Marx and International Law-A Perspective    


(This paper has been accepted, in a modified form, by the Russian Academy of Sciences for publication in a volume concerning the relevance of Marxism today. It is not the final version in Russian with citations and slightly modified content but I thought that this version may be of interest to those interested in the subject of Marxism and international law.)

By Christopher Black

Evgeny Pashukanis set out the necessity for an analysis of law from a Marxist perspective in his preface to the second Russian edition of his famous 1924 paper, The General Theory of Law and Marxism, where he stated:

“The Marxist critique of the general theory of law is still in its early stages. Definitive conclusions will not materialise overnight; they will have to be based on rigorous elaboration of every single branch of jurisprudence. However, there is still much to be done in this re­spect. It will no doubt suffice to point out that the Marxist critique has not even touched on such fields as that of interna­tional law as yet. The same goes for judicial procedure and, though to a lesser extent, for criminal law. In the field of the history of law, all we have is what the general Marxist theory of history has to offer on the subject. Only constitutional law and civil law in some measure represent welcome exceptions. Hence Marxism is just beginning to conquer new territory. It is natural that this should occur at first in the form of dis­cussion and of conflict between differing viewpoints.”

This paper will not enter into a discussion of Pashukanis’ theory that law will disappear in a socialist state as the state withers away versus the Soviet position that law will remain but will reflect the proletarian character of the state. That is a complex and interesting discussion but beyond the scope of this short paper. Instead, this paper will examine the importance of Marxist analysis on international law as an expression of the economic and social relations existing within and between nations and why a Marxist analysis of law is crucial to finding a way forward to the establishment of a just world order.

This writer is a legal practitioner in the field of international criminal law, not an academic, and so my perspective is one that I have come to through my experience and observations but I hope that my remarks can contribute to supporting the absolute relevance of Marxism to the analysis of law, in particular in this essay, international law, and its central role in the maintenance and development of world society.

Marx’s most famous statement on the role of law is that,

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. …The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or-this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms-with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.”

The key to understanding the legal superstructure, therefore, lies within the production relations themselves. Phenomena and changes in the legal superstructure arise from phenomena and changes in class relations at the level of the social relations of production. Law affects these class relations in two ways; firstly, law is an ideological form by which people think of and experience class relations and secondly, law is a means by which people maintain or alter those relations.

With respect to international relations, the legal superstructure of the world order reflects the same social and economic relations of production existing in the world nation states. Therefore conflict between nation states is, inter alia, an expression of both the class conflict within those states as well as an expression of the conflict between local capitalist classes and the rising transnational class of capital or socialist states that resist transnational capital.

Nations based on capitalism and its drive for profit are necessarily in conflict with themselves and nations that are founded on socialism in which the profit motive is replaced with the motive of achieving international cooperation to satisfy the need of the worlds peoples for economic, social and political well-being. The vast difference between the two motivations, created by the social relations within and between states, results, not only in conflict between classes and between nations but in opposing views of what a world order should be and how it can be achieved.

In the his First Address of the General Council of the International Working men’s Association on the Franco-Prussian War Marx wrote:

“If the emancipation of the working classes requires their fraternal concurrence, how are they to fulfil that great mission with a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices, and squandering in piratical wars the people’s blood and treasure? We defined the foreign policy aimed at by the International in these words: vindicate the simple laws of morals and justice, which ought to govern the relation of private individuals, as the laws paramount of the intercourse of nations.”

On May 2, 1945 soldiers of the Soviet Red Army, after intense fighting and sacrifice, seized the Reichstag building in Berlin. To celebrate their victory they rushed up the stairs to the roof of the building and there placed a large red flag. Not the Soviet flag, but the red flag, “the symbol of the Republic of Labour “ as Marx called it.”[1] It was replaced a few days later by the Soviet flag but the significance of the red flag must be noted for it celebrated the victory of socialism over fascism, the form of capitalism that attempted to crush the working class in Germany and the USSR. For those soldiers it was important to make that statement. This was not simply the victory of one nation over another, though it was that as well, it was the victory of the socialist movement over capital. The replacement of the red flag by the Soviet flag sent another signal, that the capture of Berlin was the final victory of the socialist state, the USSR, against the fascist capitalist state of Nazi Germany.

