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Igor Shoikhedbrod “Revisiting Marx’s Critique of Liberalism: Rethinking Justice, Legality and Rights”, reviewed by Bill Bowring

Igor Shoikedbrod has given us a strongly argued and rigorous engagement with Marxist theory, which is – in the opinion of this reviewer – a great pleasure to read, and from which there is much to learn. However, the title is perhaps misleading. Marx never provided a critique of liberalism as such, as a political ideology. I will turn finally to what Marx thought of Liberals, or Whigs as they were then called.

In my view the title to Chapter 5, “Contemporary Responses to Marx’s Critique of Liberal Justice” gives a much better idea of what the book is about. This chapter contains incisive and powerful critiques of some leading contemporary theorists of liberal justice: John Rawls (141-150), Jürgen Habermas (150-159), Axel Honneth (159-169), Nancy Fraser (169-173). As Igor points out, Marx’s journey from philosophy to law “formed the basis for his critique of formal liberal justice” (173). And these four scholars “have tried either to respond directly to Marx’s critique or to modify his critique in the light of the challenges presented by global financial capitalism.” (173)

Igor, however, goes further than explicating Marx’s “critique of formal liberal justice”. He has a much bolder claim, which provides the backbone to his book: that a “major premise” of the development of Marx’s materialist theory of history was his “new materialist conception of right” (Igor’s emphasis, 34). On the following page Igor explains that this is “historically situated and is based on the view that different standards of right apply in different modes of production”. Igor has chosen to translate the German Recht as “right”, meaning a system of law and justice (2); “rights” would be Rechte. He is quite right not to translate Recht as “law” or “the law”. “Law” and “the Law” are the subject of considerable mystification, even partially concealed veneration, by many “critical legal” and, in particular, “post-modern” scholars. Law is given a status and significance which, for Marx and Engels, it simply did not deserve.

It should be noted that Marx wrote a “critique of political economy”, and on no account a “theory of economics”; and most certainly did not attempt a theory of law. Indeed, in 1843-4 he wrote his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which acknowledges the power of the young Hegel’s critique of capitalist relations (Lukács), while showing how Hegel could not arrive at a materialist diagnosis or recognition of the class struggle.

Igor demonstrates a splendid knowledge of the GrundrisseCapital, and many other texts by Marx and Engels, and their critics. But there is one important text which does not appear in his book, surprisingly. In 1887, a few years after Marx’s death, Engels and Karl Kautsky published their article Juristen-Socialismus, translated into English and published as “Juridical Socialism” (Engels and Kautsky 1977, see also Beirne 1977). Engels explained – and Marx would not have disagreed – how the main battle cry of the bourgeoisie became “equality before the law”, because their struggle had to be based around legalistic demands. “This solidified a world view based on legal rights … at first the proletariat had embraced the world view of legal rights, and sought weapons in it for use against the bourgeoisie.” Engels and Kautsky insisted that “Marx … presents no legalistic demands at all in his theoretical work … Legal rights, which always reflect the economic conditions of a specific society, are treated only in a very secondary manner in Marx’s theoretical studies, as opposed to the primary historical topic of situating particular circumstances, means of acquisition, and social classes in specific periods.” But they also insisted that socialists would not fail to present certain legalistic demands: “Every struggling class must therefore formulate its demands as legalistic demands within a program … however, no existing socialist party has thought of making a new legal philosophy of its program, and this will not happen in the future.” For example, the workers’ struggle for the ten hour day, which occupies a significant part of Capital.

This position was paraphrased by Peter Schöttler in 1993 as follows: “… there is indeed no proletarian or socialist legal ideology (just as there can be no socialist philosophy of law), but there are proletarian, or socialist, legal demands, and these are necessary, nay indispensable, if the proletariat wishes to articulate its interests politically in opposition to the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. The political class struggle includes making legal demands.” In fact, Engels and Kautsky – and Marx – provided the strongest support for Igor’s position.

There are at least 13 references in Igor’s book to “Marx’s new materialist conception of right” (33, 35, 38, 43, 47 x 2, 85, 88, 137, 138, 208, 213, 214) – more than appear in the Index, which is rather incomplete. In my view this is what the book is really about – that is, the critique of right, or in other words, formal bourgeois or liberal justice. And this is based on Marx’s new materialist conception (not theory) of right.

Chapter 4 is entitled “The Normative Argument for Communist Legality”. Again, the title is perhaps misleading, since this chapter contains to my mind the best critique – indeed demolition – of the “commodity exchange theory of law”, better known as the Commodity Form Theory or CFT, of Evgeny Pashukanis.

Contemporary “Pashukanists” include China Miéville, Robert Knox, and Grietje Baars (see my 2020 review in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books of her monumental The Corporation, Law, and Capitalism, a thoroughly Pashukanist work).

Pashukanis worked out the most rigorous and interesting attempt at a Marxist theory of law, his General Theory of Law and Marxism, in 1920-21 in Berlin while employed as the legal adviser to the Soviet Russian delegation negotiating the Rapallo Treaty with Germany. He wrote it in 1923. The General Theory was published in Russia in 1924. Of course, 1921 was the year in which Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy, described by him as an “economic system that would include ‘a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control,’ while socialized state enterprises would operate on ‘a profit basis’.” After Lenin’s death, Stalin changed course dramatically in his “great break” of 1928.

As Igor notes, “Although Pashukanis grants that recourse to law will still be necessary during the transition from capitalism to communism, he leaves no doubt about the withering away of law in developed communist society.” (103) That conclusion follows inevitably from Pashukanis’s commodity form theory of law – law, for him, is achieved under developed capitalism. Law will be replaced by administration. As Igor shows (107), Pashukanis’s most significant departure from Marx was his derivation of legal relations from commodity exchange relations.

Igor demonstrates (106) that the shortcomings of Pashukanis’s theory can be summed up on four levels. First, Pashukanis conflates three distinct concepts – positive law, legal validity and juridical personhood, under the unitary umbrella of the legal form. Second, he derives all legal phenomena from generalised commodity exchange relations, which forces him to confine his analysis to private law, and property law in particular. Third, he cannot make sense of public law, so that for him democratic planning takes the form of a purely technical process. And fourth, he contradicts Marx’s central claim that “legal relations stem from historically specific productive relations”.

The New Economic Policy demanded courts and a Civil Code – in essence the German Civil Code enacted in Russia in the mid 19th century. After Stalin’s turn to full state control, centralised planning, and forcibly collectivised agriculture, Pashukanis was forced to retract his theory, and to acknowledge, with Pyotr Stuchka, that there was indeed a new “socialist law” in the USSR. Engels had, as noted above, stated categorically that there could be no such thing. Pashukanis, having played a leading role in drafting the “Stalin Constitution” of 1936 with its chapter on human rights, was denounced as an enemy of the people, sentenced to death, and shot in September 1937. He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1956, after Stalin’s death.

Throughout his book Igor insists that “rather than envisioning the transcending of rights under post-capitalist conditions or material abundance and solidarity, Marx’s dialectical approach pointed to the transformation of civil and political rights on the basis of a communist mode of production that would aim at meeting the multiplicity of human needs. This position goes against conventional liberal and Marxist interpretations, according to which Marx was hostile to individual rights and predicted their obsolescence in the communist society of the future.” (208)

Marx’s new materialist conception of right leads to the conclusion that communist production would require legal relations of its own. Scott Newton (2016) that the USSR suffered from an over-abundance of law and legal regulation which could hardly be described as socialist. I entirely agree, and Igor provides ample textual support for this argument.

However, there is one point at which I do not agree. Igor mobilises Engels’ 1845 Speeches at Elberfeld in support of the proposition that although Engels was convinced that communist society would eliminate the root causes of crime and property disputes, he acknowledged that individual conflicts could still arise and would demand resolution by arbitrators (122). That is placing too much weight on Engels’s passing remark, I think. Igor is quite right to add that “Marx did not detail the future `laws’ of communist society; this task was left for the associated producers themselves.” (124)

Lastly, I turn to Marx’s scorn for the British Liberals (or Whigs). In his 1852 “The Elections in England. –Tories and Whigs” Marx wrote in his usual pithy and satirical manner: “It is evident what a distastefully heterogeneous mixture the character of the British Whigs must turn out to be: Feudalists, who are at the same time Malthusians, money-mongers with feudal prejudices, aristocrats without point of honor, Bourgeois without industrial activity, finally — men with progressive phrases, progressists with fanatical Conservatism, traffickers in homeopathical fractions of reforms, fosterers of family — nepotism, Grand Masters of corruption, hypocrites of religion, Tartuffes of politics.” One might think that this is not a bad description of the Liberal Democrats of today, especially in their coalition with the Tories under David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

9 March 2021


  • Beirne, P. 1977 Introduction to “Juridical Socialism” Politics & Society 7(2), pp. 199–201
  • Engels, F. and Kautsky, K. 1977 Juridical Socialism Politics & Society 7(2), pp. 203–220
  • Newton, S. 2016 Law and the Making of the Soviet World: the Red Demiurge Abingdon and New York: Routledge


Day of the Endangered Lawyer, Azerbaijan, 24 January 2021

Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister

On 24 January the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) is proud to be taking part in the 11th annual Day of the Endangered Lawyer (DOTEL). I am an Executive Committee member of BHRC, and the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH, in 21 countries), of which I am President, has been a co-organiser of the event from the start. This year we are focusing on Azerbaijan, and the Petition which will be delivered to the embassies of Azerbaijan all over Europe, has been drafted by ELDH General Secretary Thomas Schmidt, with lawyers in Azerbaijan, and the Coalition for the Endangered Lawyers with 36 lawyers organisations and bar associations. In previous years we focused on China, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Iran, Pakistan, The Philippines, Spain/Basque Country, Turkey and Pakistan.

On 21 January I am participating on behalf of BHRC in the Webinar organised by the Law Society, with ELDH and others.

Why 24 January? This is the date in 1977, two years after Franco’s death, of the Atocha Massacre. Three men, neofascist extremists, entered a legal support office for workers at 55 Atocha Street in central Madrid and opened fire on everyone there. Those murdered were three labour lawyers, a law student and an administrative assistant. Four others were severely wounded. This massacre was a turning point in the consolidation of Spain’s return from Franco’s fascism to democracy, and there are now 25 streets and squares in Madrid dedicated to the victims of the massacre.

On 24 January the organisers of DOTEL ask their international colleagues to 1) raise awareness about the number of lawyers who are harassed, silenced, pressurised, threatened, persecuted and in some countries tortured and murdered for their work as lawyers; and 2) initiate or further develop a national discussion about ways to protect lawyers.

Why Azerbaijan this year? Despite the fact that since independence in 1991 Azerbaijan has become a member of the Council of Europe and has ratified the ECHR and other human rights treaties, it has a shocking record of human rights violations highlighted in many judgments of the Strasbourg Court. To Azerbaijan’s shame, many lawyers who represent victims and speak out about torture and ill-treatment in police custody have themselves been victims of serious human rights violations.

In 2017 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern that lawyers representing victims at Strasbourg had been disbarred and in some cases detained. These concerns have also been voiced by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and other international bodies and NGOs. In 2020 the Law Society and Lawyers for Lawyers reported that Azerbaijan had failed to honour commitments it made in 2018 to the UN to protect lawyers.

Indeed, in 2018 Azerbaijan enacted legislation to prevent well-known human rights lawyers from practising. One of five lawyers already excluded is the advocate Emin Abbasov, who is speaking at the Law Society Webinar on 21 January, and who helped draft the Petition.

Review of Mary McAuley “Remembering Leningrad: The Story of a Generation”

Rights in Russia

Review of Mary McAuley “Remembering Leningrad: The Story of a Generation”

The University of Wisconsin Press, 2019, $39.95, around £28

236 + xiv pages. No index.

This is a book for deep immersion, a book to be savoured.

I first met Mary McAuley in Moscow in 1997. She was at time the Head of the Ford Foundation’s office in Russia, from 1995 to 2002. I was a lecturer in Human Rights at Essex University, had first visited Russia in 1983, in the time of Andropov, and after many visits to Russia, had won a contract to advise the new Department for International Development (DfID, now sadly closed) on initiating and funding projects on “Human Rights and Law Reform in Russia”. Mary had taken up the Ford post after teaching at Essex and Oxford Universities, and was a rather powerful person in Russia: she was one of the main grant-makers for civil society, especially human rights and media, and she was able to give me unique advice and contacts. Mary is also rather formidable.

I also met her husband Alastair McAuley, my colleague at Essex, who had taken a year out to help direct the New Economic School (housed in the 1963 Soviet modernist “house with an ear”, the Central Economic Mathematical Institute), and they took me to dinner at a restaurant around the corner from Mary’s grand office in Tverskaya Ulitsa. I have vivid recollections.

Based in particular on her experience with Ford, she has written a splendid book Human Rights in Russia: Citizens and the State from Perestroika to Putin (I. B. Tauris 2015, reprinted in paperback in 2016) which I have reviewed elsewhere (SCRSS Digest 2015 No 3, p.14).

Mary’s new book is very much more autobiographical. She kept a wonderfully detailed diary, starting with her first visit to Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev in September 1959 (16). This was also when she met El’mar Sokolov, one of the people, residents then of Leningrad and later of St Petersburg, who are central to the book. He became her close friend. He died in 2003 (220), born in 1932, and his name is an amalgamation of Engels, Lenin and Marx – not uncommon at that time. His parents, who moved to Leningrad in 1941, were people who never doubted the rightness of Communist Party rule or the superiority of socialism over capitalism.
In 1961, back in Russia, Mary met El’mar’s groups of friends from school, and they too are our companions in this richly detailed series of stories. Their group photographs as they were together at school are reproduced on pages 18 and 19, and El’mar’s photo at the time Mary first met him, a lecturer in the philosophy department of the Herzen Institute – the pedagogical university today – in 1961 is at p.23. On page 188 there is a photo of El’mar (and his school friend Leva) as they were when Mary visited them in Pskov in 1993, 32 years older. This is the history of Russia in the second half of the 20th century, in one individual.

Two others whose lives we follow with Mary are the twins Leonid and Liuba Romankov: their photos in 1961 are at pages 26 and 27, and in 1993 at page 190. On page 191 there is a moving detailed recollection of their birthday party in November 1993.

Indeed, this is really less an autobiography of Mary McAuley, but much more a biography of the city and some of its inhabitants. The book is dense with vivid detail, and brings the city to life.

In 1961 Mary, studying at St Antony’s College, a graduate college at Oxford, won a place on the ten month research visits organised by the British Council and the Soviet Ministry of Higher Education, and sailed on the Soviet cruise ship Baltika, from Tilbury to Leningrad. She is pictured as she was then on page 37. Life as a student is captured in Chapter 2, “Stalin’s Children”. She studied Labour Disputes in the USSR (Chapter 3). She returned in 1965 with Alastair as a tourist, and caught up with her friends.
She also met a new friend, the historian of free-masonry in Russia, Vitaly Startsev, who was also a good friend of mine, a warm and generous individual. I helped in his research in London in 1993, and met him and his wife also in St Petersburg on several occasions. As noted above, the book sadly has no index, but Professor Startsev makes several more appearances (e.g. pages 91, 184). He died in 2000.

In 1990 Mary was back in St Petersburg, as it was renamed in 1991, attached as a visiting scholar to the new Institute of Sociology (83), working on the new social and political movements.

That stormy period, with the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, is not to be forgotten. I was in Moscow in June and July 1991, taking a three week immersive course in Russian at the excellent Russian language school for foreigners at the Moscow Motor Road Construction Institute (MADI). As Mary too recalls, that was a time of acute shortages: there were no matches to be found for a period, and no-one turned off their gas, for fear that they would not be able to light it again – and so as to be able to light their cigarettes. On 10 July 1991 I watched on TV the pomp and ceremony of the inauguration of Boris Yelstin as first elected President of Russia, with Mikhail Gorbachev, unelected President of the USSR, sitting alone in a corner. The following month, in the “putsch”, the government of the USSR tried to take power, and failed. Yeltsin standing atop a tank in front of the White House is an indelible image.

In 1992 Mary was granted two more years research leave at the Institute (118) and she bought an apartment in Vasilevsky Island. Chapter 7, “An Apartment and a Telephone” will tell you everything you could ever want to know about the nightmare of acquiring a place to live and a means of communication, neither at all straight-forward, in those tumultuous years.
Chapter 9, “From the Caucasus to the Far North” describes, with some evocative photographs, her exotic travels in Russia in 1992 and 1993.

In 1995 Mary was already in charge of the Ford Foundation’s Moscow office. In St Petersburg she funded civil society organisations and activists very well known to me too: the Memorial Society (my partners since 2003 in the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, EHRAC, taking cases against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights); Smolny College, set up with Bard College in the USA, where I also taught human rights; Citizens Watch, led by the fearless Boris Pustintsev; and the fearless human rights advocate Yury Schmidt, my colleague in the trials and acquittal of Alexander Nikitin in 1998-9, who died in 2013.

The final visit to St Petersburg in this book was in October 2015 (201), with her daughter in law, Marina. October 30 is the commemoration day for victims of political repression, and they laid flowers at the Troitsky stone, a boulder from the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, a place of exile and death in the 1920s and 1930s.

Chapter 12 is entitled “Farewell to St Petersburg”. Finally, Mary’s Postscript (235) takes us to her flat in Bloomsbury, and in an elegiac page and a half, shows us her Russian paintings and artefacts.

Review of Robert Stephenson “We are building Capitalism! Moscow in transition 1992-1997” for SCRSS Digest

Robert Stephenson We are building Capitalism! Moscow in transition 1992-1997 , Glagoslav Publications, 2019, 210 pages, Foreword by Vladimir Gel’man pages 7-12, Paperback £25

Robert Stephenson lived and worked in Moscow from 1992 to 1997. A civil servant, he had been head of the IT Strategy team for the UK’s Employment Service, and was invited in 1992 to become a Consultant to the new Federal Employment Service, and then a capacity builder for trainers in business and commercial skills. In 1995, in Moscow, he married the brilliant sociologist Svetlana Stephenson (Sidorenko – now at LondonMet, essential reading – Gangs of Russia: From the Streets to the Corridors of Power, 2015). So he did not experience Moscow as capital of the former USSR.

Robert is also an accomplished photographer with an eye for the telling detail, and there are over 100 fascinating photos in this book, most of them taken in 1992-1993. The final photo, however, taken in 2012 (p.208), shows the “Moscow City” skyscraper complex looming over the Garden Ring and Krymsky Most (bridge). The photo on the opposite page taken in the same place, in 1992, 20 years previously, shows an utterly different view, with no advertising, very little traffic – and no skyscrapers. Should we feel nostalgia?

As Vladimir Gel’man comments in his Introduction on Bob’s photos “… with his focus not only on major political events… but also on the manifestations of the societal change in many details of Moscow life, from the rapidly changing patters of consumption to the outward appearance of Moscow and its inhabitants.” Indeed, as Gelman says, the book has its own protagonist, Moscow.

The book has 11 chapters, each with an insightful introduction and commentary by Bob. The chapters’ titles give a good indication of their contents: “The shadow of the past”; “Inflation, speculation and accumulation”; “Reform and resistance”; “Religious resurgence”; “Out with the old and in with the new”: “Reaching for the stars”; “Attractions and distractions”; “On the road”; “The view from the street”; “Strange sights”; and “The shape of things to come”.  

The book is beautifully produced in landscape A4 format, and the photos are vividly reproduced. I found myself reliving my own experiences during those turbulent years, One of the first photos (p.28) is of a rock concert held at the White House on 19 August 1992 on the first anniversary of the failed coup of April 1991 (which Bob missed – I was in Moscow). But there are no photos of Yeltsin’s use of tanks in 1993 to storm the White House, where the Supreme Soviet was sitting, though Bob has a brief account of events on pages 69-70.

This Chapter, 4, “Reform and Resistance” (pages 69 to 79), has photos of demonstrations in 1992-3. Bob comments that “…the streets of the city became a forum for protest against, and promotion of, social change”. But he is detached, apolitical observer.

This gorgeous book is recommended to anyone who wants to view, if not experience, how life carried on.

Review of Vladlen Loginov “Vladimir Lenin – How to Become a Leader” – for SCRSS Digest

Vladlen Loginov (translation by Lewis White); Vladimir Lenin – How to Become a Leader; Glagolit Publications, 2019; 328 pp, Introduction by Professor Geoffrey Swain pages 7-18; £19 paperback

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new book, in its excellent and highly readable translation by Lewis White.

