Marx and Engels had practically nothing to say about law, much less international law. They had strong principled positions on self-determination, for example, for Ireland and Poland as oppressed nations; were in favour of the North in the American Civil War; and against British colonialism in India and French colonialism in Algeria. Lenin developed Marx’s and Engels’s position on self-determination and formulated a right of peoples to self-determination, put into practice in the Baltics, Finland, Poland, but reversed by Stalin. But this was not explicitly or implicitly a critique of international law. Yevgeny Pashukanis, while he was a legal adviser negotiating in Berlin the Treaty of Rapallo, wrote the General Theory of Law and Marxism, introducing the “commodity form” theory of law. But Pashukanis’s own writings on international law and those of his rival and successor Korovin and indeed the Soviet approach to international law were thoroughly positivist, although repeatedly and paradoxically undercut by self-determination.
So what I mean by a Marxist critique in this context can be summed up in two propositions:
- a thoroughly materialist, historical and contextualised approach, in other words ‘realism’ though not in the American pragmatist sense. I take my inspiration, as did Marx from the radical materialism of Baruch Spinoza and his “revolutions in natural law” (Andre Campos Santos, 2012), rather than from Hobbes
- an immanent critique, that is a critique taking the subject matter on its own terms rather than starting from any presumed superior standpoint – especially when there is no Marxist theory of international law
Date: 19 June 2014
Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam
Room: A 009
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