The red flag spoke for the movement. The soviet flag spoke for the socialist state, but however it is seen, the victory of the Soviet forces over Nazi Germany and the establishment of socialist governments in liberated countries heralded a new epoch in international relations and international law. The national capital of powerful countries such as the United States and the transnational capital that was using the power of the US to advance its interests faced an existential challenge from the working class of the Soviet Union and later the other socialist nations. This challenge was necessarily reflected in developments in international law.

International law, for capital, means the mechanisms used to solidify and codify the rule of capital and spread that rule across the world, in other words to support global imperialism. For the socialist peoples the legitimate role of international law is to resist capital and to protect and advance the interests of labour and the states it controls. This class tension both within states and between states is essential to understand in order to understand the real nature of international law.

International law is probably talked about more now than ever it was but in the mass media and most law journals and commentaries it is treated as a neutral set of rules and customs created by benign beings endowed with the wisdom of the ages who have devised mechanisms and procedures to guide and control interactions between states that are objective and impartial. The primary role of international law in past centuries was to deal with issues of war and peace and, secondarily, commerce. But it has now expanded into issues concerning use of the oceans, the atmosphere, climate, space exploration, food production, property rights, taxation and many other aspects of modern life. But international law is not neutral. It is one of the principal mechanisms for extending the rights of private property in the economies of the world and protecting the interests of transnational capital by enforcing universal standards in all sectors against nations that have very different economies and social structures and uneven development.

Two developments occurred after 1945 that expressed this tension and attempts to resolve it. One was the establishment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which although rightly criticised as victor’s justice, established the principle that aggression is the supreme war crime from which all others flow. For the first time, and under pressure from the Soviet Union, which suffered the worst from German aggression, it was accepted by the world states, at least in principle, that nations could not use force to impose their will, so that capital could not use the military machine of the states it controlled to use force to advance the interests of capital. Bourgeois legal theorists always see this in strictly juridical terms but there is always a class content to law, including international criminal law. The second development was the establishment of the United Nations, to be spoken of later in this paper.

Standard views of international law abstract it from the society from which it stems and ignore the division of states into classes with class antagonisms. Instead the state is said to be a neutral structure above the factions, interests and classes that make up a society which it supposedly regulates on behalf of vague general interests. The links between the internal classes and political structure of states and their international policies are covered over whereas Marxists take it for granted that relations between states depend on the differential development of productive forces and division of labour in the states concerned. Indeed we see with the recent actions of the United States imposing trade tariffs on many countries, including its allies, that the domestic economic and political situation inside the United States is expressing itself forcefully in its rejection of international relations and agreements that its faction of transnational capital now see as an impediment to their development.

Marx would have said, if he had addressed the issue, that international law in the capitalist system is based on the domination of the capitalist class. But where socialist states have come into being, the world order no long represents just that class but is forced to take account of the power of labour. There arises therefore, immediately on the establishment of socialist states, a tension between the two conflicting systems, the capitalist system set up to maximise profit of the capitalist class and the socialist system set up to maximise the living conditions and well-being of labour which necessarily negates the capitalist ethos.

So we see that capitalist states engage with other nations not to promote any general national interests but instead the interests of the dominant class and the groups that compose it, that is their interest in the use and control of the world’s resources, the world market and the international division of labour.

Though the transformation of the international order and law began with the October Revolution in 1917 and Lenin”s repudiation of many treaties of the Czarist governments, socialist principles achieved paramount importance in shaping international law at the end of the Second World War, the most notable even being the creation of the United Nations. The principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter of sovereignty, self-determination of peoples, and non-interference in sovereign nations affairs, are part of that legacy, though they can claim to be products of Woodrow Wilson’s liberal thinking at the end of the First World War. But Wilson was intent on expanding the power of American capital in the world, not national or working class liberation. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was intent on consolidating the gains of the revolution for the benefit of its people, the liberation of other peoples from colonial rule, supporting socialist movements around the world, and resisting the attempts by international capital to increase its power at the expense of the global working class and socialist states. It was not long after the establishment of the United Nations in 1946 that this support was demonstrated in the Korean War in which Soviet air forces were crucial in defending the socialists of Korea against NATO aggression at the same time that the imperialist powers of the USA, France and Britain abused their position on the Security Council to try to give a UN veneer to their aggression.