But I have to start by arguing with the translation of its title. The book was published in 2005 in Russia, with the title Выбор пути: Биография (Vybor puti: Biografiya), which may be literally translated as “Choosing a path: Biography”, which gives a much better idea of the content of the book. This is not at all an instruction manual for would-be leaders, nor does it explain how Lenin became a leader. Instead, it is a detailed and well-researched chronological account of Lenin’s early life from his birth as Vladimir Ulyanov in 1870, to 1900, when he was 30 years old. In 1901 he began to sign his works with a new pseudonym – Lenin. There were 24 momentous years before his death aged 54.

Vladlen Loginov was born in 1929, now 91 years old. In the course of his long life he has published over 400 books and articles, many on Lenin, and his latest book was published in 2018, Ленин. Сим победиши (Lenin. Sim pobedishi), as an electronic book, free access at, covering the last years of Lenin’s life, from the end of the Civil War, to his conflicts with Stalin and his Testament.

Loginov certainly knows his subject-matter, and every page is thoroughly referenced to many sources. The reader will find much fascinating detail as to Lenin’s immediate ancestors, and his early life. I thought I knew a lot about Lenin, who is one of my own special subjects, but I learned a great deal, and with pleasure. For example, details of Lenin’s practice as a criminal defence advocate in Samara, from 1892 to 1893 (pages 126-128); and of his life with Nadezhda Krupskaya in Shushenskoye (pages 228 to 237).

What was the task Loginov actually set himself? His own Introduction is entitled “What colour were Lenin’s eyes?”, that is, the various descriptions of Lenin’s short stature, and his “agreeable, swarthy face with a touch of the Asiatic to it”, but in particular his force of personality. But Lenin, still lying in the Mausoleum (contrary to his own wishes) has become the subject of myth upon myth, especially in the Soviet period, when he became “a kind of symbol of the “new faith”… For millions, an object of near religious veneration.” In Loginov’s view, “… searching for the roots of modern problems in Lenin’s past deeds is at the very least unfair, since it has now become a wholly separate narrative: it is akin to blaming Christ for the Crusades and the bonfires of the Inquisition…”

Loginov’s aim is very modest: “… not to offer an explanation, but to present some material for consideration, a few details of his biography hitherto unknown…”

Russia and the European Convention (or Court) of Human Rights: The End?

Special issue of the Revue Québécoise de Droit International on the 70 years of the European Convention of Human Rights

Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College


Russia has been a member of the Council of Europe (CoE) for 25 years, and of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for 22 years, which is in itself in my view a remarkable achievement on both sides.[1] This article asks the questions: how has this been this possible? And is the close and mostly positive relationship between Russia and the Council of Europe and the ECtHR about to come to an end?

In order to answer these questions, I first provide an overview of the USSR’s late acknowledgment of the need for compliance in its internal affairs with UN standards, and especially the contribution of Mikhail Gorbachev. I follow this with an account of Russia’s accession to the CoE and ratification of the ECHR under Boris Yeltsin, and a snapshot of the popularity for Russians of complaining to Strasbourg. Second, I turn to the very controversial rulings by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation (CCRF) and new legislation on the question of the CCRF ruling on the “impossibility” for Russia of implementing judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Third, I analyse the controversial Yukos case. This was in fact the second and last until now such ruling. Fourth, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) imposed sanctions on Russia following the illegal annexation by Russian of Crimea. Russia seemed poised to leave or be expelled from the CoE. But in 2019 a controversial deal was done. Fifth, I ask whether President Putin’s 2020 amendments to the 1993 Constitution really pose a threat to Russia’s continuing relationship with the CoE and the ECHR.

1. The USSR, Russia, and the CoE

I first visited Russia in December 1983. Yuriy Andropov was in his last year as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR. Had he lived longer, it is possible that the USSR would have followed a similar path to that taken by China, still ruled by its Communist Party. But he died on 9 February 1984, followed by the lack-lustre leadership of Konstantin Chernenko, who in turn died on 10 March 1985.

Mikhail Gorbachev, after a short-lived return to Leninism, began in 1986 the process which would lead to the collapse of the USSR in December 1991, with his call for a revolution in the USSR, in his speech to party officials in Vladivostok on 29 July 1986[2]. His book Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World was published in November 1987, and he announced a new policy of a Common European Home in 1989.  

In April 1990 a new Committee for Constitutional Supervision, conceived in 1988, started work, and during 1991 brought the USSR closer to the UN human rights systems. In its Ratification of the Optional Protocol Case (4 April 1991)[3], the CCS requested the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to secure ratification by the USSR of the First Optional Protocol to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). On 5 July 1991 the Supreme Soviet adopted two Resolutions acceding to the Optional Protocol and recognising the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Committee.[4] This was already a giant step in recognising international human rights standards. Previously there had been tow pillars of Soviet international law, state sovereignty, and the prohibition of interference in the internal affairs of states.[5]

But there was no question while the USSR still existed of joining the Council of Europe (CoE), or, in obligatory consequence, ratifying the Europe Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).[6]

The Council of Europe

Russia applied to join the Council of Europe on 7 May 1992, at a time when there were a number of progressive developments, in terms of legislation and in the work of the new Constitutional Court. Despite the fact that it was then engaged in bitter internal armed conflict in Chechnya, Russia became a full member of the Council of Europe on 28 February 1996. On 28 February 1998 the State Duma of the Russian Federation voted to ratify the ECHR. A total of 294 (65.3the per cent) deputies voted for, with only 11 (2.4 per cent) against and two (0.4 per cent) abstentions. The Federal Law of the Russian Federation ‘On ratification of the ECHR’ entered into force on 30 March 1998. The ECHR itself entered into force for Russia on 1 November 1998.[7]

I had been practising at the ECtHR since 1992, mostly in cases on behalf of Kurdish applicants against Turkey.[8] In 2000 I applied to the European Commission for a grant to assist Russian human rights activists to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, the Court), and in 2002 I was awarded €1 million for a partnership between the “Memorial” society in Moscow and its Human Rights Centre, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, and the University of North London where I was then teaching. The European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) was founded in 2003, in partnership with Memorial, and is still going strong.[9]  EHRAC has assisted applicants in securing 247 judgments from the Court establishing Russian responsibility for aerial bombardment, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture during the conflict in Chechnya.

Vladimir Putin became President of the Russian Federation in April 2001, after starting the Second Chechen War as Prime Minister in 1999, and has effectively been in power for more than 20 years. He is not a friend of human rights, to say the least. Nevertheless, as noted above, Russia has now been a member of the CoE for 24 years, and of the ECHR for 22 years. During his period of rule the supremacy of international law and of the ECHR in particular has been further strengthened by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (SCRF).

On 10 October 2003 the SCRF adopted a Resolution ‘On application by courts of general jurisdiction of the commonly recognized principles and norms of the international law and the international treaties of the Russian Federation.’[10] This Resolution, drafted with the participation of the justices of the CCRF and Anatoliy Kovler, then Russia’s judge at the ECtHR, is binding on all lower courts and contained the following with reference to the ECHR:

10. It is clarified to the courts that international treaties should be interpreted in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 23 May, 1969 (Section 3; Articles 31-33).

In accordance with item “b” of paragraph 3 of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention, any subsequent practice in the application of a treaty, which establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation, should be taken into account along with its context for the purposes of interpretation of the treaty.

As a member state of the [ECHR], the Russian Federation recognizes the jurisdiction of the [ECtHR] as compulsory in issues of interpretation and application of the Convention and its Protocols in the event of presumed breach of provisions of said treaty acts by the Russian Federation, if such a breach took place after their entry into force in respect of the Russian Federation (Article 1 of Federal Law “On Ratification of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocols”, No. 54-FZ of 30th March 1998). This is why the said Convention should be applied by courts with regard to the practice of the [ECtHR] in order to avoid any violation of the Convention.

On 27 June 2013 the SCRF passed a Ruling ‘On application of the ECHR by the courts of general jurisdiction.’[11] This affirmed the principles contained in the 2003 Resolution, and directed that the judgments of the ECtHR in cases against Russia are mandatory for Russian courts, and judgments against other countries must be taken into account.

2. As follows from Article 46 of the Convention, Article 1 of [the Federal Law on Ratification], the legal positions of the European Court of Human Rights contained in the final judgments of the Court delivered in respect of the Russian Federation are obligatory for the courts.

Indeed, the ECtHR dealt with 9,238 applications concerning Russia in 2019, of which 8,793 were declared inadmissible or struck out. It delivered 198 judgments (concerning 445 applications), 186 of which found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.[12] Russia complies with almost all judgments in terms of payment of just satisfaction (compensation), and there are many examples of substantive implementation.

2. Russia, the ECtHR, the Constitutional Court and “impossibility[13]

Very soon after the 2013 Resolution, Russia was taking a rather different position.

On 14 July 2015 the CCRF handed down its Postanovleniye (Resolution) of 14 July 2015, No. 21-P.[14] This judgment resulted from a request by a group of 93 deputies of the State Duma as to whether a number of legislative enactments were compatible with the Constitution. These were Article 1 of the 1998 Law “On Ratification of the ECHR”; Article 32(1) and (2) of the Federal law “On international treaties of the Russian Federation”; and provisions of the Civil Procedural Code, Arbitrazh (Commercial) Procedural Code, Code of Administrative Misdemeanours, and the Criminal Procedural Code. In the view of the deputies, these enactments were incompatible with Articles 15(1),(2) and (4), and Article 79 of the Constitution, since they in fact obliged Russian organs of legislative, executive and judicial power, to unconditionally implement judgments of the ECtHR, even in cases where such judgments contradicted the Constitution.

The Court ruled that these provisions were compatible with the Constitution, but laid the basis for the amending Law discussed below. The judgment, for which the Judge-Rapporteur was the Court’s Deputy Chairman Sergey Mavrin, confirmed the subsidiary nature of the Strasbourg system and the obligatory nature of Strasbourg judgments, and paid close attention not only to the provisions of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, but also to the case-law of the German Constitutional Court (the Gorgulu and Solange-1 judgments), the Italian Constitutional Court in its judgment of 31 May 2011 on the Maggio v Italy case and its 22 October 2014 judgment following the ICJ’s Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (2012) case; the Austrian Constitutional Court’s judgment of 14 October 1987; and of course the UK Supreme Court’s judgment of 16 October 2013 following Hirst v UK. State organs could apply to the Constitutional Court in a concrete case to ask whether a judgment of the ECtHR was “impossible” to implement because it contradicted the foundations of the Russian constitutional order.

The Court gave as an example the judgment in Anchugov and Gladkov v Russia of 14 July 2013[15], the Russian Hirst, on prisoners’ voting rights. In the Court’s view, to implement the judgment would mean violating a series of Articles of the Constitution (Article 15(1), 32(3), and 79), or adopting a new Constitution.

Anna Pushkarskaya, writing on the day of the judgment in Kommersant, pointed out that the background to the application was the Yukos just satisfaction decision, and expected that there would be a further application to the CCRF in respect of that decision.[16] However, the following day she published an interview with Sergey Mavrin in which he stated that the CCRF would always seek a compromise with Strasbourg and avoid a direct collision. The effect of an application to the CCRF in a concrete case would be to provide a breathing space.[17] I will turn below to some recent compromises.

On 14 December 2015 President Putin signed the Federal Law “On enacting amendments to the Federal constitutional law on the CCRF.”[18] One headline on the day of signature read, “Putin approved a law permitting the non-implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.”[19] The Law came into force on its publication on 15 December 2015 in the Russian Gazette[20]. It amended Article 3(3) of the Federal Law “On the Constitutional Court” so as to give the Court the jurisdiction to decide the question on the possibility (vozmozhnost) of implementing the decision of an international organ for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the person; the CCRF can declare “possibility” or “impossibility.”

The word “possibility” is not defined. I now turn to its deployment in the CCRF’s Resolution of 14 July 2015 in the context of the judgment of the ECtHR in Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia of 14 July 2013,[21] the Russian Hirst v. UK,[22] and the Yukos judgment.

On 19 December 2015, Philip Leach and Alice Donald wrote under the headline: “Russia Defies Strasbourg: Is Contagion Spreading?”[23] This was a reference to their article of 21 November 2013, “Hostility to the European Court and the risks of contagion,”[24] which focused not on Russia but on the United Kingdom’s position. They quoted the former President of the European Court, Sir Nicolas Bratza, who had expressed his concern about the risks of contagion:

There is a risk of this attitude in the UK to judgments of the Court negatively impacting on other states and complaints being made of double standards … [which] could result in a wider refusal to implement ECtHR judgments across the Council of Europe. (p. 176)

And they referred to the Commissioner for Human Rights of the CoE, Nils Muižnieks, who suggested in a memorandum to Nick Gibb MP that

… continued non-compliance would have far-reaching deleterious consequences; it would send a strong signal to other member states, some of which would probably follow the UK’s lead and also claim that compliance with certain judgments is not possible, necessary or expedient. That would probably be the beginning of the end of the ECHR system, which is at the core of the Council of Europe.[25]

Their fears of “contagion” seemed to be confirmed by the new Russian law. In their view, it did not “simply concern the relationship between the Strasbourg Court and the domestic courts (reflecting, for example, the long-standing debate in the UK about the implications of Section 2 of the Human Rights Act).”[26] It went, they asserted, much further than that. It denied the enforceability of ECtHR judgments as regards the Russian state altogether, thereby purporting to extinguish the effect of Article 46 of the ECHR, unprecedented in the history of the European human rights regime.

The response of the CoE was more measured. On 15 December 2015 the then Secretary General of the CoE, Thorbjørn Jagland, said:

[I]t will be up to the Constitutional Court of Russia to ensure respect for the Convention if it is called upon to act under the new provisions. The Council of Europe will only be able to assess Russia’s compliance with its obligations when and if a specific case arises. The compatibility of Strasbourg judgments with the national constitutions has been examined in some other member States. So far, countries have always been able to find a solution in line with the Convention. This should also be possible in Russia.[27]

The Russian Hirst?

However, on 19 April 2016 the CCRF rendered a judgment[28] in which it examined the question of the possibility of executing the judgment of the ECtHR of 4 July 2013 in the case of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia in accordance with the RF Constitution.[29]

There were amicus curiae briefs before the CCRF arguing that the problem could be resolved by interpreting the RF Constitution, rather than seeking to amend it, which the CCRF cannot do. The CCRF, with three powerful dissents, disagreed and held that in 1998, when Russia ratified the ECHR, there was no case law under Article 3 of Protocol 1 (right to democratic elections) prohibiting a “blanket ban” on prisoners’ voting. Otherwise, ratification would have contradicted the RF Constitution. However, the CCRF suggested that by an amendment to the criminal law persons detained in Russian “open prison” correctional colonies could be reclassified so that they do not fall within Article 32(2) of the RF Constitution. If this was done, Russia would in effect implement the ECHR’s judgment. The CCRF emphasized the priority of international law, especially the ECHR, over Russian domestic law, while insisting that it is the final judge in issues concerning the RF Constitution.[30]

Indeed, the pragmatism of the CCRF prevailed, and on 25 September 2019, the Committee of Ministers (CM) of the CoE, which pursuant to Article 46(2) of the ECHR supervises the execution of judgments of the ECtHR, adopted a final resolution[31], which closed the supervision of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia.[32] The closure of the case means that Russia, taking the advice of the CCRF, has complied with the ECtHR’s judgment, according to the CM’s assessment. According to the Action Report[33] submitted by the Russian authorities on 27 June 2019, the judgment was executed through the introduction to the Russian Criminal Code of a new category of criminal punishment – “community work” (translation provided in the Action Report)[34]. The Action Report further explained that such punishment is carried out through “placement in correctional centres for community work and may be imposed for committing a small or medium gravity offence or in case of a grave offence is committed for the first time.” These persons would have the right to vote, and in this way Russia was able to comply with the ECtHR’s judgment.

The ECtHR seeks to maintain good relations with Russia

The ECtHR had in any event attempted to maintain good relations with Russia. On 6 December 2016 it was reported that the IX Congress of Judges of the Russian Federation had been addressed by Guido Raimondi, the then president of the ECtHR.[35] According to the report, he was careful to sidestep difficult issues, and praised the Russian authorities for the fact that they were implementing the decisions of the ECtHR. He approvingly observed that Russia was no longer the main source of complaints to the Strasbourg Court. Mr Raimondi also praised the practice of reversing sentences in connection with violations of Article 6 of the ECHR on the right to a fair trial. And in the work of the CCRF, he was attracted by the way in which it interwove the practice of the ECtHR in its decisions.

As to the problems in relations between Russia and the ECtHR, he preferred to pass them by, preferring to “look at the picture as a whole.” He did not mention, for example, that on 15 December the Russian CC was to consider the question of the possibility of implementing the judgment of the ECtHR as to paying €1.8 billion to the former shareholders of Yukos. In fact, the question of noncompliance with this judgment was soon to be considered by the Committee of Ministers[36]. Also, he did not call to mind that on 16 November 2016 the RF Supreme Court had overturned the sentence in the Kirovles case concerning the opposition leader and fighter against corruption, Aleksei Navalny.[37] Mr. Navalny did not agree with the RF Supreme Court’s decision that there must be a retrial, considering that the ECtHR had ruled that there was no criminal element in his activities[38].

3. The Yukos Case – Had Russia Finally Decided against Strasbourg?

The long-awaited judgment in the Yukos case was delivered on 19 January 2017.[39] Once again, the Court was furnished with, and accepted for consideration, expert amicus curiae briefs. On 30 November 2016 Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou of Liverpool University and Maxim Timofeyev of the European Humanitarian University in Vilnius submitted their eighteen-page amicus brief,[40] and on 7 December 2016 the Institute for Law and Public Policy provided a closely argued thirty-three-page brief, drafted by the young advocate Grigoriy Vaipan[41], arguing against a finding of “impossibility,” both briefs warning of damage to the reputation and authority of the CCRF.[42]

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Yaroslavtsev argued that the judgment of the CCRF contradicted the principle of legality and by taking on the function of a legislator exceeded its competence.[43] Judge Aranovskiy concluded: “But taking the judgment as a whole, the court does not find a correct basis for its decision, and, shifting its coordinates, loses itself in a general series of political, administrative and financial considerations, which are not equal to legal reasoning.”

On 21 January 2017 the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee for the Russian Federation of PACE expressed their deep concern at the CCRF judgment.[44] They reiterated that the full implementation of the judgments of the ECtHR is a legal commitment to which Russia has subscribed under the ECHR. They added:

Unconditionally honouring the Convention is an obligation incumbent on all member States and it is therefore unacceptable that Russia would not enforce a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. The Russian authorities should therefore consider implementing the recommendation of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe that the authorities consider revising the constitutional provisions at odds with the implementation of the ECtHR judgment. One cannot accept a selective implementation of the ECtHR’s judgments.

As Maxim Timofeyev, the coauthor of one of the amicus briefs, commented on 26 January 2017,[45] this was the first time the apex court of a CoE member state had concluded that it should not pay just satisfaction. He summarized three main reasons given by the CCRF for its decision.

Firstly, the CCRF noted that both the prosecution of the company for tax evasion and subsequent enforcement proceedings were based on legal provisions that it earlier had found to be in compliance with the Russian Constitution. Secondly, the CCRF relied on the historical context of the 1990s, the “economic uncertainty,” and the fact that the Russian state was seeking to take special measures to defeat the tax avoidance strategies of Yukos and to pay for social welfare. If the government had decided to apply the statutory time-bar in the Yukos case, it would have acted in contradiction with the Constitution, which requires the state to ensure the payment of taxes by every person as required by the principles of equality and fairness. Thirdly, the CCRF emphasized that Yukos was acting in bad faith by using tax avoidance schemes. Yukos should have foreseen the government’s actions. Thus, payment of just compensation from the Russian budget to the shareholders of a company that was involved in vast tax avoiding activities would be contrary to the constitutional principles of equality and fairness.

On this reasoning, execution of the ECtHR judgment on just satisfaction was not possible. In Timofeyev’s view, this judgment only deepened the distance between Russia and Strasbourg and increased the chances of escalating the confrontation even farther.

