Gun Boat Diplomacy or Law

Mark Jones jones118 at
Thu May 3 03:40:21 MDT 2001

Carrol Cox wrote:

> The extension of "bourgeois law" to any area where U.S. (or NATO)
> military power can reach is essentially a return to gunboat diplomacy,
> to international vigilantism -- to chaos, not law.

Does it occur to you that  this argument (which appears to be popular on this list)
is just a backdoor legitimisation of the rule of bourgeois law *within* the state
boundaries of the USA and other Nato powers? Is that your intent?

All bourgeois law is based on the rights of property, ie on the rationalisation and
legitimisation of primal theft. Nevertheless, to serve its purpose and be functional
as a guarantor of the conditions of existence of capitalist production relations,
bourgeois law and right necessarily embodies notions of the rights and sovereignty
of the individual subject. We are all beneficiaries of this fact. If it observes
these rights only hypocritically or in their absence, that is because bourgeois law
is class law, and is therefore unable to universalise itself. Only a truly human
society, ie communism, can replace class law with a truly universal, transparent and
non-hypocritical system of law and justice, which is based not on the defence of
private property but on the universal norms which bourgeois law can only genuflect
to but cannot ultimately uphold. But this does not mean we should simply abandon
bourgeois law, civil and criminal justice systems, bourgeois right, the franchise
etc! That would really be foolish.

It is good that Pinochet was arrested, and even better that this act, by its
self-evident arbitrariness and one-sidedness, served to demonstrate again and in a
powerful way, the hypocrisy and obvious injustice, cynicism etc, of the bourgeois
rule of law, which is incapable of putting the real criminals behind bars (Kissinger
etc). It is absurd to argue, as some here do, that per contra it's bad to arrest
Pinochet but it's OK (from a socialist or Marxist point of view) to be a state
criminal, a war criminal, a plunderer of national assets etc, if you happen to have
Chilean or Argentinian or Russian nationality. That makes a complete mockery of *our
own* claim to represent higher and truly universal principles.

Of course, we must oppose *proletarian* class justice to *bourgeois* judicial
hegemony. The sphere of jurisprudence, law and the justice system is one more realm
of class struggle and that's just how we should treat it. But the means by which we
confront bourgeois hypocrisy, lies, theft and plunder must embody our own
proletarian conception of justice, equality and right, and not flagrantly violate it
in the spurious name of "opposing imperialism". Supporting the unequal rights of
quislings and criminals (Pinochet, Pavel Borodin etc) actually does nothing to
further the cause of social emancipation in Latin America or the fSU or Serbia or
anywhere else.

> (I have been unable to recover the source, but I believe I am right that
> John Quincy Adams justified the Opium Wars on grounds very similar to
> those advanced by Mark Jones in his post.)

As concerns the Opium War, would you prefer it if imperialism always acted only in
terms of its own naked self-interest, and dropped even the pretence of being
law-abiding? Which kind of imperialism would you prefer to be a colonial subject of:
Adolf Hitler's honest German variety, or Winston Churchill's English hypocrisy?


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