This early abuse of the UN by the imperialist powers showed how they use it in the future; as a device to be manipulated wherever possible or ignored when not, as we have seen from countless wars since 1950, from Africa to Asia and the Middle East. The hoped for end of colonialism in 1945 and the subsequent appearance of socialist and bourgeois liberation movements in nations that had been colonised by the capitalist powers in the five centuries before that reached its peak with the defeat of the United States by the people of Vietnam in 1975, but soon after that defeat a reaction set with an accelerated drive by the American imperial power and its allies to destroy these movements.

Working class movements were attacked both in the so-called Third World and in the advanced capitalist countries. Repressive regimes were installed, progressive leaders assassinated, nations attacked on all sorts of pretexts. The massacre of 500,000 communists in Indonesia in 1965 with American assistance is an example and one of the great crimes of the twentieth century that reduced Indonesia to a decayed and corrupt state. The counter-revolution in the bulwark of the socialist nations, the USSR, was a major blow to working class movements around the world and led quickly to changes in national laws in the west that had the effect of taking away rights of workers and making living conditions generally more miserable in order to make labour more “flexible,” that is more easily and intensely exploited in order to raise profits. An important component of this was the trend towards globalisation of production by restructuring international laws and mechanisms under the guise of free trade to make it easier to exploit cheaper labour markets. In order to assist this globalisation international bodies were created such as the IMF, the GATT structure, then the World Bank, the WTO, International Chamber of Commerce and related institutions that resolutely began to constrict national sovereignty and the ability of national governments to effect economic and social policies that benefit their people in order expand the ability of transnational finance and corporations to exploit their people.

During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s the conflict between the capitalist and socialist camps was modified by the principle of “peaceful co-existence”, the soothing idea that both systems could coexist peacefully in the world order with conflict taking peaceful forms. But this was always an illusion as the capitalist states never gave up their desire to destroy all the socialist states and attacked them wherever it could from Korea, to Vietnam, from Cuba, to the USSR, from China to Chile, from Libya to Angola. The list is long. In many of these situations the socialist nations of USSR and China assisted those nations to resist the imperialist aggressions conducted against them but the restoration of capital in the former USSR republics has dealt a serious blow socialist movements everywhere.

The post-1945 liberation of many countries from colonial rule complicated the world order with the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1965 at the Bandung Conference, reflecting the half-way nature of the social revolutions or liberation struggles in those countries. But the Non Aligned Movement was not successful in resisting the relentless push by the capitalists to undermine socialist states and to destroy the gains of the liberation struggles, so that now most of the formerly non-aligned states are firmly back in the capitalist camp either through internal corruption or external interference and attack. Yugoslavia, one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement is a prime example of this as is Rwanda in Africa; the first victims of western capital’s hubris after the counterweight of the USSR vanished from the world scene.

During all these conflicts the USA and its allies tried to justify their aggression using slogans of “democracy” and “human rights” when in fact their aggression was always directed at crushing democracy and peoples’ rights. Treaties such as the UN Charter were ignored when it suited them. This they attempted to justify by inventing the bogus theory of a “responsibility to protect” otherwise known as “humanitarian intervention,” as though these nations had greater moral weight than other nations to go along with their claimed exceptional status of being exempt from any responsibility or criticism for their own aggression. But they went further than this and dared declare those national leaders that resisted their aggression to be criminals as happened to President Milosevic who was illegally detained and illegally tried by an ad hoc NATO tribunal that operated under cover of the UN. In the case of Saddam Hussein, instead of being treated with respect, was made to suffer the humiliation of a show trial organised by the Americans and then hanged, in fact murdered while President Milosevic suffered the sane fate in his cell. Muammar Ghaddafi was murdered by NATO forces on the street, as if he were nothing.

To add insult to injury the United Nations under US control purported to establish quasi-legal criminal tribunals, the ICTY and ICTR, to give a veneer of legality to the persecution of national leaders and members of their nations society, army and government. The UN has no authority under the Charter to create criminal tribunals, and indeed they were created under Chapter VII of the UN Charter dealing with international security, so that they are clearly political courts from the beginning.   Their existence and that of the International Criminal Court has been used by transnational capital to eliminate those who resist them, to punish then as examples to others and to feed the public propaganda about the wars that led to the trials. It continues today as President Gbagbo of Ivory Coast rots in an ICC cell, thrown there in 2011 by the French and Americans who wanted him out of the way, even though there is no evidence against him.