The response of the ECtHR has so far been more muted. On 26 January 2017, Mr Raimondi addressed the annual press conference of the ECtHR and answered a question concerning the Yukos judgment of the CCRF. His answer has not been published by the court but can be seen and heard on the Court’s website.[46] Mr. Raimondi made the point that enforcement of judgments is not a matter for the ECtHR but for the Committee of Ministers (CoM), which had the Yukos case under review. His remarks were greeted with enthusiasm by Russia. The official Russian news agency TASS announced that “Strasbourg court chief says Russia fulfils 95% of court’s rulings. Russia’s judicial authorities generally demonstrate their full readiness for cooperation with the Strasbourg court, the ECHR president said.”[47]

TASS quoted Mr. Raimondi as follows[48]:

Very much positive can be said about relations with the Russian Federation. The Court has excellent relations with the Russian judicial authorities. I made a visit to Russia in late 2016 and held quite fruitful negotiations, in particular, with Chairman of the Supreme Court Mr. Lebedev and Chairman of the Constitutional Court Mr. Zorkin. They have big willpower to cooperate with the ECHR and with the Council of Europe as a whole. We could state with Chairman Lebedev that the Supreme Court is carrying out excellent work for preparing judges and we know that Russia has a large judge corps, which depends on the Supreme Court’s preparation programs. In most cases, up to 95% of our court’s decisions are fulfilled duly in Russia and this is a positive aspect in Russia’s relations with the ECHR.

Russia did not seek to appeal the Yukos judgment of the ECtHR to the Grand Chamber, and some years have passed.[49] Russia has agreed to pay some costs and expenses, but still refuses to pay the just satisfaction ordered. On 22 February 2019 the applicants submitted a strongly worded protest at failure to enforce the judgment[50]. No more has been heard from the ECtHR or the CM.

4. The illegal annexation of Crimea[51] and PACE sanctions on Russia

Sanctions were imposed on Russia and on a large number of Russian officials and businessmen, following inter alia the annexation of Crimea in March 2014[52]. This led to very serious economic costs to Russia.[53]

But even more painful for Russia were the sanctions imposed by the CoE. In April 2014, after the Russian parliament’s backing for the occupation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in Ukraine, PACE decided to suspend the Russian delegation’s voting rights as well as the right of Russian members to be represented in PACE’s leading bodies and to participate in election observation missions. However, the Russian delegation remained members of PACE. The sanction applied throughout the remainder of the 2014 session and was renewed for a full year in January 2015, lapsing in January 2016. The sanction applied only to Russian parliamentarians in PACE, the CoE’s parliamentary body, and Russia continued to be a full member of the CoE as a whole.

In response, the Russian parliamentary delegation suspended its co-operation with PACE in June 2014, and in January 2016 – despite the lapsing of the sanctions – the Russian parliament decided not to submit its delegation’s credentials for ratification, effectively leaving its seats empty. It did so again in January 2017, January 2018 and January 2019.

On 30 June 2017 the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Lavrov, announced that Russia was cancelling its annual subscription payment to the CoE after claiming its 18 delegates to PACE were being “persecuted” in response to the annexation of Crimea. A Foreign Ministry statement said Moscow’s contribution for 2017 was being withheld in response to a “rampant campaign…launched to persecute [Russian] parliamentarians”. No future payments will be made until the rights of the Russian delegation to PACE  “are fully restored”, it added.[54] 

Some kind of deal was done, though the details are obscure. On 17 May 2019 the CoM, meeting in Helsinki, voted overwhelmingly in favour of a declaration that said “all member states should be entitled to participate on an equal basis” in the CoE’s CoM and PACE. This decision was condemned strongly by Ukraine. [55] Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s representative at the CoE, said: “This is not diplomacy, this is a surrender”. According to his tweet[56] on the same occasion, five other countries opposed the decision, so the fight to keep Russia out of the Parliamentary Assembly was not over.  And Vyecheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian State Duma also expressed caution.[57]

Next, on 26 June 2019, PACE members voted for a resolution in support of three key regulatory norms stipulating that the “rights to vote, speak and be represented in the Assembly and its bodies cannot be suspended or revoked or withdrawn in the context of a challenge to or reconsideration of credentials.” The following day all powers of the Russian delegation were confirmed in full and without any exemptions. After that the Russian delegates rejoined the PACE activities as full-fledged participants.

Proposals by Ukraine to impose further limitations on Russian participation were rejected. PACE adopted recommendations that Russia should implement, including: releasing the 24 detained Ukrainian sailors; and immediate payment of all financial contributions to the CoE. PACE also requested Russia’s full co-operation with the investigations of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines’ flight MH17 and the murder of Boris Nemtsov, and urged vigorous measures to prevent violations of the human rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people, especially in Chechnya.[58]

On 2 July 2019, it emerged that Russia had paid its subscription to the CoE’s budget for 2019.  Lize Glas commented in a blog entitled “Russia left, threatened and won: Its return to the Assembly without sanctions.”[59] She continued:

Russia has won. The Assembly has not only lost this fight, but also part of its credibility by permitting Russia to return without attaching any ‘internal sanctions’. As can be inferred from the debate and the report of the Monitoring Committee, the Assembly was prepared to make this ‘concession’, not only because Russia threatened to leave the Council of Europe, which would be a major blow to the Russian population of about 145 million people[60], but also because non-payment of the Russian contribution to the Organisation’s budget would cause considerable difficulties for the Council of Europe. Therefore, one cannot help but wonder whether the Assembly would have taken a more principled stance, had the State in question been a State with a lower membership fee and, therefore, with less leverage (a third of the member States pays contributions that do not even cover the costs of a judge to the Court, an administrative officer and an assistant working full time).

On 29 August 2019, the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a decree ordering that Russia should additionally pay its debts to the CoE for 2017-2018. This payment amounted to € 54.6 million at the expense of the Federal budget.[61] President Macron of France gave his full support to Russia’s return. At the PACE session in October he said: “”I fully support the choice made in favor of letting Russia stay in the Council of Europe, because I am certain that the Russian people are close to European humanism. They participated in creating this humanism themselves.”[62] The EU is therefore split on the question of Russia.

So Russia had indeed won, and the nature of the deal which had been done is still not clear. Russia is still in illegal occupation of Crimea, and has not complied with the other PACE recommendations.

5. Constitutional amendments in 2020

Amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation[63] were proposed by President Putin in his message to the Federal Assembly on 15 January 2020[64] and adopted as the Law on Amendment No. 1-FKZ “On improving regulation of certain issues of the organisation and functioning of public authorities” dated 14 March, 2020[65]. On 16 March 2020 the CCRF ruled that the proposals were in accordance with the Constitution.[66] A total of 206 amendments were proposed to the Constitution, and all of them were submitted to the so-called all-Russian vote as a package. This was a “referendum” held in conditions of pandemic from 25 June to 1 July 2020, in accordance with Article 2 of the Law “On Amendments to the Constitution”. The referendum is legally referred to as an “All-Russian vote” (Russian: общероссийское голосование, romanized: obshcherossiyskoye golosovaniye), for it was not held in accordance with the Federal Constitutional Law “On the Referendum.”[67]

The amendments received public support, and on 3 July 2020, Mr Putin signed a decree on their entering into force the following day.

On 8 April 2020 Yulia Khalikova of the University of Bremen published an article on the Riddle website entitled “Russia’s cat and mouse game with international courts”[68]. She pointed out that Article 79 of the amended Constitution will now stipulate that decisions made by international institutions are not enforceable in Russia if their legal interpretation is contrary to the constitution. Secondly, the powers of the CCRF will be expanded: the amended Section Five of Article 125 of the Constitution gives it jurisdiction to consider such cases. Thus the CCRF will hear cases on the possibility of enforcing rulings made by international or foreign courts, including international arbitrations, if they are deemed contrary to the principles of public order.

According to Article 15 (4) of the 1993 Constitution international law already has priority over Russian law. However, according to Article 79 there are two conditions under which Russia cannot take part in the activities of international organisations: if doing so leads to a restriction of human rights and freedoms, and if it contradicts the fundamental principles of the country’s constitutional system. These restrictions will now affect all actions undertaken on the basis of international treaties ratified by Russia. Furthermore, the restriction on “decisions contrary to the principles of public order” establishes an additional basis for failing to comply with decisions of international courts. At the same time, it will be the task of the CCRF to clarify what exactly these principles are.


The ECHR and the case-law of the ECtHR are now deeply embedded in the Russian constitutional and legal systems. Very many judgments of the CCRF are replete with references to and citations from ECtHR judgments. Valery Zorkin, Chairman of the CCRF and Vyacheslav Lebedev Chairman of the SCRF, have made it clear that there is one court which is superior to them, the Strasbourg Court. As I have shown, the Secretary General of the CoE and the President of the ECtHR are frequent visitors to Moscow and St Peterburg, and it is more than apparent that Russia wants to stay in and that the CoE is equally anxious for Russia to stay. Many observers said that the crisis over PACE representation would lead either to Russia leaving or to its expulsion. But Russia won. The chances are that despite everything, Russia will, to the great advantage of those within its jurisdiction, for whom the ECtHR is indeed a final court of appeal, remain a member of the international institution it joined in 1996.   

[1] For my own contributions from 1997 see:

  • “Russia’s Accession to the Council of Europe and Human Rights: Compliance or Cross-Purposes?” (1997) 6 European Human Rights Law Review pp.628-643. This has been translated into Russian, and appears in Rossiiskii Byulleten po Prava Cheloveka (Russian Bulletin on Human Rights) Issue 10 1998, pp.12-23;
  • “Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe and human rights: four years on” (2000) European Human Rights Law Review Issue 4, p.362;
  • “Russia in a Common European Legal Space. Developing effective remedies for the violations of rights by public bodies: compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights” in Kaj Hober (ed) The Uppsala Yearbook of East European Law 2004  (London: Wildy, Simmonds and Hill, 2005) pp.89-116;
  • “Tensions Multiply between Russia and Council of Europe: Could the Malaise be Terminal?” (April 2008) Issue 6 The EU-Russia Review pp.4-12; at;
  • “Russia and Human Rights: Incompatible Opposites?” Vol 1, No 2 (2009) Göttingen Journal of International Law pp. 257-278 at;
  • “The Russian Federation, Protocol No. 14 (and 14bis), and the Battle for the Soul of the ECHR” Goettingen Journal of International Law 2 (2010) 2, 589-617;
  • “The Russian Federation and the Strasbourg Court: The Illegitimacy of Sovereignty?” in  Katja S Ziegler, Elizabeth Wicks, Loveday Hodson (eds) The UK and European Human Rights: A Strained Relationship? (Bloomsbury, 2015) pp.415-437;
  • “Does Russia have a human rights future in the Council of Europe and OSCE?”  in Doutje Lettinga & Lars van Troost (eds) Shifting Power and Human Rights Diplomacy: Russia (2017) Amnesty International Netherlands, pp. 53-63. at;
  • “Russian cases in the ECtHR and the question of implementation” in Lauri Mälksoo and Wolfgang Benedek (eds) Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: The Strasbourg Effect (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp.188-221;
  • “Politics and Pragmatism: The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and Its 20 Years of Engagement with the European Convention on Human Rights” in v.1 n.1 (2018) East European Yearbook on Human Rights, pp.5-31;
  • “Russia and the Council of Europe: an incompatible ideology, and a transplanted legal regime?” in P. Sean Morris (ed) Russian Discourses on International Law: Sociological and Philosophical Phenomenon (Abingdon, Routledge: 2018) pp. 133-157;
  • “The crisis of the European Court of Human Rights in the face of authoritarian and populist regimes” in Avidan Kent, Nikos Skoutaris, Jamie Trinidad (eds) The Future of International Courts: Regional, Institutional and Procedural Challenges (Routledge 2019) pp.76-92.

[2] . I watched this speech on TV in Krasnodar, and it was clear that the assembled apparatchiks were aghast when Gorbachev announced “Comrades, there will be a revolution!”.

[3] VSND SSSR ibid, 1991 No. 17, 502; see also Sovyetskaya Iustitsiya I 23 December1991, 17

[4] Vedomosti SSSR , 1991 No. 29, 842, 843

[5] See Lauri Mälksoo Russian Approaches to International Law (Oxford: OUP, 2015). For a critique see Bill Bowring, Review, v.85 n.1 (2015) British Yearbook of International Law, 189–193

[6] Bill BowringHuman Rights in Russia: A Discourse of Emancipation or Just Another Mirage?”in Istvan Pogany (ed) Human Rights in Eastern Europe (London: Edward Elgar, 1995) pp.87-110

[7] It should be noted that on the same day the state Duma voted, by an even larger majority, to ratify the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (CPT)

[8] More than once in front of Judge Jean-Paul Costa, for whom I have the highest regard, including an in-country fact-finding hearing in Ipek v Turkey (Application no. 25760/94, judgment of 17 February 2004), from 18-20 November 2002, in Ankara.

[9] ;

[10] Ruling of the Plenary session of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No 5 ‘On application by courts of general jurisdiction of the commonly recognized principles and norms of the international law and the international treaties of the Russian Federation’ 10 October 2003 at

[11] Ruling of the Plenary session of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No.21  ‘On Application of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 4 November 1950 and Protocols thereto by the Courts of General Jurisdiction’ 27 June 2013. Available in English at


[13] See Bill Bowring ‘Russian cases in the ECtHR and the question of implementation’ in L. Mälksoo and W.Benedek (eds) Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: The Strasbourg Effect (2018) 188

[14] Published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta 27 July 2015, Federal edition No. 6734, at

[15] Applications nos. 11157/04 and 15162/05


[17] (accessed on 31 December 2015)

[18] Федеральный закон Российской Федерации от 14 декабря 2015 г. N 7-ФКЗ “О внесении изменений в Федеральный конституционный закон “О Конституционном Суде Российской Федерации” (Federalniy zakon Rossiiskoi Federatsii ot 14 Dekabrya 2015 N 7-FKZ “O vnesenii izmeneniy v Federalniy konstitutionniy zakon “O Konstitutsionnom Sude Rossiiskoi Federatsii”).



[21] Application Nos. 11157/04 and 15162/05.

[22] Hirst v. the United Kingdom (No 2) [2005] ECHR 681, Application No. 74025/01, Judgment (Grand Chamber) of 6 October 2005.

[23] (accessed on 14 January 2018).


[25] Nils Muižnieks “Observations for the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill” 10 October 2013, at


[27]  (13 January 2018).

[28] No. 12- П/2016, 19 April 2016.

[29] For an early analysis, see Marina Aksenova “Anchugov and Gladkov Is Not Enforceable: The Russian Constitutional Court Opines in Its First ECtHR Implementation Case,” 25 April 2016, at – this article has very useful links.

[30] See J. Haak, ‘Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, Decision from 19 April 2016, No. 12-P/16. An Assessment from a German Point of View’ 6 Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences  (2017) 845

[31] CM/ResDH(2019)240

[32] See, for a very critical response, Gleb Bogush and Ausra Padskocimaite “Case Closed, but what about the Execution of the Judgment? The closure of Anchugov and Gladkov v. Russia” 30 October 2019, EJIL: Talk!, at






[38] Navalny and Ofitserov v. Russia, Application Nos. 46632/13 and 28671/14, Judgment of 23 February 2016. The Russian courts had found the applicants guilty of acts indistinguishable from regular commercial activities. In other words, the criminal law had been arbitrarily construed to the applicants’ detriment. The courts had failed to address Mr. Navalny’s arguable allegation that the reasons for his prosecution were his political activities.

[39] See

Text of the judgment with the two dissenting judgments at

[40] This is to be found on the website of the Russian CC at

[41] A member of the Russian team from Moscow State University which became World Champion in March 2012 in the final in Washington DC of the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, see


[43] And see Anna Pushkarskaya, 24 January 2017, Kommersant, at


[45] Maxim Timofeyev “Money Makes the Court Go Round: The Russian Constitutional Court’s Yukos Judgment,” at


[47] For a different point of view, see

[48] I have checked this against the Court’s webcast note 132.

[49] See I. Marchuk, ‘The Tale of Yukos and of the Russian Constitutional Court’s Rebellion against the European Court of Human Rights’ AIC Osservatorio Constituzionale 1, at

[50]DH-DD (2019)186; 1340th meeting (March 2019) (DH) – Rule 9.1 Communication from the applicant (21/02/2019) in the case of OAO NEFTYANAYA KOMPANIYA YUKOS v. Russian Federation (Application No. 14902/04) Drafted by Piers Gardner, counsel for the applicants.;;

[51] See Bill Bowring “Who Are the “Crimean People” or “People of Crimea”? The Fate of the Crimean Tatars, Russia’s Legal Justification for Annexation, and Pandora’s Box” in Sergey Sayapin and Evhen Tsybulenko (eds) The Use of Force against Ukraine and International Law” Jus Ad Bellum, Jus In Bello, Jus Post Bellum (T M C Asser / Springer 2018) pp. 21-40,

[52]  The sanctions were imposed by the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries and international organisations against Russian individuals, businesses and officials

[53] Leonid Bershidsky “Five Years Later, Putin Is Paying for Crimea” Bloomberg Opinion 16 March 2019 at


[55] Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian, 17 May 2019, at





[60] See the Memorandum by Russian NGOs at



[63] See William Partlett “Russia’s 2020 Constitutional Amendments: A Comparative Perspective” (Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 887) June 2020, at



[66] Zakluchenie No.1-3/2020,

[67] Olga Sadovskaya, EU-Russia Civil Society Forum: “The New Russian Constitution as a Pandora’s Box” at


Keir Starmer and the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers: I can send some historical documents

Keir Starmer was Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers when I was Chair in the early 1990s. I don’t think he was ever a socialist, certainly not a Marxist, although I have a PDF of his 1987 article in “Socialist Alternatives” entitled “Wapping – beyond a defeat”. But then the Labour Party is not a socialist party. It is a trade union party.

Keir was a very good human rights lawyer, and acted pro bono for ten years for the defendants, Helen Steel and David Morris, in the McLibel case brought by McDonalds.

In 1992 he led a Haldane mission to Northern Ireland. I have the Report entitled “Upholding the rule of law? Northern Ireland: criminal justice under the “emergency powers” in the 1990s”, and can send it and the 1987 article to anyone who emails me.

He became DPP through his work in the peace process in Northern Ireland. In 2007 before he became DPP he led me in Carter v Russia, the poisoning of Alexandr Litvinenko by the Russian state, brought by his widow Marina. The case is still proceeding at Strasbourg, and I am still representing Marina (now with Ben Emerson QC).

Keir was always intensely ambitious.

Bill Bowring’s review of ‘The Corporation, Law, and Capitalism: A Radical Perspective on the Role of Law in the Global Political Economy’ by Grietje Baars

Grietje Baars
The Corporation, Law, and Capitalism: A Radical Perspective on the Role of Law in the Global Political Economy

Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2020. 498 pp. £42.99 pb
ISBN 9781642591873

Reviewed by Bill Bowring

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Grietje Baars’s monumental – nearly 500 pages – work, The Corporation, Law, and Capitalism is now published in paperback at a reasonable price. This reviewer hopes that readers will delve into her passionately and clearly written engagement not only with the corporation as the engine of capitalism, but with law itself.

Baars’s call to action is comprehensive, drawn from Marx’s On the Jewish Question: ‘Our resistance must turn against the concept of private property, against capitalism and against law: away from legal emancipation and toward human emancipation.’ (379) Baars is against ‘cause-lawyering’, and attempts to hold corporations criminally liable. For her, such activism and critique inadvertently strengthens and creates value for capitalism. She supports her arguments with a wide range of scholarship.

Baars is well qualified for such an undertaking. She started as a commercial solicitor, and studied for her PhD under Catherine Redgwell at UCL, from 2004 to 2012. The book was conceived in 2009. Baars was then an in-house lawyer at Habitat, which enabled her ‘to understand the real-life effects of the intricacies of global corporate group structures as well as the relationship between human rights, contract law and international production chains’. (xiii) Her life changed dramatically when she spent time in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and participated in international conferences on the enforcement of International Humanitarian Law there.

It was while she was in Palestine that, in her words, her ‘mind was blown’ reading China Miéville’s 2006  Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law. She was converted to the ‘commodity form theory of law’ of Yevgeniy Pashukanis, the most interesting Soviet theorist of law, and his Law and Marxism: A General Theory (1924). This is the theoretical heart of Baars’s The Corporation, Law, and Capitalism.

She also spent time with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin, cause lawyers par excellence. Using litigation, it tries to hold state and non-state actors responsible for egregious abuses. Corporations have been particular targets. Baars respects the work of ECCHR, but in her view it is counter-productive, it achieves the opposite of what it intends.

Baars starts by setting out her theoretical framework. This is entitled ‘Introduction: ‘Das Kapital, das immer dahinter steckt’, which means, literally, she says, ‘the capital that always lurks behind it’. She helpfully adds in a footnote: “I owe this phrase to Fabian Schellhaas, who used it in his presentation in March 2010 at Prof. Werle’s Doktorandenseminar at the Humboldt University of Berlin.” To which one can only respond “Gott hilf mir!” Thankfully, Baars has few such impenetrable asides, though this is on p. 1.

