Marx and Engels stated in the Communist Manifesto that all law is class law, and bourgeois law holds itself to be “natural law” only because the bourgeoisie is the ruling class and capitalism is therefore seen as the natural order of things. This has come about not because of some God-given order as under hierarcical and Catholic feudalism (you can see hangovers of this in the second verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful which is now only sung in the better and more established private schools: The rich man in his castle/the poor man at his gate/God made them high and lowly/And ordered their estate). Bourgeois society emered out of the triumph of reason and the enlightenment and therefore represents the democratisation of hierarchy. Anyone can become the president of the United States (as GWB has proved). And yet, and yet, of course Marx and Engels don’t leave it there (maybe they should have) and they said that the new ruling class which has emerged to impose its will upon the generality will do so now not through force, coercion, droit de signeur etc. but through the rule of law. These laws, however, will be drawn up by the rulers and will serve the rulers and is therefore no less class law than was the feudal sytem. The state is therefore not something neutral, a referee adjudicating objectively in disputes between free and equal individuals as the doctrine of the Separation of Powers would have us think, but a coat-holder for the bourgeoisie Of course, when the Communist Manifesto was drawn up in 1848 the bourgeoisie was well on its way to taking over power (at least economic power) in the whole of Europe and the condition of the workers and mass of the population in the great cities (Engels Condition of the Working Class in England shows this quite clearly) was one indeed of absolute misery, disenfranchisement, exploitation and exclusion from power. The need for a permanent revolution which would not just allow the bourgeoisie to reap the benefits of human labour was clear and it was also clear that the class which would carry put this task was the very one which industrialisation had created; namely the proletarat. Many years have passed since then and in many ways bourgeois law has been hoist by its own petard. Its theoretical guarantee of freedom of organisation, movement, equality before the law etc. facilitated the growth of representational powers so that eventually, by the 1930s (apart from in a few places such as parts Switzerland and Liechtenstein) the deveolped world had reached a stage where Trades Unions could represent their workers, women could vote and take part fully in society (even though there are still real structural problems with them taking a full part in economic life) and people in general had more control over justice and the allocation of resources. In this sense the period of the existence of the Soviet Union (1917-1990 – though the collapse actually already occurred in 1974 but the cadaver was kept alive by pumping more money into its veins) could be seen as the high-water mark of the fulfilment of the putative freedoms guaranteed by bourgeois legalism. This is because during this period, the existence of a social alternative (no matter how inadequate) which demonstrated that the workers could take power (no matter that it was exercised for them by a degenerate and self-serving bureaucracy) forced the democratic countries to replace the untrammelled primacy of the market and economics with th primacy of political stabilisation and the smoothing out of class antagonisms. This means that all the benefits of western democracy which we rightly take for granted are acually pre-illuminations (Vorscheine) of socialist democracy out of their time (Ungleichzeitigkeit – ah I knew you’d be expecting Bloch to come in here somewhere). Alexander Kojeve actually maintained that because of this we were actually already living in socialism without noticing it, and certainly the mantra of the early 1970s was one of convergence between Eastern and Western Europe into some sort of socialist system. BUT, this is now changing back. The primacy of economics and the market is now once more on the march. The workers have been atomised, defeated, scattered and filled full of the pleasures of life (at least in the western world). The great corporations are once more setting the tone and politics and the political arena has become a show place for empty posturing about infantile issues. Just now and again this becomes clear. The ruling that Glaxo Smith Klein will not be prosecuted even though it admits that it withheld evidence of the increased risk of suicide amongst teenagers prescribed Seroxat shows that the state is well on the way back to becoming simply the adminstrative arm of the bourgeoisie once more. That’s why we hate politics and why voter turn-out has never been lower. If you care about liberal democracy and parliamentarism then it is necessary to defend the primacy of politics over the hegemony of the market. Marx won’t go away because the issues which he raised are still salient. I can’t get him out of my head – no matter how much I may want to kill off that paternal voice – because my head is rooted in the these realities of class rule. As Rorty says, the prophecies in the Communit Manifesto are almost all wrong, but the socio-economic analysis and the hope for true justice which emanates from them is almost entirely correct. Defence of the achievements of western democratic socialism under the guise of bourgeois democracy has become a Transitional Demand, comrades! We just won’t know where it will take us until we get there.
Glaxo Smith Klein and the Law