Socialists view the UN not at as a prototype world government but as an organisation created by treaty which must be strictly limited in its actions by the treaty that founded it. The UN is not neutral in the struggle between socialist and capitalist states. It is a mechanism and the struggle for control of that mechanism is constant and feeds back on the international system just as international law also feeds back and affects internal laws of states. For while the capitalist states try to manipulate international law to their benefit on the one hand, the struggles of the colonial peoples have created a respect for international law as a means of advancing their democratic interests on the other. These struggles have forced on the imperial powers rules of behaviour, laws, that they are forced to pay some respect to even if only to give themselves some credibility. But it must not be forgotten that the formal equality that international law, such as the UN Charter, gives to each state is a mask for the material inequality while western democratic ideas and principles are really a mask for neo-colonialism.

There is a constant push by capital to change international laws to assist the process of globalisation, that is, the process of capital accumulation on the global level. We see this with international agreements forcing the harmonising in all nation states of their own laws and regulations affecting production, distribution, quality controls, technical standards, currencies and currency flows, measures, and political and religious rights, in order to eliminate local barriers to transnational capital and even, as we have seen with various free trade structures, removing the ability of nation-states to control these components of society and placing them under extra-state bodies. The European Union is a prime example of this.

Another aspect of this trend is the constant demand by capital to privatise the public sector from the third world to the first. International monetary structures such as the World Bank and the IMF are notorious for imposing conditions for loans and assistance on eliminating the public sector and handing it over to private interests usually for a fraction of the real value who then uses these public assets to increase prices and milk the citizens. All the structural adjustment programmes of the IMF impose this requirement, particularly with respect to publicly funded entities that were built to supply essential services such as electric power, water, and communications of all types.

In conjunction, transnational dispute mechanisms have been set up such as the WTO and International Chamber of Commerce that promote private arbitration of disputes by a capitalist trained elite who impose colonialist and imperialist decisions on smaller nations eliminating the role of national courts in disputes between transnational corporations and the national state, thereby at one and the same time erasing national sovereignty and the democratically expressed wishes of the citizens of that state.

Capital has become increasingly mobile while labour has more or less been fixed in place. The waves of legal immigration to the USA, Canada and Australia after 1945 for example have slowed considerably and barriers raised to entry at the same time as the accepted rules of political asylum under the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees have been increasingly restricted. The policy of support of refugees fleeing suffering is being taken apart and severe restrictions placed on refugees, so that there now exist concentration camps of refugees who have fled wars conducted by the nations they flee to as we see has happened with the destruction of Libya and the NATO and allied war against Syria. European nations are in a state of near panic due to the influx of refugees from the wars and destruction they caused. This is accompanied by xenophobia and the rise of fascist parties in Europe at present that generate and feed on this misery. It appears that the refugee architecture of post World War II was a partial reaction to the Cold War, that is was used as a device to undermine the Soviet Union. The majority of refugees given asylum in the USA in the post war period were from communist countries but since the end of the Cold War the plight of refugees has lost its ideological value though as in the case of Syria, refugees can be used for propaganda purposes and accepted, while those fleeing conditions in for instance, Libya or Mexico are allowed to die en route or are jailed on arrival. Restrictions on travel have increased and deportation is common even though refugees have a reasonable fear of persecution and the requirement that they claim asylum in the first country they come to which may be worse than the place they left is a violation of international law.

In other words, international law and human rights law are now used to advance globalisation at the expense of equity and favours nation states that welcome foreign investment and can provide stable social and political conditions. Socialist democracy is condemned and replaced either by direct pressure or the indirect influence of people trained and educated in the capitalist academic and government institutions with the capitalist version of democracy. Most nations now are forms of polyarchy, the system whereby a small group rules while the rest of the citizens are allowed to select their apparent leaders from those chosen for them by the ruling elite. It is a system of selections rather than elections. This is the system now dominating the advance capitalist nations as well as less developed nations. The United States is a primary example of this system in which, in reality there is only one party, the business party that is split into two factions. There is the appearance of democracy but it has no democratic content whatsoever. For global capital requires there be a rule of law to protect their interests but without any real participation by the people in determining what those laws should be, and one rarely hears in the mass media or in public discourse at government levels these days anyone talking about the economic and social rights of the working class even though these rights are as important if not more important than the political and civil rights granted to citizens to give a cover of “democracy” which are negated by expanding use of security and surveillance laws in the phony war against “terrorism.”