After this, the structure and contents of the book are as follows. Baars has four chapters, and a short conclusion which is also a substantive chapter, on ‘Corporate Imperialism’.

Chapter 2 is much longer than the Introduction, over 100 pages, and is ambitiously entitled “The Roots, Development, and Context of the Legal Concept of the Corporation: the making of a Structure of Irresponsibility and a Tool of Imperialism”. This is the chapter in which Baars presents her substantive and very interesting research on law and on the Corporation.

Chapter 3 is about the same length, and at first glance has not much to do with the theory of the corporation or of law. It is entitled ‘Capitalism’s Victors’ Justice? The Economics of World War Two, the Allies’ Trials of the German Industrialists and their Treatment of the Japanese Zaibatsu’, with two sections, on the Nuremburg and Tokyo International Military Tribunals respectively. Baars’s purpose in this chapter is primarily to criticise individual criminal responsibility, and, in passing, the evident failure of the allies to prosecutes the German corporations. This chapter is also the fruit of meticulous research.

Chapter 4 is rather shorter, and is entitled ‘Remaking ICL: Removing Businessmen and Inserting Legal Persons as Subjects’. It is divided into three sections. 4A is “The Remaking of ICL: Lawyers Congealing Capitalism”. I will return to this innovative transitive use of “congeal”. 4B is “ ‘No Soul to Damn and No Body to Kick’? Attribution, Perpetration and Mens Rea in Business”, and 4C is “Re-making ICL: Who wants to be an International Criminal? Casting Business in Contemporary ICL”. This again is Baars’s critique of international criminal law, rather than corporations.

Chapter 5 is much shorter, less than half the length of the first two substantive chapters, and also has an interesting title ‘Contemporary Schreibtischtäter: Drinking from the Poisoned Chalice’. This chapter has a strong doctrinal focus on the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the International Criminal Court itself. Baars tells us that ‘Schreibtischtäter’ can be translated ‘desk murderers’, ‘… carrying out the seemingly innocuous tasks that lead or contribute to ‘physical’ crimes at some distance removed from the office.’ (309)

This unusual structure, with two chapters of over 100 words, one of almost 70, and three of something over 30, is somewhat reminiscent of the Holy Qu’ran, in which the chapters are organised in order of decreasing length.

As to the theoretical basis of the book, Baars states that ‘I use a Marxist theoretical framework and method.’ Baars wants to define the nature of capitalist law, where it came from ‘and how and why it was created or why law specifically was selected as opposed to other forms of social organisation’. (9) However, the notion that law under capitalism was created or selected (by whom?) seems rather un-Marxist. Laws have been around since at least the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi in about 1754 BC. Most Marxists, especially adherents to ‘historical materialism’, insist that the laws of a social order, such as capitalism, are rooted in material conditions (forces of production), and production relations. Elsewhere in the text, Baars is much closer to such a conception.

The ‘commodity form theory of law’ (CFTL) as put forward by Pashukanis in 1924 and applied to international law by Miéville in 2004, says Baars, ‘provides a clear and persuasive explanation of where law comes from and why it (was) developed’ (10). She adds that employing this theory enables her to show that the corporation ‘came from somewhere’. (11) She claims that in her book ‘for the first time the [CFTL] has been applied in a sustained way to a specific societal problem.’ (14) She briefly outlines CFTL in just a little over two pages (16-18), which does not enable her to do justice to the complexity of Pashukanis’s thought, or to its critics. Nevertheless, she highlights her own advances: ‘Without departing from the main tenets of the [CFTL], I adjust a number of Miéville’s parameters to better fit some aspects of Marxist theory and the questions I seek to answer’ (18). These adjustments are threefold: first, her notion of ‘law’ rather than Miéville’s distinction between national and international law; second, the concept of global classes rather than Miéville’s emphasis on the international state-system; and third, her foregrounding of imperialist economic violence ‘perpetrated and participated in by the various types of members of the global capitalist class rather than inter-state war per se.’ (19)

Baars has two notable theoretical innovations of interest to Marxists, the first of which I have already mentioned is her transitive use of the word ‘congeal’. For her, law ‘congeals’ capitalism. The second is her notion of ‘canned morality’. Both make regular appearances from the beginning to the end of the book.

The word ‘congeal’ is employed by Baars in a number of different ways as the book progresses. First, it is said that ‘law congeals capitalism’, which means that the form and content of law are determined by the mode of production. She adds: ‘Whatever material relations exist, we design law, or law functions, so as to confirm, support, congeal or concretise them.’ Further, the work of legal scholars is ‘…the dialectical process of law(yers) congealing capitalism’. (26) The next section is headed ‘Lawyers Congealing Capitalism: Who Constructs the Structure?’. (Ibid)  Baars subsequently adds: ‘…lawyers, through law, congeal capitalism. I deliberately use the verb to congeal incorrectly here, to emphasise the hidden agency behind a process that seems ‘natural’. (28)

In Chapter 2 Baars starts by referring to our failure to see law as the ‘congealing’ of property relations. She links her own concept to Marx’s ‘commodity fetishism’ and to the ‘congealing of the corporate purpose of profit extraction in the 1844 [Joint Stock Companies] Act’ (69). She continues that the corporation is a ‘structure of irresponsibility’ which is ‘capitalism congealed’ (74), and adds that ideological forms ‘congeal’ the state and the corporation. (92)

Leaving Corporations as such behind, Baars turns to the Nuremburg International Military Tribunal. She explains why it was not a failure: ‘by producing capitalism’s victor’s justice it played an important part in this process of further congealing capitalism and institutionalising international law.’ (198)  It was ‘members of the (literal) ruling elite congealing capitalism’.  Indeed, she says, ‘… lawyers’ construction of ICL (International Criminal Law) ideology serves partly to congeal ICL’s fluidity…’. (240) Later in the chapter, Baars again emphasises the role of lawyers, whose ‘congealing serves to further rationalise criminal justice policy’ (266). She asks whether if the International Criminal Court regime were to congeal into Customary International Law, it would be less useful for capturing corporate actors. (274) Finally, she writes that ‘ICL thus forms an integral part of the structure of rules congealing the economically exploitative relationships between the GCC (Global Capitalist Class) and the GWC (Global Working Class).’ (341) This last use of the word ‘congeal’ is rather opaque.

To turn to ‘canned morality’, this is introduced as a feature of International Criminal Law (12). Baars explains: ‘Criminal law, more than any other area of law, functions as society’s ‘moral guide’ and is thus a powerful ideological tool that can be deployed at opportune political moments in the service of capitalism, as ‘canned morality’. (23) The International Military Tribunals after WWII were, she says, a display of ‘canned morality’ which ‘served the prevailing mode of production by allowing ‘liberal lawyers’ to express their individual humanitarianism and through this to construct the ideological ‘play’ of the trials, while simultaneously creating a ‘diversion’ for far-reaching economic intervention.’ (134)

Baars reveals ‘An Alternative Foundational Narrative for ICL’. Her sub-heading ‘Canned Morality: a Commodity Form Theory of ICL’ reveals the ambition of her innovation. This is commodified morality, producing ‘accountability’ in the Weberian sense, so that commodified morality can be deployed to control and optimise public sentiment. It unites us with the state against the accused, and away from the structural questions. ‘This is what ICL is for’, she declares (263). The ICL industry, she says, produces canned morality to divert our attention from the structural causes of conflict (308). Later, she explains that ‘corporate accountability thus equals ‘commodified (and canned) morality’ or ‘moral’ behaviour with a clear economic benefit.’ (359) She adds that ‘… canned morality is as far away from democracy as we can get.’ (374) Canned morality also makes its appearance in the impassioned final pages of the book, where Baars inveighs against cause lawyering, and legal emancipation.

The reader must judge for themselves whether Baars has achieved a significant development of Marxist theory, and whether her reading of CFTL bears the weight she wishes to place on it, in particular ‘canned morality’ as the ‘commodity form theory of International Criminal Law’. But there can be no doubting the passion and scholarship, especially concerning the corporation itself and its history, and the development of ICL, which are to be found on every page of The Corporation, Law, and Capitalism. The book is indeed a rewarding if lengthy read.

18 July 2020


Marx, Engels, Lenin, and the Right of Peoples to Self-Determination in International Law

Draft for Elgar Handbook on Law and Marxism edited by Paul O’Connell and Umut Özsu. Accepted draft.

Marx, Engels, Lenin, and the Right of Peoples to Self-Determination in International Law

Bill Bowring


The right of peoples to self-determination is a continuing scandal at the heart of post-Second World War international law. Prior to the Second World War, collective self-determination was a revolutionary principle deployed by Marx, Engels and Lenin, and was enshrined as such in the first constitutions of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union.[1] With the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, self-determination found expression in that organization’s founding constitutional instrument, the UN Charter including among its four ‘purposes’ a provision that spoke of the need ‘[t]o develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace’.[2] In 1945 self-determination was therefore a ‘principle’, but not a ‘right’ under international law. Nevertheless, as a result of the hard-fought ‘battle for international law’ in the context of decolonisation,[3] the legal right of peoples to self-determination was enshrined in the two 1966 human rights covenants, both of which are legally binding multilateral treaties ratified by most of the 193 current members of the United Nations.[4] As a result, self-determination was controversially confirmed as a human right, at the foundations of both civil and political rights, going back to the 1789 Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, and to social, economic, and cultural rights, first grudgingly conceded by Western capitalist states in 1919 with the creation of the International Labour Organisation in response to the Russian Revolution.[5] Indeed, the right to self-determination is not simply enshrined in binding treaty law; it enjoys an even higher status, being understood by most international lawyers as a norm of customary international law, binding on all states. It is also understood as an erga omnes obligation—an obligation owed by states to the international community as a whole, intended to protect and promote the basic values and common interests of all.

In my 2008 book, The Degradation of the International Legal Order?,[6] I wrote that ‘[t]he Bolshevik and then Soviet doctrine of the right of nations to self-determination had its origin in the uncompromising pre-World War I struggle between Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky (and orthodox Marxists with Karl Kautsky at their head) on the one side, and the Austro-Marxist theorists such as Karl Renner and Otto Bauer on the other’.[7] The ‘right of nations to self-determination’ was a key element of Lenin’s policy from 1914 onwards. In fact, the right of ‘nations’ (a term that is now often replaced by ‘peoples’) to self-determination has a long history, and was an important matter of principle for Marx and Engels.

This chapter proceeds in three parts. First, I begin by considering recent orthodox accounts of self-determination in international law, which generally seek to downplay the importance and content of the right of peoples to self-determination. I pay particularly close attention to the role of Marx and Lenin—and also, paradoxically, the Soviet Union—in propagating the concept of self-determination and related political programmes. I also pay close attention to the success of the Soviet Union and other ‘socialist’ states in making self-determination a core element of international law after the Second World War. Second, I turn to the mid-life conversion of Marx and Engels to support national self-determination in the cases of Poland and Ireland, and the vexed question of whether this simply amounted to a rehearsal of the Hegelian (and Eurocentric) theory of historical and non-historical nations. Engels borrowed the concept of non-historical peoples from Hegel, who had identified nationhood with a tradition of statehood.[8] Third, I examine Lenin’s principled support of the right of nations to self-determination, his return to Marx’s position, and his decisive role in placing the right at the centre of early Soviet policy and constitutionalism. Finally, I trace the role of the Soviet Union in helping to bring about a revolution in international law, and at the same time securing its own downfall.[9]

Self-Determination and International Struggle, 2004 and 2019

The right to collective self-determination was recently—and clearly—reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in two advisory opinions, dealing with two exemplary instances of the anti-imperialist struggle, itself an aspect of the class struggle. These two opinions were delivered in 2004 (on the question of Israel’s construction of its West Bank wall, which runs through occupied Palestinian territories)[10] and 2019 (on the United Kingdom’s violation of the Chagos Islanders’ right to self-determination.[11]

In its 2004 advisory opinion on the West Bank wall, the ICJ recalled[12] that common article 1 of the ICESCR and ICCPR ‘reaffirms the right of all peoples to self-determination’, and lays upon all states parties to these instruments the obligation to promote the realization of that right and to respect it, in conformity with the UN Charter. The ICJ held that Israel had violated the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people by constructing a wall, which it termed a ‘separation barrier’, through occupied Palestinian territories.

In its more recent advisory opinion on ‘the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius by the United Kingdom in 1965’, the ICJ held that ‘the nature and scope of the right to self-determination of peoples, including respect for “the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country”, were reiterated in the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations’ which ‘confirmed its normative character under customary international law’.[13] Further, the ICJ stated that ‘since respect for the right to self-determination is an obligation erga omnes, all States have a legal interest in protecting that right’.[14] The ICJ held that the United Kingdom violated this right when it separated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius prior to the latter’s independence in March 1968. On 8 November 1965, the islands were joined to formally established as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom—that is, a new British colony—to be known as the ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’. In 1971 the United Kingdom and the United States concluding a treaty to lease the island of Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands, to the United States, so that the latter might build an air and naval base on the island. The inhabitants of the Chagos Islands were subsequently exiled in secret to Mauritius, where they became chronically impoverished.[15] The ICJ concluded that ‘the United Kingdom has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible, and that all Member States must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius’.[16]

On 22 May 2019 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution welcoming the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the Chagos Archipelago’s separation from Mauritius, and also demanding that the United Kingdom unconditionally withdraw its colonial administration from the area within six months.[17] The vote was 116 in favour of the resolution to six against, with 56 abstentions.[18] The right of peoples to self-determination continues, it would seem, to retain its importance—indeed, its revolutionary anti-colonial power—today. It is unlikely that the United Kingdom will acquiesce in the General Assembly’s demand, or that the United States will be made to leave Diego Garcia. It is now known that the island has played a central role in the US policies of torture and rendition to Guantánamo Bay,[19] in which the United Kingdom has colluded.[20]

Umut Özsu contends that the development of international human rights law since 1945 should not be explained either as ‘an incremental unfolding of some inexorable logic’ or as a hierarchy of norms, but rather as ‘an outgrowth of a series of wide-ranging struggles over which social claims and relations were to receive legal sanction’.[21] I argue more concretely that the right of peoples to self-determination is a hotly contested irruption of politics into law, with its roots in the 19th century—and that while it is uncontestably a legal right in international law, both as enshrined in treaties and as customary international law, it is by no means accepted as such. Self-determination struggles continue to rage throughout the world, for example in the ongoing cases of the Basque. Irish, Kurdish and Palestinian peoples.[22] I contend that the claim to a right of peoples to self-determination had its origins entirely outside any discussion of international law. Marx, Engels, and Lenin had no interest whatsoever in international law, and what was for a long period a political slogan or demand only acquired legal status in the context of struggles for decolonization and the break-up of colonial empires. And in the context of the United Nations.

Downgrading Self-Determination?

Although the Soviet Union, paradoxically and hypocritically, was instrumental in transforming the principle of self-determination into a legal right, a central norm of international law, most orthodox texts on international law portray the Soviet approach to the right to self-determination as merely hypocritical and contradictory.

The entry for ‘self-determination’ in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Law, for example, maintains that, according to Soviet doctrine, self-determination existed ‘only for cases where it served the cause of class struggle and so-called socialist justice; it was only a tactical means to serve the aims of world communism and not an end in itself’.[23] Similarly, Stefan Oeter passes a similar judgment in a well-known commentary on the UN Charter, characterising Lenin’s insistence on the right of ‘nations’ to self-determination as nothing more than a ‘political weapon’, whereas Woodrow Wilson, with his ‘Fourteen Points’ on the reorganisation of Europe after the First World War, is presented as the political actor who enabled self-determination to make its way from politics to international law.[24] In a similar vein, Lauri Mälksoo, an Estonian scholar of international law, has suggested that it is ‘misleading to pick and choose certain pro self-determination moves by the Bolsheviks in 1917 and 1920, and then conclude that the Soviets advanced this right in international law’.[25]

In order to get a broader sense of the way in which the role of socialist states in shaping the international law of self-determination, it is useful to consider two recent books that engage closely with self-determination: Jörg Fisch’s The Right of Self-Determination of Peoples: The Domestication of an Illusion,[26] and Fernando Tesón’s edited volume, The Theory of Self-Determination.[27] Both books recognize the significance of the contradictory role played by the Soviet Union in decolonisation.

Fisch’s book starts by recognising the role played by Lenin: ‘Lenin’s position on the right to self-determination was already clear in 1914, while Wilson probably did not even know of the expression “right of self-determination of peoples” in 1914’, Fisch suggests controversially, adding that because the Second World War was a ‘traditional power struggle’ the right to self-determination might have disappeared ‘definitively’.[28] However, the victorious powers were unable to keep their colonies in check, and in the summer of 1945, when the Soviet Union introduced the ‘principle of self-determination’ into the UN Charter,[29] ‘[t]his secured the Soviet Union the approval of the colonial regions’.[30] Fisch adds that ‘the Soviet bloc and the Third World took over the substance of the concept that had been created in the Americas between 1776 and 1865, but had not yet been designated as self-determination’.[31] According to Fisch, the Third World, supported by the Soviet Union and its allies, succeeded after 1945 in ‘monopolising the discourse of self-determination and the right to self-determination for itself.’[32] He concludes that ‘Lenin’s venture in 1917–18 was a resounding success’, and that ‘Wilson became a prophet of the right to self-determination, but not of his own concept of it, but rather Lenin’s’.[33]

Tesón’s collection, by contrast, has very little to say about the decolonization period, save only for a chapter authored by Patrick Macklem.[34]. Unlike Fisch, Macklem seems determined to ensure that the Soviet Union should disappear from the history of common article one of the two 1966 human rights covenants. Thus, he begins by informing his reader that it was Arab, Asian, and Latin American delegations that began to press for recognition of a legal right to self-determination during the 1950s, much to the alarm of ‘European officials’, who saw this as a pretext for attacks on colonial powers.[35] Lenin and the Soviet Union make no appearance in Macklem’s account of the emergence of the concept, as a discourse justifying the liberation of eastern European peoples.[36] He asserts that ‘[a]fter a decade of efforts by the African, Arab, Asian and Latin American delegations to attempt to persuade numerous UN bodies to recognise self-determination as a human right’, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 1514 (XV).[37] And he further adds that ‘[t]he elevation of self-determination to the status of a human right was a spectacular political achievement by the Arab, Asian, and Latin American delegations’ at the United Nations.[38]

It is worth comparing these recent additions to the literature on decolonisation with Antonio Cassese’s magisterial 1995 book on the topic, Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Reappraisal.[39] Cassese was clear that ‘Lenin was the first to insist, to the international community, that the right of self-determination be established as a general criterion for the liberation of peoples.’[40] He engages in detail with the positions of Lenin and Wilson, Lenin’s call for the immediate liberation of those living under colonial rule, and Wilsons’ championing of ‘orderly liberal reformism’.[41] Cassese’s claim that it was the Soviet Union that insisted on the proclamation of the right to self-determination in the text of the UN Charter is supported by several sources and discussed in detail.[42] Cassese gives the 1955 Bandung Conference its proper place as an important contributor to a legal right to self-determination. But he maintains that the socialist countries were the most active advocates of anti-colonial self-determination, and ‘adopted and developed Lenin’s thesis that self-determination should first and foremost be a postulate of anti-colonialism’.[43] Further, it was the Soviet Union, he argues, that ‘strongly advocated the need for both Covenants formally to enshrine the right of peoples to self-determination, which, in the Soviet view, was a precondition for the respect of individual rights.’[44] Self-determination, for Cassese, is an ‘international political postulate’ with a revolutionary content.[45]

Karl Marx on Self-Determination

Marx himself used the phrase ‘right of nations to self-determination’ on at least three occasions. First, in his 1843 ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx wrote that ‘in democracy the constitution, the law, the state, so far as it is political constitution, is itself only a self-determination of the people, and a determinate content of the people’.[46] Marx’s phrase ‘self-determination of the people’, in the context of democratic struggles, is significant in relation to positions he would adopt later in life. It was immediately after this passage that Marx added his famous statement about democracy:

Democracy is the resolved mystery of all constitutions.[47] Here the constitution not only in itself, according to essence, but according to existence and actuality is returned to its real ground, actual man, the actual people, and established as its own work. The constitution appears as what it is, the free product of men.

