Gun Boat Diplomacy or Law

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Thu May 3 17:04:29 MDT 2001

[ from Nestor ]

En relación a RE:Gun Boat Diplomacy or Law, el 3 May 01, a las 10:40,
Mark Jones dijo:

> 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?

Now, the methods for debate of Mark are irksome from time to time. The
above is what I define in Spanish as the "efecto cañita voladora", or
in a dubious English the "wandering missile effect" (perhaps José can
give a more accurate translation). That is, in the middle of a debate
you send a firework missile to sky, everybody keeps looking at the
missile, and the debate gets off base.

Could Mark change my impression by explaining in what concrete sense
does opposition to unchecked expansion of imperialist rule overseas
strengthen bourgeois rule at home? I would rather think it is exactly
the other way round.  His comments below are not what I would define
as convincing. Not at all, not for me at least:

> All bourgeois law [...], to serve its purpose and be functional as
> a guarantor of the conditions of existence of capitalist production
> relations, [...] necessarily embodies notions of the rights and
> sovereignty of the individual subject. We are all beneficiaries of
> this fact [...] Only a truly human society, ie communism, can
> replace class law with a [...] system of law and justice, which is
> based [...] 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

And it is not convincing because nobody, least of all yours truly, is
proposing to abandon bourgeois law. I insist: my line of argument
simply shows the need for a stronger "international bourgeois law".
Yes, yes...

The problem Mark does not seem to see is that no bourgeois law can
propose itself as both organically bourgeois AND
supranational. National states are, in the asphyxiating world of
bourgeois jurisprudence, the embodiment of bourgeois rule. No kind of
justice that decides to one-sidedly (English?) cross national borders
and impose the rule of one nation on another nation can be considered
bourgeois law.

In the same manner that -in order to justify expansion to the East-
Adolph Hitler returned to the rotten feudal Hapsburgs, abandoning the
tradition of the "Small Germany" imposed by Bismarck, bourgeois law
-in order to justify imperialist domination of the planet- returns to
the "universitas hominum" of the European Middle Ages. It poses itself
as supranational, but at the same time (something the Middle Ages did
not even dream of) it defends the rights of certain nations over

If this is bourgeois law, my grandfather was a vat of beer.

Now, on to the more particular argument by Mark:

> 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.

Nobody, again, is arguing that. What I am arguing is that no tribunal
in an imperialist state has any right whatsoever to judge actions that
took place outside its jurisdiction. An entirely different matter. Why
should only imperialists be provided with an alibi for plundering
(other peoples') national assets by an international law system that
allows imperialist judges to try foreign plunderers, but ensures that
the same imperialist judges (that is what they are imperialists for)
defend their own, homegrown, plunderers? This reminds me of the guy
who was so hygienic that he would always shit on the neighbour's side
of the wall (sorry, ma'am).

> 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?

1. Mark, I know you will not like this: Hitler wasn't THAT different
from Churchill. The difference lies, mainly, on two points (a) that
the crimes which made British imperialism look "humane" and "law
abiding" had been committed long ago by the times of Churchill rule
(thus bringing entire societies to the tremendous situation that a
famine could DIMINISH their population and still they would not
revolt), and (b) that the crimes committed by British imperialism
were, more often than not, committed by troops or civilians which were
on their pay. So that, from the point of view of a semicolonial
people, it was nothing too new.

2. Tertium non datur? Mark's is too Hobsonian a choice.  The problem,
my dear Mark, does not lie in changing the neckstrap, the problem lies
in not being a dog any more. Whenever a people decides not to be a dog
any more, then even a Harold Wilson may become a Hjalmar Heydrich. The
comparison between two different kinds of empire, the eventual
Hitlerian one and the "clean eyed" British one, is precisely _that_, a
comparison in imperial rule. I am against ANY FORM OF IMPERIAL RULE.

This is our sad record, sorry.

3. Finally, what these Garzóns are attempting to do is, precisely, to
establish lawlesness as the rule in international relations. There is
a saying in Corrientes, Argentina, "Law is like a knife, it will not
offend the one who holds it", and on this we seem to be agreed. What
you do not seem to perceive, Mark, is that we are not dealing with the
abstract categories of general law here, nor with the usual hypocrisy
of class management of justice. We are dealing with a reform to the
international framework of legal relations, a reform which, in the
name of "human rights", seeks to turn weak states into slave pens.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at

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