We see this with the reliance on bogus claims of the right to intervene in another nation militarily to protect human rights. The imperialist states use this slogan constantly to justify their aggression against nations from Cuba to Russia to China but deny any other nations from applying that claimed right against them. In this regard, even states that are not imperialist but which are subject to the pressure of the imperialist powers have negated the guarantee of sovereignty of states and the principle of non-interference set out in the UN Charter. For example the members of the Security Council have made false claims against the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, stating falsely that it is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is not. But without any ability to challenge the Security Council’s jurisdiction to act or the validity of the legal claims made against it the DPRK is placed under sanctions, that is economic warfare by these nations and then further sanctioned for not complying with the invalid sanctions imposed in the first place. Since all the members of the Security Council themselves are in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and are developing their own nuclear arsenals and since they do not condemn other nations that have nuclear weapons, such as India, Pakistan, Israel, it must be considered that North Korea has been targeted by this false authority because it is still a socialist state in every respect and stands in the way of the world domination of global capital. In any case it is a grave abuse of its authority and another tragic negation of its basic principles set out in the UN Charter.

We have seen the UN used in violation of the central precepts of the UN Charter to establish quasi-criminal tribunals whose sole function is to condemn the governments of nations that resist this domination. Yugoslavia and Rwanda in particular were both socialist states destroyed by western attacks soon after the fall of the USSR. Both are strategically placed, one in the Balkans, the other the doorway to the resources of the Congo. The western backed wars in those countries began around the same time, in the early 90s, Rwanda falling to the US backed dictatorship of Paul Kagame in 1994, and Yugoslavia, under direct NATO attack in 1999, in which China was also attacked for its assistance to Yugoslavia with several cruise missiles fired at the Chinese Embassy in Boegrade and intended to kill the Chinese ambassador who luckily survived.

In both instances of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the United Nations makes the astonishing claim that it has the right to hold prisoners, who can rightly be described as political prisoners of the UN. Indeed 37 of the Rwandan prisoners stated in a letter to the Secretary General in 2007 that they viewed themselves as political prisoners of the United Nations. This writer’s experience at the ad hoc war crimes tribunals causes me to agree with them and in the judgement acquitting my client, General Ndindiliyimana, the Chief of Staff of the national police of Rwanda on all charges of genocide, the three international judges, one a former head of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, a second, a major-general in the South Korean Army, and the third a former judge of the Jordanian State Security Court, held that the charges against my client were politically motivated.

President Milosevic established in his trial that the charges against him were also politically motivated and that the UN tribunal was in reality a NATO military tribunal. In this regard, the United Nations has transformed itself from a group of nations brought together by treaty with a common desire for peace and security, into a quasi government of the world that claims the right to charge, try and convict not only other national leaders that resist globalisation and the domination of transnational capital on false charges in show trials that only serve as propaganda for the primarily NATO wars, but also individual citizens. This would not have been possible during the epoch of the USSR that would have opposed any such use of the UN. It has only become possible with the seizure of power of capital in Russia and its expanding influence in China. But, of course, nations such as the DPRK are convicted and punished without any right to publicly defend themselves; without any right to challenge the allegations made against them and the economic warfare being conducted against it, to reply to them, “you are hypocrites of the first order,” though they have said so in letters to the Security Council. Nor has Russia the right to challenge the imposition of economic warfare, termed “sanctions” against it by that faction of global capital that uses the military power of the United States to achieve its objectives of forcing a nascent capitalist state to surrender its sovereignty to them, all in violation of the UN Charter.

So while the UN still claims to care for the global poor it has really acted to promote the interests of private capital against the poor and even asks global capital to support its actions. We see this in concrete terms at the ICTY and ICTR which both received funds not just from the UN 5th committee, the budget committee, but also from private corporations based in the countries that had been at war, directly or indirectly, with the governments of those charged with crimes. Privately funded criminal courts in national legal systems are unthinkable, but this is how low the international legal system has sunk.

It is clear in my experience that these quasi-criminal tribunals have ideological roles. They not only deligitimise a former government of a country and its political parties they also covers up the real role of the western powers in the wars that they created, while portraying themselves as arbiters of justice and morality.