Marx’s use of ‘self-determination of nations’ in a more directly political, and less theoretical, sense dates at least as early as 1865. In his letter of 20 November 1865, Marx referred, under the heading ‘International Politics’, to ‘[t]he need to eliminate Muscovite influence in Europe by applying the right of self-determination of nations, and the re-establishment of Poland upon a democratic and social basis’.[48] Additionally, on 22 February 1866, the Belgian newspaper L’Echo de Verviers published a letter Marx had helped to write, containing the following language: ‘The Central Council …  has founded three newspapers … one in Britain, The Workman’s Advocate, the only English newspaper which, proceeding from the right of the peoples to self-determination, recognises that the Irish have the right to throw off the English yoke.’[49]

The cause of Poland, subject to three partitions by Russia, Austria, and Prussia during the course of the eighteenth century (in 1772, 1793, and 1795 respectively), and complete elimination in the final partition, engaged Marx’s particular enthusiasm. Marx was a passionate enemy of the Russian Empire, the ‘gendarme of Europe’, as the following passage from 1856–57 shows: ‘It is in the terrible and abject school of Mongolian slavery that Muscovy was nursed and grew up. It gathered strength only by becoming a virtuoso in the craft of serfdom. Even when emancipated, Muscovy continued to perform its traditional part of the slave as master.’[50]

Furthermore, in a speech on Poland delivered on 22 January 1863 , Marx once again referred to self-determination in strong terms:

What are the reasons for this special interest of the Working Men’s  Party in the fate of Poland? First of all, of course, sympathy for a subjugated people which,  by continuous heroic struggle against its oppressors, has proven its historic right to national independence  and self-determination. It is by no means  a contradiction that the international  Working Men’s Party should strive for the restoration  of the Polish nation.[51]

Needless to say, Poland was not the only nation for the liberation of which Marx became a strong advocate. Ireland was another.

Marx underwent a dramatic change of mind (not the only occasion on which he did so) concerning Ireland, in 1867. As Lenin made a point of noting, prior to the 1860s Marx thought that Ireland ‘would not be liberated by the national movement of the oppressed nation, but by the working-class movement of the oppressor nation’. ‘However’, he noted, ‘it so happened that the English working class fell under the influence of the liberals for a fairly long time, became an appendage to the liberals, and by adopting a liberal-labour policy left itself leaderless. The bourgeois liberation movement in Ireland grew stronger and assumed revolutionary forms. Marx reconsidered his view and corrected it.’[52] Lenin cited a letter from Marx to Engels of 2 November 1867,[53] in which Marx wrote as follows:

The Fenian trial in Manchester was exactly as was to be expected. You will have seen what a scandal ‘our people’ have caused in the Reform League. I sought by every means at my disposal to incite the English workers to demonstrate in favour of Fenianism … I once believed the separation of Ireland from England to be impossible. I now regard it as inevitable, although Federation may follow upon separation.[54]

The trial in question was that of the ‘Manchester martyrs’: William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, all members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. These three were executed after having been found guilty of the murder of a police officer during an escape from prison that took place close to Manchester’s city-centre in 1867.[55] For his principled position on the matter, Marx would now be prosecuted for ‘glorifying terrorism’.[56]

Jeremy Smith, writing on the ‘national question’,[57] notes that in 1848 Marx blamed the Irish for the chauvinism of British workers, viewing the English Chartist movement as the only force capable of liberating the Irish people. But the rise of the Fenian movement in the 1860s forced Marx to urge the English workers to support them, and to recognise that revolution in Ireland might even precede and encourage revolution in England. Marx and Engels’ new position was that all national liberation movements were by nature revolutionary and should therefore in every case be supported by communists. Nigel Harris also contends that the views of Marx and Engels  changed ‘quite radically’. On his account, “In 1848 Engels was completely insensitive to the complicated class issues of the Austrian Empire,  subordinating all to the fate of Magyars, Poles, and Italians, and the need to stop Russia.” All the other nations were “… reduced to the non-historical, the rubbish of ages.” Harris continued “All Slavs except the Poles became “Panslavists”.  But by about 1870, “… for Marx and Engels the discovery of Ireland changed the motivation, not simply the strategic balance”.[58]

As to Marx’s radical change of position, Michael Heinrich has rightly argued that rather than a single, consistent oeuvre, or (for Althusser) a simple break between a younger, more philosophical Marx and a later, properly scientific one focused on political economy, ‘we find in Marx a whole series of attempts, discontinuations, shifts, new concepts and new beginnings’.[59] Indeed, ‘there are no texts to be found that show directly or indirectly that he wanted to build any kind of -ism’.[60]

The Debate Concerning Marx and the ‘National Question’

At this point I have referred to the positions of Marx and Engels with respect to the right to self-determination of Ireland and Poland. In his 1991 Marxism and Nationalism,[61] Ephraim Nimni, the leading scholar of the Austro-Marxists Otto Bauer and Karl Renner and their approach to the question of non-territorial cultural autonomy, accuses Marx and Engels of ‘superficial discussions, apparent conceptual gaps, and great differences of interpretation from one historical context to another’.[62] This he ascribes to their adherence to Hegel’s theory, referred to above, of ‘historical versus non-historical nations’.[63] He attributes their support for Polish and Irish self-determination and their strong opposition to any such right for the Slavic peoples of the Balkans to their ‘rigid evolutionary model, epiphenomenal economism, and the Eurocentric approach which permeated their interpretations of the processes of social change’.[64]

Nimni accuses Marx and Engels of adhering to Hegel’s position in his Philosophy of History—a position according to which, as Nimni himself puts it, ‘peoples (“Völker”) who had been proven incapable of building a state will never be able to do so and are damned culturally to vanish in the stream of history’.[65] He cites the scathing remarks of Marx and Engels, often in their pre-1860s journalism, about Mexicans,[66] Scandinavians,[67] the Chinese (their ‘hereditary stupidity’),[68] and North African Bedouins[69] as only a few samples, arguing that ‘Marx and Engels were, to put it mildly, impatient with and intolerant of ethnic minorities’.[70]

Kevin Anderson notes Nimni’s use of the phrase ‘hereditary stupidity’ as an example of Marx’s ‘abusive language’ and ‘intense hostility’ to many non-Western ‘national communities’, but insists that Marx’s real target in this newspaper article about China was British imperialism and what he saw as its unconscionable opium trade.[71] He cites the editor of Marx’s journalism, James Ledbetter, to the effect that with the possible exception of human slavery, ‘no topic raised Marx’s ire as profoundly as the opium trade with China’.[72]

He acknowledges the troubling nature of Marx’s language about ‘hereditary stupidity’, but argues that Marx’s focus was ‘not Chinese backwardness, but a Chinese national awakening’.[73]

The African-American Marxist scholar August Nimtz has also addressed what he calls the ‘myth’ of Marx’s Eurocentrism.[74] Nimtz explains how, from 1870 onwards, Marx and Engels ceased to expect the rebirth of a revolutionary movement in England, following the demise of the Chartists. Instead, they turned to Russia as the revolutionary vanguard, despite the fact that Russia was an overwhelmingly peasant country that had only one foot in Europe, and not the Europe that the Eurocentric charge refers to, that is, Western Europe with its developed capitalist industry and world-wide colonies.[75] He recalls that in 1849 Marx and Engels insisted that only a world war could provide the Chartists with the opportunity for a successful uprising, and that any European war in which England was involved would be a world war, since world-wide colonies would be involved.[76]

Nimtz shows how Marx and Engels reversed their earlier position and gave support to religious-led Arab resistance to French imperialism in Algeria in 1857; expressed strong sympathy for the Sepoy Mutiny against Britain in India in 1857–99; and by 1861 wrote, as the US Civil War loomed, that US expansion into Texas and what is now Arizona and New Mexico, brought with it slavery and the rule of the slaveholders.[77] At the same time, they were quite clear that the ‘booty of British imperialism’ had begun to corrupt and compromise the English proletariat.[78]

For his part, Pranav Jani focuses on Marx’s response to the 1857 revolt in British India, the so-called ‘Indian Mutiny’.[79] Jani maintains that ‘under the impact of the Revolt, Marx’s articles increasingly turned from an exclusive focus on the British Bourgeoisie to theorise the self-activity and struggle of the colonised Indians’.[80] He demonstrates that Marx’s historical-materialist methodology allowed him to move beyond his prejudices and weak formulations and develop a more complex understanding of the relation between coloniser and colonised, in much the same way that the Paris Commune forced him to reassess his theory of the state.[81] For Jani, Marx was thereby transformed from a ‘mere observer’ of the anti-colonial struggle into an active participant in the ideological struggle over the meaning of the revolt. This also enabled him to refute racist representations of Indian violence in the British press, ‘by drawing a sharp division between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor and dialectically linking the two’.[82] Jani concludes that if Eurocentrism makes Western Europe the centre of the globe, then the Marx he presents is not Eurocentric.

Lenin and Self-Determination

I return to the context in which Lenin engaged in his polemic against Rosa Luxemburg, and, as I noted above, explained the radical change in Marx’s position. It was in December 1913 that Lenin began to write on the question of the ‘right of nations to self-determination’. In a short polemic on the question of independence for Ukraine, he insisted on ‘freedom to secede, for the right to secede’, while conceding that ‘the right to self-determination is one thing, of course, and the expediency of self-determination, the secession of a given nation under given circumstances, is another’.[83] Later that month he again declared that ‘[a] democrat could not remain a democrat (let alone a proletarian democrat) without systematically advocating, precisely among the Great-Russian masses and in the Russian language, the “self-determination” of nations in the political and not in the “cultural” sense’.[84] The latter, he said, meant only freedom of languages.

In mid-1914 Lenin published ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, a substantial work on the question and a polemic against Luxemburg, who opposed the breakup of the tsarist empire and instead urged the creation of autonomies within the existing empires.[85] In his first chapter, Lenin insisted that ‘it would be wrong to interpret the right to self-determination as meaning anything but the right to existence as a separate state’.[86] He further argued that ‘the national state is the rule and the “norm” of capitalism: the multi-national state represents backwardness … from the standpoint of national relations, the best conditions for the development of capitalism are undoubtedly provided by the national state’.[87] Lenin’s understanding of the historical significance of the demand is highly significant, and merits substantial reproduction here:

The epoch of bourgeois-democratic revolutions in Western, continental Europe embraces a fairly definite period, approximately between 1789 and 1871. This was precisely the period of national movements and the creation of national states. When this period drew to a close, Western Europe had been transformed into a settled system of bourgeois states, which, as a general rule, were nationally uniform states. Therefore, to seek the right to self-determination in the programmes of West-European socialists at this time of day is to betray one’s ignorance of the ABC of Marxism.

In Eastern Europe and Asia the period of bourgeois-democratic revolutions did not begin until 1905. The revolutions in Russia, Persia, Turkey and China, the Balkan wars—such is the chain of world events of our period in our ‘Orient’. And only a blind man could fail to see in this chain of events the awakening of a whole series of bourgeois-democratic national movements which strive to create nationally independent and nationally uniform states. It is precisely and solely because Russia and the neighbouring countries are passing through this period that we must have a clause in our programme on the right of nations to self-determination.[88]

Thus, Lenin’s conception of self-determination in 1914 was intended to apply not only to the Russian Empire, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but also to the colonial empires of European states. This was one of the key differences between him and Wilson, who contemplated self-determination mainly for the new central and eastern European states emerging from the ruins of those two empires, as well as the Ottoman Empire.  Otto Bauer, Karl Renner, and the Jewish Bund all proposed forms of autonomy within the existing states.[89]

Lenin returned to this question in 1916, in the midst of the First World War and before the October Revolution, and summed up his thoughts on the question of self-determination, writing that autonomy might enable a nation, until then forcibly retained within an existing state such as Russia, to ‘crystallise into a nation’ entitled to self-determination and independence as a sovereign state.[90] He had in mind Norway’s declaration of sovereignty from Denmark in 1814, and envisaged a declaration by a multi-ethnic Poland that it would no longer be ruled by the Russian tsar.

In May 1917 the issue of independence for Poland and Finland was again at the forefront of European political and diplomatic attention in a hotly contested debate within the Bolshevik Party. Lenin drafted a resolution on the ‘national question’.[91] His starting-point was clear: recognition of the right of all nations forming part of Russia freely to secede and form independent states. To deny them such a right, or to fail as a Russian government to take the necessary measures to guarantee the realisation of the right to secede in practice, would in effect be to support a policy of forcible seizure or annexation. For Lenin, opposed by a number of leading Bolsheviks including Nikolai Bukharin and Georgy Pyatikov, the right to self-determination was not a mere slogan but a policy to be put into practice with immediate effect within the former Russian Empire after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Igor Blishchenko, in his time one of the most authoritative Soviet scholars of international law,[92] wrote, in a text ironically published in 1968, the year the Soviet Union crushed the ‘Czech Spring’, that it was the ‘Decree on Peace’ of 26 October 1917, drafted by Lenin,[93] which for the first time explicitly extended the principle of the right to self-determination to all nations, thereby discarding the imperialist distinction between ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ nations.[94] In response to Western scholars who claimed that this decree was hypocritical, having no application to peoples within the Soviet Union and applicable only to Finland in the former tsarist empire, Blishchenko pointed to the 1924 Soviet constitution (which remained in force until Stalin’s 1936 constitution). Article 4 of that constitution enshrined the right of the Soviet Union’s constituent republics freely to leave the union, this being a point on which Lenin had insisted.[95] More importantly, Blishchenko underlined the degree to which the principle was indeed put into practice by Lenin during the early years of the Soviet Union. Poland, Finland, and the three Baltic countries, until then part of the Russian Empire, became independent sovereign states. Writing thirty years later in a collection published by the Russian human rights non-governmental organisation Memorial, after the Soviet Union collapse in 1991, Blishchenko argued that the early Soviet government was remarkably consistent in implementing self-determination.[96]

According to Blishchenko, it was clear even before the October Revolution that Lenin and the Bolsheviks favoured not only a right of secession from Russia by the ‘captive nations’ but also a right to territorial autonomy for minorities that did not enjoy the status of nationhood. In ‘The Tasks of the Revolution’, published in October 1917, Lenin declared that a democratic peace would be impossible without explicit renunciation of annexation and seizure. He emphasised that every nation without exception, whether in Europe or in the colonial world, should have the right to decide for itself whether it should form a separate state.[97] This right was later enshrined in the 1918 constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), which stated that every nation was entitled to decide whether it wished to participate in the RSFSR and on which basis.[98] This was the only basis for creating a “free and voluntary state” as proclaimed in the 1918 Constitition.

What Blishchenko failed to point out in 1968, writing in the Soviet Union when Lenin had been in effect deified, with Stalin as his true disciple, was the fact that one of Lenin’s most bitter struggles with Stalin concerned question of independence for Georgia. As Moshe Lewin described in detail, Lenin was strongly in favour of Georgia’s right to independence—just as he had been for Finland, the Baltic states and Poland.[99] Stalin, of Georgian origin, was opposed. As Lewin points out, Lenin’s criticism of Stalin’s national policy and of his treatment of the Georgians explains how he changed his mind about Stalin, and urged that Stalin should be deprived of his post.[100] On 31 December 1922, shortly before his death, in ‘The Question of Nationalities or “Autonomisation”’, Lenin warned against Stalin: ‘It is quite natural that in such circumstances the “freedom to secede from the union” by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is’.[101] Lenin regarded Stalin as just such a ‘Great-Russian chauvinist’. Stalin was utterly opposed to self-determination for Georgia. Lenin supported Georgia’s secession, even if it were under Menshevik rule.[102]

Self-Determination, International Law, and the Soviet Union

The right of peoples to self-determination is the ‘revolutionary kernel’ of post-Second World War international law, and is both reflected in and energised by the struggles of national liberation movements for independence from colonial empires.[103] The Soviet Union played a leading role in bringing about this development, in the teeth of fierce resistance from colonial powers. It is particularly noteworthy that the Soviet Union gave significant support to national liberation movements and the newly independent states, engaging in a sustained diplomatic effort to secure legal recognition for an international right of collective self-determination. At the same time, Soviet tanks appeared in 1956 and 1968, in Budapest and Prague, in order to extinguish any signs of self-determination in Hungary or Czechoslovakia. The Crimean Tatars, who suffered genocide at the hands of Stalin in 1944 and were deported en masse to central Asia, only won the right to return to their homeland in the late 1980s, and since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 are once again finding themselves persecuted.[104]

The role of the Soviet Union could, of course, be dismissed as blatant hypocrisy, given that it, together with the territories it occupied as a result of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, constituted the greatest territorial expanse of any Russian-dominated polity. There was at the very least a stark contradiction between Soviet theory and practice with respect to self-determination.[105] Writing in 1976, Boris Meissner emphasised that the opposition of non-Russian ethnic groups in the Soviet Union to Brezhnev’s policies of centralisation and russification grew significantly after 1968.[106] Soviet dissidents like Andrei Sakharov often took up the injustice suffered by the Crimean Tatars, deported from their homeland to central Asia in 1944, and the Meskhetians, who had been similarly expelled from Georgia. On 19 March 1970, two years after first mentioning the Crimean Tatars in writing, Sakharov sent a letter to the Soviet leadership demanding full restoration of all rights—including rights of national autonomy and the right to return to ancestral homelands—for those nations that had been forcibly resettled under Stalin. These demands were reiterated in a further memorandum from Sakharov to Brezhnev of 5 March 1971.[107]

Then, in his book published in English in October 1975, entitled ‘My Country and the World’,[108] Andrei Sakharov again expressed his opposition to the oppression of the non-Russian nationalities. He drew attention to the fact that many political prisoners were so-called ‘nationalists’ from Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and Armenia. These individuals had originally been brought to trial principally because of their concern for the preservation of their national culture in the face of Russification, and had been given particularly heavy sentences. In addition to the Crimean Tatars, the fate of the Volga Germans and the Jews were the subject of Sakharov’s attention.[109] Thus the seeds were sown for the ‘parade of sovereignties’ that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,[110] a development that threatened the continuing existence of the Russian Federation itself and the continuing relevance of self-determination to Russia’s actions in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Abkhazia, Transnistria, South Ossetia, and elsewhere.[111]

It is clear to Russia’s present rulers that Lenin’s wholehearted advocacy and implementation of the right to collective self-determination played a crucial role in the destruction of the Russian Empire and in the collapse of the Soviet Union, and continues to pose an existential threat to contemporary Russia.

On 25 January 2016 Mr Putin accused Lenin of placing an ‘atomic bomb’ under Russia.[112] In Mr Putin’s opinion Lenin was responsible both for destroying, with German money and backing for his travel from Switzerland to Russia in 1917, the great Russian Empire; but also of preparing the destruction of the great USSR. Thus, Mr Putin was particularly critical of Lenin’s concept of a federative state with its entities having the right to secede, saying it had heavily contributed to the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. He added that Lenin was wrong in his dispute with Stalin, who, in Mr Putin’s words, advocated a unitary state model. For Mr Putin, Stalin was in the line of great Tsars, from Ivan IV, to Peter I, to Catherine II.

Mr Putin also said that Lenin’s government had whimsically drawn borders between parts of the USSR, placing Donbass under the Ukrainian jurisdiction in order to increase the percentage of proletariat, in a move Mr Putin called “delirious”.[113]

These statements were made not long after Russia argued that Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and its accession to the Russian Federation in March 2014 were the result of the ‘people of Crimea’ exercising their right to self-determination. This position was legally incorrect,[114] and has opened something of a Pandora’s box, since there are many peoples in Russia, not least 5.5 million Tatars, with strong and long-standing claims to self-determination—claims of the kind that Lenin recognised and supported.[115]


In this chapter I have paid particular attention to the surprisingly Marxist content of a cornerstone of post-Second World War international law. In doing so, I have grappled with the vexed question for Marxism of the ‘national question’, and also with claims that Marx and Engels were Eurocentric and subscribed, at least tacitly, to Hegel’s discredited theory of ‘historical’ and ‘non-historical’ nations.

Lenin’s life and legacy have become increasingly controversial, not least as new evidence has emerged of the slaughter that followed the 1920 to 1921 Tambov (or Antonov) peasant uprising against the Bolsheviks, suppressed by the Red Army using chemical weapons, with 100 000 arrested and 15 000 killed.[116] This was in addition to the well-known suppression of the 1921 Kronstadt uprising. Official Soviet figures claimed that approximately 1000 rebels were killed, 2000 wounded, and between 2300 and 6528 captured, with 6000 to 8000 defecting to Finland, while the Red Army lost 527 killed and 3285 wounded.[117] Lenin then turned to the partial restoration of capitalism in Russia, the New Economic Policy from 1921 to 1928.[118] However, one of Lenin’s lasting legacies pertained to his implementation of his controversial policy of the ‘right of nations to self-determination’, and his insistence on a federal structure for the new Soviet Union. His mummified remains are still resting in his mausoleum in Red Square, but he is anathematised by the Putin regime for precisely these policies.

