Review: Hugh Collins, Marxism and Law (1996)

reviews hugh collins, law, legal theory, marxism

Originally posted on Goodreads.

Has some good aspects, especially in the first few chapters, but overall quite disappointing.

First of all, the author’s consistent use of “men” when he means “people” is at best lazy and in several places outright absurd. I might convince myself to overlook “mankind” or even “man”, in a general context, but when he writes that Marx thought commodity fetishism was “an insidious and misleading way of thinking about and treating other men” I can’t help but read this as gendered, and an assumption that women are neither subjects nor objects of this process.

The more fundamental issue simply boils down to the fact that the author is not a Marxist attempting to apply Marxist theory to law, but a liberal legal scholar attempting first of all to construct a Marxist theory of law and then to criticize it. It would be difficult in the best circumstances to avoid a strawman and unfortunately the author does not always succeed. It’s hard to entirely trust his claim that certain phenomena are inconsistent with Marxism when his conception of Marxism is an amalgamation produced for the purposes of this very comparison. At one point he simply asserts that he finds one Marxist claim “ultimately unconvincing”, and thus doesn’t bother to write more than a few paragraphs about it. At another, it’s very clear that he has a strong opinion on a subject, and gives excessive weight to his side of the argument (which I, in turn, find unconvincing, not least because it amounts to a defence of the marital rape exemption).

There are also several errors that are frankly embarrassing; one would think, for example, that the author of a book on Marxism might understand the difference between Marxism and communism and the difference between a state governed by a Communist Party and a communist state; the author twice claims that the USSR has failed to achieve communism because it still has a legal system, despite this not being (to my knowledge) something that was ever claimed to have been achieved. In the same vein is the (seemingly out-of-context, and unsupported) claim that Mao was not a ‘real’ Marxist.

The first few chapters do give a worthwhile overview of Marxist analysis of legal systems, and of Marxist theory more generally, but from chapter 3 onwards it goes downhill; chapters 4 and 5 weren’t worth spending much time on, and I skimmed the final chapter.