This lack of fairness, this negation of international justice, is accompanied by a complete lack of democracy in the international institutions, from the UN where the majority of world nations represented by the General Assembly can only issue non-binding resolutions on issues while the major powers claim the right to take hostile actions against them when it suits them. This applies as well to the IMF, World Bank, the WTO and other such international institutions in which the poorer nations have little say as the richer nations dictate terms. The result is a continuing struggle between poorer nations against the control of the richer nations and their capital for a voice in decision making or in trying to avoid or escape these institutions altogether.

Given the subordination of international law to the interests of transnational capital it is not surprising that this is reflected in their propaganda. American, British and French and aggression is always justified in humanitarian terms; that their actions are taking on behalf of the “international community,” to rectify a “humanitarian” disaster and to restore the “rule of law” to a dysfunctional nation or an alleged rogue state. In each case, of course, these state agents of transnational capital pursue their political and economic interests. The USA in particular, in those situation in which it could not get the approval of the UN for its aggression invented a phantom international body and claimed it derived its authority from it-the so-called “international community,” which, in essence is itself, its propaganda machine, and its NATO and other allies. Now it is enough in the mass media for a government to claim it has the support of the “international community” to justify any act of aggression and for the people to clap in appreciation.

This creation of a fictional new international body to which resort could be made when the UN could not be used reached its climax perhaps in September, 2001 with the tragedy of the total destruction of three skyscrapers in New York City by unknown hands. The American leadership immediately claimed “terrorists’ to be responsible, men from Saudi Arabia, but a few weeks later this incident was used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan. The American President Bush went to Congress and in a televised speech threatened the world that “you are either with us or against us.” It was in fact a declaration of war against the world and that war has been going on ever since.

Shortly after that and a few months before the USA attacked Iraq on another pretext a new foreign policy initiative was made public in the National Security Strategy document issued on September 20, 2002. It has come to be known as the Bush Doctrine, and its main points are that the USA claims the right to preemptive use of military power, including nuclear weapons, that is not bound by international treaties or agreements if these are deemed by the government to interfere with our national self-interest, that it will aggresively prevent the emergence of any strategic rival on the world scene, as we see with Russia and China today, and, lastly, that the US. will use its military power to advance the interests of U.S. capital around the world.

The Bush Doctrine, which is still American doctrine, obviously dismisses even the token deference to international law and cooperation that characterized American post Second World War foreign policy.

In this regard, the International Criminal Court is another component of that policy. Infiltrated by NATO friendly staffers transferred to it from the ICTY and ICTR it has been a major subject of international discussion and negotiation for years but it has a terrible record and is condemned by many as biased, racist, and totally uninterested in any war crimes committed by the NATO powers. Since the USA, China and Russia among others are not members and not under its jurisdiction and since many members of the African Union see it as another colonial tool and are calling for African nations to abandon it, any hope there was that war could be prevented by legal mechanisms has proved vain.

The great powers make international agreements and create institutions that temporarily establish how their competition for world plunder will be regulated, but these agreements are continually upset by competition for the spoils and so at each new historical phase, a new balance of world forces is established by fresh military conflict, followed by a fresh set of agreements, followed by new conflicts ad infinitum as the dialectic requires a logic that only a socialist world order can inhibit.

Advocates of international law fail to note that these features of international relations are a reflection of the contradictions existing in a world economy of competing national states. The economy is global in character but the appropriation of profit remains in the hands of transnational capital that is itself split into national factions.

 In conclusion, I will end this with something I wrote as a short essay for the Dialogue of Civilizations, Rhodes Forum in 2014,

“One of the most important questions that arises from the discussion of how to establish a just world in which every nation has equal rights and status, in which national sovereignty is respected and the peaceful resolution of international issues is a matter of course is what type of legal mechanisms and structure needs to be established in order to achieve and maintain this equilibrium.

It is not a simple matter since laws and legal structures reflect the socio-economic structure of a society. This necessarily creates a conflict between different socio-economic and legal systems that is difficult to resolve. The legal systems of socialist societies with their emphasis on socio-economic protection and support of the workers, are completely different from those of the capitalist societies, in which the central role of law is to protect private property and ease the flow of capital, in opposition to the interests of the workers. This creates conflict between nations with different socio-economic systems and creates class conflict within every society, a subject that seems to be too often ignored these days among economic elites but which cannot be ignored without peril.