This chapter has shown that although Soviet diplomacy, based as it firmly was on the principles propounded by Marx and Lenin, was key to the recognition of the right to self-determination as a specifically legal right under international law. It has also shown that Soviet Union made enormous contributions to the process of decolonisation, both materially and diplomatically, and that it did so notwithstanding significant contradictions in the positions espoused by the Soviet Union with respect to self-determination, contradictions which ultimately helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

[1] Bill Bowring “The First Soviet Constitutions, Self-Determination and the Rights to Secession” (2019) September, SCRSS Digest, 8–10, at

[2] Art. 1(2), United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945, 1 UNTS XVI

[3] Bill Bowring ‘The Soviets and the Right to Self-Determination of the Colonized: Contradictions of Soviet Diplomacy and Foreign Policy in the Era of Decolonization’ in Jochen von Bernstorff and Philipp Dann (eds), The Battle for International Law: South-North Perspectives on the Decolonization Era (OUP 2019) 404.

[4] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 entry into force 3 January 1976, UNTS, vol. 993, p. 3. at ; and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 entry into force 23 March 1976, UNTS, vol. 999, p. 171 at]

[5] The ILO’s structure is tripartite, involving states, employers, and trade unions.

[6] Bill Bowring, The Degradation of the International Legal Order? The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics (Routledge Cavendish 2008).

[7] Bowring, Degradation, 13.

[8] ‘A nation with no state formation . . . has, strictly speaking, no history—like the nations which existed before the rise of states and others with still exist in a condition of savagery’. GWF Hegel,.  Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Part III; Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, trans. William Wallace [Zusätze trans. A.V. Miller] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); para 549

[9] For Putin’s denunciation of Lenin’s policy, and his blaming Lenin for the destruction of the Russian Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Union, see Bill Bowring ‘The First Soviet Constitutions, Self-Determination and the Rights to Secession’ (2019) SCRSS Digest, 8–10, available at

[10] Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004, at The Opinion is at

[11] Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, Advisory Opinion of 25 February 2019, at The Opinion is at

[12] Paragraph 88

[13] Opinion, para 155.

[14] Opinion, para 180.

[15] Stephen Allen, The Chagos Islanders and International Law (Hart 2014).

[16]  Opinion, para 182

[17]  UNGA Resolution 73/295 of 22 May 2019, at; and see the Press Statement with summaries of statements;

[18] Samuel Osborne “Chagos Islands: UN officially demands Britain and US withdraw from Indian Ocean archipelago” The Independent 22 May 2019 at

[19] See Cori Crider “7 things you should know about Diego Garcia and renditions”, The Guardian 11 July 2014, at Cori Crider heads the abuses-in-counterterrorism team at Reprieve, where she serves as Guantánamo attorney, legal director and strategic director.

[20] James Hanning “British government suppressing key documents on allegations of UK collusion in torture and rendition. Files reveal Tony Blair and Jack Straw discussed treatment of British detainees in Guantanamo with US officials” The Independent 5 March 2016, available at

[21] Umut Özsu, ‘The Necessity of Contingency: Method and Marxism in International Law’, in Kevin Jon Heller and Ingo Vezke (eds) Situating Contingency: How International Law Could Have Been (OUP, forthcoming).

[22] See ‘The Right to Self-Determination’ (2009) 53 Socialist Lawyer 18–29, available at The symposium contains Bill Bowring ‘Self-Determination’, 18-20; Tim Potter, ‘Basques: Battle for Identity Endures Struggle’, 20–22; Sean Oliver, ‘Irish: “United Ireland” is Back on the Agenda’, 22–23; Alex Fitch, ‘Kurds: A Marginalised and Criminalised People’, 24–25; Annie Rosa Beasant, ‘Palestinians: Resisting Israel’s Illegal Occupation’, 26–28.

[23] Daniel Thürer and Thomas Burri, ‘Self-Determination’, in Rüdiger Wolfrum (ed), Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (online edn), MN 3.

[24] Stefan Oeter, ‘Self-Determination’, in Bruno Simma et al. (eds), The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, vol 1 (3rd edn OUP 2012), MN 5. On Wilson’s see eg Michla Pomerance, ‘The United States and Self-determination: Perspectives on the Wilsonian Concept’ (1976) 70 American Journal of International Law 1, 16–20; Anthony Whelan, ‘Wilsonian Self-determination and Versailles Settlement’ (1994) 43 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 99.

[25] Lauri Mälksoo, ‘The Soviet Approach to the Right of Peoples to Self-determination: Russia’s Farewell to jus publicum europaeum’ (2017) 19 Journal of the History of International Law 200, 214.

[26] Jörg Fisch, The Right of Self-Determination of Peoples: The Domestication of an Illusion (CUP 2015).

[27] Fernando R Tesón (ed), The Theory of Self-Determination (CUP 2016).

[28] Fisch, Right of Self-Determination of Peoples, 121, 190.

[29] UN Charter, arts 1, 55.  See note 2, above, for the formal citation.

[30] Fisch, Right of Self-Determination of Peoples, 191.

[31] Fisch, Right of Self-Determination of Peoples, 191.

[32] Fisch, Right of Self-Determination of Peoples, 218.

[33] Fisch, Right of Self-Determination of Peoples, 240.

[34] Patrick Macklem, ‘Self-Determination in Three Movements’, in Fernando R Tesón (ed), The Theory of Self-Determination (CUP 2016) 94.

[35] Macklem, ‘Self-Determination’, 94.

[36] Macklem, ‘Self-Determination’, 97.

[37] Macklem, ‘Self-Determination’, 99.

[38]  Macklem, ‘Self-Determination’, 100.

[39] Antonio Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Reappraisal (CUP 1995).

[40] Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples, 14.

[41] Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples, 14–23, with Wilson quoted at 21, n 30.

[42] Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples, 38.

[43] Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples, 44.

[44] Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples, 47.

[45] This is the title of ch 2 of Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples.

[46] MECW, Vol.3,  Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,  (Lawrence & Wishart 1975) 29. and at  

[47] Susan Marks drew upon this phrase for the title of her The Riddle of All Constitutions: International Law, Democracy, and the Critique of Ideology (CUP 2000).

[48] Karl Marx ‘Marx To Hermann Jung In London’, 20 November 1865, in MECW , Vol 42, (Lawrence & Wishart 1987) 200. And at  

[49] Documents of the First International. The General Council of the First International, 1864-1866. The London Conference 1865. Minutes, published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, for the Centenary of the First International in 1964, pp. 355-356; at

[50] Karl Marx (1856) Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century, in MECW , vol 15 (Lawrence & Wishart) 87.t and at

[51]  MECW Vol. 24 (Lawrence & Wishart 1989) 57.  

[52] Vladimir Lenin “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” Chapter 8 “The utopian Karl Marx and the practical Rosa Luxembourg” Published: April-June 1914 in the journal Prosveshcheniye Nos. 4, 5 and 6.  Vol.20. V, I. Lenin Collected Works, (Progress Publishers 1972) 393-454. Also at]

[53] Ibid, 440.

[54] Karl Marx ‘Marx to Engels in Manchester’, 2 November 1867, MECW, Vol 42, (Lawrence &  Wishart 1987) 451.

[55] Owen McGee The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Féin (Four Courts Press 2005) 36.

[56] Eric Barendt, ‘Incitement to, and Glorification of, Terrorism’, in Ivan Hare and James Weinstein (eds), Extreme Speech and Democracy (OUP 2009): ‘The Terrorism Act 2006 introduced into UK law a new offence of encouragement of terrorism. Statements which are likely to be understood as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission of terrorist acts may be caught by the offence. One clause in the Act was particularly controversial: it provides that among the statements likely to be understood as indirectly encouraging an act of terrorism are those glorifying such acts, at least where members of the public would reasonably infer that they should emulate them.’

[57] Jeremy Smith, The Bolsheviks and the National Question 1917 to 1923 (Macmillan 1999) 9.

[58] Nigel Harris, National Liberation (Penguin 1990) 47.

[59] Michael Heinrich, ‘A Short History of Marx’s Economic Critique’, in Sara . Farris (ed), Returns of Marxism: Marxist Theory in a Time of Crisis (Haymarket 2016) 63.

[60] Heinrich, ‘A Short History’, 66.

[61] Ephraim Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism: Theoretical Origins of a Political Crisis (Pluto Press 1994).

[62] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 17.

[63] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 17.

[64] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 25.

[65] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 28. Nimni does not give a reference to Hegel for this passage.

[66] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 29.

[67] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 29–30.

[68] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 30. Marx’s remark concerning the Chinese appeared in a newspaper article published in 1853: Karl Marx, ‘Revolution in China and in Europe’, New York Daily Tribune, 14 June 1853, MECW Vol. 12 (Lawrence & Wishart 1979) 95-6. and at

[69] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 30.

[70] Nimni, Marxism and Nationalism, 30.

[71] Kevin Anderson, Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies (University of Chicago Press 2016). Anderson ‘upholds a view of Marx as a multilinear, non-determinist thinker who over time became increasingly sensitive to the need for a variety of pathways of development and toward revolution for societies outside Western Europe and North America’ (xii). As to Marx’s condemnation of John Bowring, the erstwhile radical and literary executor of Jeremy Bentham, and his role in perpetrating the Opium Wars, see Bill Bowring, ‘Did the States Which Founded the UN Have Liberal or Illiberal Governments?’ (2016) 15 Baltic Yearbook of International Law 31.

[72] James Ledbetter (ed), Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx (Penguin 2007) 1.

[73] Anderson, Marx at the Margins, 31.

[74] August Nimtz, ‘The Eurocentric Marx and Engels and Other Related Myths’, in Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus (eds), Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies (CUP 2002) 65.

[75] Nimtz, ‘The Eurocentric Marx and Engels’, 66.

[76] Marx 1849.

[77] Nimtz, ‘The Eurocentric Marx and Engels’, 68–69.

[78] Nimtz, ‘The Eurocentric Marx and Engels’, 71

[79] Pranav Jani ‘Karl Marx, Eurocentrism, and the 1857 Revolt in British India’, in Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus (eds), Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies (CUP 2002) 81.

[80] Jani, ‘Karl Marx’, 82.

[81] Jani, ‘Karl Marx’, 83.

[82] Jani, ‘Karl Marx’, 90–91.

[83] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘The Cadets and “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination”’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 19 (4th ed. Progress Publishers 1977) 525–27.

[84] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘National-Liberalism and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 20 (3rd edn, Progress Publishers 1977) 56–58.

[85] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 20 (3rd edn, Progress Publishers 1977) 393.

[86] Ibid. 397.

[87] Ibid.  400.

[88] Ibid  405–6 (original emphasis). [

See for example Roni Gechtman “A “Museum of Bad Taste”?: The Jewish Labour Bund and the Bolshevik Position regarding the National Question, 1903-14” 43.1 (2008) Canadian Journal of History 31-67.

[90] Vladimir Lenin, ‘The Discussion On Self-Determination Summed Up’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 22 (4th edn, Progress Publishers 1977) 320.

[91] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘Resolution on the National Question’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 24 (4th edn, Progress Publishers 1977) 302–3.

[92] Blishchenko’s best-known work, translated into English, is International Humanitarian Law (Progress Publishers 1987). I worked with Blishchenko for a number of years, in particular on the draft of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. For a touching obituary by the International Committee of the Red Cross, see Jose Doria, Aslan Khuseinovich Abashidze, and Vassily Fyodorovich Poriouvaev, ‘Igor Pavlovich Blishchenko, 1930–2000’ (2001) 83 International Review of the Red Cross 885.

[93] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘Decree on Peace’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 26“ (249-253. Progress Publishers 1964)     

[94] IP Blishchenko, Antisovetizm i mezhdunarodnoe pravo [Antisovietism and International Law] (Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia 1968) 69.

[95]  There is no known print version available in the UK, but the text is to be found on the Site of the Constitutions of the Russian Federation at .  there is an abridged English translation at  ]

[96] IP Blishchenko, ‘Soderzhaniye prava narodov na samoopredeleniye’ [The Content of the Right of Peoples to Self-determination], in AG Osipov (ed), Pravo narodov na samoopredeleniye: ideya i voploshcheniye [Right of Peoples to Self-Determination: Idea and Realisation] (Memorial 1997) 71. On national liberation movements see also DI Baratashvili, ‘Natsionalno-osvoboditel’noye dvizheniye i razvitiye mezhdunarodnogo prava’ [The National Liberation Movement and the Development of International Law], (1967) Sovyetskoye gosudarstvo i pravo 69.

[97] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘The Tasks of the Revolution’, VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 26( Progress Publishers 1964) 59-68. 62.

[98]  There is no known print version available in the UK, but the text is to be found on the Site of the Constitutions of the Russian Federation at . In English at

[99] Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle (University of Michigan Press 2005).

[100] Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle, 89.

[101] Vladimir I Lenin, ‘The Question of Nationalities or “Autonomisation”’, in VI Lenin, Collected Works, vol 36 (4th edn, Progress Publishers 1977) 606.

[102] Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle, 61. More recently, Nikolay Svanidze has argued that Lenin and Stalin had very different positions on the nationalities question, and that Lenin’s views on the rights of nations were irreproachable. Paul Goble “Putin’s Criticism of Lenin on Nationality Issues about More than Federalism, Svanidze Says”, 5 February 2020 at; commenting on

[103] Bowring, Degradation, ch 1; Harris, National Liberation.

[104] Bill Bowring, ‘Who Are the “Crimean People” or “People of Crimea”? The Fate of the Crimean Tatars, Russia’s Legal Justification for Annexation, and Pandora’s Box’ in Sergey Sayapin and Evhen Tsybulenko (eds), The Use of Force Against Ukraine and International Law: Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello, Jus Post Bellum (TMC Asser/Springer 2018) 21.

[105] Bill Bowring, ‘Positivism versus Self-Determination: The Contradictions of Soviet International Law’ in Susan Marks (ed), International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies (CUP 2008) 133.

[106] Boris Meissner, ‘The Soviet Concept of Nation and the Right of National Self-Determination’ (1976–77) 32 International Journal 56.

[107] Ibid. 76. See also  F J M Feldbrugge Samizdat and Political Dissent in the Soviet Union (Brill 1975) 219.

[108] Andrei Sakharov, My Country and the World (Harvill Press 1975).

[109] Meissner, ‘Soviet Concept’, 76–77.

[110] For a detailed account see Bill Bowring ‘The Russian Constitutional System: Complexity and Asymmetry’ in Marc Weller and Katherine Nobbs (eds), Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts (University of Pennsylvania Press 2010) 48.

[111] See Bill Bowring “International law and non-recognized entities: towards a frozen future?” in Benedikt Harzl and  Roman Petrov (eds)Non-Recognised Entities in International and EU Law  (Brill Nijhoff, forthcoming)

See also the website ‘After Empire: Regionalism and Federalism in Russia’, available at for continuing news and comments concerning the future of Russian federalism.  

[112] See the transcript of a meeting of the President’s Council on Science and Education, on 21 January 2016, at


[114] See eg Khazar Shirmammadov, ‘How Does the International Community Reconcile the Principles of Territorial Integrity and Self-Determination? The Case of Crimea’ (2016) 4 Russian Law Journal 61.

[115] Bill Bowring, ‘“Who Are the “Crimean People” or “People of Crimea”? The Fate of the Crimean Tatars, Russia’s Legal Justification for Annexation, and Pandora’s Box” in Sergey Sayapin and Evhen Tsybulenko (eds) The Use of Force against Ukraine and International Law” Jus Ad Bellum, Jus In Bello, Jus Post Bellum (T M C Asser / Springer 2018) 21-40.

[116] Eric C. Landis Bandits and Partisans: The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War (University of Pittsburgh Press 2018) 

[117] Paul Avrich Kronstadt 1921   (Princeton University Press 2006)  

[118] Alan M Ball  Russia’s Last Capitalists: The Nepmen, 1921-1929 (University of California Press 1990); and Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, Richard Stites (eds)  Russia in the Era of NEP: Explorations in Soviet Society and Culture (Indiana University Press 1991) 

Marxist international law methodology?

For Handbook on international law methodologies, edited by Nicholas Tsagourias, forthcoming. Accepted draft.

“Marxist international law methodology?”

Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College


Methodologies of international law often have their foundations in ideological positions. Positivism is the best known, and one of positivism’s leading competitors is the “New Haven” or policy-oriented approach[1], while another is social constructivism[2], to which a number of prominent international law scholars have subscribed[3]. There are now a number of scholars who identify as Marxist. Their work is summarised by Robert Knox in his comprehensive 2018 entry in the Oxford Bibliographies, “Marxist Approaches to International Law”.[4] He and I both had chapters ten years earlier in Susan Marks’s 2008 International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies.[5]

But this is a chapter which does not focus on approaches, or on legacies, but on methodology. In his entry, Robert Knox states that “In Marxist international legal scholarship, one can observe a number of recurring themes. These themes are closely linked to the methodological, theoretical and—crucially—political positions of the Marxist tradition.” This is his only reference to methodology.  What if any were the methodological positions of the Marxist tradition?

Indeed, it could be said that most international legal practitioners, and many scholars of international law, do without an overt methodology, without any noticeable adverse side-effects.

Fortunately, I am able in this chapter to take as my starting point the 2007 entry in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law  on “Methodology of International Law” by Martti Koskenniemi.[6] Second, I turn to Marx and Engels themselves, who said very little about law, save for a rather pithy 1887 article by Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky on “Juridical Socialism”[7], and, to my knowledge, nothing at all about international law. Indeed, Marx declared famously that if anything was certain, he was not a Marxist.

Third, I tackle the most impressive attempt to work out a Marxist theory of law, Yevgeny Pashukanis’s General Theory of Law and Marxism[8], as promoted and reinterpreted by Robert Knox and China Miéville.

Fourth, I turn to the recent work of B. S. Chimni, with his Integrated Marxist Approach to International Law, IMAIL, before concluding with some thoughts of my own.

It is my contention throughout that while scholars who identify as Marxist wrote about international law, and some, particularly Chimni, have sought to outline a Marxist course in international law, a Marxist methodology is almost always nowhere to be found. Instead, as Marx and Engels themselves insisted, legal demands are an essential weapon in the class struggle, but there can be no socialist law or indeed socialist legal theory.

Methodology of International Law – Martti Koskenniemi

It is significant for this chapter that Martti Koskenniemi is both a high level practitioner, and a leading critical legal scholar[9]. He served in the Finnish Diplomatic Service from 1978 to 1996, lastly as director of the Division of International Law. He was Finland’s counsel in the International Court of Justice in the Passage through the Great Belt case (Finland v. Denmark) case (1991–1992). From 1997 to 2003 he served as a judge in the administrative tribunal of the Asian Development Bank, and was a member of the International Law Commission from 2002–2006, writing a major report on Fragmentation of International Law.[10]

He is the author of The Gentle Civiliser of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960[11], published in 2001. In 2008[12] he summed up the story he had told “… of international law’s emergence as part of liberal modernity in the latter half of the nineteenth century. That it has been a part of ‘modernity’ has meant that it has been animated by a progressive and universalistic spirit, firm confidence in the ability of liberal political institutions to transform the world into a democratic rule-governed Kantian Völkerstaat.[13] He is best known for his insistence on law’s indeterminacy. Though there would be no point in being a practitioner if the result was always determined beforehand.

It can be no surprise, then, that Koskenniemi’s starting point in his entry on “Methodology of International Law” in the Max Planck Encyclopedia is that “International Law is an argumentative practice. It is about persuading target audiences such as courts, colleagues, politicians and readers of legal texts about the legal correctness… of the position one defends,” Note that courts come first and readers of legal texts last. Therefore “The methodology of international law is best seen as being about criteria that legal arguments ought typically to fulfil in different contexts – including the academic context – in order to seem plausible.”

