).

7. Singer, A Darwinian Left? : Politics, Evolution and Cooperation (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999).

8. Polya, Body Count.

9. N. G. Jog, Churchill’s Blind-Spot: India (Bombay: New Book Company, 1944).

10. Polya, Body Count.

11. Polya, Body Count.

12. Polya, Body Count; Roy, The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile; W. Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (New York: Courage Press, 1995); Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000); J. Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (London: Ebury Press, 2005); Roy, The Cost of Living (New York: Modern Library, 1999); Roy, The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (London: Flamingo, 2004).

13. ‘A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash’.
(See: http://www.crudeawakening.org/)

14. Polya, Body Count; Polya, ‘The Cost of War’.

15. ‘Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War’.
(See: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/y4gcpcp.htm)

16. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ‘Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policy Makers’, 2007.
(See: http://www.ipcc.ch/SPM2feb07.pdf)

Dr Gideon Polya currently teaches science students at a major Australian university. He has published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds. He has also recently published Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality since 1950.