Not only does this conflict operate within nations. We see it with the continuing push by multinational corporations, using political parties and governments in their control, to dismantle the rights of working people established through long and difficult struggles over the past century and a half, and the erasure of the concept of national sovereignty and democracy through “free trade” agreements both bi-lateral, regional, and universal in scope. The increasing power of corporations over governments and citizens of every nation creates the basis of more conflict instead of eliminating the need for conflict since the mass of the people are cut out of any say in how they live while special privileges are given to those who hold capital, that is the shareholders of those corporations;

for what is a corporation but a veil protecting the interests of the individual shareholders. So, in essence, creating special rights and privileges for corporations is to give special privileges to one class of citizens. Their right to make profit is raised above the right of the rest of the people, that is, those who have to work for those corporations in way or another, to profit from their labour.

That is just one aspect of the issue of what legal structures and mechanisms are needed to sustain human development. The second is the legal structure that is necessary to establish and regulate international cooperation of peoples and nations. From time immemorial international relations were governed by individual treaties, personal relationships between leaders, national ambition, custom, trade and war. From time to time attempts were made to establish a world order and this was accomplished under certain dominant empires.

The period of the Roman Empire from the rise of Augustus is an example of a time in which many nationalities and regions were part of one matrix of law, custom and common vision that was created by the dominance of Roman rule. One can look to similar periods in China, the Middle East, South America and Africa. But in all these cases, the break down of the dominant empire, or its decline resulted in a breakdown of law and legal structure and their transformation into new forms of socio-economic relationships and associated legal structures.

The world is now in such a state of chaos. The decline of the dominant western empire, by which I mean its various expressions from the European and British empires which arose with industrialisation, and lately, the American empire, is creating terrible stresses on the world order. The American empire rose on the ruins of the British, French, German, and other European colonial empires that were destroyed by the First and Second World Wars. However, the rise of the American empire to its height, at the end of the Second World War, and its domination thereafter, was challenged by the socialist countries such as the Soviet Union and China, and their socialist ideology that created a balance of forces that resulted in a flowering of international law and international legal structures, such as the United Nations and all its ancillary bodies.

The balance was never stable as western financial, energy and capital interests competed with the socialist countries, and with themselves. Worse, the western powers used every trick in the book to undermine this balance and to subvert the international institutions and mechanisms for their own interests. The fall of the socialist government in the Soviet Union accelerated this corruption and resulted in an imbalance in the world order such that we are now at the point where international law and its structures are little more than empty shells, devoid of any real utility, except as desiderata for the hopeful or tools of propaganda used to justify war.

Attempts to establish a world order in which a dialogue of civilizations is the norm instead of conflict between civilizations are foundering on a crude return to a ”might makes right” attitude against which any attempt to insist on adherence to international law and norms, even common morality, is viewed as a weakness to be exploited.

The question therefore arises as to how nations and peoples can establish the necessary legal mechanisms to survive and flourish when there exist those who oppose any such mechanisms being established.

My simple answer, too obvious to need stating, perhaps, is that the only way that this can be accomplished is through worldwide disarmament. With worldwide disarmament force can never be an issue in international relations.

But we see no willingness on the part of the major powers or their dominant or even their intellectual classes to achieve this. Once can understand this reluctance, while deploring it, when it is understood by everyone who is awake and has eyes and ears and a brain, that the dominant military power, the United States of America, is constantly threatening or attacking every other nation that does not obey its will.

Therefore the issue then becomes what to do about this dominant power. That of course brings to the foreground the question as to the causes of this power and dominance and the desire for more of it and the rise of a political class in that country that expresses this-the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us of in 1959 and how to transform the influence and power of this complex, this “military mentality” as Einstein called it. That is a matter I leave for others to take up.

But it seems to me, as Albert Einstein, and many others have said many times, that without worldwide disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, there can be no real international relations, just a dog-eat dog world of savagery and war. With the nuclear disarmament nations would have to negotiate from a different perspective, not of one of power and subservience but of equality and respect. There will be no peace unless there is a will to peace and there can be no will to peace unless peace is the only way things can be done.

And I will add that there can be no peace unless a Marxist analysis is applied to the understanding of the development and function of international law in all its forms so that the true material basis of international law is exposed for all to clearly see.

[1] Marx, On The Civil War in France, 1871