Koskenniemi acknowledges that an appeal to international law, especially against the brute force of state power, must be able to appeal to a standpoint outside or above sovereign power. If such a standpoint relies on ideas such as justice, self-determination, human rights or peace, then the plausibility of any arguments depends on highly contested political and moral concepts. Thus “The technique of legal sources intervenes precisely to protect professional arguments from the critique of being too political because dependent on unverifiable abstractions.” In fact, Koskenniemi appears to be rather dismissive of legal method or methodology except as it serves the purposes of effective argumentation. He asserts that “Much of what passes for legal method has to do with the development of chains of argument that refer back to formal legal sources of international law.” Which is why all students of Public International Law must start with the 1920 Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was later preserved – antiquated language and all – in Article 38(1) of the 1946 Statute of the International Court of Justice.[14] Koskenniemi examines the “finely tuned argumentative methodology” based either on State consent or an appeal to consensual principles such as good faith, equity and reasonableness. This enables him to identify the “methodological competence” of lawyers as the ability to identify the professional consensus or preference and “gear the argument” so as to appear to meet it. This is of course for the benefit of the audience, most likely a court, and knowledge of its preferences will be crucial.

So after providing an effective (in my view) critique of “sociological jurisprudence”, “policy-approach, instrumentalism, legal engineering”, and formalism, Koskenniemi returns to his starting point: “The basic methodological question remains: How to convince this audience, here and now?”. On this basis a specifically Marxist methodology (whatever that might be) is ruled out from the start.

The closest Koskenniemi has come (to my knowledge) to Marxism was his 2008 chapter “What should international lawyers learn from Karl Marx?”.[15], for Susan Marks’s collection on “re-examining Marxist legacies”. His starting point was quite rightly that he was not writing as a Marxist. Marx, he emphasises, would not have written about justice or injustice, and only then with the greatest reluctance.[16] “For him, notions such as ‘justice’ and of course ‘international law’ – had he given it a second’s thought, which he never did – were part of the problem, not of its resolution.”[17] Koskenniemi compares what he takes to be Marx’s “dialectics” with deconstruction, and introduces “indeterminacy”, a term prominent in critical legal theory, and for which he is best known. He says:

The move in thinking from a logic of identity for which the dichotomies of law are fatal, into dialectics that uses the dichotomies as frameworks for historical explanation is what lawyers should learn from Marx – just as they should today accept the indeterminacy of each such framework, that is, unlearn the essentialism through which Marxism and subsequent realisms thought about them.[18]

This passage is hardly a prescription for a methodology for international law. Koskenniemi  concludes that international lawyers can, “… learning from Marx, … see international law’s emancipatory promise.” But as he already pointed out, Marx did not think about international law at all.

I turn therefore to what Marx and his close colleague and comrade Engels actually said.

Marx, Engels, and “Marxism” – and international law

In his 1865 “confession”, a form popular at the time, Marx wrote that his motto was De omnibus dubitandum (doubt everything).[19] Marx’s chosen method was immanent critique,  to criticise an object ‘on its own terms’[20], and his most famous book does not set out a philosophical system, and is no kind of a textbook on economics. Instead, it is a “critique of political economy”, building on and taking to and beyond their limits the classical economists, the materialist Adam Smith (1723-1790) and David Ricardo (1772–1823), with his “labour theory of value”. That is the same procedure to which Marx subjected Hegel, especially in his 1843 manuscript “Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie).

First of all, the notion that Marx created a system should be disposed of.

In May 1880 the French workers’ leader Jules Guesde came to visit Marx in London, and together they drafted the Programme of the French Parti Ouvrier, Labour Party. The Preamble was dictated by Marx himself, while the other two parts of minimum political and economic demands were formulated by Marx and Guesde, with assistance from Engels and Marx’s son in law Paul Lafargue, who with Guesde was to become a leading figure in the Marxist wing of French socialism. The programme was adopted, with certain amendments, by the founding congress of the Parti Ouvrier at Le Havre in November 1880[21].

After the programme was agreed, however, a clash arose between Marx and his French supporters over the purpose of the “minimum section”. Marx saw this as a practical means of agitation around demands that were achievable within the framework of capitalism. It is notable that the minimum economic demands are explicitly legal demands.[22]

Guesde took a very different view. Discounting the possibility of obtaining these reforms from the bourgeoisie, Guesde regarded them not as a practical programme of struggle, but simply as bait with which to lure the workers from Radicalism. The rejection of these reforms would, Guesde believed, “free the proletariat of its last reformist illusions and convince it of the impossibility of avoiding a workers ’89.”[23] Marx accused Guesde and Lafargue of “revolutionary phrase-mongering” and of denying the value of reformist struggles. [24]

Marx is reported – by Engels – to have shown his impatience by saying to Lafargue:  ‘Ce qu’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste.’ [If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist][25]. The contemporary German Marx scholar, Michael Heinrich, in a short article entitled “Je ne suis pas Marxiste”[26], expressed the following opinion, with which I agree:

Marx himself, in any case, did not seek final certainties. He was far more interested in the critical business of undermining certainties in order to open up new spaces for thought and action – in which it’s not immediately clear what the correct result will be.

In contrast to the “Marxism” that Marx rejected, with its identity-defining certainties, this critical, unfinished Marx has an extremely stimulating and subversive effect. Which of his analyses and concepts are useful, what can help to change the world, and what can’t, is not fixed for all time. One will always have to constantly discuss and make new judgements: “De omnibus dubitandum.”

Furthermore, Marx had very little to say about law constructed by humans as such.[27] His attitude to (man-made) law remained consistent throughout his life.

In the 1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse, he wrote for the first time about “human laws” – as opposed to laws of nature, or the “law of value” which plays an important role in his critique of political economy[28]:

Quite apart from this crude tearing-apart of production and distribution and of their real relationship, it must be apparent from the outset that, no matter how differently distribution may have been arranged in different stages of social development, it must be possible here also, just as with production, to single out common characteristics, and just as possible to confound or to extinguish all historic differences under general human laws. For example, the slave, the serf and the wage labourer all receive a quantity of food which makes it possible for them to exist as slaves, as serfs, as wage labourers. The conqueror who lives from tribute, or the official who lives from taxes… all receive a quota of social production, which is determined by other laws than that of the slave’s, etc.

The two main points which all economists cite under this rubric are: (1) property; (2) its protection by courts, police, etc. To this a very short answer may be given: …to 2. Protection of acquisitions etc. When these trivialities are reduced to their real content, they tell more than their preachers know. Namely that every form of production creates its own legal relations, form of government, etc… All the bourgeois economists are aware of is that production can be carried on better under the modern police than e.g. on the principle of might makes right. They forget only that this principle is also a legal relation, and that the right of the stronger prevails in their ‘constitutional republics’ as well, only in another form.[29]

This is not a crude theory of base and superstructure, or anything like that. For Marx, it is a statement of fact. Law in itself is not interesting to him.

In the Preface to his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Zur Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie), published in Berlin in 1859,  the text in which his ideas concerning Capital achieved their explicit shape, Marx wrote;

My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term “civil society”; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy.[30]

Fifteen years later, in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx wrote:

Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is “fair”? And is it not, in fact, the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones? Have not also the socialist sectarians the most varied notions about “fair” distribution?[31]

This was one of many points on which Marx and Engels were in complete agreement.

In their 1887 polemic Juridical Socialism[32] (the German title, Juristen-Socialismus, would be better translated as “Lawyers’ Socialism”) Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky[33] explained – and Marx, who died four years earlier, would not have disagreed – how the main battle cry of the bourgeoisie became “equality before the law”, because their struggle had to be based around legalistic demands. “This solidified a world view based on legal rights… at first the proletariat had embraced the world view of legal rights, and sought weapons in it for use against the bourgeoisie.”[34]

Engels and Kautsky insisted that “Marx… presents no legalistic demands at all in his theoretical work… Legal rights, which always reflect the economic conditions of a specific society, are treated only in a very secondary manner in Marx’s theoretical studies, as opposed to the primary historical topic of situating particular circumstances, means of acquisition, and social classes in specific periods.[35]” But they also insisted that socialists would not fail to present certain legalistic demands: “Every struggling class must therefore formulate its demands as legalistic demands within a program… however, no existing socialist party has thought of making a new legal philosophy of its program, and this will not happen in the future.”

Peter Schöttler explained their position as follows:

“… there is indeed no proletarian or socialist legal ideology (just as there can be no socialist philosophy of law), but there are proletarian, or socialist, legal demands, and these are necessary, nay indispensable, if the proletariat wishes to articulate its interests politically in opposition to the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. The political class struggle includes making legal demands.”[36]

In precisely the same sense, Marx and Engels would have had no difficulty in associating themselves with 20th and 21st century demands framed within the international law right of peoples to self-determination[37].

Yevgeniy Pashukanis and international law

It is not generally known that, like Martti Koskenniemi, Yevgeniy Pashukanis started as a practitioner of international law.

Born in 1891, in 1909 he commenced a study of law in Petersburg, but left Russia for Germany in 1910. He continued his studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, where he specialized in the contemporary philosophy of law, and in political economy. His dissertation was entitled Statistik der Gesetzwidrigkeit im Arbeitsschutz (Statistics of legal infractions in labour protection). This was not at all, therefore, a work of legal theory, but an indication of his interest in the workers’ movement in Germany.[38] During World War I, he returned to Russia and joined the Bolsheviks, serving as a revolutionary judge.

However, from 1920 to 1923 Pashukanis served in the Peoples’ Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, as the deputy head of the Economic Law Department. He was a legal adviser in the Soviet Russian representation in Berlin. For example, on 3 December 1921 he was the author of a telegram to Georgy Chicherin, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, on the vexed question of “prize ships”, and styled himself временного поверенного (vremennovo poverennovo), Chargé d’Affaires[39].

He was centrally involved in one of first and most important actions of Soviet Russia in the field of international law. Namely the preparation of the Treaty of Rappalo with Germany.[40]

In her monumental account of European history following World War I, Zara Steiner analysed the context of this work.[41] She started with the provisional Russo-German trade agreement of May 1921.[42] According to her, “[it] was Lenin who plotted the strategies pursued at the forthcoming Genoa conference (10 April -19 May 1922), Lloyd George’s grand design for the reconstruction of Europe”[43], and Lenin personally recruited the members of the negotiating delegation[44], which included Georgy Chicherin[45], who served as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the Soviet government from March 1918 to 1930, Maxim Litvinov[46], the deputy chief of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, and the former organiser of Bolshevik bank robberies, Leonid Krasin[47].

According to Steiner, “It was in the hope of strengthening their negotiating hand that Chicherin and Litvinov stopped in Berlin in early 1922 on their way to Genoa.”[48] There they worked very closely with Pashukanis on a number of issues, not only Genoa and Rapallo. The multi-volume Dokumenty vneshnei politiki SSSR (Documents of the foreign policy of the USSR – the Documents) contains a letter dated 17 March 1922 from Maxim Litvinov to Yevgeny Pashukanis advising him as to how to deal with the reactionary government of Admiral Miklós Horthy, who came to power after the downfall in 1920 of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic.[49]

In 2001 the Russian historian of Germany G. M. Sadovaya published Walter Rathenau and the Rapallo Treaty.[50] She relates that in February 1922 Soviet-German negotiations started again. However, the Germans did not want to talk about credits for Soviet Russia, referring to their own need for money and their anxiety about interference from the Reparations Commission. But contacts continued. Sadovaya notes that Karl Radek participated in these discussions, together with the representative of Soviet Russia in Germany N. N. Krestinsky, the chairman of the Ukrainian SSR, Kh. G. Rakovsky, and the trade representative of the RSFSR in Berlin, B. S. Stomonyakov[51] – with his adviser, Yevgeniy Pashukanis. Information about the negotiations in January-February 1922 can be found in a number of sources: the letter of G. V. Chicherin of 10 April summarising what was going on; the account of “the Soviet diplomat Ye. V. Pashukanis” and other sources.[52]

Sadovaya relates that on the evening of 1 April 1922 there was a crucial meeting of the Soviet delegation with Radek, Stomonyakov and Pashukanis.[53] They decided to separate negotiations concerning political recognition, from negotiations about possible loans for the RSFSR. It was necessary to include in the political agreement the restoration of diplomatic relations and full mutual withdrawal of claims, including any claims for reparations for damage done to Germany in Russia in the course of nationalisation. It is plain that Pashukanis as Adviser to the Soviet Russian diplomats played a key role in arriving at this decision.

A detailed account of this meeting was given by Pashukanis in his Telegram of 5 April 1922 “from the Adviser of the Representation of the RSFSR in Germany to the Peoples Commissariat of Foreign Affairs RFSFR”.[54] This is also to be found online.[55] The Soviet delegation focused its energy on the attempt to get everything signed before leaving for Genoa. Pashukanis wrote that this question was raised at breakfast with Rathenau and in meetings which took place for almost the whole day on 3 April, from 10 am to 5 pm. In discussion with Rathenau, wrote Pashukanis, a compromise formula began to take on more defined and correct – for the Russian delegation – features. Namely, in the agreement it must be stated that Germany relinquishes all claims relating to nationalisation, on condition that the Soviet Russian side rejects similar claims of other states.

Pashukanis was not only engaged as a legal adviser for treaty negotiations. As he disclosed rather later, in 1930, it was while in Berlin in 1921-22 that he prepared his A general theory of law and Marxism. An attempt at a critique of fundamental juridical concepts, which was completed in 1923 and appeared in 1924[56]. This is the text for which he is best known. There are many references in this text to the German legal scholars whom Pashukanis read in Munich and during his time in Berlin.

However, Pashukanis’ paramount reason for writing the General Theory was to identify “…law in its general definition, law as a form…”.[57]  Or – what is legal about law. That is, to tackle the question of the nature of law as a materially grounded abstraction. Pashukanis is now best known for his “commodity-form” theory of law, expounded in the General Theory, but  more recently extended by China Miéville and others to a “commodity-form theory of international law”.[58] For this reason Pashukanis was adamantly opposed to the possibility of “socialist law”, Under socialism, law would disappear.

In the first of several recantations of his work in 1921, published in 1930, Pashukanis wrote the following about the genesis of the General Theory:

It is clear that much which was written in the first years of NEP[59] deserves criticism and suffers from obvious anachronisms and now and then simply mistakes… But the question is not only that of particular formulations. The question concerns some defects of a general character. This was the overestimation of the role and significance of market relations which was without doubt characteristic of my first work. It is impermissible to hide from view the fact that this book was written at a time when the collective of Marxist legal scholars had not come together. It was written when I was alone, and it could not be exposed to the process of critical re-working. It was written finally, before the publication of Lenin’s notebooks on dialectics and on the works of Marx which were published in the “Archive”… Therefore it was completely natural, that the book, which was written in 1923, and prepared still earlier in 1920-1921, displays defects, when we look at it from our higher present day theoretical and methodological point of view.[60]

This concerned Pashukanis’ theoretical work from 1920 to 1923. Pashukanis became in the next ten years a staunch loyalist of the regime – in my opinion, by conviction rather than any sort of pressure. In 1931, following the dramatic recantation of his previous views noted above, Pashukanis became the Director of the Institute of Soviet Construction and Law of the Communist Academy. He was effectively the USSR’s director of legal research and legal education. The American scholar John Hazard[61], who studied under Pashukanis from 1934 to 1937, summarised his effect on legal education, as follows:[62]

Believing that the state was slowly withering away as socialism came nearer to achievement, Pashukanis advocated the cessation of courses in civil law. He understood civil law to be the regulation of the relations of men under the trading conditions of capitalism, and, as such, no longer of importance, as the remnants of capitalism disappeared.

His influence was so marked that the courses in civil law in the law school were abolished, and to replace them there appeared a course called economic-administrative law, concerning itself with regulation of the relations between state enterprises.[63]

Following Pashukanis’ fall in 1937, courses on (Soviet) civil law were reintroduced to the syllabus.

By 1932, Pashukanis, who had become editor in chief of the official law journal Soviet State, was able to write a “hallelujah” in response to Stalin’s letter “Some questions on the history of Bolshevism”.[64] Pashukanis’ major work on international law, Essays in International Law, appeared in 1935[65]. Most copies of the Essays were destroyed after he was denounced in 1937, but in this culminating work he declared that any attempt to define the “nature of international law” was scholastic.[66] In his view, such attempts were the result of the continuing influence of bourgeois legal methodology, which, he said, rested on the association of law with substance developing in accordance with its own internal principles. That is, law as an autonomous entity.

For Pashukanis, in 1935, international law was a means of formulating and strengthening, in custom and treaties, various political and economic relationships between states; the USSR could use international law to further Soviet interests in the struggle with capitalist states. He saw no reason to believe that in using these principles of international law for its own purposes the USSR was compromising its principles, in a world in which most states were capitalist. In his view there was no point in seeking to determine whether international law was “bourgeois” or “socialist”; such a discussion would be “scholastic”.[67] International law was there to be used by the USSR instrumentally. Talk about law’s indeterminacy would have been meaningless to him.

This conclusion could be expected from the former legal adviser playing a crucial role in hammering out the treaty between the defeated Germany and the defeated Soviet Russia, a treaty which was of crucial importance to both states.

An Encyclopedia entry on International Law published in 1925[68] was included in full as an Appendix in China Miéville’s Between Equal Rights, which is probably the most notable contemporary rehabilitation of Pashukanis.[69] However, Miéville saw clearly that in contrast to the General Theory, Pashukanis seemed “to accept the existence of antique international law, and to deny its historical particularity.”[70] That is, it would appear according to the General Theory that there is no law as such until its appearance under capitalism, and then only private law; but there has been international law throughout recorded history. Pashukanis rejected the positivist arguments of Austin and others that without a sovereign there can be no international law. Even for the young USSR there could be international law. Pashukanis noted that:

The formalization of our relationship with bourgeois states, by way of treaties, is part of our foreign policy, and is its continuation in a special form. A treaty obligation is nothing other than a special form of the concretization of economic and political relationships. But once the appropriate degree of concretization is reached, it may then be taken into consideration and, within certain limits, studied as a special subject. The reality of this object is no less than the reality of any constitution – both may be overturned by the intrusion of a revolutionary squall.[71]

Pashukanis, unlike later Soviet jurists, did not oppose the existence of customary international law as a source of international law, which, he said, was “…the totality of norms regulating the relationships between states.”[72] He continued: “To the extent that states have no external authority above them which could establish their norms of conduct, then in the technical legal sense the sources of international law are custom and treaty.”[73] As an international legal practitioner, an author of the Rapallo Treaty, Pashukanis was perfectly comfortable with orthodox conceptions of international law. He did not attempt a “commodity-form theory” of international law, nor in my view does Miéville really seek to expound such a theory either in his 2004 article or 2005 book.

Instead, as Knox summarises Miéville’s work in his “Marxist Approaches to International Law”[74]:

Miéville systematises Pashukanis’s insights and combines them with Martti Koskenniemi’s theory of indeterminacy. He argues that indeterminate legal arguments will be resolved in favour of whoever can make their interpretation “stick”. Given the structural connection between imperialism and international law, it will be generally be the ruling class that will win contests of interpretation.

Or, as Miéville put it, going beyond questions of interpretation, “The attempt to replace war and inequality with law is not merely utopian – it is precisely self-defeating. A world structured around international law cannot but be one of imperialist violence. The chaotic and bloody world around us is the rule of law.” [75] This is not in any sense a methodology.

B. S. Chimni, CMILS and IMAIL

The formidable Indian scholar B. S. Chimni is perhaps best known for his contributions to TWAIL – Third World Approaches to International Law, which has, from its start at Harvard University in 1996, developed into a leading school of critical international law scholarship.[76] Chimni not only published in 1993 an impressive critique of the “classical realism” of Morgenthau and others, of Soviet International law, and of the “New Haven” “policy-oriented” School of Harold Lasswell and Myres McDougal,[77] International Law and World Order: A Critique of Contemporary Approaches, but in 2017, at last, after more than 20 years, published a second edition, to which I turn below.

This followed his article in 2004, “An Outline of a Marxist Course on Public International Law”[78], proposing a “critical Marxist international law scholarship (CMILS)”. Chimni explains that “CMILS advances more meaningful definitions that distinguish the character of international law and its doctrines and its doctrines in different historical phases and identifies the groups/classes/states that are the principal movers and beneficiaries.”[79]It advances “a comprehensive strategy that furthers the interests of the subaltern classes without entirely undermining a rule-oriented approach”.[80] Thus, Chimni does not seek to deal in detail with the various topics of international law, but has short sections on “Sources of international law”[81],  “The relationship between international law and municipal law: growing integration”[82], “The jurisdiction of states”[83], “International economic law”[84], “International environmental law”[85], “International human rights law”[86], “The international law of state responsibility”[87]; and “International law and the use of force”[88]. All his proposals are progressive, but do not specify a Marxist methodology. Indeed, there is very little of Marx or Marxism in these sections. Chimni, it appears, wants to make international law a more effective instrument in the class struggle. But international law is not itself emancipatory, and Chimni, as a Marxist, is not interested in questions of morality, or of supervening values.

It may be said that Wade Mansell and Karen Openshaw have followed Chimni’s lead in their textbook, first published in 2013, with a second edition in 2019,  International Law: A Critical Introduction.[89] This is the text I recommend to my students. It does what it says on the tin – it is a critical introduction; it is not a Marxist text. Rather, “Underlying the book is the assertion that international law is political in content (in the sense of being concerned with the exercise of power) but that it draws much of its effectiveness from its self-portrayal as being apolitical, or at least politically neutral.”

In 2010 Chimni published “Prolegomena to a Class Approach to International Law”[90], a key-note lecture which he had delivered at the Critical Legal Conference in Glasgow in 2008, with a response at the conference by Akbar Rasulov. The article, wrote Chimni, was written “on the premise that a class approach to international law offers critical insights into the structure and process of international law whatever the theoretical frame used: be it that of Marx, Weber or Bourdieu.”[91] He did not specify a Marxist methodology here either. Nor did he seek to develop CMILS, which to my knowledge has not re-appeared..

The new edition of International Law and World Order has the same title as the first, but is very much expanded, from 318 pages to 649.[92] There are new chapters on David Kennedy’s NAIL (“New Approaches to International Law”)[93], and feminist approaches to international law, as exemplified by Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chinkin and  Catherine McKinnon[94]. Of particular interest to this chapter he proposed an “integrated Marxist approach to international law” (IMAIL)[95], with a critique in particular of Pashukanis and his latter day disciple China Miéville[96].  My former student Akbar Rasulov in his review article comments as to the idea of IMAI: “Not that one can immediately work what exactly it stands for.”[97] He continues: “Although Chimni himself never puts it in so many words, IMAIL for him is, essentially, the concept of intersectionality writ large… the basic argument Chimni is revisiting here is essentially a combination of Louis Althusser’s theory of overdetermination and its logical centrepiece the concept of the ‘determination in the last instance’.”[98]

And while Rasulov admires Chimni’s ambition, he concludes that “None of these concepts, however, indicates an actual methodology.”[99] Chimni, I think, would not, and in any event could not, disagree.


If there is a “Marxist” (or Marxian) methodology, in respect of any field of inquiry, including international law, what would its characteristics be? Or at any rate, what might scholars of international law draw from the many writings, most unpublished in their lifetimes, of Marx and Engels. The following is what I tell my students

Ruthless radical materialism – derived from Aristotle and Spinoza in particular

For Marx is there is no question of transcendence much less an interventionist deity. He changed his mind as to whether humans have a specific “species being”. Marx was not a moralist. Capitalists are no more wicked or greedy than anyone else, but if they are to survive as capitalists they are driven by the remorseless necessity of capitalist accumulation and the “law of value”.

Immanent critique – the title of Capital:  the critique of political economy

Marx does not erect his own philosophical system, from which he will criticise Hegel, Smith or Ricardo. That is, transcendental critique. Instead, based on years of empirical study of the workings of capital, assisted by Engels who was himself a capitalist, Marx delved into the highpoints of philosophy and political economy of his time, in order to expose their inner contradictions and identify the developments required for a better understanding. This is immanent critique – critique from within.

No doctrine of political organisation

Marx was politically active all his life, author of the Communist Manifesto, a founder of the International Working Mens Association (the First International), a strong supporter of Irish and Polish struggles for self-determination. But he never founded a political party and never developed a theory of political organisation. He always intervened, as a revolutionary intellectual, often as an engaged journalist, in the actual movements and struggles of his day.

No utopian vision of the future

Marx wrote practically nothing about the future socialist or communist society. His life was dedicated to the struggle to overcome the horrors of capitalism, and the exploitation, racism, and environmental degradation which it irresistibly generates. I think Marx and Engels would agree with me that the moment the earthly paradise was achieved, a large blue gas giant planet, as in Lars Von Trier’s extraordinary 2011 film Melancholia, would arrive from behind the sun and obliterate us, communism and all.

At the September 2017 London conference Capital.150: Marx’s ‘Capital’ Today[100] on 150 years of Marx’s Capital, the great German Marx scholar Michael Heinrich was asked to sum up the whole of Marx’s thought in one word. He answered, without hesitation, “Struggle”.

[1] For an incisive critique, see B. S. Chimni International Law and World Order: A Critique of Contemporary Approaches (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2017),

[2] Christian Reus-Smit (ed)  The Politics of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

[3] Notably Dino Kritsiotis, Antony Anghie and Nicholas Wheeler. For my own critique, see Bill Bowring “What is Realism in International Law and Human Rights?” in Jonathan Joseph and Colin Wight (eds) Scientific Realism and International Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) pp. 101-114

[4] At – requires a subscription or log-in. Knox deals in turn with Marx and Engels: Soviet Approaches; Approaches: Commodity-Form Theory; Hegemony, Ideology, and Ideology Critique; Third Worldism; Class-Struggle Approaches; Themes: History; Colonialism, Imperialism, and Race; Reform or Revolution; Legal areas: International Criminal Law; Use of Force; International Economic Law and Development; Global Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law; Corporations; Human Rights.

[5] Susan Marks (editor) International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

[6] At, requires a subscription or log-in

[7] Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky “Juridical Socialism” 7:2 (1977)  Politics and Society pp.203-220; “Juristen-Socialismus” Die Neue Zeit, 1887, no.2 (Stuttgart), translated by Piers Byrne. Byrne explained that this was one of a series of articles confronting reformist tendencies in German Social Democracy, in this case the legalistic demands for social reform made by the Austrian jurist Anton Menger. The original manuscript was prepared by Engels in October 1886, but when he became ill he suggested that the article be completed by the editor of Die Neue Zeit, Karl Kautsky. See Piers Beirne, “Introduction to ‘Juridical Socialism’” 7:2 (1977) Politics & Society 199-201

[8] Obshchaia teoriia prava i marksizm: Opyt kritiki osnovnykh iuridicheskikh poniatii (1924), Sotsiahsticheskoi Akademii, Moscow, 1st edition. In English in Evgeny Pashukanis, Selected Writings on Marxism and Law (eds. P. Beirne & R. Sharlet), London & New York 1980, pp.32-131. Translated by Peter B. Maggs. In 1987 another edition and translation appeared: Law and Marxism: A General Theory, (London: Pluto Press, 1987) translated by Barbara Einhorn, edited and introduced by Christopher J. Arthur

[9] See Bill Bowring “Critical Legal Theory and International Law” in Emilios Christodoulidis, Ruth Dukes, Marco Goldoni (eds) Research Handbook on Critical Legal Theory (Edward Elgar 2019), pp.495-508

[10] Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising From the Diversification and Expansion of International Law. Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission. 13 April 2006. Finalized by Martti Koskenniemi, at , And see Tomer Broude “Keep Calm and Carry On: Martti Koskenniemi and the Fragmentation of International Law” (May 1, 2013). ILF Research Paper No. 10-13. 27(2) (2013) Temple International & Comparative Law Journal. Available at SSRN: Also Sean D. Murphy “Deconstructing F Deconstructing Fragmentation: Koskenniemi’s 2006 ILC Project”, 27 (2013) Temple International &

Comparative Law Journal

[11] Martti Koskenniemi The Gentle Civiliser of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

[12] Martti Koskenniemi  “What should international lawyers learn from Karl Marx?” in Susan Marks (ed) International Law on the Left. Re-examining Marxist Legacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 30-52

[13] Ibid, p.30-31


[15] Martti Koskenniemi  “What should international lawyers learn from Karl Marx?” in Susan Marks (ed) International Law on the Left. Re-examining Marxist Legacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 30-52

[16] He cites Stephen Lukes Marxism and Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 48-70

[17] Ibid, p.31

[18] Ibid, p.44

[19] At; and W. Blumenberg “Ein unbekanntes Kapitel aus Marx’ Leben” 1(1) (1956) International Review of Social History, 54-111, in English

[20] See, for example, James Gordon Finlayson “Hegel, Adorno and the origins of immanent criticism”. 22(6) (2014) British Journal for the History of Philosophy,. 1142-1166, 1143

[21] See, editorial note

[22] The first seven “minimum economic demands” were:

  1. One rest day each week or legal ban on employers imposing work more than six days out of seven. – Legal reduction of the working day to eight hours for adults. – A ban on children under fourteen years working in private workshops; and, between fourteen and sixteen years, reduction of the working day from eight to six hours;
  2. Protective supervision of apprentices by the workers’ organizations;
  3. Legal minimum wage, determined each year according to the local price of food, by a workers’ statistical commission;
  4. Legal prohibition of bosses employing foreign workers at a wage less than that of French workers;
  5. Equal pay for equal work, for workers of both sexes;
  6. Scientific and professional instruction of all children, with their maintenance the responsibility of society, represented by the state and the Commune;
  7. Responsibility of society for the old and the disabled;

[23] Jules Guesde caused a scandal by describing in 1883 the Great Revolution of 1789 as “thievery”. See Jean-Numa Ducange Jules Guesde: the Birth of Socialism and Marxism in France (London, Palgrave Macmillan: 2020) p.33

[24] Bernard H. Moss, The Origins of the French Labour Movement. The Socialism of Skilled Workers 1830-1914, (University of California Press 1976), p.107.

[25] Engels To Eduard Bernstein In Zurich, London, 9 August 1882, MECW Volume 46, p. 353; First published: in full, in Marx Engels Archives, Moscow, 1924;

[26] Michael Heinrich, April 2015: “Je ne suis pas Marxiste”, at

[27] For a characteristic Soviet presentation of Marx ’s “theory of law” see L. S. Mamut “Theory of Law” Sovetskoye Gosudarstvo i Pravo (1967) No. 12, in Csaba Varga (ed) Marxian Legal Theory (New York: New York University Press, 1993), pp.3-10

[28] See Bill Bowring “The law of value and the law” in Ugo Mattei and John Haskell (eds) Research Handbook on Political Economy and Law (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2015), 158-176

[29] Karl Marx Grundrisse  (translated by Martin Nicolaus) (London: Penguin Books, 1993) pp.87-8

[30] Karl Marx Preface to the Critique of Political Economy in Karl Marx Friedrich Engels Collected Works Vol 29 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1987) p.262

[31] Karl Marx Critique of the Gotha Programme (accessed on 29 October 2013)

[32] Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky Juridical Socialism 7:2 (1977)  Politics and Society pp.203-220; “Juristen-Socialismus” Die Neue Zeit, 1887, no.2 (Stuttgart), translated by Piers Byrne

[33] The translator, Piers Byrne, explained that this was one of a series of articles confronting reformist tendencies in German Social Democracy, in this case the legalistic demands for social reform made by the Austrian jurist Anton Menger. The original manuscript was prepares by Engels in October 1886, but when he became ill he suggested that the article be completed by the editor of Die Neue Zeit, Karl Kautsky.    See Piers Beirne, “Introduction to ‘Juridical Socialism’” 7:2 (1977) Politics & Society 199-201

[34] Ibid p.204

[35] Ibid p.212

[36] Peter Schöttler “Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky as Critics of “Legal Socialism” in Csaba Varga (ed) Marxian Legal Theory (New York: New York University Press, 1993), pp.11-42, at p.28-29

[37] See also Bill Bowring “The Soviets and the Right to Self-Determination of the Colonized: Contradictions of Soviet Diplomacy and Foreign Policy in the Era of Decolonization” in Jochen von Bernstorff and Philipp Dann (eds) The Battle for International Law: South-North Perspectives on the Decolonization Era (Oxford University Press 2019), pp.404-425; and Bill Bowring “Marx, Engels, and Lenin on the Right of Nations (Peoples) to Self-Determination, and Its Impact on International Law” in Paul O’Connell and Umut Özsu (eds) Elgar Handbook on Law and Marxism (Edward Elgar, forthcoming)

[38]  Andreas Diers ‘Opfer des ‘Grossen Terrors’: Eine biographische werknotiz zum 75. Todestag von Eugen Paschukanis’ (Victim of the ‘Great Terror’: a biographical note for the 75th anniversary of the death of Yevgeny Pasukanis), 3 September 2012, at; see also Andreas Harms Warenform und Rechtsform. Zur Rechtstheorie von Eugen Paschukanis  (Commodity form and legal form. On the legal theory of Yevgeny Pashukanis) Freiburg: ça ira Verlag, Neuauflage 2009

[39]  Sovetsko-germanskiye otnosheniya ot peregovorov v Brest-Litovske do podpisaniya Rapallskovo dogovora. Sbornik dokumentov. (Soviet-German relations from the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk to the signing of the Rapallo Treaty. Collected documents.) In two volumes. (Moscow: Politizdat 1968-1971) Vol 1: 1917-1918. Vol 2: 1919-1922. At, Document No.236. Telegramma vremennovo poverennovo v delakh RSFSR v Germanii narodnomu komissaru inostrannikh del RSFSR G V Chicherin (Telegram from the Chargé d’Affaires in Germany to the people’s commissar of foreign affairs of the RSFSR G V Chicherin) 3 December 1921, № К292

[40] See Bill Bowring “Yevgeniy Pashukanis, His Law and Marxism: A General Theory, and the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo between Soviet Russia and Germany” v.19 (2017) Journal of the History of International Law pp.274-295

[41] Zara Steiner The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933 (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2005)

[42] Ibid 161

[43] Ibid 163

[44] Ibid 164

[45] Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin, 1872-1936, born into an old noble family (related to Pushkin), father was a diplomat, in 1904 transferred his family wealth to the Bolsheviks, was personally very close to Lenin

[46] Maxim Maximovich Litvinov, 1876-1951, born Meir Henoch Wallach-Finkelstein

[47] Leonid Borisovich Krasin, 1870-1926, died in London of a blood disease, 6000 mourners attended his funeral at Golders Green Crematorium

[48] Ibid 165

[49] Dokumenty vneshnei politiki SSSR. (1961), Moskva (Documents of the foreign policy of the USSR Volume 5, 1 January 1922 – 19 November 1922 Moscow: Politicheskoi Literatury, 1961,156-7, Document No.87

[50] G. M. Sadovaya (2001) Valter Ratenau i Rapallskiy Dogovor  (Samara: Samarskiy Universitet 2001, available at

[51]  Boris Spiridonovich Stomonyakov (1882 to 1940), was an ethnic Bulgarian anti-Tsarist revolutionary who later became a trade representative and diplomat for the USSR the 1920s and 1930s. He was arrested in 1938 and shot in 1940.

[52] Sadovaya draws extensively from Sovetsko-germanskiye otnosheniya ot peregovorov v Brest-Litovske do podpisaniya Rapallskovo dogovora. Sbornik dokumentov. (Soviet-German relations from the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk to the signing of the Rapallo Treaty. Collected documents.) In two volumes. (Moscow: Politizdat, 1968-1971). Vol 1: 1917-1918. Vol 2: 1919-1922. At

[53] Sadovaya Valter Ratenau 2001 (n.23), 56

[54] Documents Foreign Policy 1961 (n.22), 184-5

[55] Soviet-German Relations 1968-1971 (n.26) Volume 2, Document No. 258. Из письма советника представительства РСФСР в Германии заместителю народного комиссара иностранных дел РСФСР Л. М. Карахану, 8 апреля 1922 г., № 438 (From the letter of the adviser to the representation of the RSFSR in Germany to the deputy commissar for foreign affairs of the RSFSR L M Karakhan, 8 April 1922, No.438, available at

[56] Yevgeniy Pashukanis (1924) Общая теория права и марксизм. Опыт критики основных юридических понятий  (Obshchaya teoriya prava i marksizm) A general theory of law and Marxism. An attempt at a critique of fundamental juridical concepts) (Moscow: Communist Academy 1924) (English translation, Ye Pashukanis Law and Marxism: A General Theory. Towards a Critique of the Fundamental Juridical Concepts  (London: Pluto Press, 1983))

[57] Ibid, 68

[58] For a recent exposition and defence of this theory, see China Miéville ‘The Commodity-Form Theory of International Law: An Introduction”’ 17(2) (2004) Leiden Journal of International Law, 271-302, and China Miéville Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005), and the review article by Susan Marks “International Judicial Activism and the Commodity Form Theory of International Law” 18(1) (2007) European Journal of International Law, 199-211

[59] The New Economic Policy, a partial restoration of capitalist market relations, under state control, was introduced by Lenin in 1921. Despite Lenin’s death in 1924 the success of the policy meant that it continued until sharply reversed by Stalin in 1928. 

[60] Yevgeniy Pashukanis (1930) “Polozheniye na teoreticheskom pravovom fronte (The situation on the theoretical legal front)” 11-12 (1930) Sovetskoye gosudartsvo i revolutsiya prava (Soviet state and revolution of law), 16-49, 26

[61] 1909-1955

[62] John Hazard ‘Housecleaning in Soviet Law’ 1 (1938)  American Quarterly on the Soviet Union pp.5-16, at; and John Hazard ‘Cleansing Soviet International Law of Anti-Marxist Theories’ 32(2) (1938) American Journal of International Law, 244-252

[63] Hazard Housecleaning 1938 (n.70) 13

[64] Ye Pashukanis ‘Pismo tov. Stalina i zadachi teoreticheskovo fronta gosudarstvo i pravo (The letter of comrade Stalin and the tasks of the theoretical front of state and law)’ 1 (1932) Sovetskoe gosudarstvo (Soviet State) 4-48, cited in E. A. Skripilev, ‘Nashemy zhurnalu – 70 let” (Our journal is 70 years old)’ no. 2 (1987)Sovetskoye Gosudarstvo i Pravo (Soviet State and Law) 17.

[65] Ye. Pashukanis, Ocherki po Mezhdunarodnomu Pravu (Essays in International Law) (Moscow: Soviet Legislation, 1935)

[66] Cited (16) in John Hazard ‘Pashukanis is No Traitor’ 51(2) (1957) American Journal of International Law, 385-388, 387.

[67] Ibid  387.

[68] “Mezhdunarodnoe pravo” (International law), in  Entsiklopediia gosudarstva i prava (1925-1926), (lzdatelstvo Kommunisticheskoi akademii), Moscow, vol.2, pp.858-874; English translation in Evgeny Pashukanis, Selected Writings on Marxism and Law (eds. P. Beirne & R. Sharlet), London & New York 1980, pp.168-83, 184-5. Also at

[69] China Miéville Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005) Appendix, 321-336

[70] Ibid, 160; and see Piers Beirne and Robert Sharlet (eds) Pashukanis: Selected Writings on Marxism and Law (London and New York: Academic Press, 1980), 175

[71] Beirne and Sharlet Pashukanis, (1980) 181

[72] Ibid (1980) 168

[73] Ibid (1980) 181

[74] Note 4 above

[75] Miéville (2004) 302

[76] B. S. Chimni “Third World Approaches to International Law: A Manifesto” 8 (2006) International Community Law Review  3–27; and Luis Eslava “TWAIL Coordinates” 2 April 2019 Critical Legal Thinking at , concluding “TWAIL is a movement, not a school; a network, not an institution; a sensibility, not a doctrine. This restlessness and commitment to openness are nourished, above all, by the diversity of the world to which TWAIL responds and from which its momentum arises.”

[77] B. S. Chimni International Law and World Order. A Critique of Contemporary Approaches (New Delhi/Newbury Park/London: Sage Publications, 1993)

[78] B. S. Chimni “An Outline of a Marxist Course on Public International Law” 17 (2004)  Leiden Journal of International Law, 1-30; also in Susan Marks (editor) International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 53-91

[79] Ibid, 3

[80] Ibid, 13

[81] Ibid, 11

[82] Ibid, 17

[83] Ibid, 18,

[84] Ibid, 21

[85] Ibid, 23

[86] Ibid, 24

[87] Ibid, 25

[88] Ibid, 27

[89] Wade Mansell and Karen Openshaw International Law: A Critical Introduction (2nd ed, London, Hart Publishing, 2019)

[90] B. S. Chimni “Prolegomena to a Class Approach to International Law” 21(1) European Journal of International Law,57-82

[91] Ibid, 81

[92] B. S. Chimni International Law and World Order. A Critique of Contemporary Approaches (2nd ed, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017)

[93] Ibid, Chapter 5, pages 246-357

[94] Ibid, Chapter 6, pages 358-439

[95] Ibid, Chapter 7, pages 440-550

[96] China Miéville Between Equal Rights: A Marxist theory of International Law (New ed, London: Pluto Press 2006)

[97] Akbar Rasulov “A Marxism for International Law: A New Agenda” 29(2) (2018) European Journal of International Law, 631-655, at 635

[98] Ibid, 648

[99] Ibid, 652

[100] Recordings of all presentations and discussion may be found at

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