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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Jurisprudence & Legal Theory - A Marxist Reflection

The work of Karl Marx has been a valuable asset to jurisprudence and more importantly; to the overall development of the law. It has been re-interpreted by the likes of Evgeny Pashukanis and the french jurist, Louis Althusser. Karl Marx observed in his writings in 'Das Capital' that our position in society is determined economically 'economic determinism'. The material conditions of life as affected by those social factors where a ruling class whom he called the 'bourgeoise' own the means of production. According to Marx, these property relations form the base which is supported by the superstructure such as law, education and religion which are subsequently used to provide for the exploitation of the working class, whom he called the 'proletariats'. 

Critics have pointed out that this is a very cynical and naive view of society and how dialectical materialism affects class struggles. So where does the law and the science of law (jurisprudence) come in? Prima facie the law provides the working class with rights but Marxism questions this as only providing a 'false consciousness', as Louis Althusser interprets Marx and differentiates between the ideological state apparatus & the repressive state apparatus. The ideological state apparatus includes institutions like law, education and religion which are used as coercive tools by the ruling class to further their own interests. Furthermore, the print and electronic media is used to impose the ideology of the ruling class on the exploited working class. For example, in the United States, the media was used to get the masses to support and justify the invasion of Iraq even though no weapons of mass destruction have ever been found there to this today. The US Government kept on increasing the threat levels of attacks frequently in order to provide people 'a false consciousness' by instilling fear in them. These tactics led to mind manipulation at such a scale and the common citizens in the western world consented to the invasion of Iraq which has led to further bloodshed that continues to exacerbate to this day. The perpetrators of 9/11 who should have been treated as criminals then became holy warriors for those who were uneducated and vulnerable to manipulation. This is interesting because the work of Karl Marx as re-interpreted by Althusser allows us to think outside the box and really challenge our perception of reality. 

The case of Haliburton corporation is curious because it's former Chief Executive, ex Vice President of the United States, Mr Dick Cheney awarded many contracts from logistics to oil on behalf of the US Military to Haliburton, making billions of dollars in profits from the war. Clearly something seems wrong here & Althusser then goes on to talk about the repressive state apparatus being used to curb the dialectics which are the clash of ideologies from within the state. Here the military, police and other law enforcement agencies are used to repress new ideologies by those who are objecting to the ideologies being imposed by the ruling elite. The Arab Springs in Libya, Egypt and Syria are cases in point that show similar trends. 

Certainly it can be argued from the perspective of corporate law that the doctrine of corporate social responsibility has only recently emerged as an area of study. To quote Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" would in this context mean that throughout the 1970's and onwards, it has been in the interest of multi-national western corporations to keep people in poverty across the globe so cheap labour can be exploited in developing countries like Pakistan, India, China, Thailand and Malaysia etc. For example, Levis-Strauss has all of it's factories off-shore. Here the re-interpretation of Marx by Pashukanis is also significant where he talks about the trade in commodities as not the only thing that affects the material conditions of life but also providing services for things that require highly-skilled workers in the contemporary context. 

In the book, Corporate Planet, Joshua Karliner makes an intriguing point that sometimes multi-national corporations want military dictators to stay in power. He cites Uganda as an example. This is because military policing leads to less workers demanding their rights & thus higher profit margins for the corporations which results in further exploitation of the masses. Since the rise of legal positivism from the times of the renaissance it is clear that a common thread runs through the theories of John Austin, HLA Hart and Hans Kelsen which relate law to power. This coercive element shows us that in light of Marxism the law can certainly be seen as a 'weapon of domination' by the ruling class. In fact sociological studies have shown that although the law equally applies to all in theory but in practice mechanisms have been introduced to further the interests of the rich and powerful. For example, when a poor person commits a crime he/she is provided legal aid by the state in developed legal systems. However, more often than not, the legal aid representative advises the defendant to enter a plea bargain with the state prosecution but when a rich person commits the same crime he/she is allowed to post bail and of course hire adequate legal representation. To conclude on a rather positive note, in the 14th century there was no legislation on the length of the working hours in a day but slowly as social awareness spread through the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Factories Act(s) started to regulate this area to prevent exploitation of the working class. 

           
The writer is a lawyer based in London, with a keen interest in Corporate, Finance and International law. Previously, he has completed a Masters in Corporate Law at University College London.  He is currently empowering the inquisitive legal minds of law students globally with world-class cutting-edge legal skills and can be reached at: usmanmalik@londonlawtutor.com