Withering Away of the State


I came across this book and started reading it for no particular reason and I have to say that this is one of the more exciting books on all things Marxist and legal theory. This review does a great job of presenting the issues:

In this cloistered atmosphere, Michael Head’s book, Evgeny Pashukanis, A Critical Reappraisal, shines the light of day on one of the most important legal theories to come out of “the boldest and most sweeping experiment of the 20th century”—the October 1917 Russian Revolution. Head is a law professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia and a regular contributor to the World Socialist Web Site.

Prior to the revolution, as now, the “rule of law” routinely put its seal of approval on economic exploitation, political repression and state murder. Upon seizing power, the Soviet government disposed of the previous courts, legal system and legal profession in its effort to radically refashion society and facilitate the ultimate “withering away” of the state.

Read the whole thing here.

2 thoughts on “Withering Away of the State

  1. From the review: “attention would shift from proving individual guilt to a more all-encompassing focus on the social and psychological symptoms. Examination of the social, cultural and economic environment associated with anti-social forms of behavior would replace the isolated focus on “the facts” of a single incident as the decisive factor in the process.”

    In the current Western legal system, crime-as-symptom turns into the defense’s argument that the perpetrator is not responsible, not a subjective agent of his own behavior, in the same way that normal people presumably are. From the prosecution’s side, the class action suit is a means of aggregating individual symptoms of illness or injury into evidence of a systemic crime having been perpetrated not against individuals but against populations. Did Pashukanis propose that the legal system regard widespread criminal behavior within some sector of the population as symptomatic of a systemic crime being perpetrated against that societal sector. I.e., a statistical bump in individual criminal behavior would be regarded as comparable to a statistical bump in cancers experienced among people living near a toxic waste dump. So criminals could be joined together as plaintiffs in a class action suit against criminalizing forces in the society?

    • I’m not sure, John. I get the impression that Pashukanis and others were mainly concerned with exposing the underlying ideological issues of the idea of law as such, that is, bourgeois law. I could be wrong here, but we tend to think of “law” as something natural and distinctly human, partially due to the long tradition of what can be labeled as “otherwise it’s unthinkable” hypotheticals of the social contract tradition. The book deals first and foremost with the accusation that Stalin and his legal system was a direct incarnation of all of these early Soviet discussions and therefore it’s a kind of “see what happens when you question the law?” accusation and the appropriate conclusion: we must take legality/lawfulness for granted the way we take “reason” or “rational agency” for granted, otherwise it will lead to some kind of Stalinism or anti-humanism (collectivism) without the idea of individual guilt and therefore individual responsibility.

      I just got Pashukanis’ book on Marxist legal theory in Russian, I’m eager to see what he says about the issues you raise myself (Head’s book is just a great wide outline of the period and the problems). But I’m hoping the issues of criminality are taken as seriously as the issues of criminals. It is not novel for criminals to sue their victims – where’s there a case when a theft sued the owner of the house where the theft was injured? – I’m wondering, with Head, why there are no more meta-legal, more or less comprehensive discussion of criminality as such (unless I’m misinformed horribly)?

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