The crisis of global capitalism that began in 2007 and that continues to resonate today has engendered a resurgence of interest in Marx and Marxism. New work is being produced regularly and in a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to history, sociology, economics, gender studies, and environmental studies. Interestingly, though, no comparable advance has been recorded in Marxist scholarship on law.
The relative dearth of contemporary Marxist legal scholarship is due in part to law’s intrinsic and mutually constitutive relationship with both state and market. Legal rules, norms, instruments, and institutions are crucial to the operation, expansion, and transformation of the capitalist mode of production. Lawyers and legal educators cannot recognize social relations mediated by legal structures as either reflective or facilitative of public and private power without thereby recognizing their own bourgeois sensibilities and commitments. This naturally renders class-based critique of law a matter of some discomfort for many of those who engage with law at close quarters.
Nevertheless, a number of other factors have also contributed to the paucity of specifically Marxist work on law. One particularly important factor is the preponderantly left-liberal character of critical legal studies and the various forms of socio-legal studies to which it has given rise. Inspired in the main by structuralist and post-structuralist discourse analysis, critical legal studies and the movements it has spawned, as they have developed over the past forty odd years, have generally eschewed Marxism, deploying standard canards to the effect that Marx is ‘mechanistic’, ‘teleological’, ‘reductionist’, and ‘eurocentric’. Naturally, it matters little that each of these charges is either erroneous or exaggerated. Their principal substantive effect has been to consolidate an overwhelmingly anti-Marxist understanding of what it means to think “critically” about law, further discrediting the Marxist tradition of subjecting class power to material and ideological critique for many a student of law. And that, of course, has been the point, marginalizing trenchant class analysis all the better to underscore the inescapability of liberalism as an ultimate horizon of meaning and possibility.
Our blog challenges this state of affairs. It aims to recuperate a specifically Marxist mode of legal critique by providing a forum for legal scholars who work within or draw inspiration from the Marxist tradition, broadly and generously understood. Rather than fetishising law’s (undeniable) historical contingency and conceptual elasticity, we train our lens upon legally authorized processes of dispossession and capital accumulation. Rather than celebrating the ‘deconstruction’ of law’s ‘binary regimes’ as an end in itself, we focus upon the legal mechanisms that structure and lend legitimacy to relations of domination and exploitation. In an age of vast economic inequality and even vaster environmental catastrophe, we are driven to use this space to further new inquiry into the power of the legal form. We invite you to join us.
Note: The image that appears at the top of each page on this blog is László Moholy-Nagy, Architektur (Excentrische Konstruktion), ca 1921